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Iran’s saints and sinners, Islam freely interpreted

Iran’s saints and sinners, Islam freely interpreted

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Opinion Freedom of Expression Personal Freedoms

Tuesday 1 November 202201:24 pm

2022

Earlier this year, a man - a boy really - walks the streets of his hometown in South West Iran. In one hand, he carries a bloodied knife, in the other, the severed head of his teenage wife. They are cousins. He has a smile on his face as he’s walking and being filmed. She was twelve when they got married. In order to kill his bride, another cousin, (his brother), had to hold her legs down while he hacked at her throat. Her name was Mona Heidari.

Some kind of honor was 'regained' by this murder.

It was hard for my grandmother to hear her communist son-in-law talk about the Hadji.

Immediately after the event, there will be a lot of discussions on why the murder took place. It’s culture, some will say. This type of killing happens more in Iran’s traditional provinces. The government will blame the polluted sphere of the internet, and a few websites will be shut down for spreading the video showing the killer and his victim. In hushed whispers, some might cautiously mention the Iranian law that says the punishment of killing a woman under your guardianship is not as severe as killing anyone else. A daughter’s guardian is her father, a wife’s guardian is her husband.

1974

It is 1974 when my father sits in the Qasr prison of Tehran. As a political prisoner of the Shah, he’s in colorful company. Some prisoners are communists like him, others are Islamists or belong to one of the many denominations in between. All are united in the wish to overthrow the dictator, even if their ideas of what a fair society should look like differ greatly.

One of my father’s cell mates is a man called “the Teacher”. A communist like my father, from one of the traditional villages of Lorestan province, he received his nickname for his efforts to bring education to his native villages.

“Did you see the mullah?” The Teacher asked my father, pointing at a bearded cleric in prison.

“Hadji Ghaffari? I did. He looks like a harmless old man, maybe a bit simple,” my father replied.

My maternal grandparents did not imagine their daughter would ever marry a communist like my father. They were pious middle class Muslims.

“Harmless? I’m not so sure,” the Teacher replies, “He was put in my cell when he was arrested. I thought the same, when I saw this pious old man being pushed through the door. I felt sorry for him. I only spoke to him with respect. I made sure to give him the best pieces of meat when they brought our food. When he prayed, I prayed behind him — me, who is not even religious — only to make him feel less alone. Until one day they brought another prisoner, a young intellectual like us. We hit it off and would talk until the early hours of the morning. We even made chess pieces with bread dough, to play with on the floor. Until the old Hadji looked at our game with disgust and barked, 'Touching a chess piece is like looking at the cunt of your mother'. Ali, I wanted to kill him. I know we are supposed to be civilized, but in my village no one would survive talking about someone's mother like that. He might be a fool, but he’s definitely not harmless.”

My maternal grandparents did not imagine their daughter would ever marry a communist like my father. They were pious middle class Muslims. They were cousins, who married when my grandmother was nine years old. She gave birth to my mother at sixteen. Though child marriages were forbidden in the time of the Shah, it wasn’t hard to find a cleric to officiate a religious ceremony. Like many, they wished for a revolution to bring about better days. For them, it meant following the likes of Hadji Ghaffari, mourning him like a saint when he died in prison.

It was hard for my grandmother to hear her communist son-in-law talk about the Hadji. “He was tortured to death! Everyone knows that!” She would say, to which my father would respond “Nonsense. We were in jail with him. We know what torture looked like. Young men like me couldn’t walk for days because of the beatings we received. The Hadji was treated with restraint. Only once when he refused to change his clothes for visiting time, he made the guards so angry they shaved his beard. Very disrespectful, yes, but hardly torture.”

My grandmother would have none of it. “You lie, you lie! That’s what you do! You’re an atheist, and you want to destroy Islam. But I’ve spoken to his son. He has proof. He saw the torture, the broken bones, the teeth they knocked out of his mouth, the holes they drilled in his skull to penetrate his brains. He has pictures! He told me he will give them to me the next time I visit him!”

