September 14, 2023 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1718

The Women's Protest In Iran 2022-23 – Part I: Women's Status In Revolutionary Iran According To Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei

September 14, 2023 | By N. Katirachi and A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1718


The main emphasis of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests that swept Iran in 2022-2023 was on women's rights and status in the country. The protests broke out in response to the Tehran modesty police's harsh enforcement of hijab wear, which led to the death of a young Kurdish woman, Jina Mahsa Amini, on September 16, 2022.[1]

The civil protests against compulsory hijab wear in public spaces that swept the young people – women, students, and ethnic minorities – are not just cultural, but a manifestation of the political struggle for Iran's character.[2] Removing the hijab is not just a symbol of opposition to religious dress codes, but also a political act against the Islamic Revolutionary regime, which imposes its ideological-religious world view in a way to ensure that Islamic visibility takes over public spaces. To the regime, the hijab is an Islamic political principle, proof of its control of the public sphere, and encoded in law.

This ongoing civil protest against the extremist religious regime has included open, clear opposition to its symbols, and is one of the largest in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The evident power of the protest has prompted the Iranian regime to claim that it is a Western plot intended to bring about the collapse of Iranian society, which is based on Islamic family values, by demanding the removal of the hijab.

More than anything else, the civil protests are an expression of the fact that a significant part of Iran's younger generation leans towards secularization and Westernization, rejecting religiosity and Islam, which to it symbolize an oppressive regime. The Iranian regime even acknowledged the extent of the secularization trend, as evident in a report published in July 2023 by the Labor Group for Women's Issues in Office of the Iranian President. According to the report, 90% of the women in Tehran who do not wear a hijab are young, between 18 and 44.[3]

Faced with the protest's intensity, especially during its early months, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei opted for a pragmatic approach to the hijab-removal phenomenon. He made statements that could be taken to suggest that the regime is backing down from its principal demand that women must wear the hijab in public spaces. When the regime realized that using force to mandate hijab wear could take a significant toll and even endanger its stability, it launched a new policy, placing the responsibility for enforcing hijab wear on society, even encouraging the citizens to enforce it themselves against women in public.

However, six months later, after the regime successfully repressed the protests, Khamenei demanded stricter and harsher enforcement against women, despite public criticism and calls for sensitivity in the treatment of women. As soon as the intensity of protests diminished, and they appeared to no longer pose a significant threat to the regime, legislation is in process that would enforce the hijab, including with the use of advanced facial recognition software to identify women who break the law as well as steep fines.

Responding to the strict enforcement policy and turning citizens against each other, reformist regime entities as well as prominent religious figures have harshly criticized the regime, calling on it to focus on society's real problems.

One year after the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, this series of reports will offer an analysis of the civil protest that shook Iran for six months. The first part will focus on directives by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei regarding women and their place in Islamic revolutionary society versus their place in Western society. The second part will focus on how the Iranian regime is implementing its compulsory hijab policy; the third part will focus on criticism of the regime by reformists and others with regard to the regime's compulsory hijab policy.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's Directives Regarding Women's Status And The Hijab

On January 4, 2023, for the first time since the protests in Iran broke out four months previously Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei addressed the issue of the hijab and women's status. Because the protests were at their height at that time, Khamenei took a pragmatic approach, including in his speech comments that could sound moderate about the hijab, which the Iranian regime sees as an important and symbolic part of its ideology. Referring to women who do not wear their hijab properly as "sisters, not criminals," he said that they merely need to be "educated about the hijab," without attacking them.

However, in a second speech, three months after his first and after the regime had managed to suppress the protests, Khamenei's statements were more extreme, about compulsory hijab wear, as the regime had taken a harder line in enforcing it. 

Khamenei In First Speech: "Equality Between Men And Women In Human And Islamic Values Is One Of The Principles Of Islam... Of Course, The Obligations Of Men vs Women Are Related To The Feminine Or Masculine Nature... The Main Role Of Women According To Islam Is Homemaker"

On January 4, 2023, on the eve of the celebration of the birthday of Fatma, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad and a saint in Shi'ia Islam, Khamenei held a meeting with hundreds of women active in areas of culture, society, science, and academia, touting the elevated status of women in Islam versus the exploitation of women economically, sexually, and culturally in the West.

Khamenei (Source: October 19, 2022)

In his speech at the meeting, Khamenei stressed that Islam is the true guardian of women's honor and rights. Hypocritically presenting himself as shielding women while he is actually suppressing them, he harshly criticized Western philosophy and culture that he said oppresses women – in comparison with Islam, which he said maintains true equality between men and women as manifested in no differentiation between the sexes and both being viewed as human beings. Immediately after that, he contradicted himself, saying that Islam has unique obligations for each sex due to the difference in the nature of the sexes.

Women's main role, according to Khamenei, is mother and homemaker, and instilling in her children elements of national identity, morality, and Islamic tradition. The family cannot be run without a woman present to maintain the home. Stressing that women's right to act outside her home is conditional upon her fulfilling her obligations at home, he explained that Western society is on the path to collapse and this cannot be stopped because of the dissolution of the family there. This, he said was because women are not playing the role they are designed for and are instead turning to self-fulfillment. 

