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Hassan Sohljoo from the BBC Persian Service tracks down fellow countryman Ziba Mir-Hosseini – an anthropologist, academic, filmmaker, feminist and Muslim.

Ziba lives in London with her third husband and adopted daughter Zahra. Hassan observes that Ziba’s house is just like any in Iran – full of Persian rugs and miniatures. There are even geraniums – flowers that remind her of summers in Tehran.

I am trying to project the new voices of Islam, a new generation.
Ziba Mir-Hosseini
“I belong to that generation of Iranians that came abroad to study,” she says. “We never thought we would live outside of Iran. I wanted to learn English, get a good degree and go back and live in my own country.”

Ziba did return in 1980. However, having divorced her first husband - a scandalous affair for an Iranian women - she came to England in 1984 for a six month visit – and has stayed ever since.

Food and cooking is a very big part of Persian culture and something Ziba keeps very much alive in her house.

“So much love goes into [cooking], you really have to care what you are doing and I love doing it”, she says.

Her food is basically Persian, though her English husband, Richard, sometimes misses a traditional Sunday roast. Richard, also an anthropologist, speaks Persian and Arabic and likes to think of himself as both English and Persian.

“When my second marriage collapsed, I was 33 and thought that was enough”, Ziba says. But she adds that upon meeting Richard she fell in love. “Richard, like me, is an anthropologist - he speaks my language, he understands my culture, but at the same time he is not also part of it”.

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The couple speak to each other in a mix of both Persian and English. Zahra, Ziba’s adopted daughter, comes from a Qom, where she lived with her father and stepmother. “When I met Ziba she became my hero, I found my way with her and she helped me a lot,” she says.

During the Iranian revolution, Ziba was in England writing up her thesis. Although like many Iranian women, she was supportive of the revolution, on her return in 1980 she found a very different place.

She found herself rejected by the new Islamic Republic, for two reasons. Firstly, she says, “because I lived and did my post-graduate studies in England and according to the ideology of the time – no proper woman would live on her own in England for six years.” She adds that secondly, she was rejected for refusing to “observe the rule of hejab – women covering their hair”.

As a young woman in Iran there were two choices – to be young and modern, or Muslim and follow your religion. To be both was very difficult.

“I am trying to project the new voices of Islam, a new generation”, Ziba argues, “feminist, reformist voices – those who see no contradiction between being Muslim and modern, a feminist and a democrat.”

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