Tuesday, 22 November 2022 19:53

Mahsa Amini: The Nemesis of Iran’s Islamic Religious Police Featured

Written by Husam Dughman
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By Husam Dughman

A woman partially uncovers her hair. Members of a vice squad (called Guidance Patrol) arrest her. They insult her. She fires back, refusing to be disrespected. They beat her badly. She falls unconscious. She later dies. What was her crime? Uncovering some of her hair. Really? Whose human rights does that violate? Insofar as the actions of Iran’s Islamic Republic are concerned, political persecution is not a crime. The perversion of the rule of law is not a crime. Widespread corruption is not a crime. Favouritism, cronyism, and nepotism are not a crime. The violation of human rights is not a crime. The partial exposure of a woman’s hair…… Now, that is what the Ayatollahs call a crime.

For many an Iranian, Mahsa Amini has become a symbol of freedom. Amini’s barbaric murder has become a brutal manifestation of injustice perpetrated by a political regime mired in atavism. Other Iranian females followed, including Sarina Esmailzadeh, Hadis Najafi, and Nika Shakarami, who were all murdered by the Iranian regime. But what is it about a woman’s hair that bothers Islamists so much? To be sure, the wearing of headcovers of various sorts by females has been the tradition for thousands of years. Jewish scripture seems to suggest that new brides wore the veil, as when Rebekah covered herself from Isaac (Genesis 24:64-65), and when Leah covered herself from Jacob (Genesis 29:23,25). Some other verses in Jewish scripture appear to confirm this habit (e.g., Isaiah 47:1-2). However, one infers that married women did not always have to wear the veil, as with Sarah (Genesis 20:16). Jewish scripture gives the impression that a woman’s hair is a particularly attractive part of her (Song of Solomon 4:1), a view that is echoed in Christian scripture (1 Corinthians 11:15). In fact, St Paul commands women to cover their hair when praying, since a woman’s uncovered hair dishonours her head (1 Corinthians 11:5. In this context, “head” means “man”, as in 1 Corinthians 11:3).

The Quran, too, addresses the way women should dress. Although the word “hijab”- currently understood to mean headcover- is used in the Quran to mean “partition” (Al-Ahzab 53), the Quran does tell Muhammad to tell his wives, daughters, and Muslim women to draw their cloaks over themselves, so that they may be recognized as free women and not be molested by men who may mistake them for slave-girls (Al-Ahzab 59). It is worthy of note that this Quranic justification for covering parts of a woman’s body is still relevant in today’s Muslim-majority countries where some women regard the wearing of hijab as a way of avoiding harassment by men. In fact, some women in Muslim-majority countries who did not cover their head or face had acid thrown at them by some fanatical Islamists. In another verse (An-Nour 31), the Quran tells Muhammad to tell Muslim women to draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their adornment to male strangers, meaning that they should show only their clothes, face, and hands, according to some Quranic exegetes. The word “veil” in this context has been interpreted by some of those exegetes (e.g., Al-Qurtubi and Al-Tabarsi) as a “headcover”. But what about the men? The Quran tells Muhammad to tell Muslim men to lower their gaze and guard their private parts (An-Nour 30). In Islamic tradition, a man must cover at a minimum the part between his navel and his knees. It is ironic that in Muslim-majority countries nowadays, male football players and male swimmers do not really comply with this rule. But, we may ask, what is the actual reason for the imposition of all of those sartorial restrictions on Muslim women?

Many Muslim men seem to believe that women should cover their hair because of two main reasons: One is that those men see such covering as a manifestation of modesty. The second is that they believe uncovering a woman’s hair gives rise to sexual temptation for men. However, upon reflection, it appears that neither of those justifications is that convincing. First of all, what is particularly “immodest” about a woman uncovering her hair? What does that have to do with modesty or otherwise? Secondly, whoever has said that hair is the only- or even the major- thing men find seductive in a woman? While some Muslim men hold the view that a woman’s beauty is centred around her hair- and this view is lent some credence in Jewish scripture (The Song of Solomon 4:1) and in Christian scripture (1 Corinthians 11:15)- other men find other parts of a woman to be just as seductive, e.g., her eyes, her mouth, her face, her body, and her voice. Not only that, but now that many women around the world have gained much more freedom than ever before, they have expressed the view that they, too, find men’s uncovered body parts seductive. Some Muslim women in particular have recently asked whether the old patriarchal belief that the woman was the only source of sexual attraction should be abandoned and replaced by the fact- observed in animals and in humans- that sexual attraction is a two-way street. They, therefore, conclude that Muslim men, too, should now cover those parts of their bodies that women find seductive.

The fact remains that judging a woman’s ethical or moral standards by whether she covers her hair or not is very misleading. In one of the hadiths (sayings by Muhammad), Muhammad defines a Muslim as somebody who spares people (the evil of) his tongue and his hand (meaning, his words and his actions). Muhammad did not use the way people dressed as the main criterion for being a good Muslim or otherwise. After all, numerous Muslim women wear the hijab for reasons other than piety: Some wear the hijab because it is imposed by the state, some because of their society’s pressure, some because of family pressure, some because of peer pressure, some as a form of political protest, some as a way of enhancing their marriage prospects, some as an expression of identity (especially when residing in Western countries), and some as a means of avoiding keeping up with the Joneses when their (or their family’s) income is limited, in which case wearing a hijab and an ‘abaya (loose outer garment) may be a wise compromise. Like the aforementioned hadith suggests, what really matters in Islam is that you behave ethically and refrain from unjustly hurting other people with your words or actions. Muhammad’s words convey the impression that the real hijab is the hijab of the tongue and of the heart. Are you listening, Iran’s Guidance Patrol?        


Husam Dughman is a Libyan Canadian political scientist, religious thinker, linguist, and an expert on immigrants and refugees. He received his formal education in Libya and the UK. Mr. Dughman later worked as a university professor of political science in Libya. Due to confrontations with the Qaddafi regime, he resigned from his university position and subsequently worked in legal translation. Mr. Dughman has been working with new immigrant and refugee services in both Canada and the US since 2006.

Husam Dughman has published a book entitled Tête-à-tête with Muhammad. He has also written numerous articles on politics and religion. He has just completed the full manuscript of a book which he hopes to have published in the near future. The new book is an in-depth examination of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and the non-religious school of thought.       

Read 340 times Last modified on Tuesday, 22 November 2022 19:56

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