Tag Archives: women

Iran: Women, before and after the Islamist Takeover


Respect for women’s rights in Iran dates back to the ancient Persian Empire where it was common practice for women to serve as monarchs, army commanders, or naval officers. However, when the great empire was occupied by zealous followers of Islam in the seventh century A.D., Iranian women lost many of their privileges and were relegated to a status inferior to men. Some were even condemned to live as slaves. In recent times, the practical struggle of Iranian women to regain their status began with playing a great role in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905. Further, that struggle continued in the efforts of the citizenry during the former monarchical government in Iran.

Iran before the Islamic Revolution (1979)

Reza Shah the Great, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, courageously initiated the greatest challenge of his era (1925 – 1941): the abolishment of the hijab (veil) for Iranian women on Jan. 6, 1935. The policy of “Kashf-e-Hijab” banned a very basic Islamic law, the covering of the whole woman’s body except the eyes and hands. However, avoiding hypocrisy, he commenced this task with his own family– namely his own wife and daughters.

His policy of forced un-veiling was a catalyst in the advancement of Iranian society and in ending women’s slavery. By doing that, Reza Shah the Great aroused a deep animosity in fundamentalist clergies who had practically ruled the country during the previous Qajar Dynasty for 136 miserable years. He rightfully considered the hijab the emblem of an obsolete tradition which aimed to hinder Iranian women from equal life opportunities. His wholehearted efforts encouraged women to pursue higher education and to work outside the home.

His successor, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, continued to respond positively to the aspirations of Iranian women for a full emancipation in 1962. The late Shah of Iran implemented one of his greater policies, “The White Revolution,” which among other achievements, ratified very impressive women’s rights measures, ahead of all other Middle Eastern nations and even sooner than a few European countries.

The White Revolution introduced the massive “Family Protection Law” that was absolutely designed in favor of Iranian women: the right to be elected in various government ranks and posts, the right to divorce, the restriction of polygamy, and the increase in marriage age for girls from 15 to 18. In short, Iranian women up to the Islamic Revolution enjoyed a high degree of equality with men. There were female ministers, ambassadors, mayors, college professors, judges, parliamentarians and even military officers.

In the last parliamentary elections during the monarchical government in 1978, a year before the Islamic Revolution, millions of Iranian women voted. Out of 99 female candidates, 19 were elected to the parliament (Majlis) and two to the Senate. Women were also appointed to the government in new posts as Minister of State for Women’s Affairs and Minister of State for Education. Women were playing an increasingly active role in public life through obtaining higher education, which enabled women to acquire better jobs. They were entering the job market in a much wider range of fields and at higher levels of skill and competence.

Most of the present clergies’ animosity toward the Pahlavi monarchs resulted from these policies, which emancipated Iranian women who had been deprived of basic human rights for almost 14 centuries since the Muslim conquest. The Islamic theocracy perceived such actions as an affront against the sanctities of Islam.

Iran after the Islamic Revolution

With the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, clergies in Tehran immediately and severely curtailed the laws established under the White Revolution, including the Family Protection Law in favor of women, which was repealed. Today in Iran under Islamic law, gender equality is practically non-existent. Women are required to obey the Islamic law of wearing the hijab, otherwise they are subject to the severe punishment of lashing and days in prison. Islamic law specifies that women are banned from wearing perfume or shaking hands with males. Women who wear lipstick are detained and their lips are cut with blades or broken glass. Many women’s faces have been permanently scarred by acid, thrown in their faces by Islamic fascist secret police. Women have been barred from judging positions. Islamic laws consider legal testimony by women to be half as valuable as legal testimony by men.

There is absolute segregation of the sexes in any place out of the home, including schools. Education in grade school for girls overly emphasizes moral and religious teaching. In any gathering at colleges and universities, female students must be seated in the back of lecture halls, or else curtains may often divide lecture rooms. A female student must pose her question to the instructor in writing so as not to be heard by male students or male instructors, who may be “excited” by the voice of the female students.

The dark-age institutions of polygamy and temporary marriage have also been reinstated. Islamic law allows a man to have four “permanent” and as many “temporary” wives as he desires, and of course without his first wife’s permission. The legal age of marriage for girls has been dropped to 9. Women have forfeited the right to unconditional divorce, while a man can divorce his wife whenever he wishes to do so.  The custody of children, regardless of their age, is always with the father.

