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This outdated self appointed obsessive model cannot be applied to today's modern world


Jahanshah Rashidian
July 27, 2005

Since 1979, a very fast growing majority of the Iranian female population of different social backgrounds, ethnics and religious minorities identified as "Bad hijab" are, in their day-to-day lives, suffering from the imposition of the Islamic hijab. Since the existence of the Islamic regime, not a day has passed without attack, physical assault, arrest, acid throwing, harassment and psychological pressure of women in Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has clearly specified that, for women, no other sort of dress is acceptable except the Islamic hijab

The sickening growth of violence against women in Iran has drastically limited the conditions of work, education, art, sport, entertainment and general freedom of social life for women. The reason why Islam lays great emphasis on hijab is to avoid unnecessary contacts between a Muslim woman with a "Non-Mahram" or being alone with him ("Khalwah/Khalvat").

The dogma of "Non-Mahram" is the pivotal point of Islamic hijab. In my article I use "Non-Mahram" as an important word. It is both noun and adjective. It describes the men or women with whom an Islamic adult person can marry "marriageable". For a Muslim person, much stricter for women, considering this issue, there are two groups of people in the world.

The first group's members are not marriageable or "Mahrams" like husband/wife, parents, grand-parents, children, brothers/sisters, uncles/aunts, grand-children, stepchildren, parents-in-law and stepparents. The Muslim adult woman is not obliged to wear hijab in front of their eyes and the Muslim man is not obliged to lower his gaze.

The second group called "Non-Mahram" is any other adult living man or woman on earth. A Muslim woman should wear hijab in front of all adult and male members of this group and with whom she and the Muslim man are not permitted to be in any sort of contact or being alone "Khalwah" except in the extreme cases where chastity and low gaze are to be respected according to many "Surahs" in Koran and narrations from the Prophet of Islam. It was narrated that the Prophet of Islam banned one of his wives to see her "Non-Mahram" cousin who was previously her fiancé.

Wearing a headdress was a long tradition of European women, a status symbol from the upper classes that attracted the envy of those less privileged than themselves. This is however not comparable with the Islamic hijab derived from the dogma of Non-Mahram with no privilege or attraction for women.

Asserting "Non-Mahram" dogma in Islam is not unrelated to the Prophet's bothers with his harem, as described by Ali Dashti in his book "Bisto-Seh Saal" (23 Years), which can make any Muslim convert into a non-Muslim, the Prophet used accordingly many verses of "Surah Ahzaab" to consolidate his position against his very younger wives and to force them into absolute obedience and chastity, as they are the "Mothers of Believers".

In his demand for chastity no standard of Islamic dress has been mentioned while banning, through "God's word", his wives to remarry after his death. The idea of definitive segregation between his own harem and "Non-Mahrams", seems to be his own human obsession.

Islam spread by the sword. Islamic invaders galloped and trampled down many new territories from where they brought home booties, slaves and, specially, an image of strong Arab man as a hard warrior, an identity that has proudly emerged as the norm for a primitive, patriarchal clan society, yet also an Empire that necessitates a harsh and cruel judicial system for a world system which has been created by and for strong men which meant that there could not be parallel room for women to become equivalent to men.

Besides the ban of female infanticide all traditional misogynous measures of Islamic laws, including the Islamic hijab, were from now on the institutionalised sacred norms.

The dogma of "Non-Mahram" has considerably influenced not only Islamic code of behaviour and dress but also it has been marked in the Islamic architecture. A typical Muslim house is built around a central, mostly rectangular, courtyard. The interior space is important not the outside. Part of the house is separated for females. The men's reception (or guest) room tends to be located next to the entrance lobby of the house so that "Non-Mahram" visitors do not meet the females. The windows are inside not outside of the house so that eye contact between "Non-Mahrams" does not happen. In the big house where several generations can dwell together measures should be taken into account that the contact between "Non-Mahrams " like cousins or brother/sister-in-law of opposite sex dwellers does not lead to temptation.