Khamenei explained women's inferiority according to a materialistic-cultural world view, but only with regard to Western society, and as a factor stemming from industrialization in the West, particularly in the 19th century – without touching at all upon women in Islamic culture in recent centuries or the political rights of women in the West versus those rights in Iran. Explaining that "in Western civilization, the man is the superior sex... and the woman must serve as a vessel for the man's pleasure," he added that the West "has worked hard to convince women that their advantage lies in the kind of behavior that enhances their sexual attractiveness to men."

To support these statements, Khamenei cited the MeToo protests against sexual harassment and attacks on women, criticizing the West's "hypocrisy" in presenting itself as protecting women's freedom while actually holding them captive. Thus, he declared vehemently that one of Iranian society's obligations is to refrain from adopting a Western viewpoint in matters of gender, which legalizes the sex trade, sexual slavery, and the violation of all moral and human limits.

From this, Khamenei concludes that in order to prevent the sexual exploitation of women, they must be hidden from the view of men and confined behind a barrier, both in the public space and in the virtual space. The hijab is the answer for Islamic society and the problem of the visibility of women.

Setting out his view of the hijab and calling, as anticipated, for women to be veiled, he said that the hijab is "a Shi'ite religious obligation about whose observance there is no doubt." Since the reverberations from the protest had not yet died down, Khamenei took a pragmatic approach, mildly criticizing those who, in attempting to speak on his behalf, accused women who wore their hijab loosely of apostasy and counterrevolutionary activity. Although their deeds were inappropriate, he said, they are "the girls and daughters of us all" and must be educated in the righteous path in the spirit of the revolution. 

After reviewing several areas of activity in which women have had achievements, such as sports, Khamenei acknowledged that women are indeed absent from the decision-making process in Islamic Iran, and said unenthusiastically that "this is a flaw, and this flaw must be removed."

He admitted that in Iran there is domestic violence against women on the part of their spouses, but explained that just as compulsory hijab would hide women from men's gazes in public, the problem of men's violence against women in the home would be solved by ensuring that "family law is so strong that no man will be able to oppress women."

To view highlights of Khamenei's January 4, 2023 speech on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

The following are excerpts of Khamenei's first speech, delivered on January 4, 2023:

Khamenei: The West "Is Very Much To Blame In The Issue Of Women; They Have Harmed It And Committed Crimes Against It"

"...So far, this women's meeting has been pure and full of leading and excellent ideas. The things raised by the women were very good, and I have greatly benefited from them. Of course, this content cannot be confirmed by listening to it [only] once. One must think and ponder [about them]. Therefore, do absolutely give me your written notes. Even the lady who spoke extemporaneously, without written notes, should write down [what she said]; it will be more accurate, and will give us an opportunity to think and to contemplate, so that I can provide these materials to a group of people who will peruse them and study the issue...

"Perhaps some of this content is connected culturally to the Revolutionary Council... particularly the issue of employing our smart, effective, experienced, well-versed, and intelligent women in various levels of decision making in the country. This is an important issue. I am thinking about this issue; we must find a way for it and see what can be done. 

"I have said in the past... that on the issue of women, our position towards the hypocritical Western demands [is argued from] a position of demand, not a position of defense... On the issue of women, the world is to blame. The 'world' I mean is the Western world and the current Western philosophy and culture... They [the West] is very much to blame in the issue of women; they have harmed it and committed crimes against it. Therefore, our statements [about women] have no aspect of defensiveness, but an aspect of expressing the Islamic opinion."

Addressing the women at the meeting, Khamenei said: "The hope is that you will absolutely be able to influence Western public opinion, because their women are truly suffering. The Western society of women is suffering today unconsciously, in specific instances, and in other instances suffering consciously. According to Islam... men and women do not have [different] characteristics; there is no difference between them. Equality between men and women in the area of human and Islamic values is one of the principles of Islam and this is indisputable... Islam's view of women and men is a view of human beings, such that neither's traits are unique.

"Obviously, the mutual obligations of men and women are different, but in this there is balance... That is, for every obligation with which a man or woman is charged, they are also given a privilege... Looking at responsibility, here we must rely on the natural traits of men and women.

"There are differences between men and women – that is, feminine nature and masculine nature. In both body and soul, and in spiritual matters, there are differences; the responsibility corresponds with these differences. These differences influence the type of responsibility that men or women have; it is connected to the feminine or masculine nature. There is also no need for them to do anything against their nature.

"But as far as social obligations go, men's and women's are identical. The roles are different but the missions are the same. That means that jihad is an obligation for both men and women, but men's jihad is one kind, while women's jihad is another...

"In general, the Western capitalist system is a patriarchal system – that is, what they claim about Islam and are mistaken about is exactly correct for them themselves. Why? Because the root of this perception is that in the capitalist system capital ranks higher than humanity, and people serve capital. Thus, anyone who can invest more is worth more. Therefore, men take priority over women in the capitalist system, because capital's primacy over man is more true regarding men...

