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Iranian Minister Justifies Mandatory Hijab by Citing Ancient Carvings

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As Iranian authorities violently clamp down on women refusing to wear the hijab, the minister of culture appeared to justify the mandate by citing carvings in ancient Persepolis showing women in “appropriate clothing.”

Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili said Thursday that “Iranian identity and the post-Islamic era do not conflict,” as Iranian women wore “appropriate clothing” at that time, based on petroglyphs from the 2,500-year-old Persepolis.

Founded by King Darius I, Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and existed 1,100 years before the founding of Islam.

The Islamic Republic’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, made the hijab mandatory for women as one of his priorities after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

In recent years, the Iranian populace has, according to the most recent polling, undergone “secularization and liberalization faster than any society in the Islamic world, despite having lived under the rule of Islamists for decades.”

The culture minister’s comments this week come as Iranian women continue to defy the Islamist compulsory veiling laws in the country, which Amnesty International has called a war on Iranian women and girls.

“The pre-Islamic era is not a threat to us but an opportunity…our reading of it should be based on the teachings of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and founder of the Islamic Republic Ruhollah Khomeini,” Esmaili stated.

Dubbed the Noor Plan Khamenei issued a directive weeks ago to re-intensify the physical crackdown on women refusing to wear the hijab. Since then, videos have circulated on social media, showing the “morality police” using violence to detain women seen in public without the hijab.

While there has long been opposition to the mandated veil in Iran, authorities have increasingly struggled to enforce the regime’s Islamic dress code after the killing of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, and the ensuing nationwide protests. Many women in cities now defy mandatory veiling.