Protests and civil unrest aimed at the Iranian government continue to reverberate around the world. The protests started in September after the government used religion to justify the brutality and death of Mahsa Amini for violating the country’s morality laws.

Amini was arrested by the Guidance Patrol for not wearing a proper hijab – in violation of Iran’s mandatory hijab law. In reaction, Iranians took to the streets with their concerns and rage surrounding the death.

“We are fighting for the most beautiful purpose there ever is, it’s freedom. And it’s in the name of women and life, and nothing will ever be like it was in the past, everything has changed in Iran,” said Mohammed, a human rights activist in the country. The Journal has agreed not to use Mohammed’s real name to protect his personal safety.

Protests in Iran started in Amini’s hometown of Saqqez and spread to other cities in the country on Sept. 19. Worldwide protests were also organized and Calgarians were amongst those who took to the streets in support of the Iranian people on Oct. 8 at City Hall.

“Just like the protesters of Iran are saying, this revolution is for our sisters, and we won’t stop,” said, Nastaran Bazzazi, one of the Calgary protest organizers.

Another organizer, Eghbal Kayadan, hasn’t been able to go to Iran in 30 years because of his vocal opposition of the regime. Kayadan said Amini has not been the only person the regime has killed because of a hijab, and now people want change.

“The people now want more than just to protest for human rights, they now want to change that regime, we want the freedom of Iran,” said Kayadan.

Since the protests began a nationwide internet blackout and restrictions on social media were imposed inside the country.

According to both Kayadan and Mohammed, Iranians have evidence and videos of the brutality happening in the country against the civilian protestors but the problem is the government shutting down the internet.  

“They are switching the internet off in the hope that we wouldn’t reach our voice beyond our borders,” said Mohammed.

The Iranian government has recently admitted that 300 people have been killed since the start of the unrest but that number is much lower than the over 450 that activist groups say have died.

The association of religion and violence

Many women and schoolchildren have been playing an important role in the demonstrations however, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dismissed the protests as “riots” caused by foreign states and dissidents abroad.

According to Mohammed, the government is using and justifying violence in the name of religion, which only spreads hate.

Michael Hawley, a professor of religious studies at Mount Royal University, said the relationship between religion and violence is a complicated one as there are a lot of nuances, both to religion and to violence.

Mount Royal University’s professor of Religious Studies in the department of Humanities, Michael Hawley, discussing the relationship between religion in violence, in Calgary on Sept. 27, 2022. PHOTO: HAJAR AL KHOUZAII

“It is simply assumed, falsely, that Islam promotes violence and that Islam is oppressive to women, and it is very much a cultural assumption,” said Hawley.

Hawley said more often than not, women are both the targets of violence and the objects of intervention, and this is the case in Iran. He added that both secularists and the religiously faithful claim they are the ones protecting women, leaving women in harm and putting them in the middle.

“There has been over the course of history, particularly with respect to Muslim majority countries, a discourse of protecting women from oppressive, patriarchal, backward, violent religion. This is evident in the West’s attempt to overthrow governments.”

The hijab and why it’s important

Head coverings can come in many forms, but the hijab often specifically refers to a cloth wrapped around the head, neck and chest, covering the hair and neck but leaving the face visible.

According to Hawley, Islam doesn’t require women to wear the hijab by force, instead, it is to be understood through education.

Hawley said there have been attempts to forcefully unveil women in and by Muslim states, and what the hijab means for Islam is going to vary for each Muslim woman. 

As for the violence happening in Iran, it can be determined as negative when viewing Islam as a religion especially because it is a Muslim state, Hawley said.

“A Muslim person can argue that, ‘No, you guys are misunderstanding, I am against the violence that happened to Mahsa Amini, I am pro-choice of the hijab.’ But you’re blaming my religion for no reason, because they understand the religion more than someone who is non-Muslim, non-Christian, non-Jewish,” said Hawley.

Voices united

According to Mohammed, the protests will not stop until there is a new regime in power.

“In Iran, people like me are doing two things; in the day, we are being the voice and trying to spread the word beyond the borders of Iran by informing everybody of what’s happening in action. And at night, we go to the streets, we fight for freedom,” said Mohammed.

Calgary protests organizer, Bazzazi said Amini was just one among many other women who have either died or been taken by the Iranian government for asking to have a choice or to just have any basic human rights. She added that the regime rules based on its own perspective of Islam.

“Women don’t have the same rights as men in Iran, they can’t have custody of their children, and now it’s no longer just about women rights issues, it’s about human rights in general for all the Iranian people because they’re killing people in the streets,” said Bazzazi. 

“Anytime they raise their voices against this government, they get beaten to death, and they must be stopped because enough is enough, we are taking the freedom of our country back!”

According to Kayadan, another Calgary protest organizer, people will continue to protest until the current regime falls, as a new free Iran is the goal.

Kayadan also said it’s important that non-Iranians also support the cause as it’s a human right one concerning all people regardless of their ethnicity.

An Iranian – Canadian protestor holding a sign and wearing a shirt that says ‘Down with Islamic Republic’ in both English and Farsi in front of the City Hall building in Calgary on Oct. 8, 2022. PHOTO: HAJAR AL KHOUZAII.

“We would like the Canadian people all around Canada, especially in Calgary to come and support us,” said Kayadan.

“We are peaceful people. But the regime is not peaceful.”

According to Mohammed, religion isn’t the issue nor the reason for the people protesting. But it’s the government using religion as a means of justification for their use of violence and force, as well as a means for infringing on women’s rights and at this point all human rights.

“They are using the excuse in religion to purify their acts by saying that they are doing what God says, but it’s not like that, because I’m Muslim and there’s freedom in religion,” said Mohammed.

Mohammed also said, there are many religious countries, Muslim ones in particular, but they don’t have morality police that see any right in killing a  22-year-old woman.

“To the people living outside of Iran and have the freedom to spread the word, I beg of you to be our voice. Don’t let them suppress us and kill us and arrest us. Don’t let them kill our voice. That’s all I’m asking for.” 

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Hajar Al Khouzaii is the Lead Editor of the Calgary Journal. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Calgary majoring in Political Science and minoring in Philosophy. Hajar is scheduled...