Iranian women arrested over mandated hijab protests

By definition, a hijab is meant to symbolize modesty mostly in the appearance of men and women in Islam. However, over time the term ‘hijab’ has grown to encompass much more than just the physical headscarf or covering that a person may wear. (Haifeez/Flickr Creative Commons)

Last Friday, Feb. 2, the Iranian government reported that at least 29 women had been arrested over the past few weeks for protesting against wearing a headscarf. Iranian women have been forced to wear a headscarf, or hijab, since 1979 after the Iranian revolution. Since then, there have been numerous instances of protests, both large and small-scale, in response to the mandate. None have yet affected change. However, what they have caused is a worldwide misunderstanding of what wearing a headscarf is supposed to be in the Muslim faith.

By definition, a hijab is meant to symbolize modesty mostly in the appearance of men and women in Islam. However, over time the term ‘hijab’ has grown to encompass much more than just the physical headscarf or covering that a person may wear. Wearing a hijab is symbolic in the Muslim faith of much more than just one’s outward appearance. It is a reflection on somebody’s character, how they present themselves and is a representation of the core values of Islam. In a similar way to how wearing a cross in Christianity can show more than just a person’s religious values, wearing a hijab can serve as a symbol of someone’s personal principles.

Unfortunately, many people do not realize the significance that wearing a hijab can have on someone’s life. Instead, many people see the covering as a symbol of oppression of women in society. Currently in Iran this is how it is being viewed.

The past few weeks have been filled with tension for many in Iran, specifically in major cities like Tehran, where many have gathered in peaceful protest of the law. This act of rebellion has been occurring quite simply, by women removing their headscarves in a public space and holding them up for the public to see. While many more have participated in this act than have been arrested for it, there have been some that were taken into custody for this act alone, without any resistance by protestors at all. This point alone serves to prove where the real issue in this conflict lies.

While these women may be protesting an article of clothing on the surface, this conflict boils down to more than just one piece of cloth. The real protest is in regards to the Iranian government and the freedom of expression that they do not allow women to have. In forcing their women to all dress in a specific manner or else fear an arrest, they are driving them to stand up for their rights. These individuals should be applauded for their bravery not only in standing up to their government, but also in holding true to their beliefs even when the consequences are great.

As a mandatory article of clothing, it makes sense that women in Iran would feel oppressed by the headscarf. To them, it reminds them of the power they do not have, and the fact that they could be persecuted solely due to their decision to wear a hijab or not. Their peaceful protests are more than just a symbol of revolution against wearing a hijab, they are showing that they no longer want to stand for the inequality that being a woman in Iran has cost them.

It is important to remember that within all of this, the hijab itself is not inherently bad, it can in fact affect good change in the lives of many people. While its symbolism can instill feelings of oppression and anger in some, it is more the people behind these oppressive laws and rulings that are causing these feelings. When people risk being arrested due to the protest of an object, it seems logical to draw the connection that this object must be a negative one. However, the hijab can have quite the opposite effect, creating a sense of peace and freedom for those who choose to wear it, and even create a stronger relationship with one’s religion and personal values than was previously had. The hijab is not something to be feared or opposed, but something to be celebrated and respected. We must remember that at its root purpose it is not there to oppress, despite the reputation that oppressive governments may give it.


Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor  for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.