By AFSHIN VALINEJAD, Associated Press Writer
For the first time since Muslim clerics took control of the country in the Islamic revolution 23 years ago, girls will be allowed to go without headscarves and robes in all-female schools in Tehran — a move religious hard-liners criticized as "encouraging nudity."
The Education Ministry directive applies to schoolgirls aged 7 to 18 and their teachers in the capital's 11,000 girls' schools when classes open in September.
"The implementation of this plan is not in any contradiction with Islamic and national values," Homeira Rahimi, an official at the Education Ministry, said in remarks published in conjunction with the new dress code directive.
For the moment, hard-liners opposed to President Mohammad Khatami 's program of easing political and social restrictions appeared to have limited their unhappiness with the decision to criticizing it in the press. Their restraint is widely interpreted as part of a new pragmatism: A willingness to permit more social freedoms in hopes of dampening challenges to the theocracy's powers.
The hard-line Jomhuri Islami daily said, for example, that the directive was "encouraging the culture of nudity" and was aimed at weakening religious values.
The Education Ministry directive published Thursday brings restrictions on dress into line with the growing tendency among Iranian women to test the limits for the "hijab," the Muslim dress code for women enforced since the 1979 revolution, which toppled the pro-Western shah and brought Islamic clerics to power.
Back then, authorities ordered schools to be segregated and male teachers replaced at girls' schools. University classes remained open to both men and women.
Hair now cascades from beneath loose scarves. The once-mandatory coverings of billowing black chadors or shapeless coats have been cast aside by some young women for elegant knee-length smocks or even tight business-style jackets. Some just toss on a baggy sweater.
Such fashion liberties would have risked arrest or a beating by morality enforcers only a few years ago.
"This is what we've been waiting for a long time and it's good that we can now do it officially," said Shahrzad Entezari, a 17-year-old high school student. She said the new rule was "better than nothing," and that authorities should realize the "desires of the new generation."
"Yes, I believe this is a right thing to do, but someone should explain to the people the reason why the restriction was in place for the past 23 years," said Shadi Sadr, a female journalist and law expert.
"I think the authorities who imposed it during all these years owe an apology for the wrong regulations which violated the rights of Iranian girls," she said.
Mahin, a teacher who refused to give her other name, said the directive came too late.
"It's useless and even harmful to impose unnecessary restrictions on teenage girls," she said. "I think this is inevitable. We cannot force a cultural matter physically. Our girls are good and smart, they can choose the right way," said the high school teacher of more than 20 years.