These grave injustices of the Islamic clergies in Iran toward women began a few days after they seized control of the country and brought the first deaths of brave Iranian women, such as Dr. Farokhroo Parsa, Minister of the State of Education, who was accused of corruption for allowing Iranian educators to teach and promote the awareness of their natural rights to millions of young Iranian girls in schools. She was put in a sack and brutally beaten and stoned to death by the Islamic fundamentalists who carried out the so-called Islamic Revolution. Many thousands of female journalists, administrators, college professors, civil servants, etc., were discharged, arrested or executed.

Despite all the hostilities expressed by the Islamic governing system, Iranian women have not compromised their aspirations; they teach their daughters that no one can force them to live under the hijab, and they do not yield to the false role of a second-class citizen who is inferior to men. The resilience and constant rebellion of Iranian women under 38 years of the cruelest Islamic dictatorship is truly due to their knowledge of and admiration for the accomplishments of their predecessors. This psyche originated in the exalted status of women of ancient Persia and was rejuvenated in the Pahlavi era by Reza Shah the Great when the law of un-veiling was nationally instituted (the 6th day of January, 1935). Not surprisingly, the clerical regime has a hard time appeasing Iranian women by comparing their condition to that of women living in Saudi Arabia. The regime often prides itself on being more progressive than the latter government, but Iranian women remember their past rights and accomplishments during the Pahlavi monarchs’ system of governing.


Mansour Kashfi, Ph.D., is President of Kashex International Petroleum Consulting and is a college professor in Dallas, Texas. He has over 50 years experience in petroleum exploration, primarily about Iran. He also has authored more than 100 articles and books about petroleum geology, the oil and gas industry, and market behavior.


Women and Islam

Taliban beat a woman in Kabul Sep.2001
Taliban beat a woman in Kabul

Liberals have always prided themselves as promoters of freedom of religion, expression, and equality. At face value, these concepts are the key ingredients to a thriving society. But as time has passed, there is an growing abyss stretching between the original ideals of the liberal movement and what it actually supports. When analyzing the goals and agenda of liberalism, one may become confounded at their faithful, unconditional support of Islamic culture. Islamic culture is the very opposite of what the liberals claim to celebrate and uphold. Instead of exposing and critiquing the components of Islamic culture that are in direct opposition to their core beliefs, liberals would quiet critics of the religion, despite facts and experiences. Muslim women are the silent majority in the matter and their experiences and voices are often dismissed. Their opinions and plight are largely met with harsh treatment and more oppression. This represents a paradox for those seeking to uphold the values of liberalism, while exposing their contradictory stance as well.

Liberals have built upon concepts such as freedom of expression, gender equality, and religious freedom. They relentlessly oppose and attack those whom they perceive as violators of these human rights. During the 2016 presidential election, there was a huge outcry against the statements that president-elect Donald Trump made about women. Many critics argued that his stance on women disqualified him from running a country that prides itself on being a progressive nation. Liberals used every media outlet they could to highlight this shortcoming, replaying sound-bites of Trump’s comments repeatedly to garner support for their position. While Trump’s indiscretion toward women may be alarming, it is not nearly as alarming as the culture of Islam that the liberals unconditionally support. More than any other major religion, Islam is closely associated with oppressive views toward women, violence and terrorism, and inequality. Even in moderate Islamic nations, such as Turkey, freedom for everyone is not necessarily thriving. Recently a Turkish girl was sentenced to two years in prison and 100 lashes for being raped by her neighbor. According to the Sharia courts, she was not accompanied by a male guardian, thus making herself more accessible to rape. Liberals largely ignore these common human rights violations and often refuse to speak out against these horrendous offenses. Instead, they attempt to separate the violence and oppression associated with Islam and label it as “Islamic extremism.” Outside of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, Sharia law is still the predominant influence and governing standard in many Islamic countries. Despite the numerous facts and experiences that are presented to the liberals, they still align themselves with support for Islam, which is not consistent with the values they vehemently strive to defend.

Liberals attempt to promote freedom of expression, religion, and equality by ignoring or harshly condemning any valid critics of Islam. For the sake of seeming “non-discriminatory,’ they separate the very culture of Islam — a culture that is steeped in oppressive thought and ideology — and label those who carry out Sharia law as extremists. Liberals tell the masses that Islam is a peaceful religion and those who do not behave peacefully are not true Muslims, they are a radicalized faction of Islam. The fear of speaking out against the ills of this religion, in the name of being inclusive, is the very reason they have blindly sided with governments and ideas that support oppression and inequality.

