As Muslim scholar, I am deeply troubled by the unlawful and unjust detention of professor Homa Hoodfar, an Iranian-Canadian scholar who was detained in March while visiting friends and family in Iran. Members of the Revolutionary Guard raided her home, confiscated her personal belongings and passports, summoned her for interrogations, and finally imprisoned her in Tehran’s Evin prison without access to her family or a lawyer. Her treatment violates principles of intellectual freedom, justice and fairness that are central to the Islamic system of morality.
As a Muslim thinker and a guardian of the faith, I must plead for the swift release of this respected scholar
Born in Iran and now a Canadian and Irish citizen, Hoodfar is a senior anthropologist who has devoted her academic career to studying the family as well as the duties and rights of women in various Muslim contexts. A renowned scholar, she has taught at Concordia University in Montreal for the past three decades. Her research on Muslim women’s struggles – both in the Middle East and in the west – is balanced and characterised by respect for those about whom she writes.
Her extensive work on Muslim women living in the west and their veiling strategies has been a particularly important contribution to challenging colonial images of the Muslim veil, while at the same time helping to address Islamophobia in the west. Since she is neither a political activist nor part of any political movement opposing the government of Iran, she never hesitated to visit the Islamic republic to see family or conduct historical research.
While Tehran’s prosecutor recently announced indictments against Hoodfar – along with several other dual nationals – the charges she faces remain unknown. Semi-official reports in newspapers with links to the Revolutionary Guard, however, accuse her of “dabbling in feminism” and fomenting a feminist “soft revolution” against the Islamic republic.
Hoodfar’s treatment demonstrates the extent to which her work has been misunderstood by the Iranian authorities. Her research poses no threat to Iran’s government or its people, and her arrest is deeply disturbing for anyone who values academic freedom and independent scholarship.
What is more, Hoodfar’s treatment contradicts Islamic legal principles. In an Islamic system of criminal justice, the accused are innocent until proved guilty, and are entitled to certain rights including access to counsel and an adequate defence, freedom from torture or inhumane treatment, and a fair and speedy trial. Iranian law also recognises these principles, yet despite the fact that no court has found her guilty, Hoodfar is being treated like a criminal and denied her basic, God-given rights.
In a country like Iran – one founded upon Islamic principles – I expect core Islamic teachings such as justice and truthfulness to be observed in the treatment of citizens. Indeed, we read in the Qur’an: “God commands justice and fair dealing …” (Qur’an 16:90); while in another verse we read: “O you who believe! Have fear of God, and be among the truthful” (Qur’an 9:119). Since an Islamic government that sins against the Quranic ethos undermines the faith of the believing community and harms the reputation of Islam, I find myself obliged – as a Muslim thinker and a guardian of the faith – to plead for the swift release of this respected scholar. The academic community are united in their outrage over her arrest and are asking for her to be released immediately. I add my voice to theirs, and plead for the Islamic Republic of Iran to free Homa Hoodfar.