More strict than a traditional Islamic house, marks of "Non-Mahram" segregation can be seen in Islamic palaces where no access to the harem area of "Non-Mahram"; except for castrated servants, was possible.

Paintings, frescos, music, theatre, ceremonies..., in the palaces should respect the red line of "Non-Mahram" dogma around the woman's body, which should be the impenetrable line separating a Muslim woman from a "Non-MMahram's" visual and acoustic field. Therefore no female statute or bust was on display, no role for a female in theatre, no female singer or musician,… - from which a collective style of art was generated and extended into the society.

Moral words were created in or around these houses or palaces, at least in Iran, "Namus, Hormat, Khairat, etc" initially referring to the red line of "Non-Mahram" dogma caused character formation in the popular culture. A Muslim "Khirati" would not permit a female member of his "Mahram" circle- likes daughter/sister/wife, to be in any sort of contact with "Non-Mahrams"; she should not go out unless for a convincible reason, she should not be alone or talk to "Non-Mahrams".

The insults attributed to female "Mahrams" like "Maadar/Khahar/Ameh...", together with the first group of moral words, difficult to be translated into non Islamic languages, are to violate sexually the red line of some one's "Mahram".

Schools "Madrasseh" were initially then preferably built for male Muslim children. Except in liberal or less Islamic societies, the schools should respect the aim of the "Non-Mahram" dogma avoiding mixed-sex schools that may lead to children's temptation.

Very contrary to the phobia of temptation staged by the "Non-Mahram" dogma of sex-segregation, and based on Freudian psychoanalysis, such a sex-separation not only reduces the learning efficiency but also damages the normal sequence of developmental stages of children and can lead to later different sexual perversities . Sexual frustration can transform into sadism, aggression or blind obedience as remarked in religious or authoritarian societies described by W. Reich.

Low rate of sexual crimes in Iranian rural population, comparable with cities, is an obvious example for rejecting of "Non-Mahram" dogma focusing on the idea of temptation. In fact despite being governed by the IRI, peasant and Bedouin women neither wear hijab, nor are they locked away in the house.

All of those measures that lead to the sex-segregation in the Islamic world are reflected from the dogma of "Non-MMahram", a deep established belief system effecting and colouring many aspects of social norms. It is as dogma, a social phenomenon with stereotyped resonances reflecting stronger and more absolute than its origin, the Islamic belief itself.

The effects of sex-segregation as resonance of the "Non-Mahram" dogma have had also crucial results on the social backwardness. As a psychological effect, a group of mixed-sex persons behaves not only socially but also in performance very differently from a group of same sex. Considering only the factor of mixture, the first group is more motivated and more efficient than the second one. The women's non active participation in economy and production of social needs is another reason for backwardness. The secluded Muslim woman would not be a pattern symbol for her children's understanding of modernity, progress and democracy.

However such points cannot convince the conscious or unconscious followers of "Non-Mahram" dogma who in the consequent logic of Islamic religion believe that shaking hands with a "Non-Mahram" is also not permissible.

A narration from Ibn Yasser said: the Messenger of Allah said:" for one of you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than he should touch a woman who is not permissible for him."

If this narration or any controversial "Surah" is authentic or forged can never really be proved, nevertheless they represent and reinfluence the misogynous character of Islam.

To the Islamic moral, touching women may lead to uncontrollable or passing temptation and immorality. Also a Muslim woman should not show her beauty, adornment and dress to a "Non-Mahram". Therefore the form of head-to-foot hijab with a black cloth, which is not transparent, is recommended for the Islamic hijab.

The Islamic hijab is a red line around a Muslim woman's body to stop a possible temptation with a "Non-Mahram". For that reason the Islamic hijab is considered as a duty for any Muslim woman, and she must comply with that and show her sincere faith in Allah, "who does not tolerate the circumstances that lead to fornication and adultery".

Under those strict, moral necessary conditions to comply with the Islamic hijab the work conditions are particularly difficult for women. Islamic morals cannot accept that a Muslim woman work in a place where she can be in privacy with "Non-Mahrams". She should work only as long as there is no male person responsible for her maintenance. She must always consider and be ready to go back to her "Mahram" circle for her principle work, namely caring about her children and her husband.

