Emilia Bingham and Malynne Cottam: LDS women should sympathize with protesting women in Iran

No government should tell women which religious garments to wear, or not to wear.

(Arash Khamooshi | The New York Times) Two women walk through a bazaar in Tehran, Iran, April 30, 2018.

In the recent weeks we have seen protests in Iran following the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini by the country’s morality police for not covering her hair as mandated by law. Today I want to speak out in solidarity with Iranian women regarding this cause which I believe to be particularly significant to all LDS women.

Many Muslim women wear specific items that signify their religious commitment. Islam isn’t unique in having religiously important articles of clothing. Temple garments worn by Latter-day Saints are a relevant example.

According to The Church of Jesus Christ gospel topic article, “As part of entering into these covenants in the temple, members receive a simple undergarment … worn underneath members’ normal clothing … serving as a daily physical reminder of their relationship with God.”

There is extensive discussion about garments, how they are worn, the manner in which they are designed, whether they are used for manipulative or oppressive purposes. While we need to metaphorically sit down and work this out amongst ourselves, the point I want to make is that garments and hijab have sacred, personal meaning for some people, and not for others. No one should be obligated to wear something they don’t want to.

As LDS women who have experience wearing garments both in orthodox and unorthodox ways, we have never had to worry about legal action as a result of our decisions. We have never had our physical safety threatened. No one we know has lost their life through state-sanctioned violence due to their personal decisions on garments.

What we want our fellow LDS women to recognize is that this is a privilege not afforded to our Muslim sisters in many parts of the world, and that is something we need to care a lot more about.

We have been navigating our relationship with garments these last few years, and we have been so inspired by the Muslim women who are open about choosing to wear a Hijab. We have witnessed the pain of women who are forced to take off their head coverings or who are facing legal bans on wearing them. We understand what it is to have religious clothing we consider sacred, and cannot imagine how devastated we would feel if someone told us that we could not wear them, or if there were legal or safety repercussions for choosing to do so.

Fellow Latter-day Saint women, put yourself in that position for a moment.

It has taken time to establish a personally sacred relationship with wearing garments, and in that process, we experienced the pressure and shame of the feeling that we did not have a choice. We want to be clear that this is not the same as the violence taking place in Iran, or that has happened in other countries. However, it has given us a strong conviction that no one should ever be compelled to engage in any sort of religious practice without full, enthusiastic, informed consent.

We cannot imagine the pain of being legally prohibited from wearing garments, or experiencing a lack of physical safety as a result of our choice. We likewise cannot imagine the pain of being legally required to wear them at the risk of danger to my life upon deciding to remove them.

Many women have a spiritual relationship with wearing their garments or hijab in orthodox ways. There are many of us who find meaning in the practice by adapting it to fit our needs. There are also many who do not find they need the practice in order to connect with their deity in a meaningful way.

As members of the LDS Church, if we truly want to claim the privilege of worshiping the Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscious, and if we truly intend to allow all people that privilege, then we need to do more to speak up for our Muslim sisters. We, of all people, should be able to relate to their cause and, in their time of need, elevating their voices is something we can certainly do.

Emilia Bingham

Emilia Bingham was born and raised in Idaho before moving to Utah to attend Brigham Young University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is currently living in Massachusetts, pursuing a master of social work degree at Boston College and working towards her goal of becoming a therapist specializing in treating complex trauma.

Malynne Cottam

Malynne Cottam is a lifelong Utah resident who loves hiking and music. She attended the University of Utah and Brigham Young University to study public health and hopes to have a career supporting the well-being of women and marginalized communities.