Last month, an Iranian court ordered Shaparak Shajarizadeh, 43, to prison for two years, with 18 years' probation, for removing her headscarf in public.
In our childhood in Iran, my sister's screams would cut through the silence of our home at night. Nightmares would wake her and leave her too terrified to go back to sleep. We all encouraged her to share her fears; she would always refuse. On the night she finally opened up, her entire body was shaking with fear.
Afraid to ask the question out loud, my sister, then nine years old, whispered: "Will Allah hang me from my hair? The religious and Quran teacher at our school told us in class that if we show our hair in public, God will hang us from our hair in the afterlife and torture us for infinity. He will resurrect us if we die and then torture us again," she was sobbing. "I went to the grocery store and forgot to wear my hijab. Will He torture me for infinity?"
My sister was then attending one of the tens of thousands of schools, both in Iran and abroad, run by the sharia law of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many teachers of religion and the Quran in these schools use the directive above to warn girls not to display their hair. The directive comes from a reported hadith, the sayings and acts of Mohammad.
According to the teaching, the son-in-law and cousin of the prophet, Ali and his wife, who was the daughter of the prophet, stated that they saw the prophet weeping.
"They inquired the reason that had made the Holy Prophet weep. He replied: "On the night of the Ascension (Mairaj), I saw the punishments being given to some women, today I was remembering those scenes. This is why I am worried". They asked, "Please tell us what did you see?" He replied: "I saw a woman hanging by her hair and her brain was boiling. (This was the punishment of that woman who did not hide her hair by covering her head from men)."
But why would these teachers tell their students about these horrifying punishments when they are only eight or nine years old? Well, the best time to indoctrinate and brainwash people is when they are young. They are uninformed and trusting. Also, for radical Muslims, using fear is a powerful tool to coerce people into believing in their extremist ideals and following the practices and demands of their leaders.
It is not only some schools and mosques that are used as platforms to plant seeds of fear into little girls with regards to displaying their hair. Once sharia law enters the political establishment, it requires an Islamist judiciary system to be put into place, through which severe punishments can be inflicted on people who disobey God's rule.
Videos such as this, for example, showing a young girl in Iran being beaten in public by the regime's religious forces for not sufficiently covering her hair, are abundant. Many Muslim women, including members of my own family, are afraid to take off their hijab, even though they are adults and who may not be religious anymore, and may even live in a place where they are allowed to take off their hijab. The fear of displaying their hair, and the consequences they could face physically and spiritually still haunt them and influence the choices they make in their everyday life.
As the imposition of sharia law shows in Iran and territories ruled by Islamist groups, sharia law is not solely about placing religious leaders in positions of power to rule the nation; it is also about controlling people's day-to-day activities, and every aspect of their lives, including their bodies. That is why radical teachings in schools and mosques should be halted, before the sharia dominates the state.
My sister is still afraid to take off her hijab because of those horrifying stories that the radical Islamist instructors taught her her when she was small. It is in her unconscious as it is for many other girls. How many more little girls have to awaken to these nightmares? I still hope for a day when my sister will have a good night's sleep, when the little girls who are sitting in those same classrooms, their minds filled with horrifying scenes, will one day feel safe to uncover their hair, and safe to lay down their heads at night. Until then, I will not rest, either.
Pictured: A woman (right) who was beaten up by "morality police" in Iran for not wearing a hijab, lies on the ground, cradled by another woman. (Image source: WhiteWednesdays video screenshot via Masih Alinejad/YouTube)
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a Harvard-educated scholar, businessman, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu