The refusal of the Iranian agricultural delegation (while on a visit to New Zealand) to shake the hand of Labour MP Jo Luxton in Parliament on Thursday (February 22, 2018) was not a sign of disrespect.
I have spoken out against the Iranian regime harshly in the past – on its record of oppressing women and minorities with particular viciousness, disappearing them into torture chambers for failing to observe its imposed ‘moral’ standards, and treating them as worth half that of men before the law.
Law by choice
But the behaviour of that regime in forcibly imposing Islamic law is quite separate from Muslims peacefully observing that law by choice.
One example is of Islamic men not touching or, in some cases, even looking directly at women who are not immediate family.
In fact, this is the flip side of the rule of Hijab for Islamic women.
This means that while the Holy Quran calls on women to dress modestly (often interpreted as covering their hair), it imposes a converse obligation on Islamic men not to ogle women and not to touch them in any way unless they are married or immediate blood relations.
This is to provide safety and respect for women interacting with men.
Whether or not we agree with these rules, whether they are paternalistic or unduly restrictive and need ‘modernising’, is a question for practicing Muslims.
No right to interpret
It is not open to those of us outside that culture to interpret these rules beyond their intent in Islam.
So, while in Western culture refusing to shake hands is a huge sign of disrespect, in the Muslim world touching strangers of the opposite sex is hugely disrespectful and a breach of Islamic law. This rule really cannot be mixed in with the many ways the Islamic regime does in fact oppress women living under its rule.
To do so would be to bring a prejudiced perspective, always expecting the behaviour of Muslim men to be demeaning of women, even while they strive – as they did when meeting Jo Luxton in Parliament to be extra respectful.
Golriz Ghahraman is a Green MP. Her family left Iran when she was nine years old and was granted asylum as political refugees in New Zealand. The above opinion piece and picture, which appeared in Newshub on February 23, 2018, has been reproduced here under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz