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The Growth of the 'No to Mandatory Hijab' Campaign

By Fereshteh Ghazi, Rooz Online

“Hijab is not mandatory even on Muslim women, let alone on other religious minorities. What requirement? How have our women lived in the villages from the days when Islam appeared? They didn’t wear the chador. ... Who in our demonstrations mandated or required our women to come with hijab? They themselves felt the responsibility to do this. But today too nobody has mandated that they wear or not wear a head scarf.”

Photos: Morality Police Hunting "Improperly Clothed" Women In Tehran

These are the words of ayatollah Taleghani a month after the Pahlavi monarchy was toppled in 1979 by revolution, as published in Etelaat newspaper. Probably very few people at that time imagined that one of the first acts of the young revolution would be to take away the right of Iranian women to wear their clothing of choice, turning the policing of women’s clothing into a full time job of the Islamic republic. Soon, the media would be banned from engaging in any discussion about the freedom of choice regarding clothes or opposition to thehijab. Soon, many Iranian women would recurrently end up at police stations and enforcement bureaus for displeasing officials over their choice of clothes.

But today, 33 years after the imposition of the hijab in Iran, as the Qom Theological Seminary has put the training of special cadre on the subject of hijab is on its work agenda, and as senior officials of the Islamic republic, particularly those active in cultural issues, still talk of confronting women with “bad hijab” in all sectors of society such as students, workers and even pedestrians - something they have been doing for the past 33 years - a campaign has been born whose slogan and goal is “The Right to Choose the Hijab, is the Right of the Iranian Woman.”

No to Mandatory Hijab

The “No to Mandatory Hijab” is a campaign that was launched on Facebook on July 11, 2012 with the slogan, “Voluntary hijab is the right of every Iranian woman.” The originators of this campaign are liberal students from Iranian universities and 14 thousand people have signed up on Facebook. One of the interesting aspects of this campaign is that its membership includes a variety of political personalities and activists with different and even conflicting political views, opinions, and leanings.

Behzad Mehrani, one of the founding members, told Rooz, “The originators of this campaign are liberal students and graduates from Iranian universities” who have launched this movement with the cooperation of independent political and civil activists. The main goal of the campaign is to stress the right to choose any lifestyle and the choice of hijab, and generally choice of clothing, is part of that. According to Mehrani, more than half of the members of the campaign are Iranian students in the country, as are its founders.

This is an online campaign in cyberspace. But what are its prospects there and in the real world? Will the movement remain in the stratosphere or finds its way into Iranian society?

“Our group issued a statement on hijab last year and invited political groups with varying and different views to express their positions on the right to freely choose one’s clothing. The effect of such actions can be that citizens and political and religious activists will come together on specific issues and calls. This can be a beginning for action in the real world. Most political groups today stress freedoms but to manifest any freedom requires action. When practical issues come up, these very groups begin to separate from each other and break away, which shows that what they share is simply the term freedom, and not its actual manifestations,” Mehrani said.

He said about 1200 people had sent photographs to the site, some of which are posted on the campaign website. Of these, 500 people did this from inside Iran, which Mehrani said they did despite the censorship and restrictions. He named Mohsen Kadivar, Reza Alikhani, ayatollah Abdolhamid Masoomi Tehrani, Abbas Hakimzadeh, Ahmad Batebi, Mehran Barai, Mohammad-Reza Jalaipour and many journalists and artists as people who had “joined” the campaign.

Photos: Women Attending Concert In Tehran Arrested By Morality Police

Some have said that some prominent figures had put their names on the campaign for political purposes rather than believing in the cause itself. This is something Mehrani does not deny but explains, “What people really believe deep down inside is not an easy determination. But since some of these individuals are political activists who may have ambitions of holding high offices in Iran, it would be good if the campaign could publish their views on the right to wear the clothing of your choice.” He adds that civil and political activists, along with regular citizens inside and outside the country have an agreement over a specific issue which is indicated in this campaign. More than 70 percent of those who have joined the campaign are regular folks, he said.

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