Khamenei: According To The West, "Since Man Is The Superior Sex, The Woman Must Serve As A Vessel For His Pleasure"

"Thus, we can see that women are abused in two ways under the capitalist system: In work... in these very days, in most Western countries, women are paid less than men for doing the same job, because they are weaker and men are stronger. This is a type of exploitation. One of the reasons for this is that the issue of women's liberation was raised in the 19th century so that women would leave home and go to work in factories for lower wages [than men]...

"Likewise, [according to the West,] since man is the superior sex, the woman must serve as a vessel for his pleasure. It is very hard to talk about this issue in any gathering, let alone a gathering of women, but this is the reality: Everyone has worked hard to convince women that their advantage lies in the kind of behavior that enhances their sexual attractiveness to men. They have tried by all means [to establish this]. This is a very sad story. I have read so many things on this subject that really cannot be expressed. In one of the American magazines they brought me eight years ago, a very prominent American capitalist announced that he had dozens of modern restaurants, very advanced and beautiful, and asked who he should recruit to work [in them]. Young girls [he said,] girls with traits that he listed: one was that clothing and skirts must be above the knee. They also published a picture and wrote that 'this is how to look!'... Well, all these really trampled women's honor...

"So what is the outcome of this patriarchal view? When man is the superior sex in Western civilization, and the civilization is patriarchal, the result is that women try to define the man as her role model; the women follows the men's work, and this is the result...

"Well, here the West's condescension emerges. They [the Westerners] presume to be the standard-bearers of women's rights, with all these blows to women and women's honor! That is, they use the [issue] of women's rights throughout the world. This is truly the ultimate in audacity... This thing [the MeToo movement] that began last year among Western women in the matter of sexual attacks – despite all this, they argue again and again that they support women and their rights! This is what is called women's freedom, in the evil language of the Westerners... This is not freedom – it is captivity, it is insult...

Khamenei: "Today It Can Be Seen That In The Western Environment There Is Sexual Commerce, Sexual Slavery, And Violation Of All Moral And Human Limits"

"Some of their thoughts, that freedom of communication between men and women in the West will satisfy the eyes and hearts of the men and there will be no sexual harassment... Now look and see whether their [i.e.  men's] greed is satisfied or has increased a hundredfold in these sexual harassment scenarios... They [i.e. the women themselves] continue to argue that sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, in the street, in the marketplace, and everywhere, even in organizations such as the military – where women are as well. When [women] are under threat, it's not consent.

"Additionally, there is also compulsory exposure – that is, not only are [men's] eyes and heart not satisfied, but greed and lust between the two [sexes] grow a hundredfold. Therefore, today it can be seen that in the Western environment there is sexual commerce, sexual slavery, and violation of all moral and human limits. This homosexuality and other such terms are not only [forbidden] in Islam, they are among the main taboos in all religions; they [the Westerners] have made it legal and people are not even ashamed of it! Therefore, one of the practical obligations in our society is that we diligently refrain from this Western viewpoint on the issue of gender..."

Addressing the women, he continued: "One of your most important missions is to expose the catastrophic viewpoint of Western culture on the issue of gender and women. Tell this to everyone – there are people who are not aware of this...

Khamenei: "Women's Main Role, According To Islam, Is Homemaker"; "The West Has Destroyed The Family – Literally Broken It"

"Mothers are the best means for conveying elements of national identity. National identity is an important thing. That is, traditions, good morals, good habits, all these are conveyed primarily by the mother. The father also has influence, but much less than the mother. Mom has the greatest influence...

"Women's main role, according to Islam, is homemaker, but the most important thing is that 'homemaker' does not mean staying at home. Some are confused about this: When we say housework, they think that we mean sitting inside the home doing nothing, not meeting obligations, not teaching, not fighting, not participating in social activity, not carrying out political activity. That is not what 'homemaker' means. 'Homemaker' means to maintain the home, and in addition to maintaining the home, you can do any other work you can handle and that you have desire and enthusiasm for. At the same time, everything must be under [the category] of house work...

"Truly, managing a family is not possible without a woman's presence, without a woman's activity, without a woman's sense of obligation... Sometimes there are small knots within the family that can only be untangled with a woman's delicate fingers. No matter how strong a man is, he cannot untangle this kind of knot...

"Of course, in the matter of the family, if we want to look at the West, it's a disaster. The West has destroyed the family – literally broken it. Of course, this does not mean that there are no families in the West at all; some of the families are good families, and some, nevertheless, only look like a family from the outside... The Westerners have really destroyed the family with all the kinds of issues I mentioned above. This has led to the gradual collapse of the family, which has raised the voices of Western thinkers themselves... In several Western countries, the collapse has become so swift that it is unstoppable, that is, there is [already] no way of reforming the family...

Khamenei: "The Hijab Is A Shari'a Obligation... There Is No Doubt About The Obligation To Wear It – Everyone Must Know This"

"The hijab is a shari'a obligation. It is a shari'a need – that is, there is no doubt about the obligation to wear it. Everyone must know this. There is no room for doubt. This is a religious obligation that must be upheld, but those who do not fully uphold the obligation of the hijab must not be accused of apostasy and of being against the [Islamic] revolution. I have said this more than once. 

