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Iranian women warned about wearing chador

Former Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi says, “All hell breaks loose when it comes to women’s hijab.”
A young Iranian veiled woman stands in front of a mosque at the 18th Tehran International Book Fair May 8, 2005. Aspirants vying to replace outgoing reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami in the June 17 election must first be vetted by a constitutional watchdog known as the Guardian Council which comprises of six clerics and Islamic jurists who have in the past always rejected women hopefuls. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl  MN/YH - RTRAIQA

On Jan. 7, 1936, Iran's then-ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi unveiled women by force as part of his clash with the clergy. On the anniversary of this significant event, influential conservative clergyman Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani issued a lengthy statement in the form of a news release titled “Warning Iranian Women,” in which he expressed disappointment in women who opt to dress more fashionably and revealingly. He referred to the “hip” version of Iranian women’s wear as “covering skin and concealing private parts as it should, but [falling] short of true coverage … and on the verge of being defined as haram.” He went on to recommend the chador as the best choice of coverage, repeating what many Iranian officials have said over the years. His mindset is concluded in the famous phrase describing the veil: “Chador, the superior hijab.”

I interviewed Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist clergyman and former Iranian vice president who lives in Tehran, and asked his take on the chador, Ayatollah Safi’s comments and his religious interpretation. Abtahi told Al-Monitor, “From an Islamic standpoint, we as members of the clergy are to preach the right [path]. That’s all. We are not to pursue people’s behavior, nor should we attempt to correct it through publicly condemning it.” He told Al-Monitor, “Chador is an Iranian option of coverage, and choosing to wear it or opting out does not define people’s religious beliefs. It’s simply like any form of dress. But what makes this a sensitive issue is that since hijab is mandatory in Iran, less coverage is interpreted as resisting the regime. And that’s why all hell breaks loose when it comes to women’s hijab.”

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