Bypassing Religion in Iran? A Rare TV Debate

Recently, a rare TV debate on women’s rights in Iran has caused controversy. Dr. Maryam Nasr, a member of the Women’s Studies Department at the Research Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies, and a clergyman named Majid Dehghan, a faculty member at the Women and Family Research Institute, discussed the topic of “Sovereignty and Gender Issues” on a Iranian national television program.

Maryam Nasr in this debate stated that the fundamental rights of women are not being acknowledged in Iran. She summarized the situation of women in Iran as “catastrophic” and pointed out that there is “institutional discrimination” against women. According to Nasr, this discriminatory situation has deep roots in Iranian tradition.

In her speech, Nasr referred to Farabi‘s “Utopia” and explained that in this vision of an ideal society, women have no place.In her critique of Farabi, Nasr highlighted that when he speaks of a non-utopian society, he is referring to one in which women hold power and their voices are valued. She contrasted this with Plato‘s “Utopia,” in which women are on an equal footing with men, calling him “the first feminist in the history of philosophy.” With this introduction, Nasr implicitly conveyed her despair about the possibility of improving the status of women in Iran today.

In contrast, Dehghan argued for finding a third way that is neither a return to traditional customs nor complete westernization. While he acknowledged the issues in policy-making and jurisprudence related to women’s rights, he stated that he does not view the situation as “catastrophic” and believes that the problems can be solved.

Maryam Nasr then emphasized that modernist views in Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) develop slowly, and even when they do, they remain on the periphery and do not become mainstream. She believes that society has waited for more than four decades for reform and change, and warned that similar to European societies that did not wait for reforms within the church and bypassed the entire institution (Renaissance), Iranian society may lose hope of any reform within religion and completely bypass this institution.

Maryam Nasr and Majid Dehghan

During the discussion, Nasr repeatedly cited specific examples of the problems faced by women and minority groups in Iran such as the issue of a mother’s right to custody of her child, the requirement for a father/husband’s permission for a woman to obtain a passport, the right to divorce, the prohibition of Christians from becoming academic personnel, the non-transmission of nationality from the mother and others.

Although Dehghan initially spoke at length about the importance of concrete thinking over abstract thinking in the field of women’s rights, he later contented himself with generalizations and general recommendations to society. He frequently referenced statements made by Ali Khamenei and suggested that these “advice and orders can guide the way in women’s rights.”

Khamenei has consistently emphasized that “if we want to take effective and fundamental action for the women of our country today, to enable women to achieve their desired status, we must have an understanding of Islamic rulings and draw inspiration from them.”

The same flawed Western upbringing that led women to become preoccupied with make-up, luxury, extravagant ornaments and showing off during the reign of the Pahlavi in this country, which is a manifestation of patriarchy. A sign of Western patriarchy is that they objectify women for the pleasure of men; that’s why they say that a woman should wear make-up so that a man can enjoy looking at her. This is patriarchy, this is not women’s freedom; this is the freedom of men. They want men to be free, even for visual pleasure; Therefore, women are encouraged to not wear hijab and using make-up in front of men! Of course, many men in societies that did not benefit from God’s religion had this selfishness from ancient times and still have it today. Westerners were also the best example of this. So, the issue of women moving towards knowledge, science, study, awareness, acquiring information and education, should be taken very seriously among women and they should give importance to it.

Unfortunately, in the western world, freedom is understood in its wrong and harmful sense, i.e. freedom from family constraints, freedom from the absolute influence of men, freedom from even the constraints of marriage and forming a family and raising children, where the purpose of fleeting sensuality in be opposed, not freedom in its correct sense.

From Ali Khamenei’s speeches on

Nasr began her address by expressing condolences for those who had lost family members in recent demonstrations. She emphasized the importance of the slogans “woman, life, freedom” and criticized the “third way” proposed by Dehghan as vague and negative. She argued that this approach is simply a tactic to silence those who are advocating for significant change in the current situation.

The theocracy in Iran represents a fundamental violation of the principles of democracy and self-determination. The idea that a select group of religious leaders should hold ultimate authority over the lives and choices of the people is a perversion of the true meaning of faith.

The situation of women’s rights in Iran is a clear example of the ways in which patriarchal systems of power seek to control and oppress entire groups of people. For decades, Iranian women have been denied basic rights and freedoms, from the right to education and employment, to the right to control their own bodies and lives.

It is a tragedy that the Iranian people have been subjected to this oppressive system for so long, and it is a testament to their resilience and determination that they continue to struggle for freedom and autonomy in the face of such overwhelming odds. The theocracy in Iran is a stark reminder of the dangers of religious extremism and the urgent need for secular, democratic societies that respect the rights and dignity of all individuals.

The current regime in Iran is not only a threat to the Iranian people, but to the entire world. The world must come together to support the Iranian people in their struggle against this theocratic dictatorship and to work towards a more just and equitable society for all.

photo by Mostafa Meraji,

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