"One time, during one of my trips to the [Iranian] provinces, I said to a gathering of scholars: Why do some of you sometimes level accusations against women who have some of their hair outside [their hijab], or, in the common parlance, wear the hijab incorrectly, which now must be called wearing  a loose hijab? When I entered that city, the people came to welcome me, but at least a third of them were women who appeared to be weeping.  It cannot be said about these women that they were against the revolution – how can it be said of them that they are against the revolution when they turned out in such enthusiasm to take part in a religious ceremony of the revolution? They are the girls and daughters of us all. I reiterated this several times in my Eid Al-Fitr sermons in the Ramadan ceremony of Lailat Al-Qadr – they would bring me pictures from there. Now, when I cannot [go there]... If only I could weep like those girls, like those young women. How can accusations be leveled against such girls?

"True, wearing the hijab loosely or incorrectly is inappropriate, but it does not mean that we are excluding these [women] in the area of the religion and the revolution, and that we consider them to be not like us. Why? Because we all have some flaws; we must rectify them – the more they can be rectified, the better...

"During the prerevolutionary period, there were a few women who were scientists, academics, researchers, and experts in various fields. [Now] there are all these female lecturers in universities, all these doctors, all these scientists, in various departments. When I say various departments, this is because I really did go to them, I saw women who were scientists, women of culture, women technicians who worked there. It was unprecedented before the revolution. This is what the revolution did...

"Our girls participate in sports, become champions, take the gold while wearing the Islamic hijab. Is there a better promotion than this for the hijab? I am truly proud of these women... In various places, women have advanced everywhere.

"With regard to the claims of some of the women, [i.e. that women] do not serve in a practical way in decision-making, yes, this is a flaw, no doubt about it, and this flaw must be removed.

Khamenei: The Way To Protect Women From Domestic Abuse "Is To Have Laws Connected To The Family That Will Be So Strong That No Man Will Be Able To Oppress Women"

"In the recent events, you [women] yourselves saw many [women] opposed to the hijab.  Who were those who stood fast again all these efforts and these calling voices? The women themselves. Their [i.e. the enemy's] hope was that those women who wear the hijab loosely would remove it altogether, but they did not. That is, they slapped that [Western] propaganda in the face.

"The last thing I want to talk about is that women are oppressed in some families in our society, and based on their [men's] physical strength, because their voices are louder, they are taller, and their arms are stronger, they act forcefully towards their wives. So what should we do? We also want to preserve the family. The way [to do this] is to have laws connected to the family that will be so strong that no man will be able to oppress women. Of course, there are some instances in which the opposite is true – that is, the women is oppressed. We have some cases like that. Of course, it is less common and most of them are what I said before. We hope that with God's help, all these things will be resolved."[4]

Khamenei In Second Speech: "The Issue Of The Hijab Is A Religious And Legal Restriction... Its Removal Is Forbidden Both By Islam And Politically"; "The Regime Elements [Must] Have A Plan" To Enforce It

On April 4, 2023, three months after his first speech, Khamenei shifted from his apparently moderate approach in the first speech to a more aggressive tack, in advance of Ramadan, in a meeting with various regime officials. He stressed that the hijab was a religious and legal obligation and that its removal was forbidden by Islam and that the need to wear it was based on statements by the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. 

In his April 4 speech, Khamenei accused the West and its intelligence agencies of being behind what he called the plot of the struggle against the hijab in Iran. The citizens, he said, are not at all opposed to the hijab, but have been deceived by the West – which is where women have no freedom or security as they do in Iran. The following are the main points of his speech:

"...There were, and will be, plots within the country, such as unrest in the past year carried out on the pretext of the issue of women and with the support of Western intelligence agencies. In some of the Western countries, women, by their own admission, are not safe on the street or in military camps or forces. One example of this is a veiled Muslim woman who came to a court [in the West] to file a complaint and was beaten to death by the plaintiff.

"They [in the West] threaten Iran – which gives women the highest possible respect. Some [citizens] in the country, most of whom have been misled by the foreign enemy and traitors from outside the country, have shouted the slogan 'Women's Freedom' accompanied by riots instead of intelligent and logical talk. In what matters are women in Iran not free? Where else in the world do women participate in as many activities as they do in Iran, for example those carried out by Iranian women proudly and with head held high?

"The issue of the hijab is a religious and legal restriction, not a government restriction, and removing it is forbidden both by Islam and politically. Most of those who are removing their hijab are unaware of the incitement that motivates them to do so, that is, from the enemy's spy agencies. If they knew who and which organizations were behind the removal of and struggle against the hijab, they would not be doing this, since most of them are religious women [who believe] in Ramadan and worship. This issue will absolutely be resolved, because in the first weeks of the [Islamic] revolution, the honorable Imam [Khomeini] noted that the issue of the hijab is [religiously] obligatory. Of course, when the enemy acts in this area with an organized plan, so must the regime elements have a plan. Things must not be done in an unorganized and unplanned manner."[5]

Regime Loyalists Support And Reiterate The Importance Of Compulsory Hijab For Women

In a wide range of statements, regime loyalists echoed Khamenei's words about women's status in Islamic culture being much higher than in the West, and about the Islamic Revolution as savior of womankind. The regime mouthpiece Kayhan came out against the secularization trend that it claimed threatens all of Iranian society, equating women's removal of their hijabs with the fall of a soldier's banner on the battlefield.

