Islamic Dress Code and Entertainment in Iran
It’s the first of two days in Isfahan. Since we left our local guide Mehdi behind to help translate while our driver Sam is fixing the truck we had nobody to take us around in town. Most people got a map and a list of sights to visit out of the Lonely Planet and went sightseeing on their own. I applied my German efficiency and decided to not go sightseeing since probably Mehdi will arrive later on today and take us on a tour tomorrow where we going to see the same sights a second time.
Instead I just strolled around in town. Walking on your own has the advantage of you getting much easier in contact with local people than when staying with a group of people. The Iranian people are the friendliest I have seen on earth. Honestly, whenever you go somewhere people simply start talking to you just like this and demonstrate a genuine interest in you. The manteaux, I have bought in Istanbul, let me appear very Muslim and so local people ask me maybe 5-10 times a day if I’m Muslim. They actually noticed I’m not Iranian because of my white skin and blue eyes but also because of the type of headscarf I’m wearing which isn’t common in Iran. Mostly they think I’m from the United Arab Emirates because of the type of clothes I’m wearing.
Speaking about clothes, wearing a headscarf and long loose fitting clothes is required by all women in Iran, even from non-religious foreigners like me. Iran is a Muslim country and also the government is Muslim. Therefore, they have stricter Islamic rules than other countries such as Turkey or Egypt. The government simply made it a law women have to wear a headscarf and the police is checking on the streets if women are dressed appropriately. Many Iranian women, especially the young ones, try to extend the rules and therefore wear the headscarf in a way showing lots of hair in the area of their forehead. Especially in large cities like Tehran and Isfahan people are more liberal than in more remote areas of the country.
The main reason why women are required to wear a headscarf and loose fitting clothes is otherwise men would be tempted by them. On the other side its assumed women are never tempted by men why they don’t have such a strict dress code. While women need to cover up completely men are only required to wear long trousers and wearing a t-shirt is absolutely fine for them. Speaking from a women’s perspective I cannot confirm I’m never tempted by men. Actually there are quite some guys out there which easily could make me go crazy. I also cannot confirm wearing a headscarf and loose fitting clothes avoids men from being tempted by women. They still have those shiny eyes and want to touch you when they feel attracted by you.
So it also happened today that my roommate Isabella got stopped by the police because the sleeves of her blouse were considered 3-4 cm too short and she was requested to put her jacket on.
When strolling around in Isfahan today I also spend some time in the parks of the city. Iranians love flower arrangements which you can find in every hotel and home. They also love their parks and gardens which seem to be a major part of public enjoyment since most other enjoyments such as drinking alcohol, dancing, touching people or more relaxed clothes in public are forbidden by law. Instead the Iranians hang-out in public parks which are also a popular dating spot. I observed many young couples sitting close to each other in the parks of the city and holding their hands. Here they have some privacy since most young people still stay with their parents and it’s also impossible for the police to look behind each bush.
Another challenge of young couples is sex before marriage which is officially not acceptable. Around the marriage girls will be checked if their virginal membrane is still intact. Therefore, casual sex before marriage is mainly concentrated on the backdoor.
In the evening around 5pm our driver Sam and our local guide Mehdi arrived in Isfahan. After they have spent last night in the truck right next to the highway, they have managed to repair the truck this morning and catch-up with us again. Both of them joined us for dinner for which we went to the posh Abbasi Hotel across the street which used to be a caravanserai hundreds of years ago. There we had a spinach based soup which is said to be a popular local dish. Although I wasn’t in the mood for soup I very much enjoyed it as soon as I have tasted it. Afterwards I spend some more time with Habib, the Iranian guy I had met yesterday.