I just came from a community cinema event in Philadelphia for an independent film called “Arusi Persian Wedding” directed by Marjan Tehrani. It’s a really beautiful film that follows an Iranian-American and his American wife who travel to Iran and have a traditional Persian wedding. I was not only in awe of how incredibly beautiful Iran is, but also at how I found myself relating to it. The Iranian-American expresses his pride for his Iranian roots, but also feels a distance because of his inability to fully understand the culture and language. It reminded me about how I sometimes struggle with finding my ethnic identity, no matter how much I’m proud of it.
After the screening, there was a guest panel that led an interesting discussion about the film and then took questions from the audience. My friend got a chance to chime in with a great question, while I decided to sit back and listen. I didn’t feel like I had much to contribute to the conversation since the event seemed to aim at breaking stereotypes about Iran, its people, and its culture. Although one of the panelists spoke very highly of her experience as a White woman in Iran, she admitted that “initially, I was frightened, as a feminist, when I learned I had to wear the veil…”
When I got home tonight, her words replayed in my mind over and over again. I really should have gotten up and said something, even though I just wanted to make a small comment. I think I’ll e-mail her after I write this, but what I wanted to point out is that it’s very important for us to not make an association between oppression and the hijaab, or veil. Her comment seemed to implicate that someone who wears the hijaab could not also be a feminist (I would have asked her to correct me if I was wrong). I’m sure this is not what she meant, but I believe it would have been important for one of the panelists to mention that forcing someone to dress a certain way is very different from someone choosing to dress a certain way. There are plenty of Muslim women in other parts of the world, especially in the West, who wear hijaab by choice; therefore it would be very inaccurate to say that Muslim women who wear hijaab cannot be feminists. I’m glad one of the Iranian panelists said that Iranian women still drive, work, and go to school, contrary to the stereotypes and misconceptions that they’re “so oppressed.”
The other thing I should have commented on was on their usage of the word “Islam” whenever discussing the “Islamic Revolution” in 1979 and the current “Islamic Laws.” The Qur’an clearly states that religion cannot be imposed on people. Doesn’t Allah teach us to use our logic and reasoning? What is so logical about forcing someone to believe a certain way? The true spiritual essence and beauty gets lost when someone is being forced to practice a religion. Spirituality and Faith is personal; it must be felt within. Reciting the Shahada (Islamic declaration of Faith) is simple, while believing in it is something deeper and entirely different altogether.
Later, someone asked a question about whether or not these were the dress codes for Muslim women in all Islamic countries, and one of two Iranian panelists said, “I’m not sure, but I would say ‘yes,’ they are universal.” A friend and I spoke about this later after the discussion and both agreed that we felt a strong anti-Islam vibe from her. I was glad that the other Iranian panelist jumped in and explained that these are not universal dress codes in Islamic countries since most Muslim countries don’t force women to wear hijaab or the burqah.
Anyway, my main point is that the hijaab should not be associated with oppression, and Muslim women who wear it shouldn’t be so quickly judged. Just because some feminists are not familiar with certain manners of dress doesn’t mean that it’s not compatible with feminism. I think it’s important for feminists to understand that feminist thought is very diverse rather than being limited to one group of people, one culture, and one skin color.