Free Thoughts on Iran
Front Page | About FToI | Authors | Archives | Comment Policy | Disclaimer

bra.gif Iran versus HIV | Main | Can new-conservativism save Iran? ket.gif

November 23, 2003

Hijab as City Walls
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

shahrnush.jpg Last week on Saturday night, I went to Khane Iran in Boston to listen to Shahrnush Parsipour, a well-known Iranian female author as well as a prison celebrity, due to her experiences in prison both before and after the Revolution.

Her talk was not about literature but was about Hijab. She narrated a segment of Gilgamesh, which is an important 5000-year-old epic from Mesopotamia to point out that the concept of covering women's hair existed a very long time ago. I found the reference in Gilgamesh in Tablet X:

The tavern-keeper Siduri who lives by the seashore, she lives... the pot-stand was made for her, the golden fermenting vat was made for her. She is covered with a veil ...

Parsipour tried to relate the name of the girl, Siduri, to the word "Shahr", meaning "city" in Persian, which was not covincing. She wanted to say that Siduri is like a city and covering her acts as a wall around the city. She expanded a bit more on her theory by saying that since the Middle East is geographically located in an area that is constantly under attack from all diffent sides, people started to protect women, who were physically weaker, with Hijab.

In the Q&A, a few people took issues with her theory for the origin of covering women. A friend sitting next to me pointed out that in Iran before Islam, the rich people had Hijab, which was made out of expensive material, while peasant women would go around bare headed. He also insisted that the Quran has only required Hijab for wives of the prophet, which is not quite true*. A woman criticized Parsipour by saying that this is a multifaceted issue and she can not narrow it down to only a geographical component. Another woman supported Parsipour by pointing out that women in Iraq are covering up because of the insecurity as a result of occupation. A gentleman questioned why we should care about the history of Hijab while in its new form, it is a political issue.

I bought her Prison Memoirs book at the talk and read it in the past few days. Now it is much more clear to me why the issue of Hijab is so important to her. Throughout her time in a women's prison (somewhere like this), Hijab was used as a tool to subjugate prisoners. She paid heavily for resisting it. This is why she is trying to find out what is behind the obsession of some to force head covering on others. She points out that it is not all about Islam, but that the roots of Hijab should be investigated in other places.

*There is no explicit reference to Hijab in Quran. The following verses are the important ones. It is clear that it includes all believers but it is not clear whether women have to cover their hair.

"O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed..." (Quran 33:59)

"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands..." (Quran 24:31)

*Iranian Online magazine has a few features on Shahrnush Parsipour.

Somayeh Sadat at November 23, 2003 04:44 PM [permalink]:

I can believe her. I have seen families who do not really believe in Islam, but don't let their daughters to wear open clothes. They don't care if there is a piece of hair out of the scarf, but overall, they want their daughters be covered. So, Hijab may be more of a cultural thing rather than a pure Islamic thing.

AliS in Wonderland at November 23, 2003 07:08 PM [permalink]:

Mehdi can you explain her experience with Hijab issue in the prison a little more?

Senior Grad at November 23, 2003 08:45 PM [permalink]:

Could I help giving you a piece of my mind on this utterly important issue, although Mehdi's cool and noncommittal treatment of the subject doesn't leave much room for debate? No freaking way! :-)

I too find Parsipur's "linguistic" explanation (as related by Mehdi) far-fetched. I personally like Farzaneh Milani's deeper analysis of the subject of hijab, what it means/meant for an Iranian woman to wear hijab in various contexts. (Around the time of 1979 revolution, for example, many young female fans of Dr. Shariati's ideas chose hijab as a means of expressing themselves politically and/or ideologically, while in the short time-spane of 25 years, having as scant a hijab as possible has come to symbolize some of fed-up girls' defiance in the streets of Iranian cities.) Granted, Milani too sometimes offers rather far-fetched explanations (she finds the fact that the nightingale in Persian poetry is always the *male* lover somehow related to some derivations of the Persian word BOLBOL), but we should give credit to her where it's due.

