Voices: In Tehran, I was stopped by police – wearing the hijab should be a free choice

I remember when I first visited Iran. It felt like a world and a culture very far away from my own, and, during my time there, I experienced a moment that could have gone completely wrong.

My family and I had decided to visit a marketplace in Tehran. During our stroll, we had to walk past a religious shrine to get to our destination. Now, to put things in perspective, I was completely covered. I wore a hijab, you couldn’t see a single strand of hair, and I was also wearing an abaya (Islamic gown) – this was my choice, and it was what I was most comfortable with wearing at the time.

Upon entering the shrine, I was greeted with furious stares from police, and my family and I were stopped. The police officer, who seemed amused by my annoyance and confusion, stated that he felt as though what I was wearing was not hijab, and that I must wear a chador before walking past the shrine. The chador is a long cloak that is worn to completely cover the body.

Shocked by his ignorance, I responded: “No... I’m completely covered, why should I cover myself more?” The officer smirked. Out of fear, and the knowledge that I was in a world completely different from my own, I complied in silence. The officer continued to smirk. I put on the chador, and we walked past the shrine and continued on our way.

This memory still baffles me. I was completely covered, my hair could not be seen, and the outline of my figure remained a mystery to the world – and yet, this was not enough. Why was I stopped, and why was my hijab questioned?

To wear the hijab or not to wear the hijab is a woman’s choice, and a woman’s freedom.

Iranian demonstrators taking to the streets of the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody (AFP via Getty)
Iranian demonstrators taking to the streets of the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody (AFP via Getty)

As protests rage in Iran, I find myself exhausting a word that is ignored by those responsible for policies that destroy freedom and take away a person’s very sense of self. That word is choice – a freedom that is believed to come easily to most, but in reality, a woman’s choice is constantly policed, criticised and surveilled.

Mahsa Amini – let her name be known; let her name be remembered and echoed as we rage for justice and freedom. The death of Mahsa is but one of many stories. She is one of many women who have suffered at the hands of blind politics and misogyny.

Mahsa was a thriving 22-year-old woman, who, on a visit to see family, was stopped by Iran’s “Guidance Patrol” for supposedly wearing an inappropriate hijab. She was taken to a detention centre, and was later released. Mahsa was rushed to hospital, and was pronounced dead after being in a coma for three days – she was allegedly beaten, which led to her injuries and, sadly, her death. Say her name and let it be heard.

On hearing Mahsa’s story, I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken. Her story reminds me of another: that of Farkhunda Malikzada, a woman from Afghanistan who was brutally murdered and accused of a crime she did not commit. She was tortured, dragged through the streets, shamed and belittled, as many watched and did nothing. Farkhunda Malikzada, Mahsa Amini, say their names.

Marwa El Sherbini, a muslim woman from Germany who was murdered in front of her son in 2009 – a heinous hate crime – all because Marwa chose to wear the hijab. Farkhunda Malikzada, Mahsa Amini, Marwa El Sherbini: say their names. The list of women persecuted and reviled for their choice of clothing goes on.

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Islam does not stand for forceful actions. Islam gives us choice and peace, but this has been misinterpreted by those who wish to control women rather than letting us live in democratic freedom and stability. And so, to the state I say, hear the voices of the women you are hurting, hear the voices of those who shout for freedom. Hear the voices of the people of Iran, for they are roaring with rage.

As a woman who chooses to wear the hijab, I sit with myself in the pain and echoes of women who have had that choice taken away from them.

From India to Iran, the voices of women ring out as they look for justice, a solution, an answer, a choice – and we will not stop till our voices and protests are heard. The hijab is our choice, our right and our decision. Stop policing our bodies. I stand in solidarity with the women of Iran: I stand for choice and freedom.