Hengameh shaidi / Reflections on a hijab-wearing Iranian feminist

Reflections on a hijab-wearing Iranian feminist and how she touched my life

In the summer of 2007, I was an intern for Women Living Under Muslim Laws, working at its international-coordination office in London. The organization has a network of thousands of people around the world working on human-rights issues, and staff in the office was often invited to events in town. In June, the Council of Ex-Muslims, an advocacy group, was launching their U.K. chapter and we were invited to the kick-off event.

I had mixed feelings about the Council of Ex-Muslims, as they’re strong advocates of women’s human rights, but also exhibit anti-Muslim bias. But I decided to accept the invitation, since many of the group’s founders are involved in Iranian women’s issues and I was working, at the time, on a report for WLUML on the contemporary Iranian women’s movement.

At the event, a number of the panelists talked about how the label “Muslim”
had been forced upon them — either because their families were Muslim or because they lived in Muslim-majority countries. Many now considered themselves secular humanists, and told harrowing stories of the abuse they had suffered in the name of Islam.

The audience was filled with human-rights advocates, journalists, and friends of the panelists. One individual, however, stood out — the only hijab-wearing woman in the audience. She stood in the back, occasionally scribbling notes on her legal pad.<... >>>

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