Why is the origin of hijab, the way it is practiced in Iran (or Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia or Morocco) important? I don't think we will ever be able to answer the question: What did God mean in His holy book by the verse Mehdi quoted. Well, okay, maybe in the day of judgement we will finally be able to find out, but then it's going to be a little too late; won't it?

(A point to ponder: If hijab is Persian, rather than Islamic (See ), then shouldn't we, the patritic Iranians that we are, preserve it as a sympol of our national pride and our glorious history?)

I find the story of hijab having been the costume of upper class women at some point plausible. I have read somewhere about it and the explanation was quite convincing. The women who had to *work* (in the farms, for instance, like many women in rural Iran today) could not afford the luxury of being covered head to toe, like a beautiful pearl in its shell (the metaphor Iranian mullahs have been using to justify hijab), because that would mean their having servants to do their chores for them.

Final piece: I was once browsing through a book on the history of Peru. (Don't ask why!) Like all the children my age, I was fascinated, not by the text, but by the illstrations on glassy papers in the middle of the book. I was surprised to see pictures of Peruvian women of previous centuries in chadors, and upon more investigation I found out that these women also belonged to the the "aristocracy" of Peru. I'm not sure if there was a Moorish connection as well or not. These women has a special name in Spanish that I cannot recall, but I remember I could not easily find pictures of them on the internet. Time to go to the library, then. :-)

Senior Grad at November 23, 2003 09:00 PM [permalink]:

By the way, the head-cover (or various sorts of head gears) have not been, throughout the history, only restricted to women. I remember reading hadiths (Islamic traditions) saying it is MOSTAHAB[=religiously commendable] for men to cover their head while sitting in the restroom or wherever there is no roof. (I may have gotten it the other way around, so please correct me, if it is the case.) Here, in the United States, Jewish men cover their head, although symbolically, by yarmulkes. And if you watch the movie "Fiddler on the Roof", which is about the suffering of a people as well as the inevitable transition of their culture, you see that the protagonist wears something much heavier than a yarmulke.

Enlighten yourself:

Senior Grad at November 23, 2003 09:24 PM [permalink]:

And much more important than my comments above is the following that I've always been wondering:

Assume, for the sake of argument, that it is finally somehow proved that God has meant muslim women to wear hijab, the way it is prescribed by the Iranian authorities. So far, so good. Still, I believe there is a wide (logical?) gap between this as an Islamic rule and *legislating* that kind of hijab (or any other kind) as mandatory, even for muslim women.

In Islamic jurisdiction(s), certain punishments are established for certain acts. For example, if (in an Islamic society) someone in the holy month of Ramadan eats in public, then they are punishable by law, but I seriously wonder if a muslim who for whatever reason decides not to fast, but do not eat in public either, should also be punished upon being found guilty of the sin of not fasting.

Excuse my obsession with Ramadan, but my point is committing a sin (here and under our assumption: not wearing hijab) per se does not entail being punished by police, the way we have been told in Iran.

So I guess the gist of my argument is: not committing every sin is a legal matter (if someone commits the sin of suicide and does not succeed then it makes little sense to punish him by death penalty, but joking aside, who is going to punish us for the daily petty sins that we constantly commit in public and in private, or what is the Islamic punishment for lying to your little brother or your nosy neighbor?), and not even the other way around. (Is reckless driving a sin in Islam?) So I don't quite see how by simply declaring hijab as a religious duty of the believers we can *automatically* derive legal conclusions. Do you?

yaser at November 23, 2003 09:59 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad,
Unlike we all hear these days, I personally think that someone could very well argue that Hijab is not a private and personal issue that everyone has to deside herself. The fact that people are walking in the public and therefore seen by others gives the authority to the government to enforce certain dress code. The problem with Hijab in Iran is not that the government is intervening in personal life of women, but it is that there is no longer this consences among the people that not wearing Hijab is harmful to the society. I do belive that there are certain rights that even majority of the people can not take away from the minority but Hijab does not fall into this category. That's why I personally think that for instance it is the right of the minority to take benefit of a nude beach ( because people who doesn't want to see it can simply not go there)
but the minority may not have the right to go unveiled to street if the majority doesn't want ot. As far as I know, the comulsary Hijab is not related to the sin, but more to its social effects at least for those who believe on it.

