Khazanah (Treasure) Edition 27:
Women and Islamic Revolution of Iran

Book Title : Islam and Feminisms: An Iranian Case Study
Author : Haleh Afshar
Publisher : London: Macmillan Press
Year of Publication : 1998
Number of Pages : 256 pages

For women in Iran, the Islamic rules for them are stricts. To get a chance to take part in public sphere, women are hindered by patriarchal power. This marginalized portrayal of women’s roles exists, just after the Islamic revolution took place. This fact is explored in “Islam and Feminisms: An Iranian Case Study” by Haleh Afshar. 

Haleh Afshar (1944) is a Muslim feminist born in Iran and educated in England. She had worked as a journalist in both countries, and wrote many books. As an active figure in politics prior to revolution, Haleh examines the process of how women during revolution played prominent, but they have marginalized roles after the Islamic revolution and in the government formation. Haleh herself is part of the struggle. She is a third generation after her mother and grandmother, who rejected the marginalizing rules, such as hijab for Iranian women.

According to Haleh, one of the twenty most successful Muslim women in Britain, The Muslim Women Power List in March 2009, since beginning the Islamic Republic of Iran has enacted misogynistic rules. Although women have sought to interpret and act, fundamentalist policies have always hampered their efforts in transition from home to work, or to a wider public space.

Iranian policy of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Imam Khomeini, about women was often a contradiction. As he pushed women back into domestic territory, at the same time he built a female army around 4,000 personnels. In the field of education, a revised policy of school textbooks was made by removing books contain some illustrations and opinions that were not considered “Islamic”. Photos of women should be covered with hijab. This happened after a school ban was introduced for married women.

Fields and majors women may enter at schools were only areas that support “femininity”. Majors in law, medicine, engineering and science may only be entered by men. Women judges were dismissed. Faculty of Law was closed to women, they should not become judges under article 163 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of these policies, the policy on hijab (veil) was the most controversial. Al Qur’an itself, discusses the requirements of hijab in general, but does not set limits and details what women should wear.

Aassumptions about the hijab that developed in Iran, women should wear face cover to hide physical ornaments, such as bracelets, rings, necklaces, make up and more, from the disrespectful gazes of men, prevent them from sexual harassment. For those who do not wear hijab, may not enjoy public facilities like restaurants, cinema or shopping areas. They would be whipped 74 times, it was considered violate the law and public morality. Imprisonment in 3 months up to 1 year was also waiting. The marginalization continued, women were prohibited from appearing on television and radio, because their voice was considered aurat (parts of the body that cannot be exposed or should be covered).

Haleh Afshar herself offers how textual interpretation of Islamic texts is necessary today, so the issue of hijab or other, do not cause marginalization of women. According to her, Al Qur’an and Hadith are the source of a strong legal basis for organizing life. But “the past” and ” holy scripture ” have many difficulties to fit in contemporary context. Hence, it takes a new interpretation and adjustment of times, so Islam remains relevant as a creed.

As a Muslim who believes consistently, Islam as a religion always accommodates special needs of women, Haleh wants to build a frame of mind, rethinking the culture of the past. According to her, the first convert in Islam is Siti Khadijah, the wife of Prophet Muhammad. She does not want her religion to discriminate against women. Around 14 centuries ago, Islam has recognized the legal and economic independence of women. Women are free from their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Women can also act as advisers of the believers, like Siti Khadijah and Siti Aisha. So referring to the glorious past, women have strong reasons to be able to take part in vast public space.


Another issue that Haleh discusses in this book is a father who kills one or more of his children was only subjected to diyat (monetary compensation). This law did not apply, in contrast to women, mother was subjected to qisas (retaliation), as in article 16 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She questions the reduced age marriage of women from 18 years to 13 and 9 years, like Aisha when she married the Prophet. The men there did not like educated women aged over 28 years, who according to them, like to arguing with their husbands.

About polygamy, Iranian government supported to protect widows of died soldiers during revolution, especially after Iran-Iraq war. To put in practice, polygamy was like a military service, so a man did not need his wife’s permission to marry again. Similarly mut’ah or sigeh (contractual marriages) were popular among the Mullah (religious leader). The law there did not require Mullah to seek permission from the court and his wife.

This book is generally good to be a reference on the struggle of Muslim women to fight for gender equality.  She presents the facts of Muslim women’s struggle from political, economic, legal and other aspect of marginalization. At least they have succeeded in some ways. For example in education, since 1994 the government has given 25 percent quota to enter a special female medical faculty in Qum, Iran. The facts that tend to harm women are still happening in Iran or in other countries. But it would be wise if all are presented in balance, not only the “backward”, but also the progress.

In fact, women, who fight for their rights to pursue a greater access of education and other fields, are the ones who embrace and practice the true path of Islam. Wallahu’alam (Allah knows best) []


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