February 10, 2003


A worldly passion foils the revolution (February 8 2003
Ever since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, by far the most relentless battle for control of public space has been over the way women look.

The Koran says that "believing women" should "draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty". They can go bareheaded in front of other women, their husbands, fathers, sons, nephews, servants, slaves and small children who "have no sense of the shame of sex".

Still, early in the revolution, women were allowed to go bareheaded. Since the Koranic verse was viewed as subject to interpretation, a law had to be passed requiring women to observe good "hijab" (literally "curtain") by concealing the shape of their bodies and covering their hair.

But that has not stopped women from wanting to look good. Just as hair care is a major industry, the question of showing or hiding hair is a national obsession.

So a guerrilla struggle rages between women who want to show their hair and conservative elements determined to preserve what they see as Islamic purity. Hair, in short, has become a measure of resistance to the forced will of the Islamic Republic.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's revolution, called beauty salons "dens of corruption" and tried to ban them. He failed. Beauty salons remain havens for women.

"Having beautiful hair is vital in this country, as vital as electricity or water," said a Tehran beautician. "And forcing women to hide it is just part of a bigger power struggle against women."

This is just one of the ways in which a religion that is frozen in time, fourteen centuries ago, can not govern a modern society effectively. In the words of Kemal Attaturk: "If a society does not wage a common struggle to attain a common goal with its women and men, scientifically there is no way for it to get civilized or developed" Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2003 9:40 PM

Islam showed plenty of adaptive versatility in the centuries during expansion (when legislators were open to Greek, Byzantine and Sassanian influences) but its' just become more and more ossified.

What I find most frustrating about various Islamic political parties is they all seem to just criticise the presence of vice and bash the West instead of trying to think long and hard about how to apply Islamic teaching in a practical, workable manner to everyday problems.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at February 11, 2003 4:59 AM