Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Wearing ties and sporting mullets: Iranian paradise?

It may be due to Persia's rich history that Iranian pride sometimes gets in the way of their leadership. Like their neighbour to the west (Iraq), Iran has been grappling with achieving a sense of independence acceptable to their people's aspirations.
Unfortunately, as with most Muslim contributions to progress, Persian participation disappeared many centuries ago.
Iran remains a post-colonial work in progress. And it will remain so while its leadership focuses its energies on futile debates. I am not referring to the nuclear controversy but to theological deliberations over appearance.
Most are aware of Irani government restrictions on women, such as the mandatory hijab or ban on wearing make-up, but the rules don't stop there. Men are also subject to similar restrictions. (In case a man wants to wear make-up in Iran he better be prepared for a few lashings!)
Take the simple neck tie – the traditional appendage to the 'monkey suit' which most men wear to work day in and day out. Iran's President and religious lobby are embroiled in a controversy as to whether men are permitted to wear ties. The clerics, in their infinite wisdom, have declared the tie (and bowtie) as "decadent, un-Islamic, 'symbols of the Cross' and the oppressive west."
Or take the case of hairstyles. Surely, there are many in the west who would be happy to see the mullet disappear from their streets. But when the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance issues edicts on approved male hairstyles then the matter is being taken to a ridiculous extreme.
(As an aside, shoulder length hair for men was banned in Singapore during the 1970s. My cousin was denied entry until he had his hair cut at the airport.)
No mullets or ties permitted in paradise!

Yes, Persia has come a long way from the civilization which gave us the word 'paradise.' Pairi-daeza meant 'surrounded by a wall' and was used to describe gardens in ancient times. The word was picked up by Alexander's Greek soldiers in the form of paradeisos.
Unfortunately, such a spirit of give and take has evaporated from many parts of the Islamic and Western world. The Muslim world has much to learn from the west. In fact, some may argue that many Western societies, with their respect for human dignity and freedom, are truer to traditional Islamic ideals than the repressive stagnant regimes peppered across the Islamic world.
Muslim leaders and clerics have to move beyond discussion of superficial issues, e.g. the ideal length of male beards or how many locks of a woman's hair may be visible under her hijab, and address the real reasons of modern Islam's decay. Unfortunately, until such introspection leads us to a better place, Muslims must tolerate the embarrassment that in the modern world Islam has come to symbolize terrorism and religious bigotry.  
The modern world is nothing but eclectic – to deny Muslims the right to pick and choose their world view (and hairstyles!) is simply wrong.

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