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Iranian woman sings solo in historic mosque, defying law against women singing in public

The single finger she raised to the man who approached to stop her said, "Nope, not until I'm finished."

iranian woman singing in historic Esfahan mosque

A woman courageously sings solo in Esfahan. Singing in public is forbidden for women in Iran.

Just before the historic 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, a woman on the other side of the globe was making her own call for women's rights. Tahirih, a Persian theologian, poet and social activist, walked into a gathering of men without wearing her veil. While a veilless woman hardly seems notable to Western sensibilities, in 19th-century Persia—what is now Iran—it was an unspeakable act of heresy.

Baring her full face, Tahirih boldly proclaimed that the day of the equality of men and women had arrived. Gender equality was a core tenet of the Babí faith she had embraced, and she would be executed for it just four years later—choked to death with her own scarf, her body unceremoniously tossed into a well.

But her reported final words echo to the present day: "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you will never stop the emancipation of women."


Nearly two centuries later, the women of Iran are still fighting for their emancipation from oppressive laws. We've seen waves of protests in the streets since the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, with women demanding the right to choose whether or not to wear the hijab, the Islamic head covering, without fearing for their lives.

The current Islamist regime enacted the hijab law in 1983, the same year the Iranian government publicly hanged 10 Bahá'í women—most of whom were in their 20s, one only 17—for refusing to recant their faith. Those executions, conducted one by one so the women were forced to watch each other die, showed the lengths the regime would go to in their extremism, drew condemnation from around the world and further demonstrated the courage and fortitude of Iranian women who refuse to bend to injustice.

Acts of civil disobedience are dangerous for women in Iran to this day, but that hasn't stopped them from happening. In a video shared by Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on Twitter, we see a woman standing in what Alinejad shared is in one of Esfahan's historic mosques. All the woman is doing is singing, but that alone is a crime in Iran, where the government has forbidden women from singing in public.

This woman insists that her beautiful voice be heard, however. Even when a man approaches to stop her, she doesn't skip a beat. Rather, she continues her chanting while holding up her finger as if to say, "Nope. You will wait until I'm finished." Incredibly, he immediately backs off in the face of her calm confidence and courage.

Watch and listen:

In a country where women have been killed for daring to question authority and challenge the status quo, such an act of defiance is all the more impressive. According to ClassicFM, the woman was singing a poem from the Sufi tradition, a mystical form of Islam that gave us the widely beloved poetry of Rumi and Hafiz.

People in the comments responded with awe at the woman's voice and the way she commanded respect with her very presence.

Iranian women have a long history of using their voices—and their actions—to proclaim their inherent right to freedom. And until their basic human rights are secured for good, the rest of the world will continue to stand with them in support and solidarity.

All images provided by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

Collins after being selected by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

True

A changemaker is anyone who takes creative action to solve an ongoing problem—be it in one’s own community or throughout the world.

And when it comes to creating positive change, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective can hold just as much power as years of experience. That’s why, every year, Prudential Emerging Visionaries celebrates young people for their innovative solutions to financial and societal challenges in their communities.

This national program awards 25 young leaders (ages 14-18) up to $15,000 to devote to their passion projects. Additionally, winners receive a trip to Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, where they receive coaching, skills development, and networking opportunities with mentors to help take their innovative solutions to the next level.

For 18-year-old Sydnie Collins, one of the 2023 winners, this meant being able to take her podcast, “Perfect Timing,” to the next level.

Since 2020, the Maryland-based teen has provided a safe platform that promotes youth positivity by giving young people the space to celebrate their achievements and combat mental health stigmas. The idea came during the height of Covid-19, when Collins recalled social media “becoming a dark space flooded with news,” which greatly affected her own anxiety and depression.

Knowing that she couldn’t be the only one feeling this way, “Perfect Timing” seemed like a valuable way to give back to her community. Over the course of 109 episodes, Collins has interviewed a wide range of guests—from other young influencers to celebrities, from innovators to nonprofit leaders—all to remind Gen Z that “their dreams are tangible.”

That mission statement has since evolved beyond creating inspiring content and has expanded to hosting events and speaking publicly at summits and workshops. One of Collins’ favorite moments so far has been raising $7,000 to take 200 underserved girls to see “The Little Mermaid” on its opening weekend, to “let them know they are enough” and that there’s an “older sister” in their corner.

Of course, as with most new projects, funding for “Perfect Timing” has come entirely out of Collins’ pocket. Thankfully, the funding she earned from being selected as a Prudential Emerging Visionary is going toward upgraded recording equipment, the support of expert producers, and skill-building classes to help her become a better host and public speaker. She’ll even be able to lease an office space that allows for a live audience.

Plus, after meeting with the 24 other Prudential Emerging Visionaries and her Prudential employee coach, who is helping her develop specific action steps to connect with her target audience, Collins has more confidence in a “grander path” for her work.

“I learned that my network could extend to multiple spaces beyond my realm of podcasting and journalism when industry leaders are willing to share their expertise, time, and financial support,” she told Upworthy. “It only takes one person to change, and two people to expand that change.”

Prudential Emerging Visionaries is currently seeking applicants for 2024. Winners may receive up to $15,000 in awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to Prudential’s headquarters with a parent or guardian, as well as ongoing coaching and skills development to grow their projects.

If you or someone you know between the ages of 14 -18 not only displays a bold vision for the future but is taking action to bring that vision to life, click here to learn more. Applications are due by Nov. 2, 2023.
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