After months of protests, activists claim that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s “morality police” might be abolished. But what are they and what were the protests about? 

Islamic religious police are recognised organisations that, on behalf of national or regional authorities, enforce adherence to sharia – islamic law based on sacred scriptures – and public “morality.” Sharia is considered the flawless, unchanging principles that only Allah can choose and understand. It has regulations surrounding topics such as fasting, prayer times, marriage and theft. Although Sharia is typically an encouragement of religious practices, charity, and decency, it could also be considered strict and oppressive. 

It is interesting to note that in 1936 in Iran, the monarch Reza Shah introduced legislation to “unveil” women. He was partly inspired by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, his progressive ideals and ruling in Turkey. Between 1941 and 1979, there were no laws regarding women’s clothing. However, wearing a hijab has been mandatory since 1983 and in the 2000s, “guidance patrol” units began patrolling publicly; they mostly enforced the laws on Islamic dress code.

Image by Satyar Emami from Wikipedia Commons

Iranian law requires that all women must cover their heads and dress modestly in public after reaching adolescence – the specific age is not defined. It is also unclear what defines clothing as “inappropriate” and that allowed the Iranian guidance patrols to frequently dole out punishments at their discretion.

The Islamic Republic’s obligatory covering consists of a long, flowy dress in muted colours, worn over pants and a plain headscarf that covers the entire head and shoulders. Most women comply with this rule. The ‘ideal hijab,’ according to authorities such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is a long, black covering that covers the entire body (‘chador’ in Persian). Few women willingly wear the chador but it is a requirement in some workplaces and settings. 

Women who don’t cover with a hijab have risked imprisonment between 10 days and 2 months, as well as lashing and financial penalties. The deputy public prosecutor of Mashhad recently decreed that the municipality should disallow women who don’t wear a hijab “right” from using the metro and other public transport facilities. Women have also been refused service and had their businesses shut down. 

Many activists have long opposed the requirement to wear the hijab. According to the Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights, “security forces killed at least 448 people in the ongoing nationwide protests.” Numerous notable Iranian actors and football players were among the thousands of people detained.

Recently protests have increased in frequency and intensity since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini passed away in police custody after being arrested. She was punished for speaking out against her government on the internet. Further, there is evidence to indicate that Iranian security forces tortured and sexually assaulted Abbasi.

What started as outrage around this young woman’s untimely death has swelled into a nationwide expression of distaste – even greater than in the past – for Iran’s punitive and unjust state. 

According to a CNN article, “authorities have unleashed a deadly crackdown on demonstrators, with reports of forced detentions and physical abuse being used to target the country’s Kurdish minority group.” Many protestors have also been victims to sexual violence; mainly young female demonstrators, but CNN has corroborated a young boy’s story as well. 

It is a grave misinterpretation of Islamic literature to torture, assault, and kill in its name. We must continue to speak up for people who are voiceless. Use #mahsaamini, #iranprotests, #iranprotests2022, and #zhinaamini on social media and visit this website by Middle East Matters to see how you can help.