Iranian Photographer And Women’s Soccer Rights Activist Disappears In Tehran

24 Jun

Maryam Majd, a photojournalist and women's rights activist, campaigns for female football fans to be allowed to watch matches in stadiums. (File Photo)

 Iranian photographer and women’s soccer rights activist disappears in Tehran

Thursday, 23 June 2011

An Iranian photographer and activist for women’s soccer rights has disappeared as the Islamic republic battles world soccer body FIFA for its own interpretation of the rights of women in the beautiful game.

Maryam Majd, 25, is believed to have been detained by Iranian security officials as she was boarding a flight from Tehran to Düsseldorf to cover world soccer body FIFA’s Women’s World Cup.

Petra Landers, a former German national soccer player had invited Ms. Majid to visit Germany to collaborate in writing a book on women’s sport. Mr. Landers told The Guardian he had not heard from Ms. Majid since Friday when she was scheduled to arrive in Düsseldorf.

“I waited for hours in the airport but eventually found that she was not on the plane at the first place,” Mr. Landers said. “The last time I talked to her she was in the airport in Tehran waiting to board the plane and I have not been able to contact her nor her family since then.”

A sports photographer who focused on female athletes, Ms. Majid often ran afoul of authorities in Iran, whose state media boycotted her work.

Iranian exiles believe Ms. Majid is being held in Iran without explanation or disclosure of where she is being detained.

“We are almost sure that she has been arrested but the question is why authorities in Iran refuse to give any information about her after five days since her disappearance,” said London-based Iranian women activist Shadi Sadr.

Ms. Majid is a campaigner for the right of women to attend soccer matches in stadiums. Iran extended the ban on women in stadiums earlier this year by also barring women from watching matches on screens in public places.

Iranian spiritual leader stymied attempts by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lift the ban in 2006 after women dressed up as men and smuggled their way into stadiums.

“Maryam is one of the very few women sports photographers in Iran and because she is a woman, she has exclusive access to women’s sports and had been able to attract lots of attention towards sportswomen in the country,” Ms. Sadr said.

The detention of Ms. Majid casts a shadow over Iran’s battle with FIFA over the right of women players to wear Islamic headdress during matches.

The captain of Iran’s women’s team defended this week the right of players to wear the hijab, an Islamic headdress that covers the hair, neck and ears. Her team was disqualified earlier this month for qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics in London because it appeared wearing hijabs for a match against Jordan. Three Jordanian players were also banned for the same reason. Iran was disqualified after FIFA cancelled the match and awarded it to Jordan because of the wearing of the hijab.

The wearing of the hijab violated an agreement concluded in 2007 between Iran and FIFA under which religious women players were allowed to wear a specially designed cap that covered the hair only. FIFA insists the agreement was a concession on its banning of all expressions of religious or political beliefs on the soccer pitch. Iran has warned that the ban will effect not only Iranian female players but women players across the Muslim world.

The captain of the Iranian women’s football team, Niloofar Ardalan, defended the wearing of the hijab in an interview with The Tehran Times.

“We are proud of our hijab. The Iranian women players will never agree to play without Islamic dress code. For the Olympic qualifier against Jordan, we took part in the six-month training camp, but we were prevented from the match,” Ms. Ardalan said.

“This is not the first time that Iranian women’s football team has been in trouble. Last year, just two hours before our flight to Berlin, we were informed that we were not allowed to play against the German team, while we were fully prepared for the warm-up match,” she said.

“Iran has so many talented players and it’s a great pity we cannot play in the international competitions. To play with hijab is hard, but we used to play with this situation. FIFA should allow the Muslim women to play, since they have the right to show their potential like the other women,” Ms. Ardalan added.

Her words were echoed by midfielder Fereshteh Karimi.

“To play in the World Cup is my greatest dream, but FIFA officials broke our hearts after they didn’t let us play with hijab. Hopefully, they will allow us to play with Islamic dress, just as we took part in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore,” Ms. Karimi said.

(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at:

15 Responses to “Iranian Photographer And Women’s Soccer Rights Activist Disappears In Tehran”

  1. panama June 24, 2011 at 5:29 am #

    What a shame. I admire women like Maryam Majd immensely for their courage, will and free thinking, and I hope that she’ll be free and and able to travel very soon.

    The women’s rights situation in Iran is dissatisfaytory, of course, but FIFA’s discrimination of Muslim women (and the insensitivity of the whole issue!) truly appalls me. These women are fighters, they face immense opposition and must love football. How an organiztion that claims to be tolerant and fair can ban hijabs by liking them to jewellery is beyond me.

    Thanks for sharing information about more controversial topics insted of only focussing on the fun, it’s great!

  2. June 24, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Thanks for posting this. Its disturbing but we need to know!

  3. shiggers June 24, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Very worrying.

  4. GinaM June 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    It’s very sad, hopefully they find her. I’ve seen all too many stories like this and they are never discovered or the government isn’t willing to release them.

  5. emily June 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    She’s probably okay. But her suppression by the government is so telling of the lack of respect for women in Islam.
    Visualize World Peace

    • maddy June 25, 2011 at 8:10 am #

      “so telling of the lack of respect for women in Islam.”

      please do elaborate.

