As for the questionable custom of covering one’s head, Jandali points out that in most portraits of the Virgin Mary, she wears a head covering not unlike the hijab Jandali herself wears while out and about in the Bay Area, where she lives -- and where, until September 11, she considered it a privilege. “When you are no longer a prisoner of fashion in the way people perceive you -- whether it‘s your weight or body shape or all of those physical elements that we know the world judges us by -- you define yourself by other things. It’s very liberating.”
But for Parvin Darabi‘s sister Homa, who lost her job at a Tehran hospital for refusing to cover her head, the hijab was anything but liberating. Darabi speaks with the pleading, upward inflection of a woman who’s spoken too long without being heard; before September 11, she drew only small crowds of converts to her lectures. Now, she says, people are lining up outside the door to hear what she has to say. And whether her interpretation of the Koran is accurate or not, she has one point that‘s beyond dispute: Religious doctrines make for lousy civil code. “Jews and Christians usually live in countries in which the church and state are separate,” she says. In other words, Southern Baptists require women to submit to their husbands, but can’t put them to death if they don‘t. And while Orthodox Jewish women sit separately from their husbands in the synagogue, they don’t have to stand in the backroom at the local Starbucks, as do women in Riyadh.
A few years ago, when Darabi complained that the U.S. media were more preoccupied with a young woman who had sex with the president than with the thousands of women being abused by the Taliban, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee wrote to ask whether she was calling for war in Afghanistan. Darabi won‘t say either way, but at the moment she has another solution: ban Islamic countries from the upcoming Olympics. “They won’t allow women to participate, and then they say they have Olympics for women. Where? In their basements where no one can see? If this does not stop, my sister died for nothing.
”We watch Iran beat women, and we watch Saudi Arabia put women in jail for driving cars, and we won‘t come out and criticize Islam,“ she says. ”I say it’s time to criticize Islam. And it‘s time to say that had we done something about women in Afghanistan sooner, we would not have had the disaster that we did.“
Parvin Darabi will speak at the Center for Inquiry--West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., on Sunday, January 20, at 11 a.m.