One of the most misunderstood and misrepresent elements of so-called Islamic dress in international circles, is the hijab. Making matters more complicated, the words hijab, niqab and burqa are often used interchangeably even those these are very different articles of clothing from different regions.
The niqab is a full face and head covering with the exception of a slit for the eyes. This item of dress has its origins in the Arabian desert and was originally derived as a modest means of keeping sand and dust out of the facial orifices. The burqa which is most common in Afghanistan is like the niqab only the eyes are covered by a meshed grate. For the purposes of this discussion only the Hijab will be discussed. A typical hijab is pictured below.
Prior to the 20th century, hijabs were relatively common in many Arab states among both Muslims and Christians. While many considered the hijab a purely Islamic style of dress, many Orthodox Christian women cover their head with similar scarves when inside a church, as can be clearly seen in the photo below which was taken at a church in 21st century Russia.
Beginning with the dawn of Arab Nationalism in its many forms, ranging from Nasserism in Egypt to Ba’athism in the Levant and Iraq, to Gaddafi’s Third International Theory in Libya, the daily wearing of the hijab fell out of favour. Those arguing for laws mandating the waring of the hijab by adult women were famously mocked by Egypt’s revolutionary President Gamal Abdel Nasser during a speech blasting the retrograde Muslim Brotherhood whom the British empire wanted to rule Egypt. Similar attitudes were stated by the governments in Syria, Ba’athist Iraq, Libya and throughout a modernising 20th century Arab world. In Turkey too, Ataturk frowned on the hijab for similar reasons. The argument then as it is now as that in a progressive, socialist, highly educated population, women should have the right to dress as they see fit as a matter of choice.
In 1979 in Iran, things were very different to the secular Arab world, in spite of deceptive appearances. The imperial regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was not a progressive secular regime but rather, a pro-western kleptocracy in which wealthy Iranians could dress as they pleased and poor Iranians had to dress in whatever they could afford, which often meant very simple hijabs used to cover unkempt hair. During the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the hijab became a symbol of class resistance in the same way that Imam Khomeini became a symbol of both piety and class struggle, which due to the material excesses and pagan inclinations of the Pahlavi family were intertwined. Had Iran been allowed to develop along secular progressive lines after the Second World War in the way that Syria, Egypt, Iraq and eventually Libya did, the hijab would have likely not taken on the significance it ended up taking in 1979.
Because in 1953, the CIA overthrow just such a progressive government in Iran, the die was cast for Iran. Thus, while Arabs and Turks largely discarding the hijab in the early to mid 20th century was a form a revolution, because of Iran’s different path under the reactionary Pahlavi regime, the hijab took on a different meaning – it became progressive and revolutionary.
By the dawn of the 21st century, the United States and “Israel” began working ever harder to destabilise and overthrow secular governments in the Arab world. In order to do this, they began funding and abetting reactionary religious extremists for whom the hijab and the Gulfi style niqab were symbols of political control over women wishing to lead a secular life.
This further explains why the constitutionally secular Syrian Arab Republic and Islamic Republic of Iran are allies. In both countries, the hijab has revolutionary connotations, but due to different histories, in Syria the freedom not to wear the hijab is a symbol of the revolution, while in Iran the wearing of the hijab is a mark of revolutionary citizenship and patriotism.
Today, many individuals in Iran are debating whether the law mandating the wearing of the hijab in public is as relevant today as it was in 1979. As in most cases, western agitators are making this debate far more incendiary than it is for normal patriotic Iranians. In many countries, dress becomes a symbol of revolutionary struggle, but after such a struggle is clearly won, dress codes become more relax.
In the 20th century, most Chinese leaders wore the Yat-Sen Suit, otherwise known as the Mao suit. Now that China is a leading world economy that will soon eclipse the United States, Chinese leaders wear a combination of Mao suits and internationalist business suits depending on the occasion and personal preference. Likewise, as the DPRK becomes ever more confident that its position in the world cannot be molested, one sees that Kim Jong-un while still typically wearing Yat-Sen style suits, also occasionally dresses in a more international style. As two totally secular countries, one cannot argue that the Yat-Sen Suit has anything to do with faith as the hijab allegedly does in the Islamic world, Instead, the perception of and conditions behind the donning of certain clothes in secular East Asian states has a similar political/sociological role to that of the hijab in the Middle East.
Today in Iran, the debate over the hijab should be seen along the lines of the dress of male leaders in East Asia, rather than in terms of Islamic versus anti-Islam. In any case, the idea that the hijab makes one a good Muslim and free flowing hair makes someone un-Islamic is a toxic and bigoted western narrative that no one outside of western funded extremists or people over the age of 100 actually takes seriously.
For Iran therefore, the question is this: With the 40 year anniversary of the Islamic Revolution less than a year away, it is time to give Iranian women the freedom of choice regarding the hijab? Were this to happen, some women would still probably wear it all of the time, some would wear it none of the time and most Iranian women, even in big cities would probably wear it some of the time depending on weather, mood and the occasion. In this sense, there is no mystique regarding this issue.
There are some signs that Iran is turning slowly towards embracing the hijab as a matter of choice rather than one of requirement, as city officials in Tehran announced last year that they plan to loosen enforcement on existing rules. The only danger is that western provocateurs have taken up the issue as some sort of anti-Islamic crusade. Ironically, these are the same people whose media outlets and bogus NGOs cheer on Takfiri terrorists in Syria and Iraq and are thus de-facto promoting an expressly anti-Iranian/anti-Shi’a version of Islam that is far more extreme than what the vast, vast majority in the Arab world desires. Clearly, such westerners don’t understand political history or Islam in any way. They merely want to weaken the countries that oppose the illegal Zionist occupation of Palestine. Thus, because secular Syria supports Palestine, dutiful mainstream media indoctrinated westerners support Takfiri jihadists, while renaming them ‘moderate rebels’. Inversely, because the Islamic Republic of Iran also supporters Palestine, these same western activists imply that they would be happy for Iranian women to walk around naked as though they were Germans in a recreational clothes-free FKK park.
Ultimately, while the hijab in Iran remains a symbol of progressive revolution, it will be up to the Iranians to decide whether they think the symbol should still be enforced rather than simply available. To those who genuinely favour a more secular national dress code, they should be warned against supporting any western backed NGOs, hate groups or activists who talk about the issue. Such people do not have Iran’s best intersts at heart, they simply are promoting a purposefully contradictory “Israeli” narrative.