The Myths of Creation and Hijab: Iranian Women, Liberated or Oppressed?

By Derayeh, Minoo | Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan, December 2011 | Go to article overview

The Myths of Creation and Hijab: Iranian Women, Liberated or Oppressed?


Derayeh, Minoo, Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan


Introduction In societies ruled by religious norms, gender is constructed within the value system of such norms. Hence, the study of the "sacred" (god/gods, universal truth, etc.) and religious stories or myths (1) helps us to understand how, why, and for what purposes concepts such as obedience, deception, sexuality, gender and so on are processed and formed. I use the term "processed" since these formations are gradual and often influenced by factors such as culture and politics.

For over two thousand years, Iran was dominated by different religions, and hence, religious texts constructed identity, status, and rights for women. In this work, I study the image of woman in relation to the concept of god, obedience, deception, and the process of human creation in the Zoroastrian Holy Scriptures and the Qur'an. I chose the myth of creation of the first human couple since it is in this story that both genders play an equal or complimentary role. Therefore, I analyze the first human couple's obligations vis-a-vis obedience and in terms of why and how they disobeyed their God. I show how the stories gradually changed and constructed a female body capable of decadence and corruption. I then analyze the contribution of such stories to the construction of the institution of hijab and gender roles, as well as gender discrimination.

In this work, I also show how, in poetry and articles written by Iranian women and men since the turn of the twentieth century, the hijab is connected to women's identity, sexuality, chastity, liberation, education, and progress. Twentieth century Iran witnessed a politicization of the hijab in the form of a secular decree to unveil, issued by Reza Shah in 1936 in the name of modernization and women's emancipation, later followed by a religious decree (fatwa) to veil by Ayatullah Khomeini, this time in the name of Islam and in an effort to emancipate women and the Muslim community from "westoxicated" corruption. During both events, Iranian women and their voices were stifled through the efforts of men in power.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the hijab has become an institution used to identify a Muslim woman, define and protect her chastity, and measure her commitment to her religion, her home and her ummah (Muslim community). It has moreover become the defining symbol of Muslim women not only in the eyes of some Muslims and Islamic government, but even in those of non-Muslims.

Research Method

This work is based on critical textual analysis of some verses of the Qur'an and its exegeses as well as the relevant Zoroastrian texts and other literatures on hijab in the Persian language. It is not within the scope of this work to extend the research to the Ahadith (Traditions of the Prophet). It is academically fashionable and considered a must by many in the fields of gender and cultural studies to incorporate methods and theories that avoid overgeneralization and in the case of my study, eschew orientalist scholarship and, even more so Islamophobic comment. Theoretically this work is based on the slogan "I act, therefore, I am", reflecting a school of thought that began in 1994 among a number of Iranian women scholars, artists, novelists, human right activists, movie directors and producers. I have shown the thoughts and acts of some of these courageous women in my previous studies of their cultural production. To this end, I position and locate the present work under the slogan of "I act, therefore, I am." Thus, I too act and challenge over two thousand years of religious, cultural, social, and familial patriarchy while by the same token I emancipate my study, and hence my voice, from the existing theoretical and philosophical boundaries in the fields of religious (in this case Islamic), cultural, social and gender studies for the reasons I will explain below.

I have argued elsewhere that, notwithstanding the challenge of Said's Orientalism to outsiders' scholarship on the Orient in general and Muslim women in particular, and its consequent weakening if not destruction of "colonial feminism", this internationally acclaimed work, along with the epidemic of post-modernism infecting academia with the fever of "cultural relativism" (Moghissi 1994; Derayeh, 2006), has contributed to the marginalization of some Muslim women (including a large number of Iranian women) on the one hand, and to the consolidation of the existing patriarchy in Muslim societies on the other. …

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