Iranian Women Were Emancipated—on January 7, 1937

In 1919 Sadiqeh Dolatabadi (d. 1962), pictured above, published the first women’s periodical in Isfahan called Zaban-e Zanan (The Women’s Voice) which (unsurprisingly!) faced opposition from the Mullahs in Isfahan. After ending the publication of Zaban-e Zanan in Isfahan, she went to Tehran and once again started publishing the periodical as a monthly magazine. Dolatabadi completed her education in Europe, receiving her B.A. from the Sorbonne University. In the spring of 1926 she represented the Iranian women in the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage. She returned to Iran in 1927, started her cultural activities, and refused to wear a veil—even as a government appointed supervisor within the Ministry of Education, before the enactment of the 1937 law.


When Iran was returned in 1979 to its longstanding status (i.e., from 1502 to 1925; interrupted by a period of Afghan invasion and internecine struggle, from 1722-1795) as a Shiite theocracy, following its relatively brief flirtation with Westernization and secularization under Pahlavi rule from 1925 to 1979, one notable commemoration, in particular, each January 7, was abolished. For over 40 years that day—January 7—commemorated the anniversary of the date in 1937 on which Reza Shah announced at a Girls’ High School prize-giving that Iranian women would be forbidden to wear the chador, or veil.


By 1941, despite the expected opposition of the irredentist Shia clergy, Sir Clarmont Skrine would record in his World War in Iran (London, 1962, p. 109), that  the announcement of Reza Shah’s abdication,


“…was received with gloom by the governing class and the younger generation who feared a return to the medieval, mulla-ridden Persia they thought they had left behind for good and all. This fear received some confirmation from the fact that very soon, for the first time in years, women appeared in the streets of Meshed in the chador enjoined by religion but forbidden by the late Shah.”


Not unexpectedly, a salient feature in the aftermath of Reza Shah’s abdication was a revival of Shiite Iranian clerical influence which reached its apogee during the premiership of Muhammad Mosaddeq (1951-1953). Allied to the clerics, who were also against external “domination,” Mossadeq’s regime, was punctuated, as F.R.C. Bagley notes, by


“…sermons broadcast from loudspeakers in mosque-minarets [which] not infrequently denounced foreign manners, and many well-educated Iranian ladies resumed the veil…”



Bagley goes on to summarize three primary reasons why most clerics view with “hostility…any sort of women’s emancipation”:


It is regarded as contrary to Islamic Law, the Sharia


It represents a move toward “Westernization” of manners


It was preached by non-Muslim infidels in Iran, notably the Bahai. and Christian missionaries, and advocated by Iranian freethinkers, such as the poet Iraj Mirza (d. 1926)



When the deposed Mossadeq was succeeded by Muhammad Reza Shah, the latter’s “White Revolution,” which emphasized women’s suffrage, was in turn denounced by the Shiite clerical hierarchy who felt women’s suffrage was “un-Islamic.”


And the retrograde 1979 Khomeini “revolution” has marked a brutal re-imposition of Islamic Law even worse than what the Iranian women of 1941 had feared, and characterized then as “a return to the medieval, mulla-ridden Persia they thought they had left behind for good and all.


Writing in The American Thinker, University of Connecticut Professor Kazem Kazerounian informs us that the wife of the faux “populist” butcher of political prisoners (including students) former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard (the author of the  “Beauty of Concealment and Concealment of Beauty”),


“…was key in enforcing the strict Islamic dress code (Hejab) on women. She had a major role in forming “Gasht-e Khaharan-e Zeinab”, the female street police units that harass women to enforce “Islamic behavior.”


And Diana West has found an online English translation of Mrs. Mousavi’s “opus” which extols women’s oppression under the guise of treacly Islamic piety, while expressing virulent anti-Western xenophobia.


Diana presents these illuminating extracts which make plain that Mrs. Mousavi’s “vision”—like her husband’s—will once again deprive Iranian women of their liberation from Islam’s oppressive misogynistic strictures—which they had already briefly attained back on January 7, 1937, in part, thanks to the courageous efforts of true reformers like Sadiqeh Dolatabadi.


From Diana West’s blog:


Rahnavard writes:


“Today most of the young women and girls, who have adopted hejab in toto and have been completely enamoured by it, have reached the truth that concealment in entirety is beautiful.”


And woe to him who bans the hejab. She writes (in 1986):


“Fifty years ago it was on the 17th Dey (7 January) that, in servile obedience to the orders of the British and Americans, Reza Khan the accursed, ordered the abolition of hejab for women in Iran.”


In Chapter 2, “Imperialist Roots of Abolition of Hejab”  Rahnavard revs up a little:


“This propaganda that Islam is against the womenfolk has been carried on by the Imperialists, under one pretext or the other, through their mass media in the East and the West, their news imperialism and groups associated with the Americans and the USSR as well as the other anti-revolution members of SAVAK and pro-monarchy groups, and every now and then they are raising a hue and cry against Islam and the Muslims. At one time they raise the question of inequality of man and woman in Islam, and at another they harp on the issue of hejab, and so on.”


So tedious, I know.


“In fact, however, (under the illuminating and guiding leadership of Imam Khomeini), millions of common womenfolk have returned to their divine nature, to the dignity of their own Self, and under the loving patronage and protection of the Islamic Republic of Iran we are advancing towards preparing the ground for new legislation, so that on the basis of the Islamic laws and precepts suitable laws may be framed for this period of time for the rights and true worth of the womenfolk in order that all the oppressed women of the world may come to realize that the only way of their deliverance is the path of Islam and not the Capitalist, humanist or Communist ideologies, and that the only guarantee for materializing this objective is the Islamic revolution.”


And finally, the battle cry in Chapter 3, “Message of Hejab from a Muslim Woman”:


I have understood Islam. I have upheld hejab, You, bloodsucking Oppressors have lost an anti-people stronghold, namely, the woman of the type you had yourself forged, you had yourself trained, you had yourself taught the ideals, the way of walking, talking, laughing, wishing and longing. Of course you had yourself taught all these things to her.”


“You have now lost such a woman, such a stronghold. How sensitive a stronghold! Hence by the Grace of God and our efforts, this stronghold shall never fall into your hands. Myself and my people, women who form half of the population, and. men who form the other half of the population, have got hold of a stronghold against you and for crushing you. My hejab which is by itself now an Islam personified says that it will crush you. It tells you that it is an avowed enemy of you, the ruling regimes, you the corrupt politicians, you the chosen of the strong, you Pharoahs, Croesuses, imperialists, and (their) stooges. It [my hejab] warns you that in this world you shall be punished by the weak masses and on the Day of Judgement shall be subjected to eternal torture of Hell.”


“I picture Islam with my hejab, give it a positive form. I revolt against you. With my Islam, my hejab, and my struggle every day I bring closer the death of you, of your class and of your system, (as God says:)


‘Away with those who do wrong!’(Surah Hud: 11 :44)”

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