BARONESS Afshar of Heslington - the feminist, York University professor of politics and Shi’a Muslim Haleh Afshar - has died at the age of 77.

Lady Afshar, who had been suffering from chronic kidney disease, passed away peacefully at her home in Heslington on May 12, surrounded by her family.

Paying tribute, Lady Afshar’s friend and colleague Janet Veitch wrote: “Shakespeare’s phrase: ‘though she be but little, she is fierce’ might have been written for... Haleh Afshar. Yet that fierceness was combined with a wonderful, pealing laugh which could disarm her most implacable opponents.

“Haleh was a scholar, but she was a fighter too; she fought for women and those threatened with deportation, and she took her battles from Iran to ...the House of Lords, where she sat as one of Britain’s first Muslim life peers.”

York Press: 'She was a scholar, but a fighter too' - tributes to Baroness Haleh Afshar

Lady Afshar with her family - husband, children and grandchildren. Picture: Sam Strickland

Lady Afshar’s daughter, Molly Newton, added that she had been a "mother, grandmother, wife, baroness, professor, matriarch, academic, teacher, author, feminist, Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and without doubt the beating heart of our family".

Born the daughter of an affluent Iranian family in 1944, in the late 1950s, aged just 14, the young Haleh came to England to study - first at boarding school then, from 1963, at the brand-new University of York.

She graduated in 1967, did a doctorate at Cambridge, then returned to Iran in the last decade of the Shah’s rule. She worked with the land reform ministry and as a journalist, visiting remote villages to talk to local women about their Islamic rights.

She fell out of favour with the Shah’s regime, became involved with an anti-Shah underground and was harassed by the Shah’s secret police. She was eventually able to leave the country to attend a conference in London and, after 1978, never returned.

Back in England she revived her academic career at the University of Bradford, before joining the University of York where she became Professor of Politics and Women’s Studies. She taught about Islam from a feminist perspective, and spoke out against the government of Iran for blocking educational opportunities for women.

York Press: 'She was a scholar, but a fighter too' - tributes to Baroness Haleh Afshar

In 2005 she was awarded an OBE for services to equal opportunities, and in 2007, was created a life peer.

In 2008 she featured on Desert Island Discs, revealing a taste in music ranging from Persian love songs to the Beatles. “Those who worked with her remember her for her love of music and dancing, mischievous sense of humour and informal, unforgettable style,” Janet Veitch said.

Daughter Molly added: “Mum had a huge warm heart, a generous spirit and zero tolerance for social injustice and prejudice. She taught us to always be kind and considerate of others, and to always keep going despite the challenges we may face.”

Lady Afshar leaves her husband Professor Maurice Dodson, children Ali Afshar Dodson and Molly Newton, and grandchildren Kate and Hattie. Her family will hold a memorial at the University of York in late July/early August.

Baroness Afshar of Heslington, May 21 1944 - May12 May 2022