TitleWearing manteau and hijab in Iran's capital

‘What poor girls we are’

13 Sep 2010

■ N. Sayeh
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From one shop to another, from one arcade to another, we are looking for a new manteau, a kind of long dress with long sleeves that Iranian women should wear on top of their clothes. We spot some nice models in the shop windows. I try one of them on and we start discussing about it. One of my friends says: ‘Maybe the morality police will arrest you because of the size.’ Another one continues: ‘Do you want to be arrested by the police like poor Sareh?’ We remember that day from two years ago and all start laughing.

In the end, I just can’t find the desired manteau that suits the rules of the morality police. On our way back home, I tell my friends: ‘Today we remember that day from two years ago and we are laughing, but do you remember how scared and nervous we were and how much we cried just because of her manteau, just because it came above her knees? It was so ridiculous. They treated us like murderers at the police station.’ My friend looks at Sareh. ‘You told me they gave you a number to show to the camera when they took a photograph for your file. What was your number?’ Again we laugh. ‘What poor girls we are,’ she continues, ‘we can’t even make a decision about our own clothes. I feel sorry when I see how many problems female tourists have to keep their scarves on their head. Almost none of them are Muslims. Isn’t this the hardest kind of dictatorship? Can people with hijab in Iran accept that they can take off their scarves when they want to travel to another country, but that Iran’s government obliges foreign tourists to have hijab? It’s not fair.’

“Isn’t this the hardest kind of dictatorship?”

I nod. ‘This is interfering in people’s personal life. It’s wrong.’ Sareh: ‘Those days after the Revolution, when they wanted to ratify Islamic hijab in the new constitution, people should not have accepted it. Now we have inherited this problem. Wearing scarves and manteau in the heat of summer for people who don’t believe in hijab is cruelty.’

And indeed, what a ridiculous hijab it is in Tehran. Half of women’s hair can be seen from the front view and the other half can be seen from the back. This situation makes women with hijab upset, which is the reason that many members of ‘Opposed to compulsory hijab’ campaigns are veiled themselves.

Sareh goes on. ‘Our friend Zeinab has religious thoughts and a religious family. She wears the chador but she is opposed to compulsory hijab. One time when she had traveled to Turkey, she told me that she likes it much more than Iran because Turkish women who believe in hijab have a complete one, and the others who don’t believe are wearing whatever they want to. They are living with each other in a free society with no problems. But in Iran, because of this obligation from the government, people treat each other like enemies! We are fighting for the freedom of speech while we don’t have any of the human rights. What do people in free countries think when they hear that the police can arrest us because our manteau is one that doesn’t reach our knees? Basically, can they believe this?’

Tehran Review
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