The reformist sector, which had criticized the compulsory hijab, was also singled out for special treatment, coming under attack for stressing the importance of the economy at the expense of the hijab. Iran's annual Qods Day was harnessed by regime to echo the regime's oft-reiterated theme that the Zionist regime and the West were behind "the hijab-removal plot" because they know that the hijab is the foundation of morality in Iranian society and therefore are taking aim at the hijab in order to damage the society and lead to its collapse.

Furthermore, the hijab is described as a struggle against the true corruption – that is, not the economic corruption that prevails in regime institutions – and is justified because even the West has some kind of dress code. Rejecting the argument that women should be free to dress as they see fit, the regime loyalists argued that even freedom has its limits, such as restrictions on selling drugs as part of freedom of employment.

Regime Mouthpiece Kayhan: "Every Removal Of A Head-Covering And A Hijab From The Heads Of Iranian Girls And Women Is Seen As The Fall Of A Soldier's Banner "

The January 10, 2023 editorial in Kayhan, titled "The Enemy's Resentment Of The Hijab," which was published a few days after Khamenei's speech, underlined the conflict over women's status in Western culture and in Islamic culture. The editorial stated that Islam's respectful view of women had led women worldwide to become enamored of the rights and values radiating from this religion and to adopt it. Describing Iran's Islamic Revolution as rescuing women from the culture of the West, it said that in the past four decades since then it had led to success in science, politics, society, culture, and sports – and that this success had aroused the ire of the West as the latter continued to use propaganda to take control of and destroy life in Iranian society. This, it said, was in an effort to prevent the West's own values from collapsing.

The culture war with the West, continued the editorial, is focused on the symbol of the Islamic Revolution – that is, the hijab, which is the shield for women. As a result, it is attempting to promote refusal to wear it, and success in this attempt is comparable to the "fall of a soldier's banner." Stating that Iranian women must be aware of the enemy's evil motives, it abjures them not to believe the promotion of the Western ideal of beauty and the enemy's lies about how not wearing the hijab means freedom for women. In actuality, it said, following this path will prevent women from being protected, growing, and developing, and bases this statement on the case of the Iranian Olympic athlete who medaled in her sport while wearing the hijab. If the West believed in true freedom, it asked, why did France ban veiled students from attending university?

In conclusion, the editorial appealed to Iranian women to follow the path of the saint Fatma and to realize that the greed of the West does not end when women remove their hijabs, but continues until it drags women into the abyss.

The following are excerpts from the editorial:

Kayhan: The Islamic Revolution Has Brought Women Struck By The Virus Of Western Life To A Position Close To Precious And Lofty Status... By Virtue Of The Quran"

"The important issue – that is, women – has become an arena of conflict between Western and Islamic culture. This conflict [stems from] the West's destructive and humiliating perception of women in the past decades and centuries. The terrible outcome for these women shows itself in these societies. It has even led many concerned and honest thinkers [in the West] to criticize [the Western view of women], such that it is obvious that the authentic Islamic culture's respectful and innovative view of women is what caused many women from various religions and nationalities, and from the most far-flung places in the world, to become enamored of its [Islam's] advanced and humane view of women. It is the attraction of Islam's rights and values for women that has prompted concerned leaders in Western society to think about changing Islamic societies and making Muslim women more like Western women, with the aim of preventing the collapse of their atrophied yet profitable values for women in the West...

"With the victory of the [1979 Islamic] revolution and the rule of Islamic values, a new chapter began, and there was a rare atmosphere of good life and growth and development in the right direction for girls and women. With the proper support and guidance of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] in the past four decades, and thanks to awareness on the part of the daughters of this land regarding their true status and value, there has been a brilliant record of exceptional growth of women in science, politics, society, culture, and sports, and Iranian women are shining in various areas in the world. These things have been said many times, and they cannot be denied, because they are tangible and objective, and even those most hostile to the Islamic Revolution cannot afford to ignore this path of growth and progress for women and their unique advancement in light of the support and existence of the Islamic Republic.

"In contrast to the West, which over several decades has put women on a track that degrades their status and value, out of a view that stems from lust and wealth and has turned them into second-rate goods... the Islamic Revolution has brought women struck by the virus of Western life to a position close to precious and lofty status. [It has done this] by virtue of a healing version [of an outlook] in the form of the book of healing – the Quran – and the savior religion of Islam.  

"This is precisely the reason... that the great Islamic Revolution [of Iran] has led Western society to a profound challenge... Today, the Western world is trying to neutralize [Iran's Islamic Revolution], or to divert it and distort it, in order to prevent its expansion and its advancement of this new and attractive perception of the world outside Iran's borders and geography... Many women in various countries have become enchanted with the Islamic outlook and with the culture and revolution of the Iranian people after getting to know them, and have even chosen the religion of Islam and made the hijab and modesty into their tranquil stronghold and refuge.

