In May of last year, Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad created a Facebook page to spark discussion about women’s personal choices about the veil in Iran. “My Stealthy Freedom” has garnered international media attention and accumulated over 700,000 likes from people around the globe. The page is filled with photo submissions of women from all over Iran posing without the compulsory hijab establishing a sense of solidarity between them. It should be noted that if caught in public, women are subject to a host of punishment by the strict morality police. On the same token, the morality police has authority to challenge anything they aren’t particularly happy with.
The Iranian government has mandated women to wear the hijab ever since the 1979 Iranian revolution. According to Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, Chief of Iran’s national police, just last year the security forces issued warnings to 3.6 million women about their non-proper hijab. Eighteen thousand women were arrested and sent to the courts. Of course, the police don’t keep statistics on how many women were kicked or punched or slapped because of their bad hijab. Unfortunately, this piece of cloth, in the hands of a regime that has made compulsory hijab into the law of the land, is an instrument of oppression against women.
Overall, the mission of Alinejad’s page is to shed light on the women in Iran who wish to have a choice of whether to wear the hijab. Since then, she received a human rights award in Geneva for bringing awareness to the campaign. There have been men on both sides of the debate, some in support of women’s freedom to choose to veil while others have mocked them. While men have poked fun at My Stealthy Freedom, a “Rights of Women in Iran” page refuted the argument that the hijab restricts women’s rights, instead its a form of liberation and expresses modesty.
These kinds of movements within the Middle East are not so few and far in-between because of how much Muslim women today are challenging not only traditional patriarchal dominance but old interpretations of gender roles within Islam. A leading Muslim activist, Noorjehan Safia Niaz of India, describes the shift this way: “Emboldened by the conceptualization of God as merciful and just, Muslim women are now seeking justice and equality within the families and are reclaiming their right to read the Quran and arrive at their meanings based on their own lived realities.”
Meanwhile, while some women are protesting for their right to wear the hijab, others are fighting for their right to wear it, in places such as France and Turkey. Its important to know that there’s a difference between the hijab and the other types of coverings such as the burqa, the niqab, etc. The question that remains is should women veil or not veil? Is veiling truly a form of oppression or a sign of religious obligation?
Historically, veiling was a way to symbolize a women’s social class standing. Only women in the upper ranks of society were allowed to wear head coverings while working women could not due to the nature of their labor. However, its difficult to figure out whether head covering was the result of civilization culture or influence of Islam. Over time, the philosophy of head-covering has differed from country to country in addition to what is deemed socially acceptable by the people there.
Its fair to point out that the Western perspective on veiling believes that the practice is oppressive to women because of their lack of individual choice on how they would like to dress. There’s a clear assumption here that if given the choice, the majority would choose not to wear the hijab although how can we know that to be true? A lot of Muslim women, perhaps not in Iran, choose to wear a head-covering after getting married in order to show their appreciation and commitment to Islam. Throughout the Middle Eastern region, there have been instances of forced banning of the hijab which made a lot of women feel unsafe, uncomfortable, as if they lost their identity.
In addition, its interesting to think about how women in various religions are covered in the name of God, so why are we hypocritical towards Muslim women? As as society, I believe that we should be just as supportive of women who want to wear a head-covering regardless of the reason.
– Cari Fundora