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Last month I told one of my readers I would chronicle women in Islam from the mid-20th century to the present.
It is deplorable that people under the age of 35 will not have known anything other than the Muslim women’s attire we see today.
For them and for readers who have forgotten the swift trajectory from the modern to the mediaeval, below are links to illuminating photographs from several Muslim countries.
It is painful to read that an increasing number of American Christians are moving in the same direction — backward — with regard to women’s opportunities and attire. I read of arranged marriages, daughters deprived of university, veiled women at church and wives who buy burkinis. These people — not sect members, by the way — isolate themselves and associate only with their own kind because the rest of us, frankly, just aren’t good enough!
Stop the madness!
Now without further ado: Muslim women not so long ago. I have not reproduced most of the pictures because I do not know how long it took those who published them to locate them. Therefore, please click on the links to see how life has changed within a short space of time.
Afghanistan Online has a concise but excellent history of governments from the late 1880s to the present.
Briefly, by the end of the 19th century, women were allowed to inherit property. The first school for girls, which included an English curriculum, opened by 1919. In the 1920s, the government discouraged women from wearing a veil. King Amanullah Khan stated publicly, much to the consternation of fundamentalist tribal leaders:
Religion does not require women to veil their hands, feet and faces or enjoin any special type of veil. Tribal custom must not impose itself on the free will of the individual.
The next king, Mohammad Nadir Shah, acquiesced to these tribal leaders. However, by 1933, Mohammad Zahir Shah began a 40-year reign and brought in many reforms for women: Western attire adopted by the ruling family, the opportunity to work in professions and the right to vote. Various restrictions were also enacted against child brides and dowries. The first Miss Afghanistan was crowned in 1972; although there was no swimsuit competition, there was an evening gown pageant.
The following links show how women dressed during Mohammad Zahir Shah’s rule. MessyNessy’s ‘Lost in Time: Groovy Afghanistan’ features a selection of photos. Note in particular the first one of Afghan women in the 1940s. They are all in Western dress and only one wears a veil. The next picture features women from Kabul representative of the 1960s and 1970s. Again, only one has a gauzy headscarf. The rest, in mid-knee length skirts, could fit in anywhere. These photographs come from a Facebook page, publicly available, called ‘Once Upon A Time In Afghanistan’. I encourage — exhort — everyone reading this to view it. See how contemporary everything was in Afghan society.
Afghanistan was also open to tourists. Bill Podlich has a selection of photographs from his visit, with family, to the country in the late 1960s. Photo 7 shows secondary school girls; whilst they wear loose veils, except for one, the caption states they were not allowed to wear full chador when attending school. They were also encouraged to attend university. Photo 26 shows a mixed class of men and women — only one of whom wears a scarf — at the Higher Teachers College in Kabul. The next photo shows primary school pupils and their teachers in the playground. All are wearing Western attire.
The American journalist and author Phyllis Chesler has a fascinating collection of photographs of Cairo University graduates through the decades. The Class of 1959 were all in Western attire. The same was true in 1978. However, in 1995, one-third of the women of that graduating class wore veils. By 2004, most of the women covered their heads.
During the Arab Spring of 2011, Chesler examined the photos coming from Egypt (emphases mine):
Yes, there are some female faces in the Cairo mob scenes, but understandably, they are in the minority.
While there are some—very few—female faces that are bare-faced and bareheaded, most women are wearing serious hijab: Pulled low and tight on their foreheads, tied under their chins, covering their necks, draping down to their shoulders.
Oh for the days of Anwar Sadat, whose wife Jihan and daughters Jihan and Lobna wore Western attire. Scroll to the bottom of his biography to see the family photo.
In the 1960s, a few Egyptian women from well-placed families were allowed to participate in foreign-exchange programmes. One of them was Nazek Fahmy, who spent time in Moline, Illinois, with the Parsons family before touring the United States with other foreign students. My thanks to cyberfriend Dr Gregory Jackson who has documented his schooldays and class reunions in the marvellous Moline Memories, a must-read for anyone interested in life in the 1960s.
Miss Fahmy’s 1965 visit appeared in the local paper. She is on the far left in this photo — note the shorts!
She told the newspaper reporter that she had graduated from the American College for Girls in Egypt. Her younger brother was attending a French school there. Things were very cosmopolitan then.
As for women’s attire, she said that those who lived in town wore Western fashions (emphasis in the original):
Only the peasants wear native costume.
And now, sadly, nearly every woman does.
The much-vilified Shah of Iran was the country’s ruler at the time these snapshots were taken. None of the women covered their heads. They wore miniskirts, hot pants and open-toed shoes.
The comments are well worth reading. Some evoke fond memories of that era (emphases mine):
Anonymous: … this is not just pics of elites. My parents’ photo albums were filled with pictures exactly like this and they were barely considered middle class. Third, keep in mind that this was the 1960s and although Iran had not fully developed into a democracy it was well on its way….by separating government from religious ties. The revolution took away all of the country’s advancements in the 2oth century and reduced them to a theocracy.
Anonymous (another, perhaps): I am a proud American and a previously proud Iranian. The madness that started with the so called Islamic revolution uprooted me and thank god I am living in the heaven that we call USA.
