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As of January 2009, this site is definitely closed, but you can follow Safa Haeri on his new blog: DAMAVAND at

Why Islamic Hijab

Published Monday, May 21, 2007

Paris, 21 May (IPS) With the arrival of spring, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s police have launched this year its traditional crackdown on women's dress. Such crackdowns have become a regular feature of Iranian women. The crackdown is to force women to respect the strict Islamic dress code.


Non-mahram, as determinant factor, has created a culture which not only influenced dress, but also social behaviour. It is cumbersomely present in any Islamic society.

Under Iran's Islamic laws “Shari’a”, women are obliged to cover their body from head- to- toe with black veil or at least long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their whole figures. The Islamic dress code is severely imposed this time. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.

Since the existence of the IRI, not a day has passed without attack, physical assault, arrest, acid-throwing, harassment and psychological pressure of women in Iran. The IRI has clearly specified that for women no other sort of dress is permitted except the Islamic hijab.

The first question is:

Why does the IRI since 1979 stubbornly impose Islamic hijab on women of different social backgrounds, ethnics and religious minorities?

The reason why Islam lays great emphasis on hijab is to avoid contacts between women with "non-mahram" men (who are not of very close family links).

Why Islamic Hijab-Body

“Non-mahram” describes the men or women with whom a Muslim adult person can marry the "marriageable". Considering this definition, for a Muslim person, there are two groups of people in the society: mahram and non-mahram.

The first group, or "mahrams", is a little circle of men or women-- parents, grand-parents, children, brothers/sisters, uncles/aunts, grand-children, stepchildren, parents-in-law and stepparents a Muslim adult woman is not obliged to be covered in front of their eyes and a Muslim man is not obliged to lower his gaze.

The second group, called non-mahram, is the rest of society. A Muslim woman should wear hijab in front of all adult males of this group. Any sort of contact between them or being alone together in "Khalwah" (private), except in the extreme cases, is banned.

Non-mahram, as determinant factor, has created a culture which not only influenced dress, but also social behaviour. It is cumbersomely present in any Islamic society. For example, we can retrace its footsteps in Islamic architecture:

A typical Muslim house is built around a central, mostly rectangular, courtyard. To respect the dogma, the interior space is important not the outside. Therefore, a part of the house called “andarouni” is reserved for females. The men's reception (or “birouni”) tends to be located next to the entrance lobby of the house so that non-mahram visitors do not see the females. The windows are inside not outside of the house so that eye contact between non-mahrams does not commit. In the big house, where several generations can dwell together, measures are imposed that the contact between non-mahrams like cousins or brother/sister-in-law of opposite sex dwellers does not lead to an eventual sexual temptation.

Stricter than a traditional Islamic house, we see marks of non-mahram’s culture in the imposition of gender segregation in Islamic palaces, where no access to the harem area of non-mahrams, except for castrated servants, was possible.

One of the main components of Islamic hijab's dogma is misogyny which is older than hijab itself. It is a primitive tradition of social hierarchy, when strong sex had the upper hand.

Such palaces had to conform to the rules separating non-mahrams from each others. Woman's body is the red line of visual and acoustic fields. Therefore, not only the interrelationship between the dwellers, but any activity in these places is influenced by the dogma of non-mahram. Paintings, frescos, music, theatre, ceremonies..., are all male domains. Added to these, the vice is that from these palaces, an official style of norm was generated and then extended into the society.

Moral words describing red lines of non-mahram were created; words like “namus” (generally speaking, a Muslim’s wife, but can be extended to sisters, mother, even the country), hormat, (respect of elders), qeyrat, (zeal) referring to the culture of non-mahram, caused character formation in the popular culture. So far that a “good” Muslim man would not permit a female member of his mahram circle (daughter/sister/wife) to be met or seen by non-mahram men.

"Madrasseh" (traditional religious school) was preferably built for male Muslim children. Such a school had to respect the dogma of non-mahram" by imposing gender segregation as an obvious moral. It taught the phobia of sexual temptation to little children in the case when non-mahrams would be mixed.