She should abide by the Islamic morals in dress, talk, hilarity, etc. She should not touch or shake hands with a "Non-Mahram" colleague, (e.g.); if a Muslim woman works as a nurse or doctor she should treat the "Mahram" patients. It is therefore recommended that all hospitals have to ensure that male nurses/doctors treat men and female colleagues treat women, except in cases of extreme necessity.

One of the main components of the Islamic hijab's dogma is misogyny which is older than the Islamic hijab itself.

Early Christianity invented the idea that not only Eve herself but also all daughters of Eve were full of sin, therefore man was better off not to marry. Since this would be the end of mankind the same people found apparently a compromise and virtually decided that only the impious men marry.

Woman's hair has been considered a source of vitality, and special magic powers have been attributed to it. Long before, the Abol-Hassan Banisadr's famous confirmation -- "the female hair radiates something which acts on the male brain" -- the idea was inspired from mythological, misogynous old stories older than Islam. King Solomon is said to have 700 wives and 300 concubines. David had 99. No early society put any restrictions on the number of wives or put any conditions about how they were to be treated.

It is not for sake of woman's rights that some people try to compare the status of woman under this or that religious or obsolete constitutional system. This can rather be understood as a religious belief of these people in this or that religion, far away from "the sake of woman's rights" in our new society.

The dominant idea in Islam -- not different from other religions -- considers that women, by nature, desire to be looked at, adored and cherished, while the man is inclined towards "Non-Mahram" women. Allah, therefore, warns us against our own nature, which may lead us astray if we do not exercise caution and take necessary safeguards. However these routine views of misogyny present in religions are particularly dramatised by the dogma of "Non-Mahram" in Islam

All the prejudices of the established religions treating women are also clearly inspired from the mythology of a malicious Eve, guilty of the First Sin, seducing Adam to eat the apple.

The vision of an Islamic society has been so amalgamated with the Islamic hijab to the extent that an Islamic society without the Islamic hijab, as its main symbol identity, cannot be envisioned.

Long-term effects of ignoring or underestimating by most opposition parties or political organisations on hijab prevented Iranian women from any serious support against the increasing imposition of the Islamic hijab in recent years.

To Iranian Islamic dominated mass media the Islamic hijab represents a contemporary rebirth of an invulnerable Islamic womanhood. "And beneath its Islamic hijab all the woman's charm and beauty is upheld".

For the IRI, this contemporary rebirth of the Islamic hijab is the only safe guarantee for the women's protection "against danger of brazen indecency which can stifle the Muslim women in sham decadency allowing the Islamic society to be subjugated to the non-believing decadent foreign cultures..."

For such a philosophy and its followers every analogy of the Islamic hijab with expressions like sexism, misogyny, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving is only a petty allegation spewed out by the enemies of Islam. For them, the Islamic hijab is a sign of dignity and a Muslim woman's characteristic identity has to be highly respected. As a chaste, modest, pure woman, "She should avoid her sexuality entering into interactions with "Non-MMahrams" in the smallest degree".

A similar position of the late Taliban regime- while reminding us Khomeini's mediocre but dangerous phraseology with the horrible consequences- alleged that "the world goes under if our women do not wear hijab".

No doubt for the "safeguard" of the world, the IRI ,despite all its manifold problems, has to spend huge resources of manpower, propaganda, organised street fighters against "Bad-Hijab", etc, to impose the Islamic hijab as a status symbol of womanhood on the society.

However neither the IRI can manage to impose the Islamic hijab on Iranian women as long as the secular, modern and free norm exist, nor can a Reza Shah pull off the Islamic hijab from the women's heads as long as the dogma of non-Mahram is not to be reviewed.

Islam includes total submission to Allah in realm of laws, politics, conjugal relations, etc. Islam pretends to be the final message from Allah to mankind. As the religion which supersedes all past divine messages,"it is the only way of life which must be respected under all circumstances and out of any geographical and temporal limits".

