On Friday, September 16, 2022 Mahsa Amini died in a Tehran hospital having been arrested by Iranian morality police on September 13 for wearing “inappropriate attire”. She was 22. Mahsa’s family claims she had bruises to her head and limbs from being beaten. The Iranian police dispute that claim saying Mahsa died from a pre-existing health condition.
Mahsa’s death sparked major protests against the Islamic Republic in Iran and protests of support are occurring around the world. Women are burning their hijabs, which they are mandated by Iranian law to wear, chanting, “Women, life, freedom”. They are cutting their hair which is a longstanding symbol of protest and loss in Iran’s history. This action harkens back to the epic Persian poem “Shahnameh” by Ferdowsi in which hair is a theme and the cutting of hair a symbol of mourning. Around the world, people have followed suit by cutting their hair in solidarity with the protesters in Iran. A recent chant by the protesters is “it’s the beginning of the end” as they challenge their theocratic government.
In the weeks since Mahsa’s death, the protests have continued and spread from Tehran to smaller centres. Women and schoolgirls are joining the protests as are men and boys. The response by authorities has resulted in many deaths (the BBC reported in mid-October the Iran Human Rights claim that “at least 201 people, including 23 children, have been killed by security forces”).
I am following news of the protests over these weeks with feelings of grief, anger, frustration, and also awe as the protests swell. I shudder to think of her treatment in custody. I grieve for her family and friends. Sometimes the horror of misogyny leaves me speechless and sometimes it makes me rage. Sometimes I feel helpless. Sometimes I rise up.
As the news of Mahsa and the protests continue to trickle through the media barriers and out of Iran, my consciousness simmers. The image of Mahsa rising with the protesters, held by the fury of the ages forms in my mind. When I read Louise Gluck’s poem “The Wild Iris”, the line about voices coming out of oblivion strikes me. I see Mahsa, not relegated to oblivion in her death, but rising up, her memory providing leadership and hope to countless women, girls, and their supporters as their ranks swell. The protesters are giving voice in a way that Mahsa cannot.
I wonder what thoughts and feelings were in Mahsa’s head as she prepared to leave her hometown of Saqqez in northwestern Iran to visit Tehran? What would she think about being the focus of international news, the spark to ignite violent nation-wide protests against oppression?
I hope Mahsa fell into the coma quickly after her arrest so the pain and terror didn’t go on and on. I hope she didn’t die in vain.
I offer my poem in tribute to Mahsa who deserves to be alive.
Hear the voices.
whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice
LOUISE GLUCK The Wild Iris
Mahsa Amini rises, rises
capture, coma, death
and then she rises
hijab loosely draped
she rises, rises, rises
voices from oblivion
it is contagious
the murmur and
shears appear and
and fury rises, rises
the voices from oblivion swell
and the Ancient Fury
Mahsa tenderly in her arms
hijab loosely draped
and the Sisters
fierce in their fury and grief
it is the beginning of the end
Oct 19, 2022
BIO: Lori Stewart, BA, MTS is retired Associate Faculty at St. Stephen’s College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her MTS research focussed on identity and power as they relate to married women’s surnames. Lori is also a poet, writer, social activist and retired spiritual director. She belongs to a choir for people who think they can’t sing and have discovered they can, indeed, make beautiful music.
3 thoughts on “For Mahsa by Lori Stewart”
Thank you for this powerful tribute and call to rise up. Like you, I sometimes feel helpless and sometimes rise up, but voices like yours and all of those responding to the tyranny against women in Iran inspire hope.
Hijab is a personal decision, which basis of it is to please God, not one for morality police. Not so different from the right to decide about a pregnancy which has been wrest from women in the US.
Thank you for your piece.