Iran is not alone: making the connections

By Rafiqah Abdullah

What happened in Iran with Jina Emini (aka Mahsa Ahmini) was not an isolated incident nor the first or unique to Iran. It’s a global problem. 

Islam is not to blame nor is the hijab. It is the state and patriarchy infiltrating faith, that endorses toxic dogma. The Quran states that “Whosoever kills a person … it shall be as if he has killed all humankind”. There is no compulsion in Islam. The so-called morality police aka Haram police hide behind their faith. But we know their true intentions.

The patriarchy is not unique to Islam. But we tend to forget this, especially in the confines of the West, where oppression is more covert until it bursts into the surface from the boiling tensions within. According to the Hadith, “Sahih al-Bukhari”, when Nabi (prophet) Muhammad Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam and his cousin encountered a beautiful woman, she was not told to cover up, it was Abbas (the cousin) who was told to lower his gaze. 

The same Hadith mentions a sex worker who was rewarded for her actions of giving water to a thirsty dog. This proves that it is your niyyat (intentions), which showcases the sincerity of your heart that is more important than keeping a human’s imperfect set of standards for morality. 

Right now in Afghanistan, many girls and women are standing up to the identical fascist regime, which sees education as a sin. The Taliban regime that targets the ethnic Hazara minority, is much like how the Iranian government targets Kurds. Especially women and girls. Sex before marriage, fleeing abuse, and even being raped would land a woman in one of Afghanistan’s prisons. Women and children who live in heavily guarded female shelters are prevented from going out or seeking education and employment opportunities. Kurds from Iran to Iraq to Turkey and Syria are fighting for their freedom against these states, against the West backing these states, and against “Islamic” terrorists. And Kurdish women play a large role in this fight.

The Taliban would beat up and open fire on women and girls protesting against school bombings, that targeted the Hazara community. Specifically, young women, aged between 18 to 24 years who were preparing for an exam. Remember how then 15 year old, Malala Yousafzai from Swat valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan survived a murder attempt, because she stood up to the Taliban, who banned girls from attending school. The same vile ideology against education, masquerading as “Islamic” motivated Boko Haram in Nigeria to kidnap 276 girls from Chibok. Then a further 110 girls from Dapchi. 

Remember, it was Fatima Al-Fihri from the Abbasid caliphate (in Modern day Tunisia) who founded the world’s first university for men and women: the Al-Qarawiyyin in 857–859 AD. Nānā Asma’u established the first major institutions of learning throughout the Sokoto caliphate and was an important advocate for the education and empowerment of women in her society. Raiza Sultan was the only woman to rule the Delhi sultanate. During her reign, she established schools and libraries all across Northern India. Or Umm Salama who was one of the most influential wives of the Prophet Muhammad. Umm narrated 378 Hadiths. Umm clarified with her husband about the gender role of women in the Quran. She acted as an advisor for the Prophet during the treaty of Hudaybiyya.

Despite misogynistic/sexist views propagated to the Ummah by modern conservatives, Umm set the precedent that women can challenge gender/sex-based biases and participate in politics and religious affairs such as prayer.

Let’s not forget about Khadijah, the first wife and love of Nabi Muhammad. She was his biggest supporter (both emotionally and financially). She married him despite his poverty. She was a successful businesswoman in a male-dominated society.  She controlled one of the most important caravan trade routes in her region. 

In the Quran, the Surah al-Rum (30:22) states that Allah (God) has created human beings with different alwan, which can be roughly translated as different colours and tastes. It’s a woman or person’s personal choice to wear the hijab or follow the Quran. Allah created diversity. Allah allows free will. 

In Sudan, the same morality police would be charging women with “indecency” with the punishment of 40 lashes and a fine for wearing “an obscene outfit”, which includes trousers! Like how Lubna Ahmed Hussein was fined $200 for wearing pants. It’s the same injustice system as in Iran, which ended the life of Jina Emini and many others. For not dressing “properly”.

In the Indonesian province of Aceh, women can be flogged for standing too close to the opposite gender, having a relationship outside marriage, for selling food during Ramadan, or for being queer. The police would cut the long hair of trans women with scissors, force them to wear “male” clothing, and speak in “masculine” voices. All for “morality”. We must stand up against these vile ideologies, fueling such atrocious regimes, which violate human rights on a daily basis. 

We must also remember how the Iranian state oppresses and harms its Queer communities. What seems to be “progress” is something insidious. Yes, Iran allows for sex reassignment and subsidises it. But the state weaponises this to “cure” homosexuals. You see, trans people were categorised as Queer people, after the 1979 “Islamic” Revolution.  

This “progress” was from the efforts of trans woman Maryam Khatoon Molkara, who was fired from her job, forcibly injected with testosterones, and put in a psychiatric institution. Her well-meaning intentions to help the trans community became some kind of twisted conversion therapy for gay people. The same patriarchal government control has gotten a trans woman, Tiwonge Chimbalanga from Malawi arrested. She was released but was ultimately exiled, for marrying a man. 

