Deceitful Devout

[Find out more about this column, “Women”by Negar Mohtashami Khojasteh]

The story below is for the most part fiction, inspired by the stories of various women I’ve heard who have had to endure this pain.

Disclaimer: This does not represent all Iranian women, nor all of the police force. The story of the police officer is an isolated case. The lashings, however, do happen more regularly, enforced by the Iranian Penal Code.

Article 638 of the Iranian Penal Code states that:

“Anyone who explicitly violates any religious taboo in public beside being punished for the act should also be imprisoned from ten days to two months, or should be flogged (74 lashes). Note- women who appear in public without a proper hijab should be imprisoned from ten days to two months or pay a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Ryal”

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I stir, on the edges of sleep, as the sweet sound of Azan, the call to prayer, gently prods me awake. I revel in the stillness of the world while the Azan sounds for one moment more, the noise of the world faded and dulled to respect the call to worship Allah. There is nothing else like it in the world. With a deep sigh, I get up and inspect my face in the mirror that hangs on my wall. Oval brown eyes, already focused, peer back at me, eyebrows molded and shaped into proud boundaries that border my face. I wince when I see my blemishes, a new sprout of acne under my chin. I twist my body and try to examine my back, angry red marks covering the expanse of it. I do not wince at these scars- they will remain as a testament to my strength. With a surge of anger, I remember the police officer’s face as he took pleasure in lashing me. They, who are supposed to be the “protectors of the state”, religious men filled with Islamic virtue, lost in a sadistic haze with lashes in their hands.

I had been at my birthday party, surrounded by peers who are practically family, and all the extended relatives of Alizad. This group included men who I had grown up with and considered brothers; good men who were righteous and true. Now, in this comfortable setting, I felt no need to wear a hijab, as I would be in no danger of disturbing anybody in this company. However, the law does not consider the relativity of my position, and those who are responsible for upholding the law hold no power in its interpretation. I understand this fully, although the anger that threatens to consume my heart does not. I do not know whether someone informed the cops or they heard the noise of the celebration but, soon enough, the sound of the sirens pierced the air. The entire room erupted in panicked shouts, as a group of us attempted to listen to my uncle’s directions. It was futile.

The policemen had already made their way inside, and the group of us that were waiting for my uncle’s instructions were left to reason with the officers. Typically, during parties where women and men meet without hijab, there are foreign and toxic substances, banned under the law and in the Quran. I was never brave enough to try one of these substances when I was young enough to be swayed, and I had too much love for Allah when I was old enough to decide. Of course, when the officers searched the house, they found nothing and apologised to the men in our company before letting them go. The women were questioned thoroughly on the relations they had with the men in the company, and the state of their dress throughout the party. The police had assumed our guilt, even amongst the women that had been fully veiled throughout the entirety of the celebration. I grimaced, knowing full well that even if I had been wearing my hijab during the festivities, I would not have been spared what happened next. I looked around at the girls who had stayed, and my heart thudded painfully as I saw my younger sister’s face in the group. She stood awkwardly, her hands curled up into fists, her knuckles white. I couldn’t talk to the other girls, as we were separated and led into different rooms within the station after the car ride. The smell of cigarettes choked the air as I entered into the station, straining my neck looking for my sister. I saw her pale face and her eyes widened in panic, and let out a sigh of relief when I saw her being led with a group of younger girls by a friendly-looking, older police officer. The rest of us followed one officer each, and I wondered why so many were available to deal with a case as small as this.

I was led into a cell with one, and I turned around to look at him, trying to explain that I had not been a temptation. But in his eyes I saw something I had only heard of- it was as if sheytan himself lived in his bones. I did not have enough money for the bail, and knew that I was to receive the lashes.
That is how it began. With every whip of the lash, he grinned in pleasure and with every moan I made his eyes widened in manic desire. I tried not to let a sound escape me because it seemed to invigorate him, but the pain grew and before long I gave up holding my tongue.

I shuddered as the memory sent tremors through my body, and I looked back into the mirror trying to still myself, new beads of sweat forming on my forehead. The police officer had done more harm that night than I had; his lust was haram. How could a Muslim man do this? A man who vowed to uphold the Sharia law? Perhaps it had been in my head. Perhaps his eyes had not stalked my bosom like prey, and he did not enjoy the lashes or grin, but grunted in pain. Perhaps it was all part of my imagination, the drama and adrenaline rushing blood to my head. I argued with myself, but still, my body tremored when I remembered his face and his lingering hands. Before he left, he had told me that he needed to cleanse me of my acts of haram, that I was not a good girl, not a good Muslim. His final words awoke a spirit in me that I had not believed existed; An anger so fierce that I felt it could manifest itself into fire and burn.

I look back into my brown eyes with a surge of defiance, thinking: I am an Iranian woman, proud of my heritage, and a Muslim woman who loves her God. I’ve been raised a devout Muslim, reciting the prayers as early as the age of eight. I will not allow anyone to question my love, obedience and loyalty to Allah except Allah Himself. For no man can ever be half as wise nor as knowing as Allah, especially those that claim to be believers, hiding their cruelty behind masks of fake piety. My father, although as clumsy and simple as he may be, stumbled onto words that have laid my foundation for the world: Stay away from the deceitful devout; They are sheytan’s men, worst than kaffars. They will take pleasure in pain, and are clouded by their own lust, greed and desire. The deceitful devout can hold no power over me, or any other woman or man who lives for Allah.

I will make sure of it.

I start with the officer.

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