The day we met a Sunni in Iran…

The day we met a Sunni in Iran…

And contrary to what mainstream media tells me, he actually was happily living here.

Back story: We were driving back home to Qom from Mashhad, and stopped in Aradan. In the village of Deh Namak there was an old fortress used in the time of Shah Abbas (according to the manager it was some 500 years old) which had been turned into a hotel/restaurant/rest stop, called Caravan Saraye Deh Namak.

It was a beautiful fortress. We went inside and the hayat had gardens and small fountains. There were individual rooms you could rent for the night. I wish we could have stayed longer.

But we were hungry and ready to just hit the road and get back home. We met the manager who led us inside the restaurant. It was a sunnati, or traditional, restaurant, which means they serve the typical kabab platters (koobideh, joojeh), deyzi, among other dishes. The seating arrangement was quite lovely – you go up these small steps to private areas furnished with rugs and cushions so you can relax and eat on the floor.

My husband struck up a conversation with the manager and finds out he is Ahle Sunnat.

“Do you find yourself being discriminated against here?” my husband asks.

“No, not really,” the manager says. “I find no trouble at all.”

He has leased the fortress from the government and is currently living there with his wife while he tries to finish renovating it. He has two kids – one is a university student and one is married.

My husband then tells him that we often read articles about how Sunnis are discriminated against in Iran, a predominantly Shia country.

The manager again confirmed that he has no problems here, but that there are plenty of people who exaggerate these issues for their own benefits.

“Extremism on either side is a problem,” he said. “A person who doesn’t eat at all is harming his health, just like someone who eats too much.”

So now if someone tells you Sunnis are being discriminated in Iran, at least you can say you know one who says this is not the case.

Getting schooled in a new culture

Getting schooled in a new culture

We really are creatures of habit. And especially when we come from the West, we get used to all the care and comfort of living in these countries.

When I say care and comfort, I mean customer service! And making lines!

This might have been one of the hardest things I had to get used to here in Qom. I bought a glass decanter one day. I brought it home, washed it, and set it down on the counter. And the bottom broke. I told my friend, who had been living here for a few years already, “Oh, can we take it back and get a new one?”

I’ve never heard someone laugh so hard.

“Welcome to Iran,” she said.

I wasn’t as upset, as flabbergasted. But it wasn’t my fault the glass broke! This is not proper customer service, I complained. Eh, you live and learn.

And you learn pretty quickly. The culture here is different. Is it wrong or right?

Sure, it isn’t right in Islam, to knowingly sell something faulty. But are you really going to fix a system going after one shop owner? And, to tell you the truth, if you do go back to some shops, they will help you fix the problem. I have had this happen to me plenty of times. Just don’t expect the iron-clad guarantees of Target.

But there are bigger issues than just getting ripped off. And that is getting used to a new culture. Most of us have come here for a reason – to learn Islam. That should be our main goal. Trying to fix how people talk, or drive, is really irrelevant.

It’s like what a coworker told me once about Chinese and why they are stereotyped as “slow” drivers. He said, in China most people use bikes, so when they finally get a car, they really aren’t used to driving it around. They are slower because they are more careful. Not because they don’t know how to drive.

Or lines, for example. Whether you are standing at a store counter or waiting for the bus, no one follows a line. Why is it always a mad dash? Because here no one is heard unless you come forward yourself. It’s because unless you fight your way to the front, no one will let you go. No one is waiting (it is rarity, though) to take your order or let you get on the bus. It’s the culture. It’s not really about right or wrong – it’s the way it is. We might hate it because back home everyone takes their turn. Of course, taking turns is fair, but over here everyone is used to this way. Although, I am always happy to enter a shop when the owner acknowledges who came first. It is refreshing.

After decades of following one system, you just can’t change it overnight. Imagine how Imam Khomeini brought the revolution. It took a lot of time to change the culture.

Sometimes I hear people complaining about how Iranians talk, about the rush at the haram, how they don’t make lines, how they always stall when it’s time to do work, etc. etc. Sure, it may not be right, but it’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they are part of a system that has made them this way. We need to focus on the bigger picture.

Badmouthing a culture really isn’t a solution, either. If you can’t fix it, then one shouldn’t just bash it either. And if you are here to study Islam, just focus on that. Unless you are here to do research on Iranian culture and social codes. Then that’s a different story.