20 September 2016

Girls Just Wanna Ride Bikes....In Iran

If you were going to start a movement, would you ban 51 percent of the people from participating in it?

Perhaps that seems like a rhetorical, or merely silly, question. 

It is, however, one that is begged by a turn of events in a country full of paradoxes.

I'm not talking about the US Presidential election campaign.  Rather, I am referring to a something that happened in a country where such things normally don't happen--and what resulted in one part of that country. 

The nation in question is performs more gender-reassignment surgeries than any country except Thailand.  Yet its leader once famously declared that there are no homosexuals in his country.

By now, you may have realized that I am talking about Iran. 

It's not a country noted for its advanced environmental policies.  So more than a few eyebrows were raised when, in November 2015, environmental activists in Aran, an industrial city in the western province of Markazi, introduced the idea of "Tuesdays Without Cars" or, more generally, "Clean Tuesdays", on which people are invited to leave their cars at home and, instead, commute by bicycle. 

The idea quickly spread and now all of the Iran's provinces have joined in.  Now it's on the verge of becoming a national event.

But national events aren't easy to coordinate in a country like Iran.  I have never been there, but I have been told that in at least one sense, it's like neighboring Turkey, where I have spent some time:  there are great cultural differences from one region to another.  So, in a city like Tehran or Istanbul, there are neighborhoods full of people who live lives not too dissimilar from those in Western capitals.  However, in both cities, there are also conservative religious enclaves.  So, it almost goes without saying that in the countryside, customs and interpretations of Islam are, shall we say, not exactly liberal.

In Marivan, a county of Kurdistan province about 500 kilometers from Markazi, some women were stopped on 29 July for the crime of...cycling.  At least, some police officers had the idea that women on bikes were haramFor the time being, women can't ride bikes on the streets in the area.

While there is nothing in Iranian legal codes that prohibits women from cycling, in places like Marivan, the idea of a woman riding a bicycle goes against traditional religious values--or, at least, interpretations of them.

Now, I am certainly no expert on the Qu'ran or Sharia law, but I don't think anything in either would exclude women from riding bicycles, specifically.  But some would interpret those texts, which warn against shameful acts, to mean that women should not ride bicycles.

Or, at least, they would interpret them to mean that women should not be seen riding bicycles in public.  Upon hearing about the July incident, Mamousta Mostafa Shirzadi, the Friday prayer Imam for Marivan, said that officials of the Sport and Youth Organization "need to provide" the women an "appropriate indoor space" for cycling.

In response, organizers of Tuesdays Without Cars pointed out that women, as much as men, need to be able to use their bikes as transportation-- and not just for exercise or recreation, which is all that an indoor space would allow.

Here is a video from a protest against the ban:

Below is a still from a video of a mother and daughter defying the de facto ban on women cycling:

A mother and daughter defy the fatawa against women cycling.


  1. I suppose the girls could disguise themselves as males unless that too happens to be a crime. We wouldn't want anyone stoned to death for just trying to ride. Or worse have their head sawed off with a dull kitchen knife in front of cameras as a warning to others. Religion is such a drag.

  2. Phillip--Disguising themselves as male? You know that no one appreciates that idea more than I do!

    Yes, religion really is a drag--especially in the way people have to dress for it!

  3. Wasn't really thinking of it from that angle Justine, but I guess you do have a different perspective. Good One! Hope you watched the youtube clip. It's the stoning scene from Life of Brian. No one skewers religion like Monty Python.

  4. Phillip--You realize the operative word is "drag", don't you? ;-)