outdated self appointed obsessive model cannot be applied to today's
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
King Solomon is said to have 700 wives and 300 concubines. David
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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