What is “Hijab”?
The Arabic word “Hijab,” which translates to “cover,” is a term frequently used to refer to the Islamic practice of modesty. Muslim women of all ages, backgrounds and culture across the world wear the hijab, which is a headscarf or piece of clothing that covers the head, hair, and neck to protect their modesty and keep out unwanted male attention. Verses extracted from the Quran state that the “Hijab” is an obligatory practice for all Muslim women.
A brief history on the Hijab Law in Iran
The Kashf-e Hijab decree, also known as “unveiling”, required all women to remove their Islamic veils while in public. This decree was issued on 18th January 1936. Reza Shah, who was greatly influenced by Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, issued this decree to encourage Iranians to embrace European clothing in an attempt to support modernisation and nation-building in Iran. While this decree was greatly supported by Iranian women’s rights activists, it was also met with its share of opposition as many conservative women and the religious establishment protested against this reform. The police were instructed to forcefully remove the hijab from any woman who was seen wearing it in public as part of this regulation. Women who dared to object had their chadors and headscarves taken off and were then physically assaulted.
That all changed in 1979 when the Iranian Islamic revolution introduced the concept of hijab law, which is an obligatory dress code for women. On March 7, Khomeini declared that all women, including foreigners and non-Muslim women, must wear the hijab while working and that women were no longer permitted to enter official buildings without a hijab. Women who appeared in public without wearing the hijab were referred to as being “naked” by Khomeini.
In order to enforce the legislation requiring women to wear the hijab, the Islamic government imposed even more regulations and social restrictions. In 1983, an amendment to the penal code that mandated the hijab in public stipulated that women who are seen in public without wearing a religious head covering will be subjected to a whipping of up to 74 lashes. In the 1990s, women who committed the crime of improper hijab were punished with fines and prison sentences of up to 60 days.
A new order issued in January 2018 mandated that women who violated the Islamic dress code had to complete Islamic educational classes. However, they would no longer be subjected to fines or imprisonment.
Who are the morality police?
Iran’s morality police, also known as the Guidance Patrol, are Islamic religious police in the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The morality police are tasked with arresting and “re-educating” people, especially women, who disobeyed the Islamic dress code. Women who failed to comply with the dress code — typically by having their hair show through their hijab — will be forcibly taken into custody and held in a centre where they have to attend Islamic educational classes and are forced to sign a vow to abide by the dress code regulations before being released. While this new regulation only applies to Tehran, the capital of Iran, women who frequently violate the dress code restriction could still face legal repercussions.
The Death of Mahsa Amini
On 16th September 2022, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, also known as Jina Amini by her family, was on a trip to Tehran with her family to visit her brother. She had met up with her brother at the entry of Shahid Haghani Expressway when she was arrested by the Guidance Patrol on the grounds that she had failed to wear her hijab accordingly by allowing her hair to show through. Her brother, who had been with Amini at the time, was informed that she would be brought to the detention facility for a “briefing lesson” and would be released an hour later. However, he would later be informed that she had been sent to Kasra Hospital two hours after her arrest due to her suffering from a heart failure and brain seizure while in the police station.
According to eyewitnesses like the fellow detainees and medical officials, she was brutally tortured and insulted in the back of the van that was transporting them to the police station. She was in a coma for two days before she passed away. Despite the claims from the Law Enforcement Command of Islamic Republic of Iran stating that her death was the result of a heart attack, evidence suggests that she was violently beaten by the police as bruises could be seen on her legs and face. On September 16, journalist Niloofar Hamedi reported that Amini was in a coma by tweeting a picture of her grandmother and father grieving in a hospital hallway. Niloofar Hamedi would later be arrested as the image and Hamedi’s coverage went viral and sparked mass protests.
The Public Reactions Towards Mahsa Amini’s Death
Starting from 16 September 2022, a series of protests have been directed towards the government of Iran. Protesters were chanting phrases such as, “I will kill whoever killed my sister!”, “death to the dictator” and the female protesters were cutting their hair and taking off their hijabs as a way to protest. Going one step further, protesters also burned police stations and cars. As days passed, the news about the death of Mahsa Amini spread like wildfire to other cities in Iran, and more protesters came together in different cities to voice out their disapproval. The protests were not just happening on the streets but also at schools and universities, resulting in these institutions being temporarily shut down. As of 22 October 2022, anti-government protests have taken place in 24 cities within 18 provinces in Iran. Furthermore, this news which was also covered internationally sparked protests in other cities such as London, New York City and Berlin where they protested under the slogan of “women, life, liberty”.
On the internet, the death of Mahsa Amini also created an uproar for many netizens. On Twitter alone, the hashtag #MahsaAmini and other similar hashtags were the most used hashtag on Persian Twitter, with over 80 million tweets using the hashtags. Moreover, a hacktivist group called “Anonymous” claimed that they’ve hacked or taken down at least 100 Iranian websites, including the Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website. Furthermore, this group has access to over 300 CCTV cameras in multiple parts of Iran. Another hacktivist group named Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) hacked a state-run live-television broadcast at around 18:00 local time. Both hacktivist groups are doing such acts in the name of protesting against the government.
The Government and Police Response Towards the Protestors
The first action the government took was to cut off mobile internet service and restrict access to Whatsapp and Instagram in Tehran, where Mahsa Amini died. During the protests, the police fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, metal pellets, teargas, and water cannons at the protestors to cease their protests. As a result, at least 215 people have been killed due to police intervention. Two particular cases were highlighted by the media, which are the death of Hadis Najafi, a 22-year-old female Tiktoker and Asra Panahi, a 15-year-old schoolgirl. Hadis Najafi was part of the protest action at Karaj, one of the cities of Iran. She was shot with live ammunition six times by the police, and there were wounds around her chest, face, and neck. Meanwhile, Asra Panahi and a few of her classmates refused to sing the anthem, which praises the supreme leader, to show a sign of support for the Mahsa Amini protest. The security forces attacked her along with her classmates.
As a result, many schoolgirls were injured and brought to the hospital, including Asra Panahi. Unfortunately, Asra Panahi didn’t survive and passed away in the hospital. To make matters worse, the officials rejected that the security forces were the cause of Asra Panahi’s death. Instead, they stated that a heart problem caused her death. These are just a few cases of specific protesters; In reality, there were many more protesters ranging from teenagers to adults, that were injured, arrested, or killed. Moving away from all the brutality, a few powerful and influential people supported the protest and suggested changing the laws. For instance, Senior conservative politician Ali Larijani stated that he would do a “re-examination” of the mandatory hijab law, and Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani suggested modifying the Constitution of Iran to respond to the protesters.
As of October 2022, the protest is still ongoing in Iran and other parts of the world. These protests are not just simply about the hijab laws, but it’s deeper than that. It is about the sovereignty and freedom that Iranian women currently have limited access to. During the U.N General Assembly, Joe Biden, the president of the United States, said, “And today, we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.” Besides more sovereignty, the protesters are also fighting for their civil, political, and women’s rights in Iran. Céline Semaan Vernon worded it perfectly:
“It’s not about the right of not wearing a hijab; it’s about sovereignty. It’s about freedom of being + the right to choose over our own bodies. The fight in Iran is the same in India & in the USA. We are all fighting for sovereignty & the freedom of our own bodies.”
Written by: Wen Li and Daniel
Edited by: Caitlin