All of those measures, which lead to the sex segregation in the Islamic world, are reflected from the dogma of non-mahram, a deep established belief system effecting and colouring many aspects of social life. As a dogma, it is a social phenomenon with stereotyped resonances.

Since to the Islamic moral, touching women may lead to uncontrollable or passing temptation and immorality, a Muslim woman should not show her beauty, adornment and dress to a non-mahram. Therefore the form of head-to-foot hijab with a black cloth, which is not transparent, is recommended for Islamic hijab.

Islamic hijab is a red line around a Muslim woman's body to stop a possible temptation between non-mahrams; therefore it is considered as a duty for any Muslim woman to avoid the circumstances that lead to fornication and adultery.

The second question is:

What is the origin and reason of Islamic hijab?

One of the main components of Islamic hijab's dogma is misogyny which is older than hijab itself. It is a primitive tradition of social hierarchy, when strong sex had the upper hand.

Woman's hair has been since considered a source of vitality, and special magic powers have been attributed to it. Long before Islamic interpretation of Dr. Abol-Hassan Banisadr's (Islamic Iran’s first president) famous confirmation that "the female hair radiates something which acts on the male brain", the idea was inspired from mythological stories.

King Solomon is said to have 700 wives and 300 concubines. David had 99. No early society put any restrictions on the number of wives or put any conditions about how they were to be treated.

Early Christianity invented the idea that not only Eve herself, but also all daughters of Eve were full of sin. Therefore, man was better off not to marry. Since this would be the end of mankind, the same people found apparently a compromise and virtually decided that only the impious men marry. The myth of malicious Eve, guilty of the First Sin for seducing Adam to eat the apple, is a symbolic inspiration of misogyny in religions.

Gender segregation was never in Christianity as restrict as in Islam. Wearing a headdress was a long tradition of European women, a status symbol from the upper classes that attracted the envy of those less privileged than themselves. This is however not comparable with Islamic hijab which is derived from the dogma of non-mahram, with no social privilege or aesthetic reasons for women.

The dominant idea in Islam -- not completely different from other religions -- considers that women, by nature, desire to be looked at, adored and cherished, while the man is inclined towards non-mahram women. Therefore, Allah warns women their nature, which may lead men astray if women do not exercise caution and take necessary safeguards.

Asserting of Islamic hijab in Islam is not unrelated to Prophet's bothers with his harem. As described by Ali Dashti in his book "Bisto-Seh Saal" (23 Years), the Prophet used accordingly many verses of the Koran (Surah Ahzaab) to consolidate his position against his very younger wives and to force them into absolute obedience and chastity. In his demand for chastity no standard of Islamic dress has been mentioned. Although, Mohammad banned female infanticide in Arabia, he kept a part of misogynous traditions and institutionalised it through Islam.

Hijab comes from an old Arabic word "hajba" meaning to hide from view. The two sources of Islam, namely Koran and the "Hadith" could not fix a style of dress deeming an Islamic standard of clothing for women. However some verses of the Koran quote Mohammad requiring his wives to cover their faces so that men, non-mahrams, would not think of them in sexual terms.

There are speculations about the origin and motive of hijab. The origin could go back to Iranians, to its main present victims, to the 6th Century BC under Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenian Empire in Persia. Together with the idea of female seclusion, it persisted under Alexander and the Byzantine Empire, and was adopted by the Arab conquerors of the Byzantines. Its use was revived and finally adjusted to Islam.

It has been believed that Muslim women throughout history had to cover themselves with a variety of Islamic hijabs such as lachak, chador, russari, rubandeh, chaqchur, maghna’eh, buraq, etc. All of them were of clan, ethnic, or other folkloristic origin. They differ from region to region and from social class to social class with no Islamic standard for a single form. However, they all draw the red line between non-mahrams" with reference to the interpretations of the Koran and the "Hadith" (sayings).

