Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that women are forbidden to ride bicycles in public, Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on November 26.
In response to a religious inquiry, Khamenei also said it is prohibited for women to ride bicycles in the presence of strangers and those who are not their immediate family.
The daily Vaqaye’ Itiffaqqiye, citing a member of Khamenei’s so-called fatwa office, had reported back in August 2016 that “from the ayatollah’s point of view, women are only permitted to ride motorbikes or bicycles so long as it does not attract strangers or lead to corrupt behavior. Therefore, women should contemplate where and in what situation they will ride a bicycle. If they respect the said points, then riding bicycles for them would be permissible.”
However, websites close to ultra-conservatives published comments Khamenei made 21 years ago at a meeting with the staff of the Physical Education Organization, in which he maintained, “It is improper for girls to ride bicycles on the streets of Tehran. And ostentation and attracting strangers is also forbidden for women in sports.”
President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy for women affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, asserted shortly after, “According to the supreme leader’s office, riding bicycles by women is permissible, provided they respect the principles of shari’a law.”
Less than two weeks later, security and police forces halted a prescheduled plan for what they dubbed family-riding bicycles, supporting a campaign labeled as Tuesdays Without Vehicles.
The campaign was initiated by environmental activists in the province of Arak and was supported by the Department of Environment.
The head of the department went even further, declaring it would be prepared to provide loans for those interested in buying bicycles.
But the whole campaign was aborted when Sunni Friday Prayer leader in the mainly Kurdish-populated city of Marivan stepped in and bitterly attacked the initiative. Consequently, many Marivani women were detained while riding bicycles in support of the Tuesdays Without Vehicles campaign.
A group of women in Tehran, carrying banners, citing Khamenei as saying, “Women riding bicycles is legal as well as religiously legitimate”, unsuccessfully tried to revive the campaign.
That’s when Khamenei stepped in again, and in September 2016 announced, “By riding bicycles, women often attract the attention of male strangers and expose society to debauchery, and thus contravene women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned.”
Iran is not the only country facing the question of women riding bicycles and motorbikes. In many third-world countries, women riding bicycles are described as infamous, outcasts, and untouchable.
Based on a myth in Tajikistan, girls are told they could lose their virginity if they fall off while riding a bicycle and then finding a husband would be much more difficult.
Meanwhile, more than half of the cyclists in Denmark (55 percent) and Netherland (56 percent) are women. German women and men are almost equal when it comes to riding bicycles.
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