Kayhan: "One Current Example Of The West's Efforts To Change The Culture Of Islamic Iran And To Promote Western Culture Is The Issue Of The Islamic Hijab For Women"

"Such a sorrowful challenge for the Western world has made it think about drying up the wellspring of Islamic culture in the current era, to extinguish the sun of the Islamic Revolution and to change the culture of Iranian society. For years they have been attempting to advance their [Western] way of life in Islamic Iran by any method and using any tools at their disposal, beginning with the virtual space, cinema, and music, and including false satellite channels.

"One current example of the West's efforts to change the culture of Islamic Iran and to promote Western culture is the issue of the Islamic hijab for women. The bizarre and widespread efforts of a great many official and virtual media affiliated with the West or supported financially and politically by the enemies of Iran to promote rejection of the hijab is a worrying and undeniable reality.

"This conflict includes cultural invasion and war, and every removal of a head covering and a hijab from the heads of Iranian girls and women is seen as the fall of a soldier's banner. The girls and women of this country are expected to be aware of the philosophy of this conflict, and to think about the evil intent of the enemy front... Too much attention to external appearance, and shocking promotion of beauty methods and excessive use of cosmetic products and, later on, too little, or, God forbid, lack of attention to the hijab will not only fail to bring virtue and rights to women – contrary to what is advertised by the West and its misleading media – but will prevent them from growing and developing scientifically, socially, in the family, and so on.

Kayhan: "Many Women Who Have Not Earned Much Success In The Social Arena Have Missed The Correct Way Of Life Because They Devoted Little Attention To The Hijab"

"The falsehood that these media have been telling our girls and women for years is the false belief that the hijab limits and thwarts progress, while many successful women have reached the highest and topmost levels in science, society, sports, and so on by virtue of their wearing of the Islamic hijab. Many women who have not earned much success in the social arena have missed the correct way of life because they devoted little attention to the hijab, and some of them were obsessed with attaining beauty – like the fake Hollywood stars and the fake [television show] presenters on [satellite] channels. Can it be said about that Iranian athlete who medaled in the Olympics that wearing the Islamic hijab held her back, and held back those like her? Would this athlete or those like her be able to repeat their pride-inspiring achievements that they earned because of they wore the hijab and because of the support and encouragement of the Islamic Republic if they emigrated and remove [their] hijab? If [the West] truly believed in freedom of dress, why did France, which says it is a supporter of Iranian women and girls, ban veiled girls from attending universities and schools?

"Behind the shows of compassion for Iranian women, it is clear that the enemy, and the media affiliated with it, has another goal – destroying Iranian Islamic culture and targeting the Islamic hijab as one of the most important symbols and banners of the Islamic Revolution.

"The outcome, and the fate, of the path, and of course, of the trap, set by the Western leaders and the media affiliated with the enemies of Iran in recent years... is the destruction of the institution of the family and the transformation of women into an element slaking the endless sensual desires of men. Attention to women is due to their physical and sexual attractiveness, not to their internal values – and [all this] is the result of this path. Most of Iran's women and girls, who are pure by nature and who cling to human and Islamic values, have disrupted the enemy's evil plan by imitating Islam's greatest woman, Fatma, the symbol of the value of Islam for women. Those few women who follow the path of the enemy must ask themselves: Will abandoning the head covering and the hijab end the greed of the enemies of this country and the dragging of women and girls to the decadent abyss of Western life? Or is it the beginning of a bitter end that portends evil?"[6]

Kayhan Editor Hossein Shariatmadari: "It’s Not The Right Thing" That Some Women Are Abandoning The Hijab – "They Are Breaking The Law"; "If The Revolution Becomes Weak, It's When People Give Up On Islam – That's Impossible"

With the regime's success at repressing the street protests across Iran, Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari showed a moderate face to the British Financial Times daily, calling in an interview published March 27, 2023 to raise awareness of the hijab among women and to educate them to wear it instead of making it compulsory for them to do so. Nevertheless, he stressed unwillingness to compromise with secular women and hinted at a possible escalation of enforcement efforts to solve the problem if women's rejection of the hijab continued into the coming year. The following are excerpts from the interview, in the original English:

"It's not the right thing [that some women are abandoning the hijab]; they are breaking the law. Gradually, they can be made aware of this, but the way to deal with them is not to arrest them, it's to increase awareness. Next year, if you [addressing the interviewer] come here, you will not see this [women in these streets without a hijab]. If the revolution becomes weak, it's when people give up on Islam – that's impossible."

He added that "debate" on different opinions "is normal," but that he is against the idea of making significant concessions to the protestors and secularists.[7]

Kayhan editor Shariatmadari (Source: Fars, April 15, 2023)

Kayhan: "When The Family Unit In America Collapsed, American Society Also Collapsed... This Is The Reason For The Enemy's Bizarre And Powerful Focus On The Issue Of The Hijab And The Family"

An April 20, 2023 Kayhan article referenced a poll by the Wall Street Journal indicating that American values that once defined its society, such as religion, patriotism, and having children were in decline, while the only priority tested in the poll that had grown in importance in the past 25 years is money.[8] In the article, Kayhan presented these findings, which correspond with Supreme Leader Khamenei's narrative that American society is disintegrating. Kayhan also took issue with the reformist stream in Iran that it said places sole emphasis on the economy and none on the values of Iranian society that are rooted in the family unit, which is a source of religion, culture, and the hijab. This collapse of the family unit could lead to the disintegration of Iranian society, said Kayhan, which explains the enemy's focus on the family unit. Maintaining hijab observance is essential to maintaining the economy, the religion, and the culture, and to solving hundreds of other problems that are likely to emerge if women do not wear the hijab.

