Soutiam Goodarzi

Under cover of darkness

Why World Hijab Day is an insult to girls like me

It was World Hijab Day earlier this month. You probably missed it, but you can imagine the idea: ‘global citizens’ of all faiths and backgrounds were asked to cover their heads for a day ‘in solidarity with Muslim women worldwide’. It is done in ‘recognition of millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty’.

Wearing a hijab is not such an abstract cause for me: I used to wear one a few years ago when I was at school in Iran. And in the spirit of solidarity, I’d like to tell you a bit more about the world I left behind when I moved to Britain in 2011 when I was nine years old.

I was six when I was first made to wear the hijab to school. When I was eight, I was forced to wear the hijab while walking around Arak, my hometown in north–western Iran. I did so in fear of the ‘modesty’ police, who patrolled the streets looking for anyone who dared to remove their hijab.

For one year we had a nice teacher who on rare occasions allowed us to take our hijabs off in class, provided the door was closed, the windows shut and the blinds completely pulled. Why? There was a male janitor who used to sweep the playground, and Allah forbade that he should lay his eyes on an underage girl’s hair. She could go to hell for that.

My teachers deemed it appropriate to shove their hands into my hijab and push my hair back to prevent a single strand of hair being on show. The intrusion didn’t stop there. Each week, we had physical checks of our hair and nails — and also, in case we were tempted to try jewellery, our ears, chests and wrists.

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