By Amil Imani:
I was born into a religion that I did not choose nor practice. In fact, no one in our household ever practiced Islam and particularly, we were warned by our parents that we should never go near any mosque or places like that. It was considered taboo in Persian culture. From the moment, Islam penetrated Iranian lives, it clashed head on with the existing order. It clashed with people who had lived and believed in the monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism for millennia. It contradicted Persian ideals, traditions and culture, as is obvious from the splendid pre-Islamic Iranian festivities and celebrations such as the Persian Nowruz.
During the period I lived in Iran, I noticed most middle and upper class families in Iran considered those who participated in Islamic rituals, or prayers in a mosque or in any public places, as thugs. They did everything they could to make sure their children stayed away from such places. Keep in mind that most Iranians still consider Islam an invader upon their culture.
Those caveats coming from my own parents frightened me from ever getting close to a mosque, much less, go inside. They say “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” I was inherently a curious person. I always wanted to know why I was forbidden to enter a mosque. For years, I did what my parents asked me to do. But as I got a little older, I became bolder and wiser. One day, I asked my older brother to make a trip to the city of Kashan and on our way back to stop and visit the shrine of Lady Masoumeh in the holy Shiite city of Qom.
According to the Shiite Hadith, “Masoumeh, was and is to this day the envy of womanhood in the world.” She lost her life by undertaking the strenuous trip for the sole purpose of accomplishling the task of visiting her sacred brother — Imam Reza. But she didn’t make it and died in Qum without having a chance to visit her brother. Now she is buried there. Her mausoleum has experienced constant changes throughout history.
During the Safavid dynasty, a hall and two minarets were added. Later, the roof was replaced with a golden dome by the order of King Fath-Ali Shah Qajar. Every day, thousands of Shiites visit the place.
My brother accepted my offer and two of our very close friends, including a Christian and a Jew, decided to go along to the city of Kashan with us. Kashan, where some of my relatives lived, is one of the oldest cities in Iran. Not only Kashan’s rugs (Persian rugs) – famous for their elegance and quality – it is also known for having one of the greatest archeological sites in the world.
Kashan’s proximity to the city of Qom and the shrine of Fatima Masoumeh, made it all the more interesting to visit the site on our way back to Tehran. There was only one problem, they would not allow Jews or Christians to enter the shrine. Shiites consider Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Baha’is and others, as “najes” (unclean).
This notion was very difficult for me to swallow. Then I realized why we were warned by our parents never go near a mosque or anywhere close to a Shia mausoleum. Shiite clerics had their own rules and laws which contradicted Persian laws and values.
It is interesting to know that the Shiite city of Qom has been under consideration to make it a Shiite Vatican type city. In other words, the capital of Shiite Islam in competition with either Najaf or Karbala in Iraq. Even the last Prime Minister of Iran, Shapur Bakhtiar, had suggested isolating the clerics in Qom. “We will build a wall around Qom, so that Ayatollah Khomeini can have his own little Vatican there.”
After visiting the historic city of Kashan, on our way back, we drove through the holy city of Qom. I told my brother, OK, we need to park the car somewhere and make a bold plan how to enter the shrine of Masoumeh and satisfy our curiosity. My Jewish friend, Albert, was open to the idea and said, “they can’t tell the difference between a Jew and a Muslim, so what’s all this fuss about?” My Armenian Christian friend basically said the same thing. It was my brother and I who were scared to death.
I gathered my strength and said, “c’mon guys, let’s go inside”, even though, I was petrified because we had never practiced Islam and were very unfamiliar with the protocols inside an Islamic shrine. However, I was aware of one important rule and that was to take our shoes off before entering the place. Despite that, I was still worried. What if they notice our naiveté? What if they notice that Albert was a Jew and Razmik was a Christian? Although, my brother and I had never practiced Islam, we did have a better understanding of Islam’s rituals than they did. Albert and Razmik? No, we must change their names in case they interrogste us. So, Albert became Ali and Razmik, Reza, Voilà!
Still, a powerful force was pushing me toward this expedition, but an almost equal weight within me argued against the decision. It kept telling me that it wasn’t too late to change course, instead of going on with it and facing uncertain consequences, we could safely go back to Tehran.
After long minutes in line, it was our turn to enter the shrine. We all took a deep breath and passed by a few clerics and we were in. I noticed a few mullahs were looking at us with suspicion. Mullahs are always suspicious. That’s their nature. We ignored them and kept walking. We were in awe with its beauty, the lavish site, with courtyards of brilliant tile work and art. All for an Arab woman who had no connection to Iran, I asked myself! She just happens to be the sister of another Arab who was supposedly buried in Mashhad, Iran.
I said to my friends, very quietly, this is gorgeous. Too bad, it is wasted on the enemy of Iran. This is like building a shrine for Hitler in Tel Aviv. After all, the Arabs killed millions of Iranians and imposed Islam down our throats with the sword of Allah. That was another reason I always resented anything Islamic.
After spending some frightening moments in the shrine, it was time to leave before we got into any trouble. We went back to the car and on our way back to Tehran. I must confess, that was the first time and the last I have ever visited a mosque/shrine in Iran.
People still don’t get it: Iran is not an Islamic country, but people there are forced to pretend that they are Muslim in order to save their lives from the butchers of Allah. Who can blame them!!
© Copyright by Amil Imani, 2019. All rights reserved.
Email Amil: firstname.lastname@example.org