So when a Pākehā or Westerner asks how Jina or any other woman in Iran is relevant, senseless patriarchal violence happens in Aotearoa too. Blessie Gotingco was a Filipina woman who almost reached home, when she was run down by the perpetrator’s car, before being assaulted and murdered. She was “vulnerable”. Lena Zhang Harrap a young woman with Down Syndrome disappeared from a walk near her home. She was found dead on the track. She was “vulnerable”. Xi Wang was brutally stabbed to death by her ex, as she held her two-year-old son in her arms. She was “vulnerable”. So was 12-year-old Samoan Agnes Ali’iva’a, who was found dead in a ditch. The police made little effort to establish the circumstances of her death. Now 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, who protested in Tehran, was returned to her family, 10 days later, murdered. Vulnerability is their connection, a vulnerability created by men’s entitlement and systemic failure in the injustice system. 

Soraya Manutchehri was 35. She was alive before 15 August 1986. She was from the village of Kuhpayeh, Iran. She was falsely accused of adultery. She was stoned to death, so her ex-husband could remarry. Many women in Iran perished from stoning. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee is behind bars. For her unpublished writing challenging stoning. For challenging a corrupt regime. Which is wearing an Islamic veil for cover. For condemning an atrocious act masquerading as a moral obligation. For pointing out an evil deed!

One can easily get upset and condemn an entire faith or an article of clothing. But don’t blame those women and people who burn and remove their hijab in protest. Blame the state and dogma. For the same mindset exists in the West and non-Muslim majority nations.

The Politricktians, the “Learning” and government institutions want to ban and punish women and girls for wearing niqab or hijab. Therefore removing their agency and autonomy. While crying “women’s rights”. Whether this is in CCP-controlled East Turkestan, the Philippines, Austria, Denmark, Norway, France, the Netherlands, or the “neutral” Switzerland. 

These nations make you forget. That 12-year-old Somali Shukri Abdi in the UK drowned after racist bullying. Her parents’ concerns were dismissed and ignored by the school and the police. Or that Egyptian migrant, Marwa El-Sherbini in Germany who was pregnant was stabbed to death. This all happened in court (!) where she was seeking justice for her killer’s xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia. Who previously called her a “terrorist” while harassing her. It was racism that made the police shoot her husband instead of her killer; a White man! Or 17-year-old American Nabra Hassanen was abducted, assaulted, and murdered during Ramadan. Or the gang rape and murder of 14-year-old Iraqi child Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and her family. Or how Saudi Itemid Al-Matar was tackled with excessive force, falsely arrested, imprisoned and charged, forced to strip, and deprived of food while fasting. For looking like a “suicide bomber”. As they were on high alert for “terrorist activity”. Or the 31-year-old pregnant  Rana Haidar who was attacked repeatedly on her head, in Parramatta (Australia), while chatting, minding her own business. Due to a man’s Islamophobia. 

Oh, the irony. How the West “cares” about Muslim women, and how Islam and Muslim countries are oppressing women. But ignores the epidemic of violence against Muslim women in Western countries.

Violence by the state. Injustice carried out by those in power. Whether it be politicians, the police, the military, or those in legal,  learning and healthcare institutions, it is the same corruption and oppression carried out by so-called “Islamic” fascist regimes. Oh the irony of Western bigots calling their Muslim victims terrorists while terrorising them. Oh, the irony of the so-called “free”, liberal, and “progressive” West. Colonialism created these terrorist groups and genocidal regimes. 

We should be supporting the revolution in Iran by amplifying the voices of Iranian women and Queers. Challenge the Haram police and challenge their sexist, queerphobic, and binarist beliefs. Allow for safe spaces for women and Queers, especially from ethnic minorities. Protect from the Haram police and Dawah patrol like Ali Dawah, Mohamed Hijab, Sajid Lipham, who will try to shut down legitimate criticisms and conservations by claiming “Islamophobia”. And hide their sexism, misogyny, and queerphobia by claiming they are just “following” Islam. But avoid being White and Western saviours. Stop demonising an entire faith or population. Recognise the nuances. Call out the role the West had in birthing and fueling terrorism. It’s easy to get carried away challenging the patriarchy but don’t take the agency and autonomy of women, intersex, and queer folks. Recognise and call out violence but don’t let it become trauma porn or make it part of your performative activism. Let them lead the charge and support them. 

Comparison of Iran to global examples is not to erase or invalidate Iran’s situation. The point is Iran isn’t alone. Drawing parallels is to show systems of oppression are global. But we must emphasise Iran is Iran. Power to its people. And as long as Iran or another nation suffers from oppression and fascism, we aren’t free until we are all free. Support the revolution!


Rafiqah Abdullah is an autistic Muslim Filipina trans woman who advocates for social justice and equity. Based in Tamaki Makarau here Aotearoa. She strives for rights for LGBTQIA, BIPOC, disabled and neurodiverse people especially those within the margins. Rafiqah believes that community is very important but also addresses individual needs as well. She believes that systems and institutions need to be reformed to create a better planet for everyone. And we need each other for a better future.

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