Islamic doctrine has four sources of guidance and rulings: the first one is Koran, which pretended to be Allah's word by angel Gabriel in 114 "Surahs" to the prophet of Islam and the second is the "Hadith" or the traditions of the prophet: a collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet complied till 9th, AD. The third one is "Ijma" or consensus and the fourth one is the "Ijtihad" or individual thoughts. "These four sources of Islam must be the only role model for mankind".

Hijab comes from an old Arabic word "hajba" meaning to hide from view. The two sources of Islam, namely Koran and the "Hadith" could not fix a style of dress deeming an Islamic standard of clothing for women. However some controversial "Surahs" in Koran referring to the prophet's conflicts in his harem required his wives to cover their faces so that men "Non-Mahrams" would not think of them in sexual terms, since they were the "Mothers of Believers".

There are speculations about the origin and motive of hijab. The origin could go back to Iranians themselves, to its main present victims, to the 6th. Century BC under Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenian Empire in Persia. Together with the idea of female seclusion, it persisted under Alexander and the Byzantine Empire, and was adopted by the Arab conquerors of the Byzantines. Its use was revived and adjusted in respect to the Prophet of Islam to apply the "Non-Mahram" dogma.

Hijab in its different forms had begun to disappear with the adoption of Western culture, but the Islamic regime in Iran gave it new life in recent decades. It has also been refreshed by the continued postponement in the resolution of Palestinian conflicts, arrogant hegemonic American foreign policies in its absolute support for the aggressive policies of Israel in its occupation of "Islamic territories", demographic realities, economic problems, corrupt dictators and total lack of democracy in the Islamic world. While the Islamic hijab has become for some women a voluntary rejection of the new world, for the majority it remains still a forced acceptance of the old world.

In terms of its appearance the Islamic hijab has politicised the dogma of non-Mahram in an international level provoking more racism and Islamphobia in the industrialised countries. Its protest character is regarded as, more than any other motive, a rejection of the integration or assimilation with the modern world.

The Islamist protagonists, wherever they are, guided or inspired by the IRI, stage the Islamic hijab, among other violent methods, at the middle of their fight for authenticity and against westernisation.

It has been believed that Muslim women throughout history had to cover them-selves with a variety of Islamic hijabs such as lachak. chador, russari, rubandeh, chaqchur, maghnaeh, buraq, etc. None of them was a sign of liberty or modernity. All of them were of clan, ethnic, or other folkloristic origin. They differ from region to region and from social class to social class with no Islamic standard for a single form but actually different variants, all however drawing the red line between "Mahrams" and "Non-Mahrams" with reference to the interpretations of Koran and the "Hadith".

To conclude I point out several traits of Non-Mahram dogma :

- The "Non-Mahram" dogma is the only starting point of the Islamic hijab in its different appearance.

-The "Non-Mahram"dogma is, like religions, a product of the human mind and circumstances, not of "God" and for eternity.

- The "Non-Mahram" applies to a very large number of people is much more effective than the "Mahram" that only refers to a very small number of people.

- Because of its misogynous background the women are more restricted by the "Non-Mahram" dogma than men.

- The "Non-Mahram" dogma has considerably influenced all branches of social life in the Islamic societies.

-The more a Muslim dogmatic "Khirati", and not more necessarily religious, is, the more this Muslim considers the dogma of "Non-Mahram", because of this point I use the word, "Dogma".

However less important what the origin and variants of hijab are and what principled sources back the hijabt up. The Islamic hijab is today an important blockade to woman's freedom, this outdated self appointed obsessive model cannot be applied to today's modern world. The Islamic hijab is a slap in the free woman's face, a blindfold forcing women to remain indoors, reducing and convicting her half that of man, written as a footnote of history, and condemning her to be alien "Non-Mahram" in her own environment.

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Book of the day

Crowning Anguish
Taj al-Saltana, Memoirs of a Persian Princess 1884-1914
edited by Abbas Amanat

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