- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

Iranian women are lining up for a free course on motorcycling, which its promoter insists is strictly in line with Muslim values.
"The prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, recommended that Muslims learn shooting, swimming and horse riding," said Mohammad Reza Farhad-Sheikhahmad, head of sales for a major Iranian motorcycle manufacturer.
"If we bring this up to date, horse riding can be replaced with motorbikes. And the prophet did not discriminate between men and women."
Armed with a holy weapon that he hopes will see off the country's powerful Islamist rulers, Mr. Farhad-Sheikhahmad is seeking to bring the joys of straddling a buzzing bike to women who for the past two decades have been forced to ride pillion.
Society here frowns upon women bicycle or motorcycle riders, although driving such vehicles as well as cars is legal.
Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of powerful former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has taken up the cause of two-wheeling women.
Motorcycles are roughly five times cheaper than cars in Iran.
But a major barrier to women has been their lack of training on motorbikes, something that Mr. Farhad-Sheikhahmad is seeking to change when he begins the five-month classes in April.
His Bana Industrial Group, which represents Japan's Kawasaki in Iran, has been advertising the courses in local newspapers and magazines for a week.
"So far, 11,000 women have already signed up," he told reporters invited to the company's new training ground.
He said each course could train 7,600 women, but that he also has attracted complaints.
Improving women's rights or implementing the word of the prophet is not Mr. Farhad-Sheikhahmad's only motive: Of Iran's 35 million women, he said, 5 million are potential clients for his company's 18 factories, hence the free lessons in upmarket northern Tehran.
To give a boost to women put off by Iran's tough Islamist rulers and even tougher traffic, his company's monthly magazine has published an interview with the Islamic republic's best-known female biker.
"At first I was ashamed after I saw how people looked at me, and I even thought of stopping," said Fatemeh Boustan, 34, a karate and kung fu teacher who has been riding since childhood.
"But," she continued, "I thought about it and realized that I was just going from my home to my workplace, and not for fun. So that is why I continued."
Another problem is that of clothing, given the obligation in Iran for each woman to wear a head scarf and long coat that, in theory, should extend to the ankles. The coat hems have been moving upward in wealthier parts of Tehran.
But even here, Mr. Farhad-Sheikhahmad said, he has found a solution.
"Several clothing manufacturers have contacted us to tell us that they have designed a special coat," he said.

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