The "Headquarters for Promoting Virtue and Prohibiting Vice" in Iran's Khorasan Razavi Province has enforced a ban on women riding bicycles in public places.
The capital city of the province is Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city with a shrine considered by Shiites as the holiest religious venue in the country, where their eighth Imam, Ali bin Mousa al-Reza (766-818 CE) is buried.
The head of the Khorasan-e-Razavi Province Cycling Board, Mehdi Roozbehaneh, says the Headquarters has obtained "relevant permits" for the ban. It has been decided that women are not allowed to ride bicycles in Mashhad's public places, Roozbehaneh maintained.
Promoting Virtue and Prohibiting Vice, also known as "enjoining good and forbidding wrong," is a Quranic expression calling the faithful to propagate good deeds and condemn wrong-doing. However, the Quran does not say people or even state bodies have the right to "enforce" the term.
Mashhad's Friday Prayer Imam, Ayatollah Ahmad Alam ol-Hoda, is also renowned for his ultra-conservatism and opposition to women's social freedoms. "Women should only ride bicycles where no men are around," he cleric said on June 21.
He stressed that if women ride bikes in public places such as universities, they will arouse the "youth’s sexual instincts," and the university will become a "hub of fornication."
The issue of women's cycling has been a heated debate in the Iranian public and media for more than twenty years. Due to the fierce opposition of religious and governmental institutions, it has always been highly controversial.
Iranian women had long assumed that they could ride a bike in public if they respected Iran's strict dress code, which requires women to completely cover their hair and body in public.
In 2016, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appeared to crush the notion with a fatwa explicitly banning women from cycling in public, but it was not strictly enforced.
Khamenei's fatwa prompted an angry reaction from female cyclists, who launched a social media campaign in defiance of the ban.
Hundreds of women uploaded photos of themselves on their bicycles on social media. "Do not be sexually tempted; I am merely riding a bicycle," some had written on their garments.
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the clerical establishment has enforced Islamic laws denying women equal rights in divorce and inheritance, prohibiting women from traveling abroad without a male relative's permission, and attending major men's sports events.