Friday, 4 March 2011

Shifting sands in Persian lands!

So, what do you know about Iran?
…, Forget the tabloids, Bush’s Bombing ambitions and the great kebab, what do you really know about Iran?
If you can’t see any thing that stretches remotely beyond the above, don’t worry! Before I met my husband, I might well have been somewhere similar. I like to think I wasn’t completely ignorant; I knew a few words of Farsi, I knew about the rich historical legacy, the great poetry, beautiful buildings and loving people! I was a fan of the food, and had a keen desire to visit! But as a shia Muslim; I, like billions of my fellow faithful; had a unique connection to Iran; an almost unconditional love, that transcended time, distance and circumstances; and why? Simple! Iran was a shia country, yeah! A REAL shia country! A home, a haven, a place where we belonged, a tiny corner of the east where all was good and peaceful; where Islam was as it is supposed to be; a place where we could go, and where we would be accepted! Any religious minority will relate to this sentiment, but perhaps the shia experience is a little more profound! As a Muslim convert who is shia, I am rejected by my family, my friends and my country, and if I try to integrate in to the mainly salafi Muslim community around me, I am thrown out and accused of being a kafir; hence the great homage to Iran! When Reza and I first became serious, every one around me heaved a sigh of relief, not just because it looked like I’d finally settle down, but because “He’s from Iran, he’ll be a real Muslim, a real shia, he’ll teach you so much, you’ll be able to visit Mashhad whenever you want!”. I have to admit that, before I had even said salaam to my in-laws, I was so in love with these comforts and aspirations that even if I’d been treated like an outcast I don’t think I would have noticed! I don’t remember when, or more importantly, how often, I projected my dreams or my images of Iran on to my would-be husband, but I do remember when the house of sand started to come tumbling down! Back in the day, when Reza and I were still “formal”, and assessing where the land lay so-to-speak, I wrote a paragraph or 2 on the wife of the late Ayatollah Khomaini. I commented that I’d noted with concern the decline in her health and was interested in how Iranians were gathering to pray for her, and what he estimated her legacy to be in terms of preserving her husband’s wealth of knowledge. He didn’t reply, but when we next spoke on the phone, he said in passing; “oh, and about Khomaini’s wife, nothing is happening in Iran; no one knows about that, and no one will really care!”. I didn’t say any thing, but was shaken; was he serious? More importantly, this wasn’t the ultra extreme shia I had identified from between the lines! (not that I necessarily wanted an extreme husband, but an extreme shia would surely be an acceptable compromise!). During the sacred month of Muharram I questioned my husband as to why his parents were not attending daily programmes in the masjid. I was palmed off on this one, by being told that Muharram programmes were controlled by the government, as were jummah programmes, and that any self respecting Muslim preferred to worship at home, or else attend privately organised Islamic events! This was a real leap in logic for me! Call me naive, but where was Islam, and where was the government! In the shia utopia that non-residents like myself have created, the 2 are one and the same, and any hints at dictator are merely born out of western Supremacy and insecurity!
“One thing you need to know about Iranians, is that they are obsessed with conspiracies!”. This was taken from an Email conversation I had with another European woman who had married an Iranian, and made her home in Tehran! She went on to say: “despite living here for 30 years, I have made no close friends among the indigenous Iranians. This is because every one is suspicious of every one else! No one knows what persuasion/side another falls down on in reality, so it is better to keep every one at arms length for fear of associating with the wrong sort! Plus, Iranians think that Westerners are spies, because they often use students, journalists and elites as spies when they migrate overseas”. Iranian spies? This was all sounding way too much like the Wahabi propaganda I had attempted to escape soon after converting to Islam! Was there any truth in it? let me fastforward to the time our marriage was being set; every thing was final, it was just a case of ‘When! Being in Scotland, and being new to the system, I was having some difficulties communicating with the Iranian Embassy in London! I mentioned this to a friend who was a frequent traveller to the Islamic Republic; not just because she’d been around, but also because her husband was a big shot in the Islamic Centre of England (which is, for the most part, 100% Iran funded!). She told me there would be no problem at all in contacting her husband, and that he could resolve my visa issue! Now, I can’t name this individual, but most of my shia readers know exactly who I’m talking about! An Email was sent, requesting assistance! His response?
“sorry sister, we have researched on your spouse, and we have reason to believe he does not support the regime!” “NO NO he doesn’t!” I assured him! “he doesn’t endorse the government at all! He is an independent, sincere, free thinking Muslim, and his family appear to be from the same mindset! You need have no worries on that score!”. You guessed it; I got this one horribly wrong as well “sister! What are you thinking! Marriage with an Iranian is very dangerous! Before you can say yes, you must have references! You should know what masjid he attends and be able to give me the names of ulamah who can vouch for him and his family. You must have police checks done on him and his family; you should be able to identify at least 2 government representatives who can guarantee his character! If you can’t do these things! Any thing may happen to you, and there is no way we can assist you in marrying such an indecent man who doesn’t supply these things! I strongly advise you to untangle yourself from this relationship, if the above cannot be given to you!”. Ah well! My husband has no adoring ulamah at his disposal! He has no government chums (thank God!), and the police checks? I assume this was to insure he hadn’t been chilling with those germs called liberals and protesting! But hey, I want a real man don’t I, not a regime puppet! So we go ahead; and all is good! Only with one major change! I see Iran through very different eyes now that I’m a part of it, and soon to become a national! So, we visit Iran, we travel, meet, greet and interact with a wealth of different people! Most of them are as keen to work me out, as I am to learn about their side of the fence! Some people let me talk, others don’t, and there are others still who I am not permitted to talk to! (apparently for my safety as well as their own!). I am told not to talk about being a journalist, and not to discuss my political/religious ideologies, or my work within the Scottish national Party! A seemingly innocent discussion about ziyerat ashura suddenly becomes very uncomfortable! My SIL’s father-in-law (hope you are keeping up with this), got me in a pincer movement after lunch one day, quizzing me on what I thought about the Lannah contained within the ziyerat! “I see nothing wrong with it”, I say. “Lannah is basically disassociation from evil and wrong doing. People choose to interpret it as discrimination, or cursing, either because it fuels their hatred of shias, or because shias abuse Lannah as a means to let off steam about wahabis!”. “nonsense” he retorted! “Lannah is an outdated phenomenon! It is most certainly abusive! For the sake of unity, we should not be using it! surely its common sense to you that insulting Umar in a ziyerat is not going to be acceptable to the suni majority!”. I think about this, and suddenly flush red as I can see where he is going! In my mind, I want to tell him that Lannah is basically a form of spiritual protest, I also want to correct him, the Lannah about Umar is not pointed at the khalifa of the same name, its actually Umar ibn Saad! But its too late; he’s asking me “what books do you read?”, and that’s when I know I need to get out of there! I excuse myself to pray, and spend the rest of the afternoon chilling with the children, in case I am cornered again! By the end of the trip however, I had come to see precisely what was going on there. In particular, I am caught between the massive disparity in the every day Islam of the masses, and the politically generated version! I am not permitted to attend any of the masjid programmes, but the Government TV broadcaster IRIB pumps out a fair few of them, which I watch with interest! The lectures do contain Islamic content, but each and every Islamic reference is further referenced back to a ministerial policy! E.G:
“In the sacred qur’an, Allah is described as the light of the heavens and the earth, just as Mahmoud Ahmad Inejad is the light of Iran, the absolute just leader!” (OK, that was my own example, but you get the point!). Here is a real one that I did see on TV;
“the 7th Imam, Mousa al Qadhim (A.S) spent so much of his life in prison, abused and rejected by his people, and today, the people of Iran try to do the same to our president. This will not reduce his power however, his right to rule and his divine knowledge. He will continue to fight the evils of the West and the American backed Rebellions of his people, till his dying breath, and thereafter!”. There were countless other examples of this, but I’m sure you are feeling sick by now, and certainly understanding why most Muslims prefer to keep their faith to themselves! While there are sometimes pitch battles between the government and the communities of Islamic scholars in Iran, most of them do not extend very far! It is in the interest of the scholars to toe the political line, moreover, only those government approved scholars are legitimately permitted to implement and exercise their rights to statute Islamic law! Only recently, a growing group of Islamic scholars who were campaigning for the need to return to pure, authentic Islam were imprisoned for speaking out against the government! I leave Iran, with a great deal of sadness; I can’t forget the love, kindness and generosity I experienced at the hands of each and every one I met, yet the great suppression they suffer, and the so-called Islamic rule they are subject to, all seem set to crush this beautiful Paradise! Now, I know what some of you will be thinking, …, Didn’t the Iranians choose this at the time of the revolution? Well, in a way, they did! Switch back to the Seventies, the promises that ayatollah Khomaini offered the masses, a chance to clean up the country from American backed puppets, the chance to self determine, to live freely and with pride as the God fearing, just and honest Muslims that Iranians know themselves to be. The promise of jobs, education, women’s rights, a return to a golden age of truth and sincere human values was not something any sane individual would ignore! You only have to study the spiritual works of Khomaini to understand the elevated soul he possessed, and which generated these affirmations for his people; in particular, his work on Salat is one of the most powerful and moving pronouncements on prayer I have ever had the fortune to study in my life! But somehow, when the dust settled, it all went horribly wrong! What the new Muslim law enforcers hadn’t bargained for was the liberty of the people! Through-out History, Persians have been a proud, Independent, free flowing movement of humanity, self determining and above all, free! On the outset, this doesn’t contradict Islam in any way shape or form, but how do you contain such a people, in order to even come close to making your dreams come true? …, bring on oppression! Over a systematic period of time, Islam became the stick with which to beat the masses; impose hijaab, ban music, limit access to external media reporting. Control communications, employ spies from among the people so that humanity lives in a perpetual state of fear and insecurity! The part about their being no compulsion in religion, seemed to be lost on the governments of the time! There was another issue too; the promises! The pledges about jobs, about free fuel, about justice for all, about cleaning up corruption, …, you guessed it; none of them materialised! People felt, and continue to feel, a growing sense of desperation and anger; the regime they bought in to, believed in, supported with all they had to give, was now the very regime that was keeping them down, preventing them from speaking out, or from remotely realising their own personal dreams of success! And today? Well, unless you are an insider, (or else horribly deluded!), you don’t really support the regime as it stands! But this hasn’t stopped Iran, nor has it lost any support! It is easy to endorse the regime and its policies if you are not a part of it, and that is what Iran has done; its supporters live overseas! Just as Saudi has done with its funded wahabi masjids, Iran funds Islamic centres, exports scholars and promotes propaganda to the non-residents! Converts to wish to study in the Islamic Republic are given star indoctrination, in the hopes that they take the regime back to their countries of origin! The Iran backing for the Iraqis during the fall of Saddam certainly earned them points among the UK based refugees! Only last week, a member of the Iraqi community called me up accusing me of being a heretic “how can you point fingers at the regime! You don’t know what you are talking about! There is every reason to believe that Ahmad Inejad is Imam Mahdi himself!”. This, believe it or not, is a view promoted by some sections of the propaganda machine, but its so disgusting, I refuse to even entertain writing about it further on my blog! Perhaps I am taking a risk, maybe I shouldn’t write about these things, but stepping inside Iran, I had only one question for my shia faithful; “why don’t you help the Iranians?”, I was even asked this by Iranians during my visit “why don’t your people help us?”. As shias, we have become lost in a false sense of hot air and goodness; we see what we want to see when it comes to Iran. We fail to understand the protests and the Iranian uprisings because the Western media frames them as a cry for Western Democracy, while the Muslim leaders condemn them and don’t take the debate any further! Its easy to say we support a regime we know little about, and when we have all of our freedoms in tact! We don’t support the Western governments who claim they are “giving them freedom!”. We can see, quite rightly, that freedom lives among the paraphernalia of emotional intelligence; along-side love, happiness, liberty. You cannot give these invisible commodities to any one, but you can certainly curtail another person’s access to them, as is being done in the republic! The Iranians continue to suffer, continue to protest, while the young shias of London and related cities live off the funds the imported ayatollahs give them. Only recently, I heard of a young group of Iraqis who requested money from such a scholar, apparently, to be used in spreading the teachings of the Ahlulbayt (A.S). The money was given, no questions asked! The youngsters subsequently rented a pleasure boat and went all out on the Thames having a weekend chill down party with their mates! With alcohol, with music, the whole 9 yards! But hey, they support the regime! Really, when will we wake up! When will we, as shias, put our passion, our knowledge, our energies to good use! When will we wake up to the truth as it really is!
Last week, the 2 main opposition leaders in Iran were arrested with their wives and families. There has so far been no word from them and human rights organisations fear torture. My husband wept when he recounted this news to me;
“you don’t understand, if you don’t have freedom of speech, if you can’t express yourself, you have nothing, absolutely nothing! My people have no dreams, no contentment, no future! Nothing to look forward to or aim for. The only options are to try and get out, …, or to die!”, he said.


