I politely [told] her to cover herself up," said Hojatoleslam Ali Beheshti, an Iranian cleric in the city of Shamirzad in Semnan Province, describing a recent encounter with a woman he believed was improperly veiled.
"She responded to me by saying: 'You [should] close your eyes.'"
The cleric, who spoke to the semi-official Mehr news agency, said he repeated his warning to the “bad hijab” woman, which is a way of describing women who do not fully observe the Islamic dress code that became compulsory following the 1979 revolution.
"Not only didn’t she cover herself up, but she also insulted me. I asked her not to insult me anymore, but she started shouting and threatening me," Beheshti said. "She pushed me and I fell to the ground on my back. From that point on, I don’t know what happened. I was just feeling the kicks of the woman who was beating me up and insulting me."
He said he was hospitalized for three days following the attack.
I’m not a supporter of violence, but as a woman who grew up in Iran and was harassed many times for appearing in public in a way that was deemed un-Islamic, I understand the frustration that woman in Semnan must have felt and why she lashed out at the cleric.
(Here are my thoughts on the hijab in Iran.)
For the past 30 years, Iranian women have been harassed, detained, fined, and threatened by the morality police, security forces, and zealots over their appearance. Women have fought back in different ways, including by pushing the boundaries of acceptable dress and criticizing the rules, which apply only to women.
Officially, the hijab is promoted as “protection” for women against evil in society. For many women, however, the hijab feels like a burden, an insult, a limitation of their freedom and an attempt to keep them under control.
Young girls often cite the mandatory hijab as one of the main reasons they want to leave Iran and move to another country. Women being mistreated by the police because of their hijabs have become a common scene on the streets of the Iranian capital and other cities, especially during the hot summer months when the hijab crackdown intensifies.
There have also been cases of women clashing with the morality police, including a number of cases that have been documented by citizen journalists and posted on YouTube.
The situation has led to conflicts between women and religious zealots such as Beheshti, who believe that the Islamic principle of “commanding right and forbidding wrong” makes it their duty to lecture women about their appearance and choice of dress.
Mehr reports that attacks against clerics similar to the one involving Beheshti are not rare. The news agency issued the names of three other clerics, including a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who have been attacked.
"...Hojatoleslam Seyed Mahmud Mostafavi Montazeri in [a street] in Tehran; Hojatoleslam Farzad Farouzesh, the Friday Prayer leader of Tehran Medical Science University, on the capital’s Shariati Street; a cleric in the Tehranpars region; and Kheirandish, the supreme leader’s representative to Shiraz’s Agriculture University, and...they all have been beaten up for performing their religious duty of [commanding right and forbidding wrong] and in some cases sustained irreparable damages.”
Beheshti says he didn’t file a complaint against the woman who attacked him, despite going through “the worst days of his life.”
According to Mehr, the case is being reviewed by the judiciary. The region’s prosecutor told the news agency that the case is being investigated but wouldn’t give any details. The prosecutor has referred to the case as an incident of a "public beating."
Of course, when the same type of incident is reversed -- a "badly veiled" women beaten in public by police -- it’s simply a necessary enforcement of the dress code.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari