Iranian Chess Player Sara Khadem Becomes Spanish Citizen After Being Unable to Go Home For Not Wearing a Hijab

The year 2022 was defined by Iranian woman's power. Responding to the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, protesters flooded the streets to protest the rigid laws which dictated hijab standards for all women. Risking life and limb, Iranian women around the country and the world bared their heads in protest, cut their hair, and burned headscarves. Among the women taking a courageous stand for self-determination was international chess player Sara Khadem, who chose to play without her state-mandated hijab at the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in December 2022. With a warrant out from her home country, the chess player has been unable to go home and was recently granted Spanish nationality in a rare gesture.

In Iran, women are limited in their rights. They cannot watch men's sports or leave the country without their husband's permission. Their clothing is also limited by morality police. The protests arising in 2022 took the country by storm, protesting all the ways gender inequality affects Iranian women, with the hijab as a symbol. While many women choose to wear hijab as an expression of faith or culture, the mandate obliterates choice. Many women made their own decision to remove the headscarf.

Khadem is a decorated Iranian chess player. Born in 1997, she performed exceptionally well at junior championships and played for Iran at the Women's Chess Olympiads. She has competed in many international meets and won runner-up in both the Women's World Rapid Chess Championship and the Women's World Blitz Chess Championship 2018. She has achieved the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster. But at the meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2022, she made a statement bigger than chess. With her hair uncovered, the young player competed publicly.

Khadem has lived in Spain since the tournament. This defiance of Iranian law spawned an arrest warrant at home in Iran, coinciding with the very same day that Khadem met with the Spanish Prime Minister. “It was on that day that I was issued with arrest orders at home. So I had mixed feelings: I was appreciated in this country–and in my own country, where you have achieved lots of success, you get arrest papers,” Khadem told the BBC. She now lives in Spain with her husband—a filmmaker once imprisoned by the Iranian regime—and young son. In honor of her exceptional talent and difficult circumstances back in Iran, the chess player has been given Spanish nationality. This was granted through a naturalization letter. In January, the Spanish Prime Minister said of the athlete, “How much I have learned today from a woman who inspires me, the Women’s Chess Grandmaster Sara Khadem. All my support to women athletes. Your example contributes to a better world.”

In 2022, Iranian chess player Sara Khadem played an international tournament without a hijab.

She was issued an arrest warrant in Iran and has been unable to return home ever since the event.

She was recently granted Spanish nationality in a rare gesture.

Sara Khadem

Photo: VIKTORIASAPATA/Depositphotos

Sara Khadem: Instagram
h/t: [CNN]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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