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Al Khomeini Wives, Rafsanjani, Khatami and the &#34Tshador&#34 | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Al Khomeini Wives, Rafsanjani, Khatami and the &#34Tshador&#34

Al Khomeini Wives, Rafsanjani, Khatami and the &#34Tshador&#34

Al Khomeini Wives, Rafsanjani, Khatami and the &#34Tshador&#34

Iran is rapidly changing socially, economically, culturally and politically. In the process, it depends on the typical ready made ideas of its surrounding countries. Iran is a dynamic power being influenced by the pressures of internal and external forces. It is not only Iranian women and youth who are looking forward to more social, personal and cultural freedom. Inside main state institutions and the religious scholars assembly in Qom, there is a diversity of viewpoints and ideas concerning future reform in the country and the appropriate way of handling a fast rising civil society creating its cultural and social independence. Reformists are not united in their ideas of dealing with difficulties posed by the conservatives and the conservatives themselves are not a unity. Huge breaks lie within their lines.

As the June 17th scheduled Iranian elections approach, Asharq Al-Awsat

presents its readers with a five part series from the heart of Iran. The series will tackle the status of women in Iran, the cultural scene in addition to publications, Iranian press, civil institutions and rules governing them. Asharq Al-Awsat will also examine the political parties and organisations as well as Tehran cafes and gardens that have become a site for practicing social freedoms and live political discussions. We will also cover the cinema, theater and music activity in Iran. There will also be coverage of the religious scholars in Qom and the internet revolution that they launched. Asharq Al-Awsat would also present the testimonies of young men and women, who were asked about life in Iran and their future ambitions.

In the winter of 1938, Reza Shah, the founder of the ruling Palhavi family in Iran and father of the former Shah, issued a decision which became known as &#34lifting the veil&#34, following a visit to Turkey. He was fascinated by the liberal lead of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. He admired Ataturk for his boldness in imposing liberal laws on Turkish society shortly after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. As a consequence of the decree of veil lifting, the tshador(Iranian veil) was removed from the heads of Iranian women by force. Officials and teachers were forced to attend parties held around the country to celebrate the decree accompanied by their unveiled wives and daughters as proof that Iran had become a modern state. It was also an attempt by Reza to stabilize his rule and send a clear message to his opponents of religious and leftist movements.

The change was not easy for the women of Iran. Apart from a few women who belonged to aristocratic and liberal families, most women were reluctant to go out in public without the tshador, leading the government to import thousands of European hats for the women to wear. The no veil decree was carried out with brutal force for six years, until Reza Shah left Iran, as a consequence of the threats made by Britain and Russia when their military forces entered Iranian territories at the peak of World War 2.

The Shah had no sooner reached Esfahan on his way out of Iran than women had returned the veils to their heads again. Thousands of women who had confined themselves to their homes during the last six years of Reza Shah”s rule were finally able to return to the streets wearing their familiar clothes. The return of the veil came with changes; the Iranian veil no longer included the borqo (face veil) which some women used to wear. Also the return to the tshador was not for all, as thousands of women joined schools and universities and engaged themselves in official posts in the education, law and medical sectors. Still, Iranian women were denied their legal rights to vote and run for the parliament elections. They were deprived custody of their children in cases of divorce or death of the husband. This ended in 1962 when the Shah declared his blessed revolution. A main item of its convention was that women had equal rights to men.

In 1963, a few months after women began their participation in parliamentary matters and took over posts in the ministry, and managerial positions in medical and educational institutions and universities, Ayatollah Al Khomeini with a number of other religious figures issued statements in which they condemned the revolution of the Shah, particularly the articles on women rights and agricultural reform (distributing the land on farmers). Following the declaration made by Ayatollah Al Khomenini, was the blast of the rebellion in Qom; as a result, several hundred rebels were killed, and Al Khomeini arrested with two of his closely acquainted leading Ayatollahs, Al Qommy and Mahlaty. Later, Al Khomeini was exiled to Turkey and then to Iraq.

The 1979 Iranian revolution led to the veil being imposed upon women again, as a political weapon, regardless of the opinion of Iranian women. Within a year, the Iranian regime enforced the wearing of a veil by firing employees and female laborers who refused to wear it inside government institutions, universities and hospitals and arresting unveiled women in streets. In addition, the execution of the female former minister of education, Farrokhrou Parsa, a pioneer of women liberation movements, in front of the Sharno castle (known before the revolution as the neighborhood of whores) left a deep scar upon the Iranian women who refused the tshador. The insistence of the conservatives to impose the wearing of the veil upon women was part of their conflict with more moderate wings of the Iranian revolution. Later, the outbreak of Iranian-Iraqi war and the spread of poverty in Iranian society lead the female opposition to surrender and wear the veil. Nevertheless, their veils did not drive them to withdraw from the political and social arena, on the contrary, it made them more persistent to achieve their ambitions. Women had a lot to face, with the most prominent scholar, head of the Assembly of Experts, saying that a woman’s spine is shorter than a man”s, and their brains are deficient, which makes them unqualified for judicial, security, and political positions in the country.