Whatever happened in Iran of the Pahlavi regime was far superior to the tyr[ran]ny and injustice that is happening now and since the so called revolution.
Looking at these beautiful pictures of Iran, reminds me of a dream of the past. The Community School in Tehran and the annual Garden parties that w[ere] very similar to the School Fairs that you see in the U.S. There is nothing wrong with being westernized and believe in western ideals. Somehow the religious f[a]natics that hijacked Islam and rule the country turned that dream into a nightmare.
There are 20 year old kids in Iran now who never saw the beautiful dream that I am talking about. All that they have been witnessing is the dark cloud of this tyr[ran]ny and the Islamic revolution that has shrouded the country …
Of course, Iran’s back of beyond attire was very much tribal — the way it is today in the rest of the nation. Avax News has a post of photographs from 1955-1980 which shows the contrast of dress worn by the Shah and his wife and that of people living in the countryside.
As in Egypt and Afghanistan, women living in Iran have been legally and religiously obliged to dress like peasants since 1979.
This photo, courtesy of Pew Research, shows the mindset today regarding Muslim women’s attire in various countries:
It can only be hoped that, in decades to come, life returns to the way it once was throughout Muslim countries. Many hope for a ‘Reformation’, however, it seems that perhaps that is what petro-dollar financed Wahhabism has wrought. Unlike Christianity, the reforms went into reverse, rather than forward, gear.
After many months, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has finally been released from an Iranian prison and acquitted of apostasy.
This second post of Cranmer’s shows pictures of him released to his family and friends.
I wrote about him in February, when he was nearly executed. Happily, the many written petitions and letters to Iranian embassies around the world — along with countless prayers for his release — resulted in this happy day. God is indeed good.
Our next step is to pray for him and his family to come to believe in the Holy Trinity. Currently, Nadarkhani is a Oneness Pentecostal. Modalism is a heresy.
I do wonder if he adopted the Oneness belief because Islam accuses Trinitarian Christians of believing in three Gods. Muslims do not understand the Holy Trinity and accuse us of polytheism.
Let us also say a prayer of thanksgiving and add a petition that Nadarkhani can find his way to a Christian country where he can live his faith without fear of imprisonment.
In the meantime, his release is excellent and welcome news. Thanks to everyone who might have responded to my earlier appeal in this regard.
Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani continues to suffer in prison. Most recently, he rejected an offer to be released if he publicly acknowledged Islam’s prophet Muhammad as “a messenger sent by God,” which would amount to rejecting Christianity, as Muhammad/Koran reject it.
Today, a friend of mine forwarded me a set of documents which have been circulating around the world. I would like to ensure that as many of us as possible see — and forward — this appeal to anyone interested in writing their respective Iranian ambassador.
It transpires that Pastor Nadarkhani could be executed very soon. Jordan Sekulow from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) wrote the following on February 21, 2012:
We are hearing reports from our contacts in Iran that the execution orders for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued.
Pastor Youcef’s situation – an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian – has not been this dire since we first brought his case to your attention last year.
It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order. We know that the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held public—most executions in Iran are conducted in secret.
There has also been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month.
Iran is actively violating its human rights obligations by sentencing and detaining Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. We call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Youcef immediately.
We are continuing to work to help spare the life of Pastor Youcef, and will provide additional updates on his situation as we are able.
The photo of the Nadarkhani family comes courtesy of the ACLJ. There is more on Pastor Nadarkhani’s story on that page.
Letters should be sent without delay to the relevant Iranian ambassador. What follows are embassy addresses for certain countries:
Embassy of Iran in Canberra in Australia
PO Box 705, Mawson ACT 2607
His Excellency Mr Mahmoud MOVAHHEDI
Embassy of Iran in Vienna in Austria
jauresgasse 9 – A1030 Wien
The Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Germany
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ireland
72 Mount Merrion Ave.
Fax: (003531) 2834246
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Pakistan
St.No.2, Sector G-5/1 Diplomatic Enclave, Islamabad
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the UK
16 Prince’s Gate,
London SW7 1PT
Fax: ( +44)2075894440
United States of America (Iran and the USA do not have diplomatic relations):
Representative Office of Iran in Washington, United States
c/o Embassy of Pakistan
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
A sample letter to the relevant Iranian ambassador follows:
Re: Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani
I wish to bring to your attention the urgent case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who was condemned to death in Iran for converting to the Christian faith. Recent indications are that there are grave concerns that Pastor Nadarkhani’s life is in danger.
I request that your government respect its international commitment to human rights, and that Pastor Nadarkhani, and all other persons in your country who are in similar situations, be treated in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief …
“All people have the right to obey their conscience, which is a work of God, wherever that leads them. People in Islamic countries have as much right to convert to Christianity as westerners have to convert to Islam.”
I request that you pass on this appeal to the Iranian Government as a matter of urgency. Thank you for your attention to this request.
For those of us not in a position to write, let us pray fervently that this pastor is given back his freedom and reunited with his family.
In any event, kindly share his story as a matter of urgency.
Thank you in advance for your kind attention, letters and prayers.