“Oh, you who believe, stand up for justice.”
We as Muslims have a call to be witnesses and advocates for justice as a central tenet of our faith. As such, in a country like the United States — which has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council — we have to work for our country to reestablish higher standards following the erosion of rights for Muslims, as well as the support for rights for Muslims both in the U.S. and internationally. We, as Muslims, are uniquely suited to this work.
Thus, the imprisonment of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh stands out as a major issue for us as Muslims. Imprisoned in a trial that has been widely criticized as unfair, Sotoudeh was sentenced to up to nearly four decades in prison and 148 lashes for her human rights work in Iran. There are multiple questions this raises. First and foremost is that Iran, as a powerful voice against U.S. global hegemony has decided to take the approach to imprison a human rights lawyer and not lead in the arena of human rights. When the Iranian revolution took place, it was envisioned by many women as an opportunity to establish freedom for women. For a variety of reasons — I would argue resistance to U.S. global hegemony high on the list — this has not been the case.
The U.S. is currently facing isolation over its decision to withdraw from the 22015 treaty with Iran, a decision made by the Trump administration although all evidence suggests that Iran is abiding by it. This decision does a tremendous amount to further isolate the country from its allies.
All over the world, governments are putting their laws on women’s bodies in the issue of the hijab. France with its burkini ban and Iran with its mandatory hijab, are both guilty of the same human rights crime — limiting women’s freedom. This legislation of women’s bodies has to cease.
We, as Muslims, need to be clear that one of the major issues facing us as a planet right now is our fundamental freedoms, and in a very real way Iran is protecting this. But Iran is pushing back wrong. We cannot be merely reactionary to the ignorant and oppressive Islamophobia of the U.S. and France with equally un-Islamic legal practices which make religious observances mandatory. Iran stands in a unique position to resist Islamophobia. This decision to publicly imprison and punish a peaceful human rights lawyer can only hurt that potential powerful position that Iran holds.
My heart breaks for us as a community because we continue to struggle with Muslim leadership globally who do not work for our collective well-being, whether it be via Saudi attacks on Yemen and support for the persecution of the Uighur, or this Iranian government’s decision to imprison a peaceful, award-winning lawyer who represents Muslim women’s freedom to live according to their conscience. But in addition to that, my heart breaks for my sister, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and the women she defended. Her courage and dignity are amazing. That the Iranian government cannot see that, it is not in their best interest to provoke further stereotypes and tropes about misogynistic interpretations of Islam. In this vein, Iran imprisoning a peaceful woman merely for speaking out is obscene.
We, as Muslim women, need to be clear. This is not about Ilhan Omar’s hijab, nor about Nasrin Sotoudeh’s lack thereof. The issue we face as Muslim women is the issue we face as human beings; the challenge to create a free and peaceful world where our imagination is limited only by kindness. Just as #WeStandWithIlhan, we must also be vocal that #WeStandWithNasrin.
She should be freed immediately, and Iran needs to come forward as a human rights leader in the tradition of our Prophet, peace be upon him, rejecting the reactionary and retrogressive policies they have engaged in. They need to stand with our tradition for justice. It will only benefit them and strengthen their ties to their E.U. allies who are trying to stand up to the U.S. It will only elevate their station as believers.