In the past week, a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in Iranian custody after allegedly being arrested for wearing improper garments. The government reports that she died from heart failure or stroke; her family maintains she was beaten to death by police. We ask Allah ﷻ to have mercy on her soul, and reunite her and her family in the lush gardens of the afterlife.
In the wake of her death, Iranian authorities have arrested a number of activists, journalists, and protestors and the death toll is now in the 70s. Images of the ensuing protests, burning hijabs and topless women are headlining the news, drowning out sincere outrage and obscuring it with commentary of a more exploitative bent — whether political or ideological. However, the co-optation of the protests by Western interests, ex-Muslims, liberals, and conservatives in and of themselves do not negate the fact that ultimately Muslim blood was spilled, and reckoning for the guilty has yet to be seen.
The commentary circulating online, affirming the obligation of hijab or pinpointing the source of ire regarding hijab-burning does not need to be repeated here. Any sincere Muslim should already understand the relationship between the shahada and the moral that underpins legal obligations to fulfill religious commandments. Choice only features insofar as one chooses Islam, henceforth they have submitted their choices to Allah ﷻ.
To no surprise, however, the reaction to this tragedy is misdirected toward Islamic injunctions, rather than the nature of state violence. Quite simply: this should not be about the hijab. In typical fashion, Western media fixates on the hijab as the symbol of protests and the epitome of dissatisfaction for the Iranian people, and by extension, Muslims in non-secular lands.
Suffering under the Iranian regime extends far beyond the hijab. So why does the West and media care whether hijab is theologically considered a choice? And why does the answer that it is not a choice somehow justify this violence in their eyes? There are groups who benefit form the media-backed interest and involvement in Iran, using the hijab as a vehicle to accomplish another epic feat of femonationalism. Various interests and nefarious agendas fail to avoid a basic fallacy: a religious obligation does not logically lead to violence such as the one taking place on Iranian soil. This leap exists solely in relation to Islam, it is nonexistent in the analyses of violence sowed by any other movements. Somehow, this form of state oppression implicates Islamic values as violent — not tyranny and misuse of state power, but the very Islamic premises themselves that lend support for limiting bodily autonomy. This logic, however, does not extend to any other political philosophy or codification limiting bodily expression and action, such as those under secular-liberal regimes. More countries ban hijab and niqab than require them — and even if one were to argue that no one has been beaten for wearing hijab or niqab (untrue, in places like India), this again does not implicate the ethic itself, but judicial process and use of violence. 
Every government aims to instill a particular ethos, and no government — including the U.S. or “free-thinking” nations — can accurately claim to be devoid of such an aim (they may not have morality police, but they certainly have laws codifying behavior, speech, action, nudity, etc.). Those engaging in this discussion outside of Iran must understand this: there is no such thing as absolute freedom, in which religion or philosophies are simply abstract visions; or that they have no implication on laws, such that it is simply on the individual to actively oppose the tide of modernity and embody moral values. To give an example in Islamic history, in many instances, obligations such as zakat or prayer were regulated, and their neglect was penalized to serve the goal of inculcation — force, in other words — for the betterment of society, in hopes that the desire to avoid punishment would eventually transition into an earnest action. This holds true of any legal system.
Of course, Muslims must ask if this sort of penalization and regulation is conducive to an environment of inculcation. We do not ascribe to a system in which every virtue and vice is regulated by the state either. These are issues of Al-Siyāsah al-Sharʿiyyah, the study of Islamic political theology and ethics as derived usuli sources (Qur’an, Sunnah, ‘Ijma, etc.). The ayat that condemns compulsion in the Qu’ran is sometimes misapplied and interpreted to cover any and all acts of a religious tint — rather, this ayat refers to forced conversions to Islam, a separate issue than a governing body’s relationship with laity under shari’a. In other words, there are complex, well-thought philosophies that should frame our understanding of modern politics and that we should reconnect to when identifying solutions. Islamic scholar, Dr. Shadee Elmasry, makes a rather obvious observation that should be emphasized here: “A country can legislate any law it wants, but to be effective, there must be buy-in from the people. Otherwise, it will get overthrown and what’s in people’s hearts will take over.” Buy-in, or inculcating morals, does not happen overnight nor does it happen without trust and a consistent show of principle. This is the balancing act for statecraft: the circular relationship between legislation to inculcate ideals and citizens ready to submit to God and Sacred Law.
For the Muslim living under a corrupt regime — even if she distinguishes Islamic obligations and the above considerations from the violent consequences her people are facing — she may act as though the two are the same. True, it is not a legitimate action, but an unsurprising and understandable one, and such a person deserves less ire, if not at the very least, sincere concern. Rage should be focused toward Iran’s severe violations of the Shari’a in committing senseless murder of a defenseless woman — for those of us in the West, this includes through writing, shedding light on the hypocrisy of U.S. intervention and sanctions on Iran, protesting the warmonger support by liberals and conservatives, etc. Amini’s death is a violation of the social contract between the governed and government’s duty to protect; and a violation of every Muslims’ obligation to ensure the physical safety of women. Do not forget that in the wake of the tide aiming to undermine Islamic injunctions, we commensurately oppose the dhulm state corruption wreaks.
We ask Allah ﷻ to remove all tribulations and grant the innocent ease.
 Virginia Villa, Women in many countries face harassment for clothing deemed too religious – or too secular, Pew Research (Dec. 16, 2020), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/12/16/women-in-many-countries-face-harassment-for-clothing-deemed-too-religious-or-too-secular/
About the Author: Heraa Hashmi is best known for her project, Muslims Condemn. She is a law student based in the US with a background in Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology and Linguistics. Her interests include the Islamic sciences, cognitive linguistics, and bioethics. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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