“Look,” my father finally said. “How many people are in this room now, seven, eight? They will all be my witness. Let his son bring the pictures, show them to me, to anyone. I will swallow my words..."

“Look,” my father finally said. “How many people are in this room now, seven, eight? They will all be my witness. Let his son bring the pictures, show them to me, to anyone. I will swallow my words. In fact, I will swear to all of you, right here and now, that if he shows those pictures I will become a devout Muslim. I will fight until my last breath for the victory of Islam. But he can’t, because they don’t exist.”

Before Islam, the old religion in Iran used to teach that the worst sin is lying. Ahriman, the "lord of lies", had built a mighty hall for all the sinners to be punished in. Murderers, thieves, rapists, but it was the liars who would hang for eternity with their tongues nailed to the great beam holding the roof of the hall. As a kid I did not understand how lying could be worse than killing or raping.

Until my father told me of people like Hadji Ghaffari, who turned the death of his father, the old Hadji, into inspiration for a movement. "Mourn his death and avenge it," he had demanded. The young and faithful would fill the streets as if the Messiah himself was taken from them. With each telling of the details of his father's death, it would become more fanciful and gruesome. When the revolution came, Hadji Ghaffari would walk around with a gun and brag about the enemies he had killed. They would call him the Machine Gun Mullah. But none of his later killings would be as destructive as the lie he told about his father.

That one fell from a high place, this one committed suicide, that one ate bad tuna, had an amphetamine overdose, had a heart condition… They started their revolution with lies, and now, forty three years later, they’re still lying.

My grandfather was happy to know the young zealous cleric. When my grandfather got his maid pregnant, a girl as young as my mother, he took her as a second wife. A secret and illegal wedding was officiated by the cleric. And when, many years and many children later, my grandmother found out about his second family, it was this same young Ghaffari who told her my grandfather had done the right thing. "Islam demands fornicators be killed, but your husband is a good man. He married a poor girl and lifted her out of poverty, all according to the laws of Allah, which, since the revolution, Alhamdulillah, are the laws of the land. Yes, he shouldn’t have lied to you about it, but that’s a minor sin compared to the pious life he lives, devoting himself to two wives and ten children."

Culture or Religion

If my grandmother would still be alive today, to read the news of Mona Heidari and her young husband who killed her, and if my father had not fled the terror of the machine gun mullahs after the revolution, they might sit at her dining table. My grandmother would say, it’s culture that makes families marry off their relatives at a young age. It’s culture that makes jealous men kill their wives. It has nothing to do with Islam.

My father would answer, yes, but your Imams and Islamic laws didn’t help Mona. Didn’t you lower the age of consent so young girls could be forced into marriage legally? Didn’t Islamic law make sure fathers and husbands receive very little punishment for killing their wives and daughters?

My father would answer, yes, but your Imams and Islamic laws didn’t help Mona. Didn’t you lower the age of consent so young girls could be forced into marriage legally? Didn’t Islamic law make sure fathers and husbands receive very little punishment for killing their wives and daughters? Didn’t Islamic law make it more difficult for women to divorce, to travel without permission of a guardian, hold her testimony in court worth half that of a man, and her share of the inheritance half of that of her brothers? Aren’t you tired of the lies they tell you?

Even today when people are in the street to protest these laws, they kill protesters, and every day they tell us what our eyes tell us cannot be true. This protester wasn’t killed by us, they say, but was rather bitten by a dog. That one fell from a high place, this one committed suicide, that one ate bad tuna, had an amphetamine overdose, had a heart condition… They started their revolution with lies, and now, forty three years later, they’re still lying.

To which my grandmother would reply, stop it. I don’t have to listen to you. You’re the liar, that’s all you do. You make up things, because you’re an atheist. That makes you an enemy of Islam. Even when you say the truth, it will not mean anything to me.

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22

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