Senior Grad at November 23, 2003 11:05 PM [permalink]:

Thanks for the prompt feedback, Yaser. What I was saying was, even after unanimously agreeing on what Islamic hijab really is, we'll be still a step away from making it, that is to say, the Islamic hijab, *not* covering your body parts, mandatory.

Yes, I suppose one can argue that in human societies today observing certain rules for covering certain parts of the body should be legalized (although I do not have a first-hand information about such arguments, even in a country where they're so fussy about the smallest details in matters related to legislation and jurisdiction), and violating those rules should be punishable by law. But, did Prophet Muhammad himself, for example, ever jailed, or in any other way punished, a woman for not covering her hair? What about Ali, during his short reign as the ruler of Islamic society? See, the problem is there has never been, according to (most?) Shiite ulema, a society ruled by piuos Muslim rulers after the time of Imam Ali up until the Islamic revolution of 1979! So in determining what "sins" are punishable by law, and what kind or how much the punishment is, in cases like hijab things seem to be kind of arbitrary. To the best of my meager knowledge there is nowhere in the Shii jurisprudence a punishment prescribed for a woman whose hair is uncovered in public. In other words, Iranian Islamic revolutionaries simply made that up by establishing a plausible, but not well-argued connection, between Islamic-ness of hijab (they way hijab was conceived in Iranian society) and its being compulsory by law.

As for Sunni ulema's opinion, I guess one could reasonably ask whether during the time of other Caliphs there has ever been a punishment for a woman who shew off her hair or too much skin.

In any case, I do agree with you that covering one's body *can* indeed be a public issue, but we should not mix it all up with the an Islamically advised dress code. I think what determines what the boundaries of decency in every society are, that is, at what point the cohesion of a society is jeopardized, depends on so many parameters, *at least* because the words involved (decent, healthy society, cohesion, etc.) are hard to define.

My contention is that most urban Iranians today, thanks to their pre-revolutionary experience, can in fact go about their normal lives in society without being too fussy about whether some women's hair is showing or not, although they may suffer if a considerable number of women decide overnight to show too much skin on the streets.

Look at Pakistan, or other muslim countries, whose population on average -let's face it- are much "more" muslim than Iranians are. Their women wear decent clothes without necessarily covering their hair. The Westerners who travel to these societies may be advised to respect the local culture and avoid wearing shorts and miniskirts, but we have been sticking to some "laws" that have made us the object of ridicule throughout the world. (How could Madeline Albright visit Tehran, even if they wanted her to?! Okay, some female Japanese minister visited Iran once, but she looked funny; didn't she?) And imagine how much our tourist industry suffers (See, for example, , but be forewarned that it's kind of irrelevant to this topic!) And thus I digress...

Senior Grad at November 23, 2003 11:35 PM [permalink]:

By the way, the above comment was just a response to the first three lines (or so) of your comment, Yaser. As for whether nudists have the right to have their colonies, I could ask again: why should we, Iranians, go from one extreme to another? Don't we people have some common sense about what is decent and what is not? Towards the end of your comment, you seem to have equalled "unveiled" with "nude". If I had more time tonight, I would use google to find so many decent images of women with their heads uncovered. In fact, believe it or not, I've seen with my own eyes, female muslim professors of Islamic studies without hijab on TV. :-)

But I see your point/problem. You fluctuate between the extremes, because endowed with the mind/training of a scientist, you want to offer an all-encompassing argument, thus covering all possible scenarios. Well, is that the right approach here?

See, in almost all schools of ethics, harming other fellow human beings is considerend immoral, but when it comes to what "harm" exactly means, the problems start. In our society, one can be easily admonished for wearing a bright shirt during a religious mourning holiday (of which we have many in our calendar), because some people may find it offensive (read: harmful, or hurtful). That is, in our society, in order to hurt some people's feelings you don't need to show off your private parts--the mere act of wearing pair of pants of the wrong color, say white, will do. :-) So yes, if indeed we're this sensitive to what others wear and seeing people wearing what we don't like can ruin our day and decrease our productivity, then some strict dress code should naturally be enforced.

