A dressing down on Islamic dressing up

Today I got yelled at for my hair. It wasn’t that it was squashed and unkempt, but that a lock of hair had escaped my scarf.

The woman who yelled at me was a mosque attendant, but I wasn’t in a mosque, I was on the street.

“Keep your higab on!” she yelled loudly and angrily. Of course, everyone turned to stare at me. I thought she was yelling as I was taking a photo of a motorbike with Persian carpet panniers, but Abdullah corrected me and I corrected my higab.

I have to say that this is the first time this has happened in Iran, and I was in the ultra-religious city of Qom, south of Tehran, the so-called ‘mullah factory’. Tehrani girls wear the merest scrap of fabric over their ‘dos, which threaten to drop off at a puff of wind, but here, it’s all women in chadors and men in the rather ethereal robes that mark the mullahs.

Another, much nicer attendant in Qom today told me that the city has an innate holiness, not just because the body of Fatemah, the sister of a famous imam, is buried here. Abdullah and I went into the mausoleum-cum-mosque, an enormous complex. But not before I left my cameras at the gate and, for the first time in Iran, donned the chador.

A chador is a massive, semi-circular piece of fabric that is thrown over your clothes. It has no hooks or buttons, but the woman holds the fabric with her hands or teeth. Most women hold with their hands, clutching beneath their necks in what looks like a state of perpetual anxiety.

Here’s a photo: I look like a dalek. In a state of perpetual anxiety.

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad, and occasionally I chat on radio, too, from Essentials Magazine to 3AW or the Irish Times.

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