I’m honoured to have Iranian-born Sima Goel write for Everyday Gyaan. Sima has always had compassion for those who suffer. Her instinctive need to speak out against oppression ultimately resulted in unwanted attention from the authorities, which led her to flee her beloved Shiraz and eventually to Montreal.
Sima Goel is a self-made woman. Her journey to freedom, recounted in her memoir, Fleeing the Hijab, A Jewish Woman’s Escape from Iran, reflects her belief that, without freedom of choice, life is worthless. She is a strong advocate for the disenfranchised and the rights of all, specifically the rights of women. With the publication of her book, Sima has fulfilled the promise she once made to herself: to speak out and share her truth that freedom is the most precious commodity of all.
Wellness chiropractor, health advocate, inspiring author and an in-demand speaker, Dr. Goel considers her most important role to be that of mother to her two teenage boys, and wife to her beloved husband.
It is claimed that in many countries where Muslims rule, the women freely embrace wearing the Hijab. While this may be true in some circumstances, my experience in Iran of 1979 and beyond is different. Although some women wore the Hijab during the Shah’s regime, after the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution every woman had to cover up and those who resisted the new dress code were faced with severe penalties.
During the reign of The Shah, we lived under a dictatorship that sought to control freedom of expression and opinion. Nonetheless, women were at liberty to choose for themselves whether they wanted to cover up or not.
A person has freedom of choice if the consequence of that choice is met with an open mind and tolerance, or if the society allows the individual the right to live and even thrive. In relation to the Hijab, that was not the case in Iran in 1979, and not much has changed ever since.
In 1979, when the new Islamic government took over, rumors circulated that vigilantes on motorcycles were tasked to throw acid on any woman who did not respect the new dress code. I personally did not see any victims, but the fear was enough to prompt women to cover up. In the Iran of my youth, many women wore the Hijab to avoid being disfigured. Many wore it to avoid losing their jobs, to avoid public humiliation, or even jail.
Almost four decades later, I imagine that many young Iranian girls wear the Hijab out of respect for family traditions or religious obligation. However, there also exist young women who, if given the choice of wearing the hijab or facing the world with an uncovered head, will choose to walk freely with their head uncovered.
In a free country, a mother may decide for her daughter to cover her hair, thus respecting her tradition or religion. However, a government that dictates to a woman to cover herself essentially controls her behavior and destiny. In the present century, this demands further examination about the status of women and their ability to freely express identity and choice.
Where the government decrees how a woman can present herself to the world, there is no true freedom. It is “freedom”, as interpreted by the ruling elite. We see that in many countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, women have a limited range of options. They must follow the rules, regardless of their own belief, ability and religion.
Any time a government dictates the dress code, the type of music or the type of books allowed to be circulated, they control you. As a teenager in Iran of the late 1970s, this prohibited environment was a living death. I therefore had to risk my life and looked death in the eye, for the possibility of living freely and making my own choices.
My book, Fleeing The Hijab, is not about right or wrong. It is my story in the face of repression. In a free world, we are entitled to our own opinions, but that does not make your opinion more sound than mine, or vice versa.
The human tapestry is like a Persian carpet. Each thread needs to stand alone in order to exist in harmony with the others. When each person can shine in her own strength, then the human race is strong. My plea is for a world where we are free to choose how we express ourselves. I was a young girl when I first saw true repression and control and so it is as a woman that I share my life experiences.
A true account of Sima Goel, the Iranian teenager who crossed the most dangerous desert in the world rather than accept the restrictions of life in Iran of the early 1980s. Her quest for freedom is a thrilling, timely inspiration for people longing to create a life of meaning. It was the last straw!
The Ayatollah Khomeini had decreed that all women in Iran must wear the hijab, whether they were Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or Baha’i. Thirteen-year-old Sima had gone out into the streets of Shiraz to demonstrate for freedom under the Shah’s oppressive rule, and now that he had fled the country, this was the result: a new regime, and a much more repressive rule. The changes Khomeini’s regime forced on the population were totally incompatible with Sima’s ambitions and sense of personal freedom. Blacklisted by her school, unable to continue her studies, mourning the murders of innocent family members and friends, and forced to wear the hijab, she realized she had to leave her beloved birthplace and find a country where she could be free to follow her dreams.
Fleeing the Hijab is a vivid portrait of a dangerous journey made by two teenaged girls through the Iranian desert to Pakistan, where, as homeless refugees, they struggled desperately to find some way to escape to the West. It is a story that needs to be heard and remembered.
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Win 1 of 10 ebook copies of Fleeing the Hijab (international)
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