The following are highlights of the Kayhan article:

"...A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal, an economic and business newspaper, wrote about a study on 'priorities' as part of an extensive investigation. According to the report, the foundations and the fundamental values of American society are collapsing among the younger generation. For example, since 1998, the number of Americans who say that patriotism is important dropped from 70% to 38%... the importance of religion in this country fell from 62% to 32%... [and] social participation in important events in the country also dropped from 47% to 27%.

"The shocking thing in America, according to the statistics, is that the most important issue for Americans, that appears even more important than it did 25 years ago, is whether the citizens have money. An American expert on social issues who read the report responded: 'We are witness to the terrible consequences of the disintegration of society'...

"America alone is a quarter of the global economy, but according to this report, its society is broken, and the issue that is most important to its citizens is to make money! We have stated this point in order to reach the conclusion that it is possible to be a strong economy but [at the same time] to deal with a society in collapse! And that the analysis by the members [i.e. the reformists in Iran] who see 'all the problems' in Iran through an economic lens – how mistaken and inaccurate they can be. Indeed! Economic problems are of course involved in the emergence of social problems, but the economy is not always the main and only reason for this.

"According to this report, when the family unit in America collapsed, American society also collapsed. The maintenance of the family center means preventing the occurrence of hundreds of social and non-social problems. Now we can better understand the importance of issues such as the family. Like issues such as religion and culture, the first of which is the family, so is the issue of the hijab and virtue, that also begins from the family center, and this is the reason for the enemy's bizarre and powerful focus on the issue of the hijab and the family. Have no doubt that after the hijab, they will look for other issues on which to focus, and have no doubt that they will also dictate the need to respect the rights of homosexuals and alcoholics...

"In conclusion, it can be said that one of the most important areas whose preservation and strengthening can prevent disruption in additional areas, including the economy, culture, politics, and more, is the area of the 'Iranian family.' This is the area in which the enemies have taken a long step in order to bring it down, using the trick of 'hijab by choice.' Here we will emphasize that 'hijab by choice' ends with compulsory hijab rejection, and hundreds of other problems that will result from the heart of hijab rejection and immorality. This will ultimately lead Iranian society to a situation like the Wall Street Journal wrote about Western societies – that is, 'societal collapse.'"[9]

Kayhan: "The West's Trampling Of The Hijab For Women In The Past Century In Those Countries Has Led It To The Point Where French President Macron, For Example, Said: 'More And More Women Fear Being Attacked And Harassed, So They No Longer Dare To Use Public Transportation'"

In a June 20, 2023 article, Kayhan justified the Iranian regime's extensive focus on enforcing hijab wear on women by explaining that it was about tackling corruption, and compared refusal to wear the hijab to going naked in public. Even the West, it said, has a dress code for public spaces and even "freedom" there has limits, for example, laws against selling drugs. The hijab, said the article, was more necessary today than ever, in order to prevent sexual harassment of women because of "revealing" and immodest dress, as happens in the West. It concluded by saying that what those who promote immodesty are doing is unforgiveable, and that they must be punished. The following are the main points of the article:  

"...Those who think that the struggle against economic corruption, such as theft or embezzlement, takes priority over the struggle concerning modesty and the breaking of the norms of covering [the body] must be asked: Is this embezzlement only in monetary matters? Is absconding with very precious capital, the foundation of society and families [i.e. the hijab], less [grave] than stealing material currency and capital?...

"Some claim, based on the attractive term 'freedom' and without understanding the meaning of their [own] words, that according to the principle of freedom, every woman is entitled to appear in public without a hijab and wearing anything she wants! These people do not, of course, say where the limits of liberty and free will are if this argument is accepted. Under these conditions, can someone appear naked in public without anyone protesting about it, on the pretext of the principle of freedom? Of course, even in the most secular and nonreligious countries in the West there is no such thing as absolute freedom. In the various societies, no one is entitled to appear in society in any way and wearing anything they please, at universities, schools, workplaces, and public places. According to this definition and this logic, the people arguing for freedom can claim that someone who crosses on a red light or uses or sells drugs in public does so as part of freedom. Don't they think that this freedom causes injustice to everyone else? 

"The West's trampling of the hijab for women in the past century in those countries has led it to the point where French President Macron, for example, said: 'More and more women fear being attacked and harassed, so they no longer dare to use public transportation. We are going to double the police presence on public transportation, particularly at times when most of the attacks take place.' Or, alternatively, the Daily Mail reported 6,500 incidents of sexual attack in British hospitals! Violence and aggression against women in countries like the U.S. is also a phenomenon with many examples, from sexual harassment of national gymnastics team athletes by their male coaches to many incidents of rape... Of course, today in the West, by means of the satanic social media and the promotion of dangerous ideas, some of them go through the anti-religious phase and reach the dark and terrible place of dehumanization, of which promotion of many ugly and inhuman behaviors such as homosexuality is one example.

"It is an unforgivable mistake in our Islamic society to ignore the experience that the West places before us, and we must not underestimate the issue of modesty and the hijab [observance] by the people, regime elements, and any individual and group that can positively influence [those who are remaining] passive against the enemy plan to harm modesty. From this viewpoint, those who promote immodesty and immorality and economic corruption must be treated appropriately and in ways that will deter them. There is also a need to consider the cultural issue, and to improve the level of modern and attractive education for conveying values perceptions."[10]

Ayatollah Khatami: "The Hijab Is The Word Of God" And "One Of The Foundations Of The Religion"; "A Woman Who Leaves Her Home Without Her Hijab Is Sick"; "I Believe That The Police Are On The Front Line In This Matter And Need To Do Their Duty"; "The Masses... Want To Smell The Fragrance Of The Religion, Not The Fragrance Of Absence Of Religion"

In his Tehran Friday sermon on July 21, 2023, Tehran Friday imam Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami justified the compulsory hijab as an fundamental principle of the religion of Islam, whose source is the Quran. Echoing Khamenei's statements that rejection of the hijab is forbidden both according to the shari'a and politically, he called hijab-less women "sick" and demanded that they be treated accordingly. Furthermore, he stated that the Iranian nation, where most want hijab wear to be compulsory, is entitled to have it that way, because hundreds of thousands of martyrs have sacrificed themselves so that the rules of Islam will prevail in society. The following are the main points of his sermon:

"...Everywhere I go to deliver a speech, the religious people ask me what will happen to those women who do not wear the hijab. The hijab is a matter set out by the clerics. The hijab is the word of God. Over 10 verses of the holy Quran deal with the hijab. Most of the religious sources consider the hijab one of the foundations of the religion, exactly as they consider prayer to be obligatory. By presenting the hijab as a clerical directive, they are deceiving those who do not wear the hijab. Furthermore, while the authorities talked about the hijab a century ago, when it was not political... the hijab was one of the fundamental principles of the religion...

"The Leader has said that not wearing the hijab is forbidden, both according to the shari'a and politically... A woman who leaves her home without her hijab is a sick woman. She should not be slapped, but gently healed. The interactions [i.e. the authorities' treatment of a woman without her hijab] must be humane and loving. They are the daughters of this country. They did not come from abroad. The directive to 'flee evil' must be as written in the Quran.

Friday imam Ayatollah Khatami (Source: Mashregh, Iran, July 21, 2023)

"The hijab is a religious ritual. This [Iranian] people has sacrificed over 200,000 martyrs, and now, at any [given] moment, it is sacrificing [more] martyrs so that the rules of the Quran and Islam prevail in society. This nation that I see [before me] will not allow a handful of people to attack the rules of Islam based on a whim. In the issue of the hijab, everyone has a duty. Families have a duty regarding the hijab. Sometimes, the mother wears a hijab but the daughter does not. All the officials and the heads of the three authorities are unanimous: Rejection of the hijab is a sin. I do not know a single official who is pleased with rejection of the hijab.

"I support the oppressed police forces. I believe that they are on the front line [against these women], and they need to do their duty in this matter. Many citizens wonder whether those who do not wear the hijab will band together, and I promise that as long as you are in the picture, know that rejection of the hijab will not become the norm. The norm in the country is the hijab. I say to the country's officials that the masses want the hijab. They want to smell the fragrance of the religion, not the fragrance of absence of religion."[11]

The Regime's Decision As Read Out At The Nationwide March For International Qods Day In April 2023: "The Hijab Is One Of The Foundations Of Islam – And Disobeying It Is Forbidden By Shari'a And Will Weaken The Basis Of The Family"

The regime's seven-section decision that dealt, inter alia, with the hijab, that was read out by marchers in the national International Qods Day march in Tehran in April 2023, was a direct continuation of the narrative promoted by Leader Khamenei – that is, that the West and the Zionists are behind the struggle over the hijab in Iran.

The regime decision on the hijab stated, inter alia:

"...The hijab is one of the foundations of Islam, and disobeying it is forbidden by shari'a and will weaken the basis of the family. Therefore, we call on the executive bodies to prioritize today the necessary means and measures to prevent the continuation of this violation [i.e. not wearing the hijab] and to liberate Islamic society from this evil souvenir of the Zionist-Western culture that is being advanced with the support of the enemy's spy agencies."[12]

*N. Katirachi is a Research Fellow at MEMRI; Ayelet Savyon is Director of the Iran Media Studies project.


[3], July 15, 2023.

[4], January 4, 2023.

[5] ISNA (Iran), April 4, 2023.

איסנא (איראן), 04.04.2023

[6], January 10, 2023.

[7], March 27, 2023; Asr-e Iran, March 27, 2023.

[8], March 27, 2023.

[9], April 20, 2023.

[10], June 20, 2023.

[11], July 21, 2023.

[12], April 14, 2023.

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