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Nothing New! Muslim Women who don’t fully respect Islamic head scarf are Prostitutes, says an Iranian Cleric

Judging women by the degree to which they respect the compulsory hijab is nothing new in Iran

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Muslim Women, Islam
An Iranian woman veiled in a modern fashion talks on the phone in Tehran. RFA
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  • The hijab became compulsory following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the creation of the Islamic Republic
  • Hojatoleslam Seyed Ebrahim Hosseini reportedly made the comments during his Friday Prayers sermon on June 2
  • Exiled Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad has been campaigning against the compulsory hijab from outside the country

Iran, June 08, 2017: Judging women by the degree to which they respect the compulsory hijab is nothing new in Iran.

In the past, hard-liners have accused so-called “badly veiled women” of being responsible for everything from social ills to natural disasters.

But recent comments by the Friday Prayer leader of the central Iranian city of Saveh, who likened women who don’t fully respect the Islamic head scarf to prostitutes, appear to mark a new low.

Hojatoleslam Seyed Ebrahim Hosseini reportedly made the comments during his Friday Prayers sermon on June 2. He criticized those who are against compulsory veiling while defending it as one of Islam’s “most-pressing issues.”

ALSO READ: Dad Supports Muslim Daughter if She Chooses to Not Wear Hijab

“The white veil, like those green and purple wristbands — they all smell of sedition. They’re all like flags that prostitutes would hang over their roofs in the [Dark Ages],” Hosseini said, according to an audio recording of his comments posted online.

Hosseini appeared to be referring to a campaign called White Wednesdays, in which some women have been wearing white veils in public for one day each week. They have also recorded antihijab messages and posted them on social-media platforms such as Instagram.

The movement was launched by exiled Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who has been campaigning against the compulsory hijab from outside the country.

Ebrahim Hosseini (file photo)
Ebrahim Hosseini (file photo) . RFA

Hosseini’s reference to green and purple wristbands appeared to target both supporters of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who chose purple as his campaign color, as well as backers of Iran’s opposition Green Movement, which was formed to protest alleged fraud in the 2009 presidential vote and which was violently suppressed by authorities.

At some of Rohani’s campaign events held before the May 19 presidential vote, loosely veiled women were seen holding signs criticizing the hijab and the morality police who enforce the law. Many Rohani supporters also wore purple and green wristbands and other items.

The hijab became compulsory following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the creation of the Islamic republic. For nearly four decades, tens of thousands of women have been harassed because of their appearance. Those who fail to fully observe the hijab are fined, detained, and publicly harassed by the country’s dreaded morality police, which launches regular crackdowns, especially in summer.

Hosseini’s comments have been condemned by several lawmakers and activists, who have accused him of insulting Iranian women and of being overly sensitive about their political activism.

Lawmaker Hojatoleslam Abdollah Mazani blasted Hosseini in a post on the popular Telegram app used by millions of Iranians. “Those who wore green and purple wristbands were 24 million Iranians who voted for Rohani,” he wrote, adding that if Hosseini was worried about women wearing the hijab, he should guide them while also respecting “Islamic ethics and manners.”

“Based on what religious, moral, and legal right do you allow yourself to accuse millions of Iranians of depravity from the sacred tribune of Friday Prayers?” he asked.

Lawmaker Parvanhe Salahshouri was also critical of Hosseini’s comments. “I don’t understand why some are so concerned about women’s political participation. And such concerns aside, why the insults?” she was quoted as saying by the reformist Sharq daily.

She said Hosseini should apologize to women to preserve the “dignity” of Friday Prayer leaders.

Women’s rights activist Minou Mortazi Langaroudi said relevant authorities should interfere and prevent a repetition of “such insults.”

Sharq journalist Ameneh Shirafkan wrote on Twitter that several different women’s rights groups are considering launching a formal complaint against Hosseini.

Hosseini has not publicly commented on the controversy sparked by his comments.

Friday Prayer leaders are said to receive their talking points from the office of Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Friday Prayers are often used as a platform to sends messages to Iran’s “enemies,” usually the United States, and critics of the establishment.

The physical appearance of Iranian women, and their hijab habits, have been a recurring theme at Friday Prayers.

In an episode that made international headlines in 2010, Tehran’s temporary Friday Prayer leader, Ayatollah Kazem Sediqi, suggested that women who don’t respect hijab rules fully and who wear revealing clothing instead increase the risk of earthquakes. (RFA)

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The Attention Shifts To The U.S. As It Strikes Down FGM Law

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016.Image source: VOA

When a U.S. district judge last month ruled a federal ban on female genital mutilation unconstitutional, he undercut the federal government and alarmed anti-FGM activists, who hope to eradicate the practice.

The World Health Organization calls FGM, also known as female circumcision, a human rights violation of women and girls, with no health benefits.