Senior Grad at November 24, 2003 07:48 AM [permalink]:

And although it is not 100% related to Mehdi's post(ing) here, I should like to bring up the issue of hijab being mandatory in Iran, not only for Muslim women but for the minorities. Again, I suppose Muslim clergy cannot make up laws (BID'A) out of their own will, so if Koran requires the female *believers* to cover their head, then the heathens should be left on their own. Isn't it not only absurd, but *un-Islamic*, therefore, to force non-Muslim women in Iran wear veil as well?

Here's some pseudo-analysis as for why Muslim clergy (specifically in Iran) have found it their duty to impose hijab, as well as other religious FORMalities (form, as opposed to *content*), as much as they have been able to. It seems that for many centuries now, the common strategy in their keeping the religion of God alive has been making it hard and unpleasant for the believers to leave the faith. Wherever they have found it hard to preserve the core [MAGHZ] of religion --and they have found it increasingly harder by time-- they have consoled their conscience by at least maintaining the facade [POOSTEH] of it.

So, why can't I imagine an Iran under the mullahs in which Iranian women from religious minorities and toursits from Buddhist cultures can uncover their heads in public? Because mullahs fear this would tear apart the remaining worn-out fabric of the society. The tree of Islam they have tended to is now so hollow inside and so vulnerable to the winds, even breezes of "onslaught" by of other cultures. I presume they fear, and rightly so, that once some women are excepted from having to wear hijab in Iran, Muslim girls, too, find it more fun (not to mention more healthy, both psychologically and physiologically) to expose their hair. This would of course be against the number one rule: Make it hard and unpleasant for believers to leave faith, not fun and pleasant, and therefore (and that's the flaw of their argument) keep the flag of Islam flying.

Senior Grad at November 24, 2003 09:24 AM [permalink]:

So while in other Islamic societies (I've been to none, but I've seen non-Iranian Muslims here, who wear hijab because they believe in it) the efforts of the clergy seems to be focussed on persuading the believers to practice Islam and behave Islamically at their own *free will*, in the Islamic Republic of Iran mullahs have found it much easier to simply *force* practicing Islam and behaving Islamically.

Is it, I wonder, yet another unpleasant outcome of having the religion and the state intermixed? :-)

Senior Grad at November 24, 2003 01:20 PM [permalink]:

More thoughts:

So from I don't know what time (Arab conquest of Perisa, or maybe much later?) up until the year 1848 when Tahirih Qurratu'l-'ayn (see ) unveiled herself in front of men, all Iranian (urban) women were observing hijab steadfastly. It probably did not even occur to most of them that they could live their life any other way. Hijab was a given. It was a very stong cultural element, so mullahs didn't really have to do much to preserve it. (I'm trying to see things from the perspective of an Iranian living in mid nineteenth century.) I don't know what exactly happened to Iranian women's fight against their traditional cover (among many other things) after Tahirih was killed up until 1930s when Reza Shah openly enforced a mass unveiling of women. But I suppose during this period ulema/mullahs did not see a significant opposition to hijab among the populace. Maybe only a very few women dared to go unveiled in public. But when Reza Shah made it official then they found themselves face to face with a mighty ruler who couldn't care less about how mullahs think the people should live their life. So it seems reasonable to me that it marks the starting point of a challenge for mullahs as how to keep the tradition of hijab. Of course, one obvious way to persuade Iranians to stick to their hijab was somehow connecting it to their beloved religion. (The issue of hijab, to be sure, went way beyond a divine edict, and relied heavily on chauvinistic feeling of the male population, the way the issue of virginity today persists among the non-religious Iranian men, ann has little to do with religion, but more to do with our "honor".) In fact, the mullahs probably saw hijab as something genuinely Islamic. Being mostly men themselves, they also didn't mind using the patriarchal structure of our culture towards their "Islamic" ends by spreading the idea that wearing hijab was part of the true religion. There are two verses in Koran (I'm relying on Mehdi here) that say something about muslim women's modest clothing, but not about chador being the "superior" hijab, or things of this sort. Anyway, in the Pahlavis' era the best they could do about hijab was limited to what mullahs in most other muslim countries can do today: promoting Islamic values and, as a result, promoting, or at least preserving, the culture of hijab. Then in 1979 Pahlavis were a thing of the past and mullahs gained power. What were they going to do now? If I were a young and honest mullah at that time, I would have a million dilemmas, among which: how to treat the issue of hijab? They (or Ayatollah Khomeini alone?) made it mandatory (big mistake, because now they cannot come out of the pit they've dug for themselves, similar to a host of other stands they took regarding a million other issues) and here we are today, not knowing how to get out of the pit. It's in some ways (at least in its being a metaphorical pit) similar to Iran's relation with the U.S. There, too, nobody knows how we can get ourselves out of the commitment we made years ago and at the same time saving our face, so I guess we are bound to stay in the status quo, just in order to save ourselves the embarrassment of saying: "I ate **it" for an indefinite period of time. :-)

