Thinking about Tehran

Thinking about Tehran

It’s summertime and alhamdulillah we are able to spend another summer visiting family back in the states. The month of Ramadan started soon after we arrived in New York, and we were busy fasting and trying to keep the kids busy while in vacation mode, when we heard the devastating news out of Tehran.

My husband told me right around the time of Fajr prayers.

“There was a bomb in the parliament building in Tehran.”

And a few minutes later…

“And a bomb blast at Imam Khomeini’s shrine.”

My heart sank. I couldn’t believe my ears. Bombs? Deaths? Injured? During Ramadan? Why? Who?

Slowly as the news reports came filing in, I couldn’t stop thinking about Tehran. First we heard 6 killed, then 12, and finally 17. There were dozens wounded. Closed circuit TV tapes showed Iranians running for cover with an armed man following them at close range with a gun.

Afterwards when I saw coverage of the funeral processions for those killed, my heart bled. I could only think about the families left behind with questions. Those killed who were fasting. They died a senseless death. And all thanks to the powers who only think about themselves, and what can benefit their own countries.

“Millat Iran darad harkat mi konad va peesh mi ravad; een tarqebaazi haaye ham ke imrooz shod, een ha ham dar iraadeye mardom taseeri nakhwahad guzasht.”

“The people of Iran are moving and going forward. These firecrackers that happened today, these also will not have any effect on the will and determination of the people.”

-Rahbar e moazzam, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei 

 

Yes, I am not Iranian. But for the past almost 5 years Iran has been my home. It’s where my kids go to school. It’s where we have made a community of many like us who have traveled from all over the world to study Islam in Qom.

I have to say I never ever thought about this kind of stuff happening in Qom. We live in relative peace in Iran. Sure we heard of the stories of Iranian guards stopping Daesh cells at the border, or potential attacks in the country, but that was all. With all Iran is called these days they do a pretty damn good job protecting their own. We don’t have to worry about a random crazy person shooting up a school, or a grocery store. We don’t have to think about a cop stopping a driver and beating them senseless. We don’t think about kids bringing weapons to school and hurting other kids.

It’s just not a problem we have to worry about.

And it is also one of the issues I have with some Iranians who often wonder with awe why we bothered to leave the “great nation of America” to live in Iran. Well doesn’t every country have their issues? Doesn’t every nation have their strengths and weaknesses? Why is it that Iran must be terrible because of rules of hijab and America is great because there is no hijab? You have Imam don’t you? You have the blood of shaheed that saved your country from being a toy in the hands of imperialists. Doesn’t any of that matter?

Thinking about you Tehran, and having just passed Imam Khomeini’s shrine about a month ago. We were going to visit but didn’t have time….

There will never be a perfect country. There will always be problems and issues that will make the other side look a whole bunch greener. But every country has to strive for a better day. And every country should fight those who try to meddle in their affairs. Every sovereign nation has a right to pick their own leaders, and deal with their own issues their way, without having another country funding dissent, or overthrowing leaders or supporting terror attacks.

I will say this: Sanctions stink, but they have made Iran stronger. They have showed the true resolve of the Iranian people. They have taught them that you might have to struggle but at least you won’t have to succumb to lapdog status.

And that, in itself, is a victory.

“Millat Iran darad harkat mi konad va peesh mi ravad; een tarqebaazi haaye ham ke imrooz shod, een ha ham dar iraadeye mardom taseeri nakhwahad guzasht.”

“The people of Iran are moving and going forward. These firecrackers that happened today, these also will not have any effect on the will and determination of the people.”

-Rahbar e moazzam, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei 

A different kind of ‘change’

A different kind of ‘change’

A store owner owed me 300 tomans in change. 

But he didn’t have any, so I got something a lot more yummier than coins. 

This happens A LOT in Iran. While you definitely cannot pay for anything in chocolate/candy/sticks of gum/wafers, many stores have no issue doling out treats in substitute of money. 

To be fair, I’ve never seen them do it for change more than 500 tomans, and instead of coins weighing down my wallet, my kids are always ready and willing to take candy off my hands.

Are you ready for 1396?

Are you ready for 1396?

The Iranian new year, or Nowruz, is starting March 21. Iranians world over will ring in 1396 with their loved ones, enjoying the beginning of the season of spring, around the sofre haft seen. A setting made of seven things that start with the Farsi letter “seen” or س.

Living as a foreigner in Iran, I’m not too keen on the traditions, but I’m looking forward to my 2 weeks off from school, getting to sleep in and relax. 

Right now we are fighting crazier-than-normal traffic, and stocking up on essential food items. Because during Nawruz break there will be less good produce and fewer items on the shelves. Iranians love their Nawruz. And they should – it’s the celebration of the season of spring and new beginnings. 