      • emily June 26, 2011 at 3:35 am #

        a long time ago, I lived with an Iranian man who talked a lot about his country and Islam. in the strict interpretations, the women are made to walk behind the men, they are forced to wear something that covers their faces and hair. this isn’t all, but, it’s enough for me to make a determination that women are considered second class citizens. now, yes, there are some places/families where this isn’t enforced, which is fabulous, but, it’s in the teachings.
        cue the firestorm…

        • maddy June 26, 2011 at 11:40 am #

          well, i have been a muslim woman for almost 24 years. i spent 4 years in an islamic girls school, 7 years of my childhood in a co-ed secular school, 6 years in a rural area of a muslim country where i attended university and got my degree, and i have not once experienced this ‘lack of respect’ or made to feel like a 2nd class citizen. i chose (CHOSE) to cover my hair when i was 12, (5 years before my mother started wearing the hijab). the only instance i’ve heard of women walking behind men is in arabia, and this practice actually stems from pagan traditions before islam. the root cause of islamophobia is that people confuse culture with religion. arabs are a minority of the worlds muslim population, and i assure you in Indonesia and India (which are the largest muslim countries in the world) men and women walk side by side.

          i understand that this is not a blog to discuss religion, therefore i will stop now, but if you would like a more detailed explanation of the the place of a woman in Islam, i would love to provide one.

          i understand that this is a free world and you are entitled to your opinion. however i find it unfortunate that you passed negative judgement on the faith of more 1 billion of the worlds population on a public blog.

          i leave you with a saying by the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) : “Paradise lies at the feet of the mother”. ( according to Islam, if a mother died during childbirth, she is granted paradise regardless of her worldly deeds”

          and another one:
          A man once asked the Prophet to whom he should show the most kindness. The Prophet replied: “Your mother, next your mother, next your mother, and then your father.”

          • Maisoun June 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

            I couldnt have said it better myself. People dont realize that those who do follow the “strict interpretations” are definitely NOT the majority of Muslims, they’re just the ones who get the most publicity. Treating women as if they’re inferior isnt a product of Islam, its a product of stupidity which is why its found in men of all religions.

  6. emily June 27, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    I’m glad you guys made your points. I obviously have a narrow view of the situation. I definitely don’t understand the use of the hijab, but you choose to use one, so, I can respect that.
    The last quote “…your mother”. Beautiful.
    I was raised by a bigot who distrusted everyone not her color. It’s my goal as a parent to never bring that sort of poison through our home. We should all try to break that cycle and be open, understanding and accepting to all people.
    Mais – you are spot on about the publicity aspect. Like I said, I lived with an Iranian man who lived through Shah and Ayatollah, and watched the rise of Saddam from across the border. He had a lot to say about the fundamentalists, who do get all the media attention.
    Lozil, I’m sorry if I have caused a problem… I won’t do it again. I don’t mind that these ladies have lambasted me. It’s okay. We all need to know how people feel.

    • headbandsandheartbreak June 27, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      First off, I have to say that I’m really proud of everyone and how calmly and civilly the issue was addressed on each side. That’s what we’re working for here. Emily, I knew your comment would get a strong and immediate response. I watched the situation very carefully, but had no intention of intervening unless I had to. But I know you guys and I didn’t think that would be necessary. I was right. I wish everyone could talk so openly about the things that concern them. I’ve learned alot from the various viewpoints here and I’m glad we have the kind of open forum where we can ask questions and clear up misconceptions.

      So thanks, Maisougio, Maddy and Emily for talking this one out. It’s good to get beyond our preconceived notions. Maddy – this line of your eloquent response really struck home for me: “the root cause of islamophobia is that people confuse culture with religion.” I think that’s spot on. It’s easy to take things at the surface but usually the reality is much more complex. Thank you for your generosity and willingness to offer to explain further. I think many times people feel that it is impolite to ask and as a result, they don’t get the full story.

      • maddy June 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

        please do feel free to ask me anything related to Islam. i’m not an expert, but i will do the best to provide a credible reply.

        emily – i did not intend to lambast. i’m sorry if it came across like that. i only wished to correct what i saw as a misconception. i understand that certain aspects of islam are not easily understood by those who are not muslims, and therefore i wanted to shed some light on the subject. my late response is due to a very very busy day.

        lozil – my dream is a world where all the faiths can COEXIST peacefully. my home country has been marred by isolated incidents of interreligious (and even intrareligious) violence in the past, even though the majority coexist peacefully (Sri Lanka has 4 major religions). it only takes a few misguided misfits to disrupt the peace of an entire nation. i believe it would be easier to achieve religious tolenrance through interfaith dialogue if one approached a religion with an open mind and rejoiced in the many similarities of our faiths.

        • emily June 28, 2011 at 12:45 am #

          lambaste may not have been the best choice of words, but neither was my initial post! I was on the defensive and may have read it more harshly than you intended it. no harm done.

          • maddy June 28, 2011 at 7:22 am #

            its all good.. 🙂


  1. Update On Maryam Majd And Another Iranian Womens Rights Activist Detained « Of Headbands and Heartbreak… - July 5, 2011

    […] with updates on the disappearance of Maryam Majd, today brought the sad news of the detainment of Iranian documetary filmmaker and womens rights […]

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