Monday, December 5, 2022

Editorial: Mahsa Amini death sparks protests

An outcry for change within Iran has been prevalent through protest, a protest that began Sept. 21 against the Islamic Republic. Why? The death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, who was in police custody after she was “not fully complying” with Iran’s veiling laws. 

The country’s morality police claimed she was not wearing her hijab properly, and her actions were improper religious observance in public. A hijab is a Islamic head covering that some Muslim women wear, but is mandatory in Iran. After a few days in custody, authorities claim she died from a heart attack. However, many people believed there was an evil sense of corruption behind her untimely death, and at some point during her arrest, she was tortured.

Crowds chanted and women danced in Kurdistan, her home province, and downtown Tehran, Iran. Hundreds of women everywhere began to hold up signs calling for reform, started cutting their hair amid crowds and began burning their hijabs in the streets. Several other places such as NYC and around the world, began to shout back at the injustice of a young womens’ life coming to an end. 

“The participation of women from all walks of Iranian life, and the symbolism of removing the hijab and then burning it — not outside some Islamic center in Europe, but in Tehran, Qom, Isfahan and other large Iranian cities — is unprecedented,” according to New Lines Magazine, a media house in Washington, D.C., and an article written by a woman who grew up in Iraq.

While President Hassan Rouhani was in power in 2017, under the morality police it was ensured that arrests for dress code violations would no longer occur. Under President Ebrahim Raisi, these rules have become more restricted, and in turn, has caused moral turmoil. These protests are making a statement against a polarizing patriarchy that has gone on for far too long. As there have been other protests over other issues in Iran, this has been one of the most polarizing in terms of what women are truly fighting for. Freedom to practice their religion in the way they deem fit, not controlled by the country they live in.

“After Islam, the hijab adopted a different meaning and function. The old status conventions were eliminated and all women were obliged to completely cover all their hair, neck and ears. Tied to the hijab verse in the Quran was a demand to dress modestly, with an emphasis on concealing the bosom. The hijab became associated with modesty and acquired the function of privatizing sexuality by hiding a woman’s physical appeal to “foreign” men outside her immediate family and spouse,” NLM stated. 

Understanding what the hijab represents to a man is vitally important to fully understand why these protests are important. Since the beginning of time, men have tried to control women in any aspect possible. Tying something into religion, and using it as a form of control and not of a woman’s free will to express her religion, is the biggest part of the problem. Women should not be punished for showing a small bit of her hair, or what men deem is the “proper” way to express their religion. Amini’s death was unjust, and even having her in custody was an irrevocable mistake. The sexualization of women is caused by men, and they are the same ones punishing women for a concept that they created, regardless of the Quran’s teachings. 

“While Islamic jurisprudence and fatwas oblige all Muslim women to wear a hijab for the purpose of modesty and concealing sexual appeal, and the Quran also mandates that no skin beyond the face and hands be revealed, failure to follow these requirements to the letter is not an unforgiveable or cardinal sin, according to the Quran itself,” accord to NLM. 

Yet, men still treat women in Iran like they have committed a crime if a woman is seen as not wearing her hijab or properly wearing, and use these teachings as a way to build their democracy. The core function of the hijab is to conceal a woman’s sex appeal, according to Islamic text. Regardless of these teachings and those who wish to follow, the notion that women must be covered at all times is simply a part of a much bigger issue that has been building for years. Western Muslims use the hijab as a symbol of inclusivity and diversity, wearing it as a sense of pride for their beliefs and their faith. So why is it being forced upon women in Iran to appease men, and not to appease their own belief?

The issue is choice. The issue is not giving women the right to express their religion within the confines of the Islamic Republic, without the constraints and structure that men believe is moral. The issue is a political agenda controlling a woman’s belief and what she chooses to do with it.

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