Iranian newspapers honor math 'genius' Maryam Mirzakhani — some with pictures of her without a hijab

Agence France-Presse
Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani was the recipient of the 2014 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. 

Courtesy Stanford News Service

Iranian media are hailing trailblazing Iran-born mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani following her death from cancer, splashing her picture across newspaper front pages on Sunday.

In some cases, newspapers even broke with tradition and portrayed Mirzakhani without her hair covered by a hijab — mandatory for women in public since the Islamic republic's 1979 revolution.

“Her prominence overwrote the strict religious rules regarding how women can be portrayed in public,” says journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan, who covers Iran for The Guardian, “I think that shows how much Iranians were touched by her passing.”

Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the coveted Fields Medal, died at the age of 40 on Saturday in a US hospital after the breast cancer she had been battling for four years spread to her bone marrow.

Mirzakhani was born and studied in Iran before leaving to pursue her career in the United States.

Related: How Iranian scientists at one Harvard lab are reacting to Trump’s immigration restrictions 

When she won the Fields Medal — the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics — in 2014, newspapers used every means possible to avoid showing her hair, including publishing old images of her in Iran with covered hair or drawing her picture with an improvised head scarf.

Some criticized the move then. On Sunday, many chose to publish Mirzakhani's picture without a hijab — perhaps easier to justify to authorities after her death.

Hamshahri, a centrist newspaper owned by the municipality of Tehran, and reformist economic daily Donyaye Eghtesad both used full-blown portraits of her without a hijab.

"The Queen of Mathematics' Eternal Departure," Donyaye Eghtesad's headline read.

The reformist Shargh daily published a photo of her wearing a hat — under the headline "The Queen of Numbers Land" — while some others used designs and photo editing to fade her signature short hair into a black backdrop.

'Truly devastated' 

Only ultraconservative newspapers Resalat and Keyhan did not feature Mirzakhani's picture on the front page, with the latter covering her story in an inside page with a picture of her wearing a hijab.

There was an outpouring of grief from Iranians over her passing, not least because she represented a more globalized and positive image of the country than usually depicted.

Messages of grief also poured in on social media, including from senior officials.

President Hassan Rouhani was among the first to react following news of her death, posting a recent picture of Mirzakhani on Instagram without her head covered.

“Everyone is talking about her not only in Iran but also internationally” says reporter Saeed Kamali, “We have to remember that this is not [just] a loss for Iran, this is a loss for the whole world really."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.