Narges Morhammadi's photo was included on the poster for the event and many people came to see her.

Famous Iranian actress Narges Mohammadi was set to host an evening of shows in the small town of Haji Abad last week, but everything turned upside down when the local iman demanded that she wear not just a hijab (or headscarf) but a chador, or full-body covering. Mohammadi is alleged to have been so angry that she stormed out of the show, to the ire of the concert-goers.

Narges Mohammadi is one of the most popular actresses in Iran and has appeared in an extensive repertoire of films. Her promised presence drew many spectators to the show, which was organised to celebrate Eid-al-Ghadeer. This holiday is one of the most important for Shiite Muslims and it commemorates the moment when the Prophet Mohammed designated his son-in-law Ali as his successor.

The show in Haji Abad was to include traditional Iranian songs and performances. Posters advertising the show and Narges Mohammadi were posted all over town and many people turned out for the event.

Poster for the show, showing Narges Mohammadi at left.

But, in the end, they show would not go on. It all began when the local imam, who was named to his post by Iran’s Supreme Leader, decided to give the speech to open the Eid-al-Ghadeer festivities.

According to the local media, when he announced Narges Mohammadi, he also specified that she would come onto stage wearing an Iranian chador. In Iran, women must wear a hijab, a headscarf, outside of the house, but the chador is an even more conservative garment: it’s a long, open cloak that covers a woman’s head, neck, shoulders and most of her body as well.

The actress allegedly responded that neither Iranian law nor sharia law would force her to wear a chador. She then stormed out of the event, slamming the door behind her.

When they heard the show was cancelled, the audience grew angry and started rioting, throwing their chairs around the room—an occurrence not at all common in the Islamic Republic. This collective anger seemed to have been provoked by the cancellation of the show, nothing in the photos taken of the riot indicated that the anger was in response to the imam’s speech.

‘We must come out against these extremists who want to force their beliefs on others’

Shirin (not her real name) is an Iranian journalist in Tehran. She specialises in women’s issues.

While I am not a Narges Mohammadi fan, I am 100% in agreement with her and I support her. We must resist and come out forcefully against these extremists who want to impose their beliefs on others. While the hijab is obligatory in Iran, there is no law concerning the chador. But some imams are so restrictive that they think the chador is the only acceptable veil.

Extremists have been focusing on the hijab for the past few months especially since the "My Stealthy Freedom " campaign [Editor’s note : Many Iranian women posted pictures of themselves without a hijab as part of this Facebook campaign launched by an Iranian activist]. Moreover, the new government allows the police to be much more lax about enforcing the wearing of hijabs, which causes some imams to become even more conservative.

I can imagine several different outcomes. Mohammadi may be put on the black list of artists forbidden from working in Iranian television and cinema, unless she decides to try to make excuses for her behavior, saying that the media falsely reported the situation. That said, perhaps she can also hope that her popularity will help her: she is so well known that it wouldn’t be easy for the authorities to suddenly make her “disappear.”

For the time being, the Iranian authorities have not reacted to this affair. Similarly, Narges Mohammadi has not spoken publically since leaving the show.