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Why protesting women in Iranian capital are refusing to wear hijab

 A woman shouts slogans next to an Iranian flag during a protest in Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. [AP photo]

The Iranian Club Dubai is one of the best places to have Iranian food in Dubai.

The club was formed in 1990, a few years after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and it is funded by the Iranian government to showcase Iranian culture, hence the exquisite Iranian restaurant and food.

For the last 30 years, all female patrons were required to wear the hijab, and if they didn't have it, they were offered one at the reception. This was a firm rule, no hijab, no food. Last week, there was a small but gigantic change in rules - the hijab is no longer required. It might be a small fashion shift, but what does it mean?

Iran is moving away from its revolutionary ethos. The street protests led by young people are a clear revolt against the strict orthodox ethos of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. As usual, it is the youth who are leading the demand for change. Ironically, in 1979, it was octogenarian leader Ayatollah Khomeini who led the revolt against the Shah. Yet behind Khomeini were thousands of young people.

In 1979, it was a revolution to bring back Islamic ethos to Iran. Is the coming revolution in Iran an attempt to remove Islam? Absolutely not, but it is a definite demand to redefine what Islamic social and political values are. What does this mean to those of us who are Muslims but are neither Iranians nor Shia?

The 1979 Iranian Revolution was a source of great pride for many Muslims. As a youth, I hung a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini in my office. It was Khomeini's stern and steely looks that appeared to defy the West without fear. Khomeini gave Muslims all over the world a new sense of pride. All over the world, Muslim women began to wear the Hijab with pride.

It became a symbol of cultural resistance to encroaching Western values. Parents didn't have to force their girls to wear the hijab. They wore it willingly. In many cases, the hijab was then reshaped, recoloured and redesigned fashionably - but it was still a hijab.

How could a simple headscarf be such a powerful symbol? The Palestinian keffiyeh or headscarf that Yasser Arafat wore became a revolutionary symbol that millions across the world embraced. So did Che Guevara's red cap that is still being used as a symbol of resistance by Julius Malema in South Africa and Bobby Wine in Uganda.

In 1979, wearing a hijab became a symbol of pride and rebellion. Today, removing the hijab is a symbol of pride and rebellion and young women are being beaten up in the streets of Tehran for refusing to wear the hijab. Why? Are they rejecting Islam? They are rejecting the definition of Islam as defined by the Ayatollahs. It is a battle to define Islam, not a battle to remove Islam.

In the early 1970s many urban women dropped the hijab as they embraced Western education. This began to change in the early 1980s as a direct reaction to the revival of Muslim pride rose following the Iranian revolution. The rise of Shia Iran compelled Saudi Arabia to increase its religious message and they brought an even stricter and more orthodox Wahabi interpretation of Islam, so either way the hijab acquired a stronger prominence.

Muslim women joined their counterparts across Kenya and entered schools, colleges and the workplace wearing the hijab. The idea that the Muslim women would lose her virtue was rejected because the hijab mitigated this concern and Muslim women went out and captured their rightful role in the world. Today Muslim women are in government, social services, business and in every sphere of life. There is nothing in religion that is holding them back.

Once seen as a retrogressive item, a simple scarf became a powerful symbol of resistance and opened the doors for Muslim women to venture out of their homes. They never looked back.

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