Interestingly this year the first of the new year also coincides with the birth anniversary of Lady Fatima Zahra (sa). It falls the day before the eve of the new year. 


Hoping this new year brings more blessings to everyone, and helps us come closer to the Almighty! 

Here are a few pictures from around the shrine of Hazrat Masooma in Qom.

The art of tarof

The art of tarof

It’s a beautiful part of many Eastern cultures. The warmth and welcoming gestures. The feeling that you are friends even with a complete stranger.

I might have grown up in America, but I am Pakistani, and we always saw our parents treat our guests and others like they were the most important thing. And likewise, it’s a big part of Iranian culture, too.

One thing many joke about here is the way Iranians greet others. You can’t just say, “Salam, how are you?” and call it a day. Nope. This is how an average conversation might start. And not with your neighbor. But even with a mechanic, or a pharmacist.

Salam. Khaste nabasheed.” (Salam. May you not be tired)

Walaikumsalam. Salamat basheed! Zindeh basheed!” (Be healthy, be alive!

Shoma khoobeed? Khanvadehtoon khoob hasteed? Khoda hifzish koneh!” (Are you well? Is your family well? May God protect them!)

And then comes the real tarof. Like when you happen to stop by a friend’s house for something and they invite you in for tea or a meal.

“Befarmayeed!” (Please come in!)

And you start thinking, no way, I can’t impose. But they insist. And insist. And insist…

Some might say, how very pretentious. Because naturally how can anyone just be ready and willing to host a guest at a moment’s notice?

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But in many Eastern cultures, especially those that adhere to Islamic customs, there is a concept that guests bring sustenance. That even if you don’t have enough, but if you share, there will be enough in the end. Personally I have witnessed this many times in my own life. Hosting spur-of-the-moment guests that actually brought more benefits to our home, than headaches. It’s really all in how you take it.

And there is an understanding among people that even if someone insists on inviting you, you politely decline, and they insist, and still you decline….

Do we really need all that? No, not really. Hence the “art of tarof.” And, yes, at times it might be too much. But it really does build a culture of love and warmth. And Iranians are some of the most welcoming people I have met.

One of our first neighbors is such a man that when he says, “Qorboonet beram!” (I will be sacrificed for you), he really means it. I remember one day he and his family were traveling to Tehran and he stopped by to tell us they wouldn’t be all home all day, but that his house was our house, and if we needed anything we could go and take it. Even though we are no longer neighbors, he remains one of our greatest friends.

My husband recalls a time when he was younger and living in Pakistan, and they had guests visiting them from abroad. When the guests arrived, he and his family stood up to welcome them, and didn’t sit down until the guests were seated. After seeing this, one of the guests responded at how “ridiculous” this tradition was.

While sometimes it may seem like too much, for example the constant insisting to take one more serving of food, or the barrage of questions about your family, or the fighting to pay the bill for another, these traditions do build brotherhood and love. Something we seriously lack in many other parts of the world.

What happened to caring for each other? What happened to looking at those different than us as just friends we haven’t met yet? What happened to the art of being nice? I am not talking about trusting everyone, but there is something to be said about thinking about others, instead of just ourselves.

22 Bahman in pictures

22 Bahman in pictures

Today marked the 38th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. We went out for the rahpaymah, or procession, in Qom.

Below: “The movement continues…”

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Today those of us in Iran answered Trump’s threats by coming out on the streets in large numbers.

No, we don’t fear you. Bring it on.

Saying ‘no’ with your eyebrows

Saying ‘no’ with your eyebrows

It caught me totally by surprise. Here we were newly arrived in Qom, and we had to visit a local shop. I asked the owner if he had a certain item (can’t recall now what it was). He didn’t have it, but instead of saying “no,” he just raised his eyebrows.

So I started looking for the item in another direction.

“Na, na daram.”

My husband (who knew a little Farsi before we moved to Qom) says to me,”He doesn’t have it.”

Sometimes if you’re lucky, the raised eyebrows are accompanied by a little click from the mouth, and moving the face in upwards.

My younger daughter has, of course, learned just the eyebrows.

“Marium, did you put away your toys?”

All I get are raised eyebrows.

One day, after Fatima Zahra had started school in Qom, she came home and responded to one of my questions with the click and eyebrows. Uh no, not in this house.

I calmly told her that in our house when you need to say no, you will say no.

Suffice it to say, I have never had to remind my kids again.

It definitely takes many people off guard, especially those with no prior experience with any Iranians.

While I first found it quite rude, especially when my daughter responded to me in that manner, since almost everyone does it, you pretty much get used to it.

 

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.