Some 200 million women and girls around the world, mainly in Africa, have experienced FGM, the WHO says.

In his opinion, Judge Bernard Friedman called FGM “despicable,” but also “a local criminal activity” that must be addressed at the state level. In enacting a federal law, he said, Congress overstepped.

Now, local lawmakers, advocates and newspapers are calling for state bans that equal or surpass the scope of the federal law that was struck down.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, judge
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6, 2018. (VOA)

‘Never again’

The case Friedman ruled on centers around Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room physician accused of performing FGM on at least 100 girls in Michigan for more than a decade.

Prosecutors have focused their case on nine girls, aged 7 to 12, from three states. The girls allegedly were subjected to FGM with the aid of Nagarwala and seven others, including the girls’ mothers.

Defense attorneys say the procedure amounted to only a “nick” on the girls performed as part of a religious ritual — not FGM. But they also argued in July that the federal law banning FGM is unconstitutional.

State Senator Rick Jones, who represents Michigan’s 24th district, told VOA by phone that he was shocked to learn about Nagarwala’s case and strongly disagrees with Friedman’s ruling.

Last year, Jones became the spokesperson for a package of bills outlawing FGM statewide. The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Female Circumcision, FGM
The barbaric practice of genitalia mutilation has been banned in developed nations. Wikimedia

Now, Michigan has some of the toughest FGM laws in the country.

Health-care providers convicted of performing FGM face up to 15 years in prison, along with the permanent loss of their medical licenses. Parents who take their daughters to doctors to be cut can lose custody.

The 1996 federal law, meanwhile, stipulated up to five years in prison and fines for medical providers who perform FGM.

“We wanted to send a strong message around the world: Never again bring your girls to Michigan for this horrible procedure,” Jones said.

Across the U.S., 27 states have passed laws banning FGM, many of which have been written in recent years and include penalties that go beyond the federal law, which also criminalizes so-called “vacation cutting,” the practice of taking girls out of the United States to have FGM performed overseas.

News organizations are among those pushing for an expansion of state laws. Last month, the Seattle Times editorial board called for a ban in Washington, one of 23 states yet to outlaw FGM.

FGM
A doctor checks her phone as she poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, June 8, 2016. The 50-year-old woman defends what is widely considered female genital mutilation within her small, prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community in India. VOA

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said all 50 states should ban the “barbaric” practice, in light of Friedman’s ruling.

Religious ritual?

The health-care providers and families involved in the Michigan case belong to Dawoodi Bohra, a Shi’ite Muslim sect based in India with about 2 million followers worldwide.

According to a study published earlier this year, FGM, called khafd in Dawoodi Bohra communities, is widespread in the sect and involves cutting the clitoral hood or part of the clitoris, without an anesthetic, when girls turn seven.

The study, commissioned by WeSpeakOut, an advocacy group focused on eradicating khafd, also found that three-quarters of Dawoodi Bohra women have experienced FGM.

The severity and nature of FGM can vary.

Health-care providers have identified four types of FGM. Khafd involves Type 1 FGM. Other types involve removing all of the external genitalia and narrowing the vaginal opening.

Jones rejects the idea that there’s a religious basis for the procedure, however it’s performed.

FGM
FILE – A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM). VOA

“Across the world, this has been practiced by Christians, pagans, Muslims, even a small Jewish sect in Ethiopia,” he said.

“This is not about a religion,” he added. “This is about men attempting to control women’s behavior by this horrible procedure.”

The WHO identifies both short-term and permanent harms associated with the practice. Immediate concerns include severe pain, infections and, in some cases, death. Long term, women and girls subjected to FGM face a range of physiological and psychological complications that can affect menstruation, childbirth and sexual health.

The United States has been unequivocal in condemning the practice, saying “the U.S. government considers FGM/C to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse” on a fact sheet posted to the Citizenship & Immigration Services website.

Education and legislation

Friedman’s November decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for prosecutors.

Nagarwala spent seven months in 2017 in jail before 16 friends posted a $4.5 million unsecured bond, against the pleas of prosecutors, who argued Nagarwala could silence potential witnesses or even flee the country if released.

FGM
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. Maasai are a pastoral group mostly clustered in the Rift Valley. They practice circumcision on both boys and girls during puberty years as a rite of passage to adulthood. VOA

And in January, the judge dismissed charges that Nagarwala and a second doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, transported minors with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, an offense that carries a lifetime sentence.

Nagarwala still faces conspiracy and obstruction charges that could result in decades in prison.

The trial is now set to begin next April, the Detroit Free Press reported last month. However, the prosecution could appeal last month’s decision, drawing the case out further.

Also Read: Somalia Calls To Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

“What we have to do is continue to fight this worldwide. This is a global problem,” Jones said.

“It is a violation of human rights,” he said. “And I’m going to continue speaking out worldwide against this horrible, horrible practice that must end.” (VOA)