In a recent video that quickly gained viral attention, an Iranian woman’s mesmerising voice reverberates within a historic mosque in Esfahan, defying the long-standing ban on solo singing for women.
The unidentified singer, who is likely to be a professional given her vocal talent, performs a rendition of a poem in the Sufi tradition, captivating the audience with her soulful expression and captivating voice. Although her performance is briefly interrupted by a male guard, she dismisses him and boldly continues, symbolically challenging not only the individual silencing her, but also the repressive regime he represents.
The prohibition on women’s solo singing goes back to the aftermath of the 1979 revolution in Iran. A saying emerged in the 1980s: “The voices of women shook the throne of Khomeini,” showcasing the importance of the women’s struggle and its role in the resistance to the oppressive regime in Iran.
Historic mosques are not primarily used for active worship in Iran, unlike other countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Iraq, but their acoustics lend a captivating atmosphere that makes singing within them an act of reclaiming public space and breaking patriarchal norms nevertheless. This act of defiance is a representation of the cultural aspect of the resistance as well as of a broader struggle for women’s rights and freedom of expression in Iran, a movement that has gained momentum in the wake of the protests following the tragic death of Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman from Saqqez in Iran’s Kurdistan Province.
Amini, who had been arrested for “improper hijab” due to her non-conformity with Iran’s strict Islamic dress code, tragically died from injuries sustained while in the custody of Iran’s morality police in September 2022. The news of her passing sparked widespread outrage and became a rallying point for anti-government demonstrations throughout the country.
Thus, the footage of women singing in public places now carries a more powerful message than ever before. However, those who challenge the ban face severe consequences. Some women have been jailed for singing in public or sharing their performances on social media. Charges of “spreading and encouraging indecency” are levied against them, leading to fines, imprisonment or lashings. Despite the risks, these courageous women persist, amplifying their voices and pushing the boundaries imposed by the Iranian regime.
The defiance displayed by Iranian women in singing solo within mosques is not only an act of resistance against the ban but also a means of silencing the inner voices calling them to obey. By using their voices as instruments of civil disobedience, they challenge their internalised fear and inspire others to break free from the constraints imposed by a patriarchal society. As their performances continue to resonate both within Iran and globally, they shine a spotlight on the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and the pursuit of democratic reforms in the country.