Senior Google at November 24, 2003 01:48 PM [permalink]:

A treasury of articles about cultural aspects of clothing:

maryam at November 24, 2003 06:06 PM [permalink]:

Your article reminded me of the story of a man called Enkidu in the Gilgamesh epic. His fall from his innocence is sexual, seduction by a harlot, but then the outcome for him is civilization, though he loses his happy association with the natural world.
Sumerian law gave women important rights, for example divorce arrangements provided for women as well as men to seek separation, though a wife’s adultery was punishable by stoning while a husband’s was not. This can be explained with the concern over inheritance. Mesopotamian law later began to emphasize the importance of virginity and to impose the veil on women from the high class. It seems that the society was very conscious of the dangerous and even awe-inspiring power of female sexuality and actually they are the fist who wrote about passion! So I agree with that lady that veil has a deep root in the Near-East dating back to centuries before the coming of Christianity and Islam! for example “an eye for an eye” principle goes back to Hammurabi’s time and it's not an invention by Jesus or Moses!
What I don’t understand from your article is what she wanted to conclude from this!
Also,I don’t know whether other societies such as Chinese had the same view about women and the veil! Could it be related to the fact that Near-eastern women were/ are more feminine and seductive!? ;)

hazhir at November 24, 2003 08:05 PM [permalink]:

Yaser, you said "I do belive that there are certain rights that even majority of the people can not take away from the minority but Hijab does not fall into this category", My question is: "Who should decide what issues fall into the former vs. the latter category?"
For example, what if I believe not wearing Hejab does fall under the natural right category? Or 51% of population think "Freedom of thought" is NOT in such category (I guess you would put it in a natural right category)?
I think invoking public vs. private in answering this question is not enough, as for one thing, if sth is really private, then no rule can trace it so the rule becomes almost meaningless.
I don't have any clear answer, just wanted to ask the questions and see how other think... I might have missed Senior Grads answers to these questions, as he writes faster than I can read!

Sara at November 24, 2003 11:40 PM [permalink]:

I'm not sure when we can say a society has really reached a point at which its women can be treated justly courteous and therefore hijab would no longer be an issue -if it does in fact reach such a point at all!? One thing I know, is our society has not.

Dear Senior Grad, you have mentioned that "we have been sticking to some "laws" that have made us the object of ridicule throughout the world." I would argue that a nation's rules are path-dependant. As many might agree these rules are absolute and natural repercussions of Reza Khan's unprecedented unjust and voilent civil actions in regard to hijab, at the pre-revolutionary times in Iran. If a society would naturally reach the point I mentioned, why should it be Forced in such a barbaric way.

yaser at November 25, 2003 12:37 AM [permalink]:

Hazhir, Your question is: "Who should decide what issues fall into the former vs. the latter category?" My answer is "the majority". Because this is the only way to decide on that. Obviously everyone has his own judgement of what is private and public. For instance my judgement says that Hijab is publich issue and not private. But in order to implement it in the society, we have no way other than to see what majority thinks. When you say "If something is really private", this is simply your idea. What if someone says "No, this is not." An example, if majority thinks that women have to wear Hijab even in their homes, you and I would think that this is meaningless. However we have to let the majority to do what they think is right.

