A man and women's rights
CIelebrating the writings and research of Hammed Shahidian who had a laconic commitment to women's rights
November 30, 2005
At bottom, the intellectual, in my sense of the word, is neither a pacifier nor a consensus-builder, but someone whose whole being is staked on a critical sense, a sense of being unwilling to accept easy formulas, or ready-made clichés, or the smooth, ever-so-accommodating confirmations of what the powerful or conventional have to say, and what they do. Not just passively unwillingly, but actively willing to say so in public - Edward Said
On November 26, 2005, colleagues, friends, family, and admirers came together at the University of Toronto to honour the memory and legacy of scholar, professor, and activist, Dr. Hammed Shahidian. Organized by friends and colleagues of Shahidian's, Dr. Shahrzad Mojab and Dr. Haideh Moghissi, the memorial had a very charged atmosphere. Meaning, there was an overwhelming awareness of the loss that both academics and activists of social justice have encountered. Charged, because the memorial was a testimonial of how Shahidian's writings on the oppression of women in Iran have contributed and paved paths to area's of inquiry that have gone against the dominant narratives in the academy.
Dr. Shahidian's memorial included music, poetry, a short animated film, Waves of Birth, by filmmaker Masoud Raouf, and a beautifully read short story from Nasrin Almasi. The memorial itself was indicative of all the elements of Shahidian's life that he was passionate about, and the honouring of Shahidian's life was not only about mourning a profound loss, but about celebrating the writings and research of a man who had a laconic commitment to women's rights. As a result, this will not be an orthodox obituary, although it will include a brief biography, nor will it be a requiem, because I and many others are not interested in lullabying Dr. Shahidian to rest. Rather, we want to continue with the body of work that he has left us with.
Dr. Hammed Shahidian was born on November 12, 1959 in Iran. After finishing high school, he left Iran for the US. In May 1982, Dr. Shahidian obtained a B.A. (Cum Laude) in Social Theory from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He wrote his Honour's paper on Marxism and Conflict Theory. He then moved to Boston to undertake his graduate studies at Brandeis University. Dr. Shahidian obtained his Master's degree in May 1986 and his Ph.D. in May 1990. Committed to sexual equality and feminism at a time when very few men pursued a career in women's studies, he took his research on women's rights to a new level when he started working on his doctoral thesis entitled: 'The Woman Question in the Iranian Revolution of 1978 - 1979'.
A lover of language, Dr. Shahidian had translated a number of books from English to Persian amongst which include Edward Said's After the Last Sky, Elie Weisel's Night and Nawal El-Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero. Chair of the faculty of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Springfield, in 2004 he was a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Research in Women's Studies and Gender Relations at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.He is the author of numerous articles and two seminal books published by Greenwood Press in 2002: Women in Iran: Gender Politics in the Islamic Republic and Women in Iran: Emerging Voices in the Women's Movement.
The charged atmosphere of Shahidian's memorial was also reflective of the dynamic and articulate ways in which he spoke of the systemic problems and codified atrocities of the Iran of the Islamic Republic. Unobtuse, unapologetic, and unwavering in his constancy to analyze the relationships between the religio-political, legal, and socio-cultural system in the Iran of the Islamic Republic, Hammed Shahidian did not speak of patriarchy as simply an unfortunate cultural mistake that then becomes relegated to the realm of the individual, personality disorders, and world views. Instead, Shahidian exposes how patriarchy is a socio-economic, political, and cultural institution, and how this system perpetuates its own relations, laws, and hierarchies.
In this system of rewards and punishments we are witness to those in academe, and they know who they are, who remain uncritical of the system of governance in their analysis of women in Iran. However, Dr. Shahidian articulated the necessity for a separation of religion and state; recognizing that working strictly within the confines of a religious framework is problematic. When advocating for women's rights in Iran, making religion the basis through which one argues, limits analysis and systemically imposes religion on an entire population of people in Iran that do not even identify themselves as Muslim.
However, Shahidian would remind us that the problem was having to identify oneself in the first place. Providing statistics such as - "ninety percent of the population in Iran is Muslim" - is meaningless when one is not allowed to not identify themselves with any religion; there is no box to check for agnostic or atheist. Not to mention Iran's Bahai population who are branded heretics, apostates, and who are sytemically persecuted.
Dr. Hammed Shahidian's passion for social justice embodies what it means to be a public intellectual. Someone who, in the words of Edward Said, was always "reminding everyone that we're talking about people. We're not talking about abstractions.‰ In this so-called post-modern era of identity politics and fragmented narratives, Shahidian's universal statement of values was far more important than loyalty to a profession, to a university department, let alone to influential patrons. He did not essentialize an entire region and gender by advocating that emancipation for women only rests within Islam.
I never heard Dr. Hammed Shahidian speak. I never saw his face. I only knew him and loved him through his words. Insightful and honest, his research on the women's movement in Iran keeps informing me throughout my academic experience. Dr. Shahidian's analysis of women in Iran was always reassuring. In that, it reminded me that my criticism is valid, warranted, and necessary.
Sometimes, to lose a hamfekr (like minded person) can be just as tragic as losing a friend.
Samira Mohyeddin is an Iranian / Canadian and has a degree
in Religion and Middle Eastern Studies from the Uni'ersity of
Toronto, and is currently pursuing graduate studies in Women's
Studies and Middle Eastern Studies there. See her weblog: SmiraMohyeddin.blogspot.com