  1. Thanks for sharing. While I haven't been there, I've met enough people to understand that Iran is a complex country, not monolithic. That seems to be the reality of most any person or group once one looks beyond the surface. I pray for all good for you and Reza.

  2. Salaams, I was really interested in your views on this sister as I knew you’d get it and was keen to know how you perceived it all! Of course the situation is complex, far more complex than I’ve been able to write about in this one post! Its not black and white, and I know that for many Muslims, either inside or outside of Iran, it is easier to say “I don’t want to talk about it!”, not only does it avoid conflict, it is simply much safer that way! but I just wonder if we are buying in to the power that staying silent gives to the dictators! Moreover, it sometimes feels as though we have become stuck on Khomaini (RA), because his teachings were good, every thing thereafter has to be good! Supporting the late Ayatollah has come to mean supporting the regime, which doesn’t make sense to me!
    I guess its an issue that will continue to evolve as the conflict in the Middle East escalates. Thank you for your duas; ultimately, whatever happens; I just pray for the safety of my family, and for all those who are struggling to build a better future for Iran and its people.

  3. wa alaaykum salaam

    It does seem like at least some of the people in power are being manipulative in trying to maintain power, by using absolutes and trying to create associations that perhaps are not always appropriate or justified, or not theirs to judge or create. Maybe it is my "Western" upbringing, but I've always felt that in awaiting the return of the Imam (as), that any government created is problematic and cannot just claim legitimacy, and therefore the people of the country should have avenues of expressing dissent with intention of betterment of meeting needs of society. When those avenues are blocked, especially with harshness, it makes me question the authority. On the other hand, I do not really believe in rule of majority, or democracy, or that the public knows best, either. These are all faulty methods and just show the need for our Imam (as).

  4. As salamu alaykum sis,

    I took a "History of Modern Iran" course last semester and it really opened up my eyes. Needless to say, I agree with pretty much everything you have said and actually learned a great deal as well. The state of Iran is pathetic and heart-breaking.

    Although Allama Khomeini had a great vision, I do not believe that he was all that people make him to be. In fact, during his short period of time as the leader of Iran, he even confined and restrained other scholars from speaking out against him and his plans for Iran. So, in fact, the problems that exist in Iran today are a direct result of Allama Khomeini's policies and mold of Velayat-e Faqih.

    He led a revolution, but failed the people. And this happened up until his death--right before it, he called for a change in the constitution because he had dismissed the then-follow up faqih to lead after himself. Had he upheld the original constitution, it may be that the state of Iran might have been better...possibly. But Allahu Alim.

    I think the best leader that came to Iran in all of its history was Mossadeq. Although democracy does not go hand-in-hand with Islam, it is--during the time of the Awaited Imam (as)--the best form of government for the people currently. And that is what he called for. He was able to nationalize Iranian oil and granted parties the freedom to speak out, which was in part a reason for his downfall. Unfortunately, it was the scholars at the time who supported his downfall and placement of another puppet Shah in power.

