A move to boycott a popular Iranian ride-hailing application has gained momentum among social media users in the country after a controversy over a female passenger’s hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion.
It all began last week when the woman was asked by a driver of the Snapp app to put on the headscarf that had fallen off her head, according to Tasnim News Agency.
After an argument with the male driver, the passenger reportedly left the car in an avenue in the eastern part of Iran’s capital, Tehran.
In comments made later, the passenger and the driver gave different accounts of the incident. The passenger said in a Twitter post that the driver dropped her off when she refused his demand, but the man told state media he had offered to take her back to where he had picked her up from.
Iranian law requires women to cover their hair and wear a loose garment to hide their body and skin.
Soon after the incident, the passenger published the name and the picture of the driver, Saeed Abed, on her Twitter account – which has a pseudonym handle – and said Snapp had pledged to follow up on the issue.
The tweet was later deleted, but screengrabs of it have circulated on social media.
Meanwhile, Abed was lauded during an appearance on state TV and was hailed as a hero for promoting Islamic virtues.
For its part, Snapp, which is known as the Iranian version of Uber and is the largest online ride-hailing company in the country, said in a statement that it was obliged to abide by Iran’s law and Islamic values.
The company also said it would honour the driver for complying with its regulations. Snapp later said it had abandoned a decision to file a lawsuit against the passenger for disclosing Abed’s personal information after she tweeted an apology and expressed regret.
But the passenger’s apology, coupled with the support for the driver by Snapp and conservative media, sparked outrage on Twitter.
On Sunday, Twitter users began using a hashtag calling for the app’s boycott, which by Tuesday had been used some 70,000 times, according to ILNA news agency.
“I deleted the app, because I think, if they see a decline in orders, this would mean that our message is received,” Mani, a Tehran resident working for an advertisement company, told Al Jazeera.
The 35-year-old said he regarded the move as necessary, even though he did not believe that boycotting Snapp would solve the hijab dispute.
“Any other online taxi application could be under pressure by the establishment [to enforce the law], but we need to have our voices heard,” he said.
Shirin, a 30-year-old English teacher in Tehran, said she had not been using the app since the controversy.
She noted that she had a similar argument with a Snapp driver while using the service with her husband, but added that she was uncertain about deleting the app because she believed many drivers would lose their jobs at a time of economic malaise and high unemployment.
“Many young people with a bachelor’s or a Masters’ degree are working for Snapp,” she told Al Jazeera. “This makes me think twice.”
Many Iranians, who do not feel obliged to observe Islamic teachings, have been against the compulsory hijab law.
In 2005, the police and the judiciary created a dedicated police unit to enforce the country’s dress code. But the body – known as the morality police – has been criticised by reformists and moderates.
On Wednesday, the IRNA state news agency reported that Iran’s traffic police have been monitoring vehicles and sending warnings to the owners of cars in which passengers wear their hijab loosely.
Most recently, the judiciary asked citizens to report via text message the violation of Iran’s code of conduct, including lack of hijab, drinking alcohol, mix-gender parties and prostitution.
Iran’s Jahan Sanat newspaper warned on Wednesday that such policies would lead to a bipolar society and hurt the national unity.
“Social segregation is the first side-effect of such decisions … The continuation of this process would lead to social encounter [between the two groups] … it would lead to widespread social conflicts,” Hassan Hosseini, a sociologist, told the paper.