Modern Islamic women struggle with dress code

Modern Islamic women struggle with dress code

There was an interesting interview on Oct. 13 in the English-language edition of the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, the leading international Arabic daily. Being interviewed was Zahra Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Eshraghi, who was billed by Asharq al-Awsat as “an Iranian human rights activist who is well-known for her outspoken, feminist views,” is also the wife of the younger brother of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

While the interview covered a number of topics, Eshragi’s remarks concerning the way Iranian women dress is what would have attracted the attention of Turkish readers, given the heated debate currently raging in Turkey on women’s dress and especially the matter of “décolletage.”

The cause of that debate, as most people know by now, was Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Hüseyin Çelik and his remarks about the dress of television presenter Gözde Kansu, which revealed some cleavage but by no means was “extreme” in the way Çelik was suggesting. Neither was the dress which got Kansu fired from her channel unique to Turkish TV in terms of revealing cleavage. 

While there seems to be an attempt to cover women in the name of Islamic morality in Turkey, modern women in a country like Iran, which is governed according to the sharia, are clamoring for a liberal dress code in order to get rid of the somber black chador, as we find out through Eshraghi. 

Asked about the colorful dresses and jeans she wears despite being the granddaughter of Khomeini, Eshraghi said her sisters and mother were just like her in this respect. Adding that her late grandmother also dressed in this manner, Eshraghi said the following:

“I think that everyone dresses according to their attitude. I have always opposed the way female officials dress. If they want to promote Islam, they can do this while wearing more fashionable veils and dress. For example, my grandfather –Ayatollah Khomeini – always said that the color black is not a good color to wear.” 

Going on to say that she has plans “to issue a call to Iranian women via Facebook to begin dressing in happier colors,” Eshraghi indicated that she wanted to start “a color revolution” in her country. Asked about her views on the way the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s first female spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, who is always seen in a black chador, dresses she said the following:

“I am opposed to the way she dresses and I think that she has to reconsider her dress style. I think that she should dress in light colors. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson is viewed across the world. Clothes are very important.”

Eshraghi also expressed her strong opposition to any police crackdown on women because of the Islamic dress code, saying such measures will have no effect. “As long as this law is in effect, we have to object to it. The entire dress code law must be annulled,” she said, adding her hope that Iran’s new and moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, would do this.

Eshraghi also indicated anecdotally that she had posted several pictures of herself without the chador recently on her Instagram account. “Several religious women told me that my dress was inappropriate. I replied: That’s me. [If you don’t like it], don’t look at me!” 

Asked what she watches on television, she said: “I often watch NBC which broadcasts the latest Hollywood films. I watch [the Turkish soap opera] ‘Magnificent Century.’ Of course, this is if the channels are not being jammed.” The “Magnificent Century,” which is popular in the whole region and which reveals much cleavage, deals with the romantic and sexual antics in the court of Süleyman the Magnificent. 

Reading the interview with Eshraghi, one could not help but think that the world is thankfully not as black and white as some Turkish Islamists would like it to be.