Outspoken Muslim women often have a hard time fully supporting the liberals due to their inconsistencies. Liberals fail to capture the reality and experiences of countless Muslim women. As a Muslim woman, I am placed in the barren middle. I am in a unique position. My critique of the religion as a whole is born in a desire to see the religion flourish and thrive, where everyone can have human rights and liberties. As with all things we love, we must be able to share our grievances, expose shortcomings and persistent violators. To what group can Muslim women devote their allegiance? On one end, there is radical Islam, a sector of Muslims that regularly violates women. They persistently bully and terrorize religious minorities in Muslim-majority regions of the world. Violence is a means to garner attention, spread its influence globally, and strike fear into their opponents. Vocal opposition to this form of extremism often falls on deaf ears from members on the far right. In predominantly Muslim countries, women are met with harsh treatment or death when they criticize the shortcomings of Islam. On the opposite end, there are the liberals — a group that has become so politically correct that they shun any constructive criticism of Islam. In the name of inclusiveness, they have muted any inkling of negative rhetoric regarding Islam. It is concerning that my experiences, along with those of myriads of other women, coupled with facts, are not enough to warrant a thorough examination of the unconditional support that liberals extend to Islamic states.

Liberalism’s inability to truthfully reflect and admit that there are fundamental issues with Islam prevents it from ever thriving. The groups the liberals vow to represent are the same groups that are more vulnerable under the liberal’s agenda. As a Muslim woman, I am caught in a conundrum. Many liberals are morally and politically confused, despite their best intentions. When they align themselves with a group of individuals that practices oppressive routines on women and religious minorities, they are actively working against their fight for peace, inclusiveness, diversity, and liberty. It is a dangerous and regressive catch for those who identify as liberals, as they must fight for their voices and experiences to be heard, along with fighting radical Islamists and harsh components of the Sharia law.

Deeba Abedi is an Indian-American born to a Muslim family. Dr. Abedi wears multiple hats as a writer, a women’s rights activist and a physician entrepreneur.

Twitter @drdeebabedi

Women on the March to Islamism

 Women, if in relatively small numbers, have become as radicalized and militant as males of their own age on behalf of Islamic terrorist organizations. According to recent studies by British research groups, gender is largely irrelevant in likelihood of people becoming extremists. Young Muslim women are as likely, and may even be more likely, as men to have sympathies with terrorist activity.

These women, as well as men, living in democratic Western countries have left their homes to join and assist the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS). Of the estimated 20,000 foreigners who have joined IS, 3,400 came from the West, including 150 from the U.S. Among them are more than 300 women from Western countries, including 60 from the UK.

But is gender irrelevant? The Western world needs to explore the personal and psychological factors that lead to female jihadism in the necessary attempt to control terrorist activity. This form of behavior by women should provide a warning for Western democratic systems because of the danger of their inciting terrorist action on home soil if and when they return to their countries of origin.

Feminism in the West has not succeeded with these young Muslim women. Changing attitudes towards gender in democratic, secular, Western countries have resulted in more educational and career opportunities for women. The young Muslim women who have joined IS have rejected the Western emancipation of women and have reverted, for the most part, to fulfilling the traditional gender stereotypes that categorize women as the property of men, support figures who fit male constructs of gender roles, submissive to what men want them to do.

At first glance, it may seem that these stereotypes do not pertain to the seemingly aggressive role of young Muslim women. Does their Islamist militancy deny the old gender stereotypes of women as weak and submissive whose appropriate role is to take care of a family and raise children?

There is no overall profile of those going to fight for IS, or of the reasons why they do so. Some women have been militarily active as well as in support roles for male jihadists. They constitute the al-Khansaa brigade, and the Umm al-Rayan brigade, moral police forces. Some serve as doctors, nurses, and teachers. But most have become either “jihadi brides”, some as sex slaves, producers of “baby factories,” cooks, wives, and homemakers.

The sober reality of female life with the Islamic terrorists is far different from the propaganda of the social networks. In that reality, women are treated as the traditional second-class citizens in a patriarchal society, their role confined to motherhood as the purpose of their existence. This is far from equal opportunity.

The Muslim women attracted to IS are not ignorant of the nature of their actions nor unwilling victims of male pressure. They appear to be willing participants by their own volition in the cause of violent extremism. Some women no doubt may have romantic notions of a Middle Eastern paradise, but they are more likely to focus on implantation of Islamist jihad. Some Muslim women have been on the front line as well as in merely supporting roles. Some are fanatical believers in “true” Islamic rules and behavior and have an apocalyptic vision of the future.