Senoir Grad, Just want to thanks for your comments. I agree with many part of it and nothing too much important to contribute at this point.

Mehdi Y. at November 25, 2003 01:24 AM [permalink]:

To be honest, I haven't developed a consistant opinion on the issue of Hijab even though in practice I support letting women choose to have it or not.

I tend to agree with Yaser that wearing Hijab in public space is something that can be decided by the majority. It is not intrinsicly any different from let say females going topless or gay marriage(which are both banned in the U.S.). But what I think is missing from Yaser's perspective is the role of constitution. A constitutions can set general principles that can later on be used by a minority in a specific issue against the will of majority. For example, in a constitution, it can be written that no laws should discriminate between men and women. Majority of a population might agree with this principle because they can not forsee all the future implications. So if the issue of Hijab comes up, women can argue that this is discriminating against them in courts, and majority can't do much because of constitution. They can change the constitution, but it is usually hard to change a big principle because of a specific issue and also constitutions have other safeguards such as requiring a 2/3 majority to be changed.
Another example is when in a country that there lots of religious disagreements, people can decide that they want a strict secularism. Then they can write in their constitution that no religious argument is allowed in supporting laws. If this is the case a law for making Hijab obligatory can not stand because even if it is passed by a majority in the parliment, it can be challenged in the court, and it is very very difficult to prove that Hijab is useful for society without heavily relying on religous arguments, which are constitutionally ruled out.
I'll try to write more on my understand of the concept of constitution in a separate article.

Mehdi Y. at November 25, 2003 01:39 AM [permalink]:

Answering to AliS question:

Female prisoners who did not wear black chador were constantly harassed. Parsipour resisted to wear chador for a while, but after a cell-mate who had befriended her was executed, she realized that the situation is very dangerous and she shouldn't risk her life by being stubburn.
a segment of her Prison Memoirs in Persian

Mehdi Y. at November 25, 2003 01:49 AM [permalink]:

In response to Maryam,

Parsipour in fact talked about Chinese culture in contrast to Middle East. She said that because China is protected by its geography from 4 directions, there is no strong concept of good vs bad, and unlike Middle East, women can not be categorized with other BAD things since the concept of bad(darkness...) doesn't exist in the same way.

Grand Vizier at November 25, 2003 09:37 AM [permalink]:

That's an analogy taken to extremes... I really like symbolic reasoning but this is simply too far-fetched, Mehdi.

Senior Grad at November 25, 2003 10:45 AM [permalink]:

Sorry about writing a lot, guys. I must have been in a frenzy yesterday (and, all right, on Sunday as well). Upon re-reading my comments last night I realized that there are some conceptual gaps in my writings. The most notorious one, IMO, is where I wrote: "I think what determines what the boundaries of decency in every society are ... depends on so many parameters [a big gap here] *at least* because the words involved ... are hard to define." The large number of parameters doesn't seem to have a lot to do with the words being hard to define. I myself cannot bridge the gap right now, but let me say a few things in regard to the well-founded concern (fear?) that if we allow women to go bare-headed in public, then who knows what they're going to do tomorrow? In other words, how are we going to control what they're going to wear, and how much they're going to let us see in public? Things will probably get worse (or better, depending on your perspective) than Shah's time!

The mindset behind this kind of thinking is a strong tendency of Shiite mullahs to formulate everything. They take pride in their version of Islam having an answer to every problem (which is fine), and they also think they are qualified to find these answers (who else, if not they?). They are also pretty mathematically-minded! That's why for example we have a table of SHAKIYAAT (which is not easier to memorize than the multiplication table) prescribing what to do if in the middle of a prayer one doubts whether one has finished only 1 RAK'AT of the prayer or 11 of them. :-)

They would like to have clear-cut rules for all occasions of human relationship as well: For example, ALL sorts of touching between men and women who are not related is forbidden, from a simple handshake to use your imagination. This tendency to formalize everything, I don't see in (the current format of) Christianity. A lot of things are left to the common sense. Weather a hug was simply a friendly gesture or had sexual connotations is left to people to decide.

Same is true with their approch to the issue of hijab. Koran itself has said some vague thing about covering the bosoms (not mentioning the hair at all), but MM (mathematical mullahs) were not happy with that and found it their duty to strip our lives of all subtelties that could have made our life exciting. Well, I have a feeling that I lack the vocabulary to put it in articulate terms, but let me try: You cannot "ideaologize" a people's culture by putting it under the burden of clear-cut rules, more than you can suppress the growth of a tree. The culture of a people is like an organism and has an independent existence of its own and thus will emerge from under the ashes and continues its own growth as soon as it gets the chance.

I haven't read your comments yet, but I will and if something occurs to me, I won't hesistate to write still more comments. :-)

Senior Grad at November 25, 2003 11:09 AM [permalink]:

maryam wrote: "Also,I don’t know whether other societies such as Chinese had the same view about women and the veil! Could it be related to the fact that Near-eastern women were/ are more feminine and seductive!?" which, first of all, makes me realize I misspelled "whether" in my previous comment. :-) I understand that maryam is being at least half-humorous about Near-Eastern women being exuding more of what can perhaps be called as "female mystique", but I've got to share my viewpoint: Like our proverb-obsessed foerfathers I think every flower has a scent of its own. :-) You can learn to like Chinese food, for example, although at the beginning it smells horrible to you. In other words, what charms (or seduces) you is more like an acquired taste. ;-)

One could waste thousands of pages about the aesthetic aspect of femininity, as scholars have, certainly done, but the subject still remains elusive, and that's the fun part of it: The un-capturablity of it by words and mathematically inspired rules and formulas (although some such formulas have a beauty of their own, but that's another matter). However, mullahs have managed to kill the concept of "style", so Iranian men who go abroad for the first time can see things only in black and white: they (or at least the ones I have come in contact with) fail to appreciate a fashion. They just care about how much women are showing. :-)

But back to maryam's quoted sentence above, it'd be interesting to do a research on how different cultures developed different costumes. We seem to know at least a little bit about how ancient Persians clothed themselves, but do we know how women were dressed in public during the era of Sa'di and Hafez? I personally have no clue.

Or, one can forget about the history and focus on geography to see in today's world how different peoples clothe themselves and what their various clothings signify. Even today in some tribes, I'm sure, women have no concept of bra, and it's just as natural for them to walk around bare-bosomed. Hmmm. Could it be that in Muhammad's time also some Arab women didn't cover their breasts? In light of the revealed verses, that seems quite plausible to me. :-)

Senior Grad at November 25, 2003 11:31 AM [permalink]:

Dear Sara,

I don't quite understand what you mean by "path-dependent". (Is that also a mathematical term?) But I agree with you that Reza Shah's actions were not wise at all. Like our beloved mullahs, he too thought he could simply change the culture of a people by setting up certain strict rules and designating severe punishments for those who violate those rules. I don't know what he (or his grand viziers ;-) ) were thinking. Who knows, he might have wanted to show ulema/mullahs who the boss is. :-) I also think harassing women who are not "properly" covered on the streets, in the name of NAHY AZ MONKAR is no less barbaric than what Reza Shah did to women who he thought were "over-covered". :-)

I also have some faint recollections of Shah's time and how hijab-less women were perceived in our society: Iranians came in two flavors: MO'MEN (religious) and, uh, I guess "non-MO'MEN". When you said so-and-so was MO'MEN it means that she wore chador (the concept of manteau, as far as I can tell, is a post-revolutionary innovation). (After the revolution, the terminology naturally changed.) In pre-revolutionary Iran MO'MENs were respected, by and large, as pious individuals who didn't drink alcohol, their women didn't mix with men, and of course there was the stigma of being backward. non-MO'MENs, on the other hand, were often perceived as morally loose, decadent, and Westoxicated individuals by the MO'MEN populace.

However, there seems to be much more tolerance back in the day, compared to what we see in Iran today. As I said in one of my comments above, in Iran today even a slightly unsual haircut can provoke the rage of the masses who have lost their sons, fathers and husbands in the war. "We didn't sacrifice our youth only to see you wear a white pair of pants", is their argument. :-)

Am I digressing again? Well, anyway, I guess I share with you the opinion that some Iranian women "abused" the freedom they were given in Shah's time and went to extremes...

Senior Grad at November 25, 2003 11:38 AM [permalink]:

Something else about my own comments yesterday: I realized that my Ramadan analogy was simply a bad example. (The worst that one could come up with, perhaps!) Once again, I agree with Yaser than clothing is a public issue, but who decides to what extent what people wear should be legally ordained by the authorities?

Now, one important question: What would really happen to a brave Iranian woman who decides to go unveiled (while wearing quite decent clothes) to Vali-Asr avenue and decide to somberly walk from Tajrish to Toopkhooneh? Okay, people will stare at her (as we do whenever we see something out of the ordinary), and before she will probably be arrested before she reaches Parkway, but what does the Iranian law *exactly* say about such a case? Suppose she refuses to sign a paper saying she will cover her head next time. Will they beat her, shave her head, jail her, send her to an asylum, or stone her to death? :-) What does the law exactly say?

Senior Grad at November 25, 2003 11:54 AM [permalink]:

Sorry, you may want to replace "somberly" by "solemnly" in my previous comment. Up to you. :-)

Senior Google at November 25, 2003 12:39 PM [permalink]:


Senior Grad at November 25, 2003 03:30 PM [permalink]:

Okay, I guess I now have a word that may help convey the idea: Mullahs' overly legalistic (make sure to look up the word, in a dictionary, or by google!) approach to human affairs has had the major role in leading us to where we stand today.

Too bad I know too little about the history of Muslim societies, but just from hearsay, I suppose there has always been the battle between Faqihs who insisted on the *outside* [POOSTEH] of religion on one hand and Sufis who were more concerned about the *inside* [MAGHZ] of it.

I'm sure there's been various such divisions, but I don't remember the exact words applied to the propnents of such opposing worldviews. In today's Iran, Elahi Ghomshe'i is the only popular advocate of a certain version of Islamic mysticism. Most Sufi orders are legally banned in Iran. In any case, nowadays the battle seems to be between legalistic interpretations of Islam and the West...

Mehdi Y. at November 25, 2003 05:26 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad,

I suggest you to write a full article on Hijab or maybe two full articles. It seems you have an endless interest on this subject:)

AliS in Wonderland at November 25, 2003 06:31 PM [permalink]:

I am not sure if anyone is interested in this or even if it is relevant but if you want to know what a veil symbolizes in Catholicism may be you'd like to have a look at the following link:

Senior Grad at November 25, 2003 08:10 PM [permalink]:

Mehdi Y. wrote: "I suggest you to write a full article on Hijab or maybe two full articles. It seems you have an endless interest on this subject." Why, thank you. I'm flattered, Mehdi. I don't know about an endless *interest*, but I sure seem to have an endless spring of ideas. :-)

As for your suggestion, I don't think I'll have time to write a defensible article, let alone two, on the subject anytime soon. So I'll remain content to toss around some half-baked ideas in my admittedly incoherent comments and let others polish and perfect them. ;-)

Senior Google at November 25, 2003 08:37 PM [permalink]:

This is timely. Try a fresh perspective!

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16


Senior Google at November 26, 2003 11:45 AM [permalink]:

Now Khadija can stop taking daily showers. :-)


Señor Græd at December 4, 2003 07:12 PM [permalink]:

I asked in a comment: "[D]o we know how women were dressed in public during the era of Sa'di and Hafez?" Interestingly, I ran into this today:

"Sheikh Hussein [ibn Juban] took the precaution of ordering the three sons of Mahmud Shah [Inju] to be seized and imprisoned; but while they were passing through the streets of Shiraz in the hands of their captors, their mother, who accompanied them, lifted her veil and made a touching appeal to the people, calling upon them to remember the benefits they had received from their late ruler, the father of the three boys. Her words took instant effect; the inhabitants rose, released her and her sons, and drove Sheikh Hussein into exile."

From the Introduction of "The Garden of Heaven; Poems of Hafiz".