Statement on the murder of Mahsa Amini and why it matters here

Updated May 30

The following statement was written by Sobia Ali-Faisal (she/her), executive director of BIPOC USHR, and Amirah Oyesegun (they/them), vice-president of the BIPOC USHR Board, both of whom are Muslims.

Last month Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old young woman in Iran, was detained by Iran’s so-called “morality police” after the officers found fault with the way she was wearing her headscarf. In the custody of the police Mahsa Amini fell into a coma and died. Although authorities said that she suffered a heart attack (despite not having any history of heart disease, according to her family), people in Iran believe she was beaten by the police and died as a result of that violence.

Since then people, especially women, across Iran have been protesting, demanding justice for Mahsa and challenging Iran’s law making headscarves, and “modest” clothing, mandatory for women. Although the majority of Muslim women across the world are able to choose whether or not to wear the hijab, in Iran the government forces the hijab upon women.

The protests are not limited to Iran, with many people across the world, especially on social media, also demanding justice for Mahsa and calling out Iran’s law on women’s head-covering.

We condemn both the detention and killing of Mahsa Amini. We pray for strength for her loved ones and for peaceful transition to the next life for Mahsa.

We condemn the killing of protesters. Protesting is a human right. And as many of noted that these protests are, in fact, a revolution, the protesters are bringing about a revolution.

We also condemn Iran’s law mandating hijab for women.

Muslim women and femmes should be able to choose what to wear, and what not to wear, always. There should be no pressure – legal, religious, spiritual, cultural, or social – regarding our clothing choices. Many Muslims do not view the hijab as mandatory and as such it cannot be imposed through religious, spiritual, or legal pressure, as it is in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Many Muslims do view hijab as mandatory and as such it cannot be forbidden through social, cultural, or legal pressure, as it is in places like France and Quebec.

Although we agree with the widespread condemnation of her murder by the state – as state violence and oppression should always be condemned – we want to caution non-Muslims from making statements, assumptions, comments, or judgments on Islam. Here are the reasons why:

  1. Many Muslim women who wear the hijab are now being asked to answer for what happened. Their choice to wear, and their choice to identify as Muslim, are being viewed as anti-woman, anti-feminist. Non-Muslims bringing Islam into the conversation implicates innocent people, mainly women and femmes, in something in which they have no part. This is a form of gendered Islamophobia in which misogyny and Islamophobia intersect. In addition, non-Muslims have rarely shown anger when places like France and Quebec have forbidden Muslim women from wearing the hijab, with France even making it mandatory for police to strip Muslim women in public if they are covered. The hypocrisy on the matter demonstrates minimal regard for the rights of Muslim women.
  2. Islamophobia is an international, intentional, purposefully orchestrated and imposed discourse, created to justify the invasion and colonization (to further land and resource theft) of Muslim majority lands. Criticism of Islam and Muslims has been a prominent tool of colonizers and imperialists, both historically and contemporarily. This means that any criticism of Islam and Muslims coming from non-Muslims cannot be separated from the violence of colonial and imperial intentions and actions, for which Islamophobia was created. And this means that when non-Muslims criticize Islam they further perpetuate colonial and imperial narratives that are used to justify the invasion and theft of lands and resources. What ALL this means is that criticism of Islam is not just criticism of “a” religion. The presence of Islamophobia – its purpose, its use, its implications – makes criticism of Islam different than criticism of other religions.
  3. When non-Muslims bring Islam into the conversation the underlying assumptions are that:
  4. Muslims are not having conversations or debates about Islam
  5. Muslims are not engaging in critical analyses of the texts, scholarship, and interpretations of Islam
  6. Muslim women and femmes are not viewing their own religion with an anti-patriarchal and anti-oppression lens

If non-Muslims did not make these assumptions then they would just listen to Muslims, especially Muslim women, femmes, and gender-diverse folks on such issues, instead of inserting themselves into the conversation.

What happens in other parts of the world often has implications for people living in this part of the world, beyond those who have personal connections to those other parts of the world. It is, therefore, important to have these conversations.