Efforts by hijab enforcers in Iran to oblige women to observe a strict dress code have led to more incidents in public, as citizens resent strangers admonishing them about their appearance.
Islamic Republic's religious laws allow any citizen to stop another person who is not observing the proper dress code. But this vigilante activism almost always impacts younger women who prefer the lightest head-covering possible.
Following the circulation of a video clip on social media showing a hijab enforcer being pushed around, the prosecutor-general of Gilan Province in northern Iran, says, "Those who attacked the female enjoiner of good have been identified and will be prosecuted."
The video clip, which contains no sound and has been widely circulated, shows a young woman pushing away another woman who is clad in heavy hijab, in the city of Khomam.
Although the details of the clash are unknown, conservative news outlets have insisted that the clip is related to a woman who was battered by several people while she was doing her duty as a pious Muslim by implementing the Islamic principles of "enjoining the good (right)" and "forbidding the evil (wrong)."
These principles are two essential Islamic requisites from the Koran, "You enjoin what is right and forbid what is reprehensible," and are considered positive roles in notifying others to take the straight path and abstain from reprehensible acts.
While admonishing others to respect religious rules is "wajib" (obligatory) for all Muslims, they do not authorize the pious to go beyond verbal persuasion. The principles have become more complicated in Iran since the state has assigned the police to implement them. Therefore, individuals are no longer duty-bound to do so. But religious hardliners still call upon citizens to show vigilance against insufficient hijab.
However, the complication has led to several recent disputes. A young female passenger in Tehran, Pouyeh Nourian, complained on Twitter on June 6 about a taxi driver who had forced her out of his car in the middle of a highway for not respecting hijab, the Islamic dress code.
The passenger also published the driver's picture and details to back up her claim. In the following tweet, she maintained that Snapp, the taxi service had apologized to her for the inconvenience and reprimanded the driver.
Conservatives were enraged that Nourian reportedly was summoned to a revolutionary court. Later, a picture of a "disheveled" Pouyeh was published showing her, along with her parents, at an unknown location, meeting the driver, apparently for conciliation.
Social media users widely mocked the picture as showing a forced meeting. Iranian Prosecutor-General and mid-ranking hard-line cleric Mohammad Jafar Montazeri cautioned on June 13 that disregarding hijab and dressing in an “un-Islamic” way are the regime's "red line." The judiciary, Montazeri warned, will never allow anybody to cross that red line.
The question of hijab has become so topical in recent weeks that Friday Prayer imams across Iran allocated the central part of their sermons on June 14 to the importance of the Islamic dress code. Tehran's interim Friday Prayer leader, ultraconservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, went even further, saying that disregarding hijab is not an ordinary happening in Iran.
"Disregarding hijab, using loose hijabs or bad hijabs is not an ordinary event; they are definitely planned by the 'enemy.' I do not say all women who disregard hijab are hired by the 'enemy,' but compassionately call you (women) to not play into the hands of the enemy," Khatami asserted.
The “enemy” usually refers to the United States in the terminology of Iran’s authorities. The row over hijab is expected to intensify during hot days of summer in Iran when women are forced to push back their headscarves. Police, for their part, increase the restrictions on the hijab and punish those who disregard it with detention and fines.