The other day at dinner, a guest looked surprised when I stated that the veil is compulsory in Iran. The guest sitting next to him did not seem to know much about the customs in Iran either. So I started to present the different types of veils and the different types of penalties for not wearing it properly. This brought me to this blog post about the veil in Iran.
1) The veil is compulsory in Iran
It is compulsory in two countries in the world (Iran and Saudi Arabia) and forbidden in two countries in the world (France and Belgium since 2011). To be more specific, France and Belgium forbid the full-covering of the face and the body in public.
2) There is not just one type of veil in Iran
I will simplify things by saying there are three types of veils. And choosing one of them indicates your religious, social and professional status. It can be by choice or to conform with the tradition of your family or your workplace.
– the rusari (headscarf) plus a manteau
This is the most common combination used by Iranian women and also the most casual one. Some women will disclose large parts of their hair as a form of contestation to the law or just for the sake of fashion
– the maghnaeh plus a manteau
This type of veil is mostly used by women studying at university or working in public institutions.
– the tchador
This type of veil is worn by women coming from a more traditional background. Usually, elderly women will wear it, but also young women from religious backgrounds.
You will note that there is no such thing as full face and body covering veil such as burqa or niqab. This tradition is not Iranian.
3) For all these types of veil, there are different types of penalties
The « morality » police patrols the entrance of shopping centres and other places where fashionable Iranians like to spend their free time to control the conformity of Iranian women with the law. The penalties increase if the woman’s hair is widely visible and if she has dyed her hair. The blonder the more expensive.
Note 2 : men get penalties too. The trend for some time was the punk hairstyle. The fancier the more expensive the penalty.
So how does this work for Iranian women?
One must know that there were two complete twists in modern Iranian history regarding the veil. Reza Shah (ruled between 1921 and 1941) forbid the veil in 1936, shocking large parts of the society coming from traditional backgrounds. Coming to power in 1979 with the Islamic revolution, the clergy decided to make it compulsory, thus marginalising the more modern parts of society.
As the years went by, women started to disclose more hair in a form of contestation which has culminated in the Facebook movement “My stealthy freedom” in May 2014. Exiled Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad invited Iranian women to send pictures of themselves in a public place without the veil. The movement got momentum and has now reached 572,309 likes.