Young women and men have joined the IS as a result of different messages and inducements. Some of them have succumbed to the influence of Imams and Islamist propagandists in European countries. Perhaps now more important is a more spontaneous process of becoming militants through friendly group relations and attractive propaganda in social media networks.

Studies suggest that the most effective influential factor has been Muslim family relationships. Those families that are observant tend to structure the life of their daughters on traditional values of homemaking and childbearing. Thus, though it may appear the young women are acting on their own volition, they are in reality fulfilling family and religious rules.

A second influential factor consists of the social media networks, Facebook, LinkedIn, questions on Ask.fm, banter on Twitter, and Tumbir, and videos. Westerners have been surprised by the sophisticated nature of IS propaganda with its mixture of religious ideology, pleasantries about common life, and seductive allusions.

Terrorism has become attractive through this form of brainwashing as foreign fighters discuss openly the wonders of the Islamic State on various forms of the Internet. They are influenced by charismatic figures already attached to jihadists, such as Aqsa Mahmood, the 20-year-old female radiology student from Glasgow who is an Islamist role model.

The young Muslim women are after all teenagers with sexual desires and fantasies, and the Islamist propaganda plays on those dreams by painting IS as a Middle Eastern paradise of romantic love and adventure. But the romantic fantasies quickly become linked to implementation of Islamist jihads.

Most female jihadists have the idea or delusion that their actions are for the good of the Muslim people or for the promotion of Islamic ideology. They, especially recent converts, are dedicated to the cause. Even if not well versed in Islamic religious ideology, their desire is to live under sharia law, to escape the supposed immoral behavior patterns of the West or what they see as the lack of purpose of Western societies. Teenagers, like the rest of society, can find comfort in losing oneself in a supposed higher cause that determines one’s actions, and which is a release from personal problems or failures.

In rejecting Western identities, the young women see themselves as rebels with or yearning for a cause that they will further as part of the Muslim Umma. If they cannot recreate the glorious caliphate of the past, they believe they can serve by observing Islam in the proper manner, ranging from wearing the burqas, now forbidden in France and elsewhere, to the extreme act of joining the jihadists. Like other anti-Western extremist movements, the Islamic State has attracted disaffected or alienated youth by providing certainty and moral absolutes.

Those absolutes may be based more on hatred of Western civilization or what is regarded as “false faiths,” than on love of the true religion. One does not expect 15-year girls to be experts on the Koran. Some jihadists may be genuinely concerned about Muslims being killed around the world, and may seek revenge in savage beheadings of the unbelievers.

These female jihadists do not usually suffer from poverty or lack of education, nor are they emotionally disturbed. The women attracted to terrorist ideologies are more likely to come from second-generation families in Western countries than from recent migrants. Those migrants are likely to be poorer and too busy making a living to engage in ideological warfare or acts of violence.

In general, there is no substantial evidence that low levels of economic development, high rates of unemployment, considerable malnutrition, automatically produce terrorists. Terrorism is not a consequence of global poverty or of unequal distribution of global wealth.

Those sympathetic to terrorism often are educated, at least have post-secondary education, and live in homes with solid families and a middle class income. We now know that Mohammed Emwazi, aka “Jihadi John” the poster boy for IS beheadings, went to an upscale school in London, and obtained a technical degree from the University of Westminster in 2009. The three teenage girls (two were 15 and the third was 16) who left London in mid February 2015 to go to Syria via Turkey were all good students at the Bethnal Green Academy. They are more likely to be skilled in computer science than have any expertise in Islamic theology.

Yet all this may be an insufficient explanation for the willingness of young women to go to fight for Islamist causes. Adventurism may be more of a factor than Islamic ideology. The recruits may long for a life of excitement and camaraderie. That excitement might include love of killing those believed to be the enemy.

The Islamic State has cleverly constructed its propaganda strategy to tempt educated and physically attractive women. It understands that the blonde and blue-eyed female bombers will gain the most foreign publicity and television coverage. There is a paradox in that a religious extremism that is afraid of modernity and carries on an uncivilized war against the cultural heritage of the past should attract well-educated men and women scientists and engineers to its cause.

The Western young Muslim women joining IS are rejecting modern Western society. The democratic secular nations must find messages to counteract the effectiveness of IS propaganda. Those women must be helped to move beyond their traditional roles in patriarchal societies. It is not a question of the line in My Fair Lady, “why can’t a woman be like a man.” It is a question of empowering half of the Muslim population in a more fulfilling manner that subverts the lure of fanaticism.