    It's complex...but there will never be a perfect or close to even good government until the Imam (as) arrives. No human being is sinless enough to overcome his temptations after attaining power and wealth. And maybe I'll get fried for this, but our scholars are not either. This is one of the things that Iran upholds today--that the faqih becomes the faqih when he has attained the ability to overcome all temptations. But I feel that this is wrong, because a faqih is nothing close to the Prophet (sawws) nor any of the Imams (as). This concept of faqih, in my opinion, infringes on the rights of the 12th Imam (as). Don't get me wrong though, I respect our scholars and understand that at their level of scholarship they must have attained a certain level of iman. But they are not infallible and thus, still prone to sin and temptations.

    Allahu Alim. I wish the situation in Iran was better though, for the very reason why we Shi'a outside of Iran initially loved it too.

  5. Salaams, you both make some extremely interesting points! Sis, Masooma, I totally agree with you re: any government being problematic! Western so-called democracy is not the answer, neither is the type of dictator lead suppression any thing close to a solution! The thing about the school of Ahlulbayt (A.S), is that we are automatically blessed with a middle ground, by virtue of what we believe and how we practise it. While no one, (scholar or other wise), is perfect, shia Islam is routed in logic, in the need for debate, dialogue and the need for creative, holistic means through which solutions for the greater good can be found! Its just so sad that so many of our scholars, particularly in Iran have lost this fact! I recently read ‘Reset, by Steven Kinser, in which he discusses the very obvious alliances which could be made in Western/Muslim relations, through the conduit of Iran. It shook me, because this was clearly a Non-Muslim scholar who had done his homework and saw what made shia scholars and their faithful stand apart, yet the disparity in what we should be, and what we have become is so vast, that I wonder if we will ever get close to that original state, before our Imam (ATF) returns!
    And to Oasis; salaam; thank you for another fascinating comment. I forwarded your comment on to Reza, and he totally agreed! You might be interested to know that during my visit to Iran, I asked to visit Khomeini’s shrine! Reza politely told me “baba will take you if you really want to go, but I won’t go with you!”. I find such hardline disassociation from Khomeini very difficult, because I grew up (that is, spiritually speaking), on so many of his teachings! However, I do agree with the flaws you point out and I can certainly see where the bitterness, anger and hostility come from.
    Just after I wrote this post, I surfed over to sis Masooma’s blog, where she has posted a review of ‘Shi’ism in America. The review caught my attention, and I got my head in to the book last night! I’m only a chapter and a bit in to it, but there are allot of parodies which can be drawn between this discussion, and its consequences overseas! Reading your comment, another thought came to my mind; is it that shias struggle with building an Open, public, powerful Islamic/shia blend of democracy because we have spent so much of our existence in Secret? Do they worry that so much openness/freedom of speech will ultimately lead to a dilution, or a vile misinterpretation/abuse of Islam as has happened in some other schools? (not a justification, but an explanation!).
    I also echo your views about the disconnected scholars! I wrote about this on RMA once; when I visited Karbala, I had the chance to meet with a number of leading ayatollahs, and quizzed them on disability fiqh specifically (my area of specialty). The answers I got were totally bazaar, they ranged from “don’t know”, to “doesn’t matter”, to “you don’t have to pray any way”. Now, I know I’m visually impaired, but how would this justify not needing to perform salat! While scholars are not infallible, they are, ultimately, the entities we look to for guidance and direction. These days, we see that not only are they separate from us, but we have no right, no platform through which to air these legitimate concerns; you get fried in Islamic Centres in England for speaking out, how much greater is the threat in countries such as Iran?
    The concept of Faqih is similarly abused, and used against us by other factions within Islam who are seeking ammunition. It becomes easier for certain political figures like Ahmad Inejad to proclaim themselves something or another, because tragically, if you look around the shia world today, there is no obvious future leader, no one that shines out above others to fulfil this task. As you say, Allahu Alim, I pray we are guided and elevated, and that Allah (SWT) saves Iran from its politicians, some of its scholars, and from its self!

  6. Sister, let me know what you think of the Shi'ism in America book, we could discuss it sometime insha'allah. :)


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