Hijabs: for dummies

Double standards on show

While the morality police are back on patrol, top figures in the regime are renowned for preaching one thing and doing another, writes Yassamine Mather

Over the last couple of weeks, news agencies have reported the resumption of patrols by Iran’s notorious Gasht-e-Irshad (‘morality police’). According to official sources this will ensure compliance with the regime’s ‘forced hijab’ policy and deal with those who “ignore the consequences of not wearing the proper hijab and insist on disobeying the norms”.

No doubt the Islamic Republic’s government is keen to clamp down on ‘no hijab and poor hijab’ in the two months leading up to the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini - the event that sparked off a wave of nationwide protests.

As always, it is difficult to predict what will happen in the next few months. However, the women I have spoken to who live in Iran seem determined to continue refusing to wear the hijab or - in the case of women who wear the hijab, but do not agree with the legal obligation to do so - to support the opposition to the ‘morality police’.

I should add that both inside and outside the country it is very difficult to assess what percentage of women have removed their head cover over the last few months. My relatives tell me that 80% of women have not covered their hair for the last 10 months. This is not quite true: they are referring to their own experience in more affluent suburbs of north Tehran, where even before September 2022 most women only nominally observed the forced hijab, by covering a very small part of their hair with a thin, see-through scarf.


Others who live in provincial towns or in more traditional, less middle-class neighbourhoods tell me the number of women refusing to wear any head cover is between 10% and 20%. Of course, given the size of the country, there is a huge diversity between the major cities and the rural areas, but, more importantly, there is also the class divide.

Last week a relative was telling me that she has not worn any form of head-cover since September 2022, explaining that in her daily routine she goes to work, shops in supermarkets, collects her children, travels within the country and abroad … and yet she kept reminding me that, by doing so, she is not intending to confront the ‘authorities’, and no-one has actually tried to force her to cover her hair during that time.

Over the last few weeks she has faced shop or bank ‘security’ staff, who have asked her to cover her hair as she entered. But she assures me that, like hundreds of other women, she has ignored such polite requests and simply walked straight in.

Another relative in her 70s told me that since last September not only has she refused to wear any form of head cover: she also refuses to carry an ‘emergency scarf’ in her bag or around her neck, in case she is stopped by the morality police. A number of women I have contacted inside Iran tell me removing the scarf is the least we can do to show solidarity with the young generation who have confronted the police and the security forces with such courage.

A social science academic inside Iran has been telling me that, when she attends international seminars, conferences, etc, people ask her what will happen next and she responds that “something has already happened”: Iranians have already changed, in that they are less scared of state repression and there is a tangible expectation of further change, with much more optimism about the future. She added that women feel empowered through collective action and solidarity; and nothing and no-one, except through very severe repression “can take that away”. Of course, we should not underestimate what the regime is capable of doing. Hardliners are suggesting that the public hanging of a few women who refuse to wear the hijab will ‘solve the problem’.

While, as I have stated, such views are not necessarily mirrored nationally and across the class divide, aspects of this optimism, this fearlessness, can be witnessed in all neighbourhoods, rich and poor, and in most regions in both urban and rural areas. The problem for the Islamic Republic is that after 10 months of more relaxed attitudes towards head cover, it will be much more difficult to re-impose restrictions. In many ways the horse has bolted and it is too late to close the stable door.

All this explains a comment by Iran’s first ‘reformist’ president, Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), who in reference to the redeployment of ‘morality police’ accused sections of the regime of asking for khod barandazi (‘self-overthrow’). “Wrong methods will make the society more tense than before,” he added.


It is difficult to assess how many Iranians are actual religious believers, and how many pretend to follow Shia practices in order to keep their job, their connections, etc. However, no-one can be in any doubt that amongst the most ‘loyal’ members of the religious state and even the ‘morality guidance’ forces there is enormous hypocrisy.

Last week, a film was released on social media that apparently showed the “sexual relationship” of two men, one of whom was, according to reports, Reza Saghati, the Director General of Islamic Guidance of Gilan province. After a few days of silence the office of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Gilan issued a statement calling it a “suspicious mistake ... This case has been referred to the judicial system for a thorough investigation.” The government was quick to say that the release of this film should not cause a “weakening of the cultural front” and it could be used as “an attack on the Islamic Revolution” by “evildoers and opponents”.

According to the government statement, published on July 21, a special representative went to Gilan, where “all aspects of this issue were carefully investigated with the presence of security and judicial authorities”. The statement did not mention the results of this “investigation”, but added: “To create a suitable environment for further research and to carry out continuous cultural and artistic activities, a new supervisor has been appointed for the General Directorate of Gilan Islamic Guidance”.

On July 24 the issue was raised in the Iranian parliament, and the speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, added that the incident was also discussed in the meeting of the Supreme National Security Council.

This is a country where homosexuality is illegal and gay men have been executed. Only a week earlier president Ebrahim Raisi, while visiting Uganda, accused western states of promoting homosexuality:

Having the culture of establishing and forming a family and at the same time the culture of ‘genuineness’ is another common point between Iran and Uganda. We pay great attention to the issue of establishing families and we believe that it is a fundamental principle. The west is today trying to promote the idea of homosexuality and, of course, by homosexuality they are trying to end the generation of human beings; and at the same time they are acting against the inherence and the nature of human beings. I believe that this issue and these strong attacks by the west against the establishment of families and against the culture of the nations is another area of cooperation for Iran and Uganda.1

As always, the rhetoric of the regime does not match reality. For example, since the day it came to power the Islamic regime has banned the consumption of alcohol, but, as any visitor to Iran will tell you, drinking alcohol is very common: in fact alcoholism is a problem - the country has some of the largest Alcoholic Anonymous groups in the region. Alcohol is in fact sold in major cities and, according to medical officials, over the last few months there has been a rise in the number of deaths caused by ‘alcohol poisoning’.

Researcher and therapist Mohammad Ghadirzadeh told the daily paper, Etemad, that alcohol use has increased over the past five years, as has excessive drinking. He said that Iran has very few alcohol rehabilitation centres and many who suffer from alcoholism are too afraid to seek help: “The main problem is that many alcohol [abusers] … refuse to go to hospitals or medical centres because they are afraid that [doing so] would result in a legal case against them.”

Elements within the regime are guilty in another way: the sale of black-market alcohol is very much part of the ‘enterprising’ financial work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Command (IRGC) - it started small-scale in the early1980s and it has now become multi-million-dollar business. I was once on a bus in Turkey travelling to the east of that country and many of the other passengers were Iranians returning home. Before leaving Turkey they had bought bottles of whisky, vodka, wine … and I asked them how they would get these past the border guard. They replied that they buy double quantity of each item: “one for us and one for the revolutionary guard on the border”.

The IRGC became well known for its confiscation of drinks - and for then selling them. Nowadays, thanks to severe sanctions and the collapse of the Iranian currency, only those in power with access to the black market can import alcohol at official exchange rates. In other words, it is only state officials, and senior figures in the security and other government authorities, who are capable of organising the importation of alcohol on such a large scale. As a result, in Tehran you can phone through your alcohol order and it is delivered within hours!

So, once again, the religious state says one thing, but does the exact opposite - no wonder no-one believes anything the Islamic Republic authorities say. As in most religious states, the prevailing hypocrisy is evident: the ‘devout’ leaders engage in clandestine behaviour that totally contradicts the ‘moral righteousness’ they preach.

  1. www.africanews.com/2023/07/13/iranian-president-accuses-west-of-promoting-homosexuality.↩︎