Hijab in its different forms began to give way gradually to the adoption of Western culture, but the Islamic regime in Iran gave it new life in recent decades. IRI’s propaganda says, “beneath Islamic hijab, entire woman's worth and respect is upheld”. It is alleged to be the only safe guarantee for the women's protection against the danger of brazen indecency, which can stifle the Muslim women in sham decadency, what can be resulted to Islamite’s allegations that “the Islamic society becomes subjugated to the non-believing and decadent cultures”. To IRI’s mass media, Islamic hijab represents a contemporary rebirth of an invulnerable Islamic identity.

The third question is:

What are the effects of non-mahram?

Effects of sex segregation as resonance of non-mahram’s dogma have left crucial results in the social backwardness. Psychological experiments show that a group of mixed-sex persons proves a better performance than a group of the same sex. Considering the factor of mixture, the first group is more motivated and more efficient than the second one. This in a bigger echelon explains one the factors of backwardness in the Islamic world.

Under those strict, moral necessary conditions to comply with the Islamic hijab, the work conditions, education, sport, and entertainment are particularly difficult for women. The women's non active participation in economy and production of social needs is another reason for backwardness.

Morally, the secluded Muslim mother would not be a pattern symbol of social justice, democracy, and modernity for her children.

The IRI has politicised Islamic hijab in recent decades, It represents a powerful symbol of dominant Islam in Iran, while in the West, symbolises a rejection of integration or assimilation with the modern world. Furthermore, in some controversial cases, it provokes racism and Islamophobia.

Very contrary to the phobia of temptation staged by the dogma of non-mahram, sex segregation has negative effects in psychological development. Based on Freudian psychoanalysis, it reduces the mental efficiency and damages the normal sequence of developmental stages of children by disturbing a normal process of children’s Oedipus Complex. And as such, it can finally lead to the later sexual perversities. Sexual frustration can transform into sadism, paedophilia, aggression, and blind obedience, as remarked in religious societies, described by W. Reich.

Low rate of sexual crimes in Iranian rural population, comparable with cities, is an obvious example to rejecting non-mahram’s dogma focusing on the idea of sexual temptation. In fact, despite being governed by the IRI, peasant and Bedouin women neither wear hijab nor are locked away in the house.

Long-term effects of ignoring the secular opposition and their apathy towards misogynous nature of the IRI prevented Iranian women from any serious support against the increasing imposition of the Islamic hijab in recent years.

Today, through IRI’s crackdown against women labelled “bad hijab”, the vision of Iranian society seems to be so amalgamated with the Islamic hijab that it represents a “divine” emblem for the Islamic gender apartheid.

No matter what the origin, the philosophy, and the variants of Islamic hijab are and what principled sources back the hijabt, Islamic hijab is today an important blockade to woman's freedom. This outdated and obsessive model cannot be applied to today's Iranian women. Islamic hijab is a blindfold forcing women to remain indoors, reducing and convicting them half that of a man, pushing them to be footnotes of social life, and condemning them to be alien non-mahram to their own environment. ENDS RASHIDIAN 20507



2 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Frits Bos
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 22:01 [ 1 ]

One does not have to focus on Islamic mysogenists to see how relentless brainwashing can encourage people to dress in ways that set them apart. While piety and modesty are definitely respectable objectives, and while it would be equally wrong and oppressive to demand females to wear skimpy bikinis at the beach if that makes them uncomfortable, it should be them making the decisions: not a bunch of old men that like their women dependent and obedient servants. What could possibly justify whipping women who are not dressed up as mailboxes? Iranian nutcases might whip their own kin: they cannot claim to recognize their victims for then they too would have been sinners under Sharia law. I think the major thrust against a dogmatic view like that is the flaunting of mysogeny and the suppression of women when they export their mindless hatred as they emigrate to the Western world. It is an in-your-face defiance of what we hold true: equality of the sexes and the freedom to decide to put up with the consequences of sexual attraction (as if a walking mailbox does not attract negative attention, scorn, and disdain: is that better?)

Sunday, August 10, 2008 08:59 [ 2 ]

When a woman walks with a mahram in public is she allowed to walk next to him or does she need to follow behind him? What is the requirement for a woman?

Comments on this page are closed.

As of January 2009, this site is definitely closed, but you can follow Safa Haeri on his new blog: DAMAVAND at



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