On the other hand, the struggle for women to get their political and economic rights is a source of pride for Iranian women. Ten years ago, girls were prevented from continuing their education in 190 university specializations, however today the ban only applies to 17 branches. Women lawyers are now allowed to work in courts; something that could have never happened without the brave efforts of female activists like Shirin Ebadi and Mahrankis Car (wife of the detained writer and journalist Siamek Borzend) who was given permission by the authorities to travel to the US for treatment after discovering that she had cancer whilst in jail. There is also Kini Yurfadel, a distinguished lawyer and activist, and a few other representatives in the former Iranian parliament like Fatma Haqiqa Jo and Al Hodd Kolaiy, spokeswoman of the reformists candidate in the coming elections, Mustafa Mueen.

One interesting fact is that among the women who worked on enhancing

Iranian women rights are wives, daughters, or sisters of Iranian revolution leaders. Wife of Ayatollah Al Khomeini insisted that her daughters should join university and other political, cultural and social activities. Another one is Zahra Mustafawy who is now in charge of some political and cultural responsibilities after she quit her job as Dean of Al-Zahraa” University. Farida is also engrossed in cultural and educational activities. Khomeini”s granddaughter Zahra Ishraqi is a most distinct member of Al Khomeini family. She is also the wife of PhD Mohamed Reza Khatami, brother of the Iranian president and vice president of the former parliament who would become vice president of the country in case Mustafa Ma”een wins the elections. In her interview with an Italian newspaper last year, Zahra expressed her refusal to wear the obligatory veil; she called for equal rights for men and women. Her views caused a clamor among conservative circles that went so far that some newspapers, like Kayhan, directly insulted her. Some of these newspapers are close to the Supreme Guardian of the country Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Al Hashimy Rafsanjani family is quite clearly at the frontline of the battle for women”s rights and their necessary participation in social and political life. For the first time, Effat Mar”ashy accompanied her husband Rafsanjani in his visit to Indonesia as President and first lady. At the time this visit was definitely unfamiliar for religious figures; a fact made Rafsanjani subject to much criticism. However the one who really outraged the conservatives was actually Rafsanjani”s daughter, due to her various activities and her moderate views. While Fatma was busy with charity, social and health issues, her younger sister Faiza entered through the gates of sports in her busy youth and reached the cultural, media and political arenas. Following her successful establishment of a sports committee for women and the Olympics for women in Islamic countries, she founded the first daily magazine for women in Iran, titled Zan (or Women). Zan is daring in tackling women’s issues and the relations between men and women, however Faiza crossed all red lines when she published a message from the former Lady Emperor, Farah Pahlavi to the Iranian nation on the occasion of the Nowrouz New Year (New Persian year). Her magazine was closed down and she was arrested, and only upon her father’s interference, the decree was changed to paying a fine.

Ever since the end of her term in the parliament and the closing of her magazine, Faiza”s activities were limited to female sports. Her daughter, Sahar, is a university student active in the field of student movements. Besides the Rafsanjani family, wife of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Khajsat and her daughters were not involved in public issues. As for President Khatami, his wife Zohreh Sadeqi is the daughter of a noble religious and scientific family. Her father is PhD Sadeqi, a prominent university professor and scholar of philosophy and literature. Her mother, Mardeya Khanoum, is the daughter of the late Supreme Guardian imam Hussein Agha Al Qommy and the sister of Imam Moussa Al Sadr, a Shiite leader who disappeared in Libya, and consuently she is open-minded. Add to this her marriage to Khatami, a well educated religious cleric and the descendant of a distinguished religious family. As Iran”s first lady, she remained a real partner for her husband during his Presidential term and accompanied him in some of his foreign visits such as his official visit to Saudi Arabia.

As for women activists outside top political families in Iran, they are insignificant in numbers. Some names, however, became very well known even outside Iran like Shirin Ebadi, the poet Simin Behbany, the novelist Simin Danshour, in addition to journalists and writers like Perween Ardelan, Fersheit Qady, and Shahla Sharket chairperson of Zan magazine. There are thousand more names of female doctors, students, professors, and women in the different professions who struggled to win their social and political rights.