Maryam Mirzakhani, the world-renowned mathematician. Photo: Stanford
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Breaking with tradition, Iran media and President Hassan Rouhani posted photos on Sunday of a world-renowned female Iranian mathematician without a hijab after she passed away over the weekend.
“The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heart-rending,” Rouhani wrote on the social media network Instagram, under a photo of the short-haired Maryam Mirzakhani standing in front of a chalkboard filled with math equations.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the Ayatollah Khomeini decreed the wearing of the hijab to be mandatory in public, the lack of wearing the head covering for women in the country is punishable under the law.
Mirzakhani, 40 and a Stanford University professor, died in a hospital in California on Friday, the university announced. It added she had been battling breast cancer since 2013 with the disease spreading throughout her body in 2016.
“Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path,” said Stanford President March Tessier-Lavigne in a statement.
The theoretical mathematician was originally from Tehran. She graduated from Sharif University of Technology, and then earned her doctorate at Harvard University in 2004.
In 2014, she became the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal. The Fields Medal is only awarded to four-or-fewer mathematicians under the age of 40 every four years, and is math’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
“Her preferred method of working on a problem was to doodle on large sheets of white paper, scribbling formulas on the periphery of her drawings. Her young daughter described her mother at work as ‘painting,’ ” reads the statement from Stanford.
When she won the award in 2014, newspapers in the Islamic Republic published old images of her in Iran with covered hair or sketched her with an improvised head scarf.
After her death, the reformist economic daily Donyaye Eghtesad, and Hamshahri, a centrist newspaper owned by the municipality of Tehran, both used large portraits of her without a hijab.
Conservative newspapers like Resalat and Keyhand chose to not run her photo on the front page, with Keyhan covering the story on an inside page with a photo of her wearing a hijab.