In late November, the militant group affiliated to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and responsible for the execution of its orders, Sawa'id al-Khair, has prevented female university students from attending a cultural event hosted at the Arab Cultural Center in Idlib, because they wore colorful clothes, according to Rozana correspondent in Idlib, Batool Ahmed.
Idlib is currently controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which has imposed strict dress code on women. They are constantly afraid of violating any of these laws, being arrested for some reason by the women clerics of Sawa'id al-Khair or caught in a problem that may harm their reputation.
Rozana managed to gather testimonies from girls who have been harassed by Sawa'id al-Khair Corps, in which they revealed the way they were bullied in the streets, universities and even at home.
"These clothes are forbidden"...
Noor Mohamed (pseudonym) recalls the way she was harassed by the women clerics of Sawa'id al-Khair, affiliated to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, during an interview with Rozana. She said that she fled el-Waer neighborhood in Homs along with her husband a year and a half ago, and lived in a house In Idlib city. She was not aware of what is happening there and of the strict dress code and laws imposed by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham on women.
Once, I came out wearing a short jacket so one of the members of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham came to my husband and asked him to make me wear a long dress. But, I had only this short type of dress.
Noor went on saying that "on another occasion, some veiled women knocked on the door and uncovered her face saying that she belongs to the security division affiliated to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. She threatened me saying ‘you are required to stop laughing at night with your sister and wearing makeup. You have spent all of Ramadhan watching TV series.’ She also said that if I did not abide by this, well-built female Tunisian hangers will punish me."
Sawa'id al-Khair considered that the Sharia dress code set for women, falls under the so-called "law of public morality."
The law issued last May states that women's clothing should be "covering the whole body, loose and thick. In addition, it shall not be transparent or reveal one’s body shape or be adorned and embellished."
The law that was applied in Idlib also requires "primary and secondary school as well as university students to wear Sharia veil, which is a black piece of clothing covering the whole face, as uniform clothing for educational institutions. It also prohibits the use of perfume or kohl or cosmetics or lifting hair under the veil in a way that violates Sharia."
Women in Idlib are accustomed to this sentence: "These clothes are forbidden,", according to Noor. She recalled the harassment she was subject to in the streets saying: "I was stopped by a Van. A veiled woman stepped out of it and told me 'this dress is forbidden, and the jacket is short'."
Rozana correspondent stated that "Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham relies in the dissemination of its instructions in general on the women clerics of Sawa'id al-Khair to advise women, or through circulating announcements on the walls everywhere, such as " your Hijab is your virtue" or "don’t make your veil a fitnah," in addition to spreading the instructions in universities and schools."
Non-veiled women’s entry is forbidden
The story of Noor is similar to that of Lara Hassan, a displaced woman from Homs who shared her struggle with Rozana. She said: "I was wearing short clothes, and when I came to Idlib I learned that I had to wear long ones. I bought a knee-high vest even though I'm not used to this."
Lara went on saying: "Men belonging to Sawa'id al-Khair would stop my brother and tell him that I should wear a long dress and stop wearing makeup and "nafsha" on my hijab (a specific hijab that gives the head a larger size).
"I enrolled at Idlib University at the Mentoring Department. Once, the woman cleric responsible for monitoring dress and makeup at the university warned me because I was wearing makeup."
Another remark was made to Lara away from the university by one of the women clerics,saying that she was prevented from entering a place in Idlib called the "family club" for not wearing a long dress that reaches the ground.
How does Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham charge the "outlaws"?
The penalties imposed on violations of the Sawa'id al-Khair laws are obscured, according to Nesreen, a woman who resides in Idlib.
"The woman that Sawa'id al-Khair asks for is not informed of her punishment, and when she leaves, she cannot speak for fear," said Rozana reporter Batool Ahmed.
However, in general, there are two ways to punish the girl who violates the orders ; the first through the alert, which is considered to be somewhat soft, and the other is through threatening of flogging or arresting the girl and summoning the parents. This method is humiliating and degrading to the girl and her family who come to the security center for their detained daughter, and they have to pledge not to repeat this again, explained Rozana correspondent.
There are no exceptions to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham's decisions
Huda Zaher, a student in the Faculty of Education, was shot earlier in her legs, hands and pelvis, which caused her a disability.
Huda is no longer able to wear the long dress because it is a burden and heavy on her legs. Sawa'id al-Khair women clerics considered this as a violation of Shari'a and asked her not to attend the university if she does not comply with the specific dress.
Huda told Rozana that "previously in the university, we were interested in how to pay university fees and premiums, and housing and its requirements. Today, the situation has changed and our biggest concern became how to enter the university, and what dress code satisfies Sawa'id al-Khair women clerics and the dean of the Faculty?"
Huda added that "my thinking has become similar to that of any female student: how will I go to university? How to run away from the cleric so that she and the dean do not see me? instead of thinking about being one of the best students."
Huda said she talked to the dean about her physical condition and her inability to wear a long dress. She wore a "short jacket to the knee." He responded "I do not care, these are the rules; my university does not allow any student to come dressed this way."
According to Huda, the university punishes the girl who violates the dress, which is approved and considered compliant with the Sharia dress by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, with one week expulsion for the first time, while two weeks for the second and final expulsion in the third.
Huda explained that "the university administration focuses on the female student dress code more than on education, which compels most girls to stop attending classes at the university because of dress Most of them escape from Sawa'id al-Khair women clerics and the dean, while some cannot afford to buy a "long dress" with a price of approximately 25,000 Syrian pounds, as they need to buy the educational curriculum of the university."
When the point of not being able to buy a long dress is made clear for the clerics, the answer is: "If you do not have money, stay home," clarified Huda.
Rozana correspondent Batool explained that "all women without exception are required to wear this dress code, even if they suffer from paralysis, disability or illness. The scrutiny of the dress is carried out by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants at two checkpoints in the city of Idlib entry and center, while the least scrutiny is in the markets."
The case of the Islamic dress was the reason for beating a woman in the market of Idlib last June on the grounds that she did not comply with that dress code.
It was also the reason for the arrest of an "ostentatious woman who does not comply with the Sharia dress," Sawa'id al-Khair claimed.
All these are actions that have made many of Idlib's women anxious about going out, and afraid of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s monitoring through its Sawa'id al-Khair security apparatus, as every detail in their appearance may lead to their arrest.