Together with the Iranian Association of New Hampshire, UNH’s International Student Organization (ISO) hosted a conversation on Iranian culture in Memorial Union Building room 330 last Thursday, March 30. Titled “Hijab For A Day” the goal of the discussion was to spread knowledge about Iranian culture as well as to address popular misconceptions.
The ISO is a fairly new organization, having been founded almost a year ago.
“We started with the goal of bringing all the cultures and organizations together, because we have so many,” ISO president, Shrimika Madhavan, said. “So we wanted to bring all the cultures together and make events happen where everyone can interact, and we didn’t have that.”
According to Madhavan, the ISO used the topic of the hijab as a hook to draw students into what ended up as a wide-ranging discussion about Iranian culture.
“So we wanted to let people know about our culture, about our food, about architecture, and different regions in Iran,” civil engineering student and former member of the Iranian Association of New Hampshire, Shokoufeh Zarger, said. “There is so much variety, even in a country that is as small as the state of Texas.”
The discussion began with a speech by Farzane Shirazi, the president of the Iranian Association of New Hampshire, along with an accompanying slideshow. Shirazi spoke about the variety of clothing and style options that Iranian women wear, as well as the role that women now play in Iranian society.
“Women are half of the Iranian society, and 60 percent of the university students are female,” Shirazi said. “Unlike the pre-revolution culture, many Iranian women work outside of the house, have families and have a significant presence in the society.”
The hijab itself was another prominent discussion topic. As a rule, girls in Iran have to start wearing the hijab at age 9, but they are expected to start wearing it practically around age 12.
“So the thing is that based on Islam, a woman needs to cover their hair, and also their body, and only their hands and their faces are allowed to be shown,” Zarger said. “But even though in my country, that’s the basis of the rules, people are trying to be fashionable. So they’re trying to play around with the colors, with the fabrics, the style, so that they can express themselves.”
After Shirazi’s presentation, Zargar proceeded to answer questions from students, as well as speak about different aspects of Iranian culture. A common theme throughout was how diverse of a nation Iran is regarding fashion, architecture, art and food. Each regional group in Iran has their own set of customs and culture, and a variety of languages are spoken throughout the nation.
One student asked Zarger whether younger people in Iran had started protesting the dress codes. Zargar responded by saying that while there is a protest movement, it is mostly coming from Iranians outside of the country, rather than inside.
The remainder of the conversation focused on the impressive diversity of Iranian architectural styles, as well as traditional cuisine and music. Throughout the event, a vegetarian soup known as ash reshte was provided for all. The discussion concluded with videos comparing traditional Iranian music with the current pop music played frequently in Iranian clubs.
“The conversation went really well,” Madhavan said. “This was more people than we usually have for our meetings, so I was really glad that it happened, and it’s all thanks to the Iranian Association.”
Coming up on April 29, the International Student Organization is hosting “Dinner Around the World” in the Granite State Room of the MUB, their biggest event of the semester.
“We have 13 [organizations] collaborating with us, we’re representing 15 to 16 countries, and we’re getting food from every single country,” Madhavan said. Students curious about getting involved in the ISO can check their meetings out every other Thursday at 6 p.m, in MUB room 330.