|Both veiling and
segregation of sexes are fundamental principles in Islam and
have been vigorously applied and implemented in Muslim countries
for centuries and it is only as of 20th century that major
changes have been introduced in such practices. The two are
related and reinforce each other and recently have become
subject of debate amongst some Muslims. Modern Iranians do not
practice either and with the traditional and religious families
though veiling is observed but most people do not practice
segregation of sexes at its most rigid form, which involves no
contact between unrelated males and females. Both have primarily
been an urban phenomenon and occasionally under very strict
Muslim rulers such as Taliban in Afghanistan they have been
enforced in the rural areas as well.
They started with the conquest of Islam in the
area and there has been no precedence for total veiling or
segregation of sexes before Islam except with Christian nuns who
voluntarily adopted covering their hair and body after taking a
vow of chastity. Veiling was originally applied to Prophet's
wives and throughout his life the practice was followed by them,
but not his slaves and war captives. The early texts do not
distinguish between veiling and seclusion but use the term hijab
interchangeably. Other verses instruct women to guard their
private parts and cover their bosoms. It is not known how the
new ruling was imposed to all or how it spread to other areas.
It was not a common practice in Arabia. Sura 33:29-35 in Quran,
instructs Prophet's wives to be completely obedient to Allah and
His Messenger and also not to show themselves in the manner of
the women of the days of ignorance (Arabia before Islam).
Later on the concept of veiling was expanded
into other aspects of life and eventually resulted into
segregation of sexes. Islamic architecture created inner
courtyards and women's quarters inaccessible to unrelated males
and women became socially isolated and confined to their homes.
Segregation culture was imposed, by creating codes of behavior
and ethical values that stressed the virtuosity of veiling and
segregation. Hadith and other religious literature are full of
recommendations about such matters and condemn any deviations.
The late 19th century saw the beginning of
modernization processes in the whole area including Iran. The
reformists of the period introduced new ideas of government,
leadership, law, human rights and the emancipation of women. The
first actual changes occurred in early 20th century after the
Constitutional Revolution of the 1906. The first Pahlavi Monarch
in 1936 introduced compulsory unveiling of women and reforms
such as universal rights of all for schooling, education and
employment opened many opportunities for women and emancipated
the modern classes. Though the compulsory unveiling was later
cancelled and many still observed loose Islamic codes
desegregation of sexes became commonplace and succeeded in Iran.
The Islamic Republic's leadership reversed
changes introduced by the Pahlavi and introduced compulsory
veiling and tried to impose segregation of sexes. Though veiling
has been successfully implemented and there are severe penalties
for not following Islamic dress codes, segregation polices have
failed in large cosmopolitan cities such as Tehran. Currently
all females past puberty even visitors and non Muslims in Iran
will have to observe the current dress code by covering their
hair and neck, wearing a loose long coat, trousers and socks to
cover feet. Some government institutions require women to wear a
chadoor (a long loose cape) on top of the prescribed dress code
once inside their compounds. Dark colors are recommended, make
up is discouraged but many women in large cities use make up,
loose and colorful head scarves and defy the codes. In fact make
up industry and cosmetic surgery is booming in Iran right now.
Segregation of sexes could not be fully imposed by the new r駩me
despite many measures such as banning co education and
restricting public spaces were the two sexes could freely mix.
It is not a common practice amongst Iranians in western
countries including North America.
Segregation of the sexes if observed is
enforced after puberty, however it is encouraged from early ages
before puberty. In such cases single sex education is preferable
and the sexes must be segregated in any activity where the body
is only partly covered, i.e. swimming. Dating and pre-marital
relations are totally prohibited amongst such families. Men and
women do not normally shake hands. They may sit separately, even
in the same room they may not sit on the same sofa. Outside the
family men and women may usually socialize separately. At the
hospitals they might ask for nurses or doctors from the same
Iranians who have remained practicing Muslims
in western countries will normally observe segregation codes
while in Mosques and other religious ceremonies and rituals.
Same sexes might cluster together at parties and weddings but on
the whole they do not observe very strict segregation codes.
Muslim women are very active in Mosque activities and are in
constant contact with other males during their many happenings
and meetings. However some have remained faithful to veiling
practices and encourage their daughters to practice modest
veiling by mainly covering their hair. Iranians do not practice
total veiling where the whole face will be covered. Such strict
veiling is not even common in Iran; there are few groups who may
practice it voluntarily but it is not part of the official dress
code. Majority of Iranians in western countries do not practice
either and in fact many are totally against both practices.