|It defies MY logoic
We are supposed to beat ourselves bloody for that? And that proves
By Mehrnaz Mahallati
August 12, 2002
Zanjir-zani is an exaggerated act of devotion to the point of self-mutilation
at times. I am not sure what to call watching a young man (or sometimes not so young)
beating himself to a pulp, all because of an event that perhaps took place nearly
14 centuries ago. The image of such behavior hardly ever gets erased from one's mind.
From time to time you could get a glimpse of the red marks around their neck if the
shirt was open enough. It was and still is an eerie, yet motivating site -- all with
sad and serious faces, some quite sincerely and some not so sincere.
They motivate you to do who knows what, but it sure the heck invites you to just
join the crowd and follow them up to see what on earth happens next. The adrenaline
rush and the loud chanting of the crowd, it is all so mesmerizing and inviting, all
the while your whole inside feels disemboweled. It is kind of like following the
crowd in herd-like manner.
It defies logic, but then again religion has always baffled me and defied my
logic at least. Yes, indeed I am aware of the fact that many would claim my logic
is not as strong as theirs and I have not a clue what I am questioning. They (the
martyrs) died for the sake of the good and opposing the bad. Hmmm? OK, soooo we are
supposed to beat ourselves bloody for that? And that proves what? I don't know, all
because some "nomads" (the bad guys) killed and maimed another tribe or
other nomads (the good guys) and their kids! Wait, they are still doing it too, under
the name of religion, politics, economics, ethnic cleansing and what not. Let's see
Afghanistan, Palestine, Sudan, all the way to Eastern Europe and the Far East. No,
no, I do not want to sound political. I stay away from politics as much as I can.
It is a no-win situation. I know in my heart that it
is all an excuse under the name of religion. It is only to justify every tragedy
in the book. As far as I know, the god of most religions says "Love to the point
of death. But I do not want to argue about it. One way or another I am portrayed
as the infidel no matter whose side I take. So, to prove I am a peace lover, I just
act it and refrain from talking about it as much as possible. But for the ones who
believe, I guess we have to have a dasteh to walk the streets in honor of
the killed and maimed.
I was not brought up as the ultimate infidel and I am not one either. I accept most
of the rules of most religions if they make sense. No, I do not pray to any invisible
being and do not follow rituals for the sake of millennium-old characters. Even though
religion was never forced down my throat, it was always encouraged and most my relatives
honestly and sincerely practiced all these rituals and customs such as rozeh,
Ashoura, nazr, sofreh and whatever else that came along -- sheepishly or just
to be diplomatic. Yet through all that jazz, I never succeeded to see the real purpose
of all this commotion.
With all due respect, I do not deny the causes for these rituals and I am not saying
that they should be forgotten. Yet throughout the years I have drawn my own conclusions.
Though, my conclusions are not the ultimate answer, I am sure. I am also aware of
plenty of reasons why one should or at least pretend to be religious: To advance
in your job, to look good in the eyes of new in-laws, to gain respect from the friend
and family, or just to save your neck from the blade! (Being a good person is a must
and has nothing to do with religion).
I have never had to pretend to be religious for any reason. But does one have
to cut and hurt himself (females are exempt) to prove he loves this or that
saint? This is not exclusive to Shi'ite Islam, of course -- it applies to many other
faiths as well. I once had a Catholic preacher insisting that no matter how good
a person you are, you will not get into heaven if you do not believe in Jesus. Only
through the Cross one can go heaven. Oh, yeah! Tell that to a Muslim fundamentalist
buddy! He will show you the Cross all right.
No disrespect to any folks out there. I have always
respected and accepted whoever wants to believe in whatever as long as they give
room to the rest of the world and stop trying to convert and save others. I must
say I respect them much more than I have been respected for the choices I made regarding
my religion (or lack of it for that matter), my marriage or other aspects of my life.
People whom I have never met or seen no more than once have decided to comment and
put down my life. Most of the time they have no clue why. They have decided that
my children will follow me to the depths of hell for being the product of a mixed
marriage or mixed religion.
Some are nicer. They lay off the fiery hell and only give "expert" opinion
to sound intellectual. They inform us about how confused people of mixed marriages
are and how "lost" our children would become. But hey, live and let live,
I always say. The best part is when they try to correct themselves when you question
their motive and their god and how unfair and unfounded they and their god sound.
I have done my three seconds of being religious, done the mosque thing and the rozeh
bit too. Come to think of it, all together it lasted three weeks at various times.
Once I was kicked out of the mosque when I was around eight or nine and got two friends
kicked out along with me, simply because I burst into a loud laugh when the preacher
was giving one of those sob stories. I was not paying attention to the preacher and
could not concentrate on the historical catastrophe. I was not even laughing at him,
but at the ladies around us who were crying their eyes out and beating on their chest.
Back to this zanjir-zani and the parades around
town. Have you ever gotten lost around these events? I have and I tell you it is
no fun. Because of my curious nature I had a tendency to walk away quite often and
it required my poor parents to watch me like a hawk every second of every day. And
when I slipped away, I was not easy to spot. During one Ashoura I almost got ran
over. People tried to help me (much obliged forever), but the image of men looking
like defeated soldiers with a sweaty, bearded faces did not leave my mind for years.
Let's fast-forward a few years when I was about 11 or 12. All the bache jigools
in the neighborhood were dressed in black shirts. If they had facial hair, they stopped
shaving so you could see their five o'clock shadow (in some cases, like my own dear
hairy uncle, it was more like a 1:15 p.m. shadow). Though some sincerely hit themselves,
others were nicer to their back and let the chains gently brush their skin while
maintaining a sorrowful face. But it was not all about being pious. I saw some of
them exchange phone numbers with chadori women who handed out sweet drinks with tokhm-e
sharbat floating in it. When I confined in a friend in the neighborhood, she
calmly responded, "You didn't know?"
I do not claim that flirtation happened all the time. I haven't the slightest clue
if it still does . All I am saying is that Ashoura was no different than other times
of the year. Such theatrical displays do not prove anyone's devotion or corruption.
But why the self-beating and why the arguments? It indeed carries a savage message
to the public. It is harsh and over the top. I respect tradition and customs just
as much as the next person, as long as you are not infringing on anyone else's freedom
and do not feed off of fear.
How do such customs improve the world around you?
You want to stop hunger, then eat less and give more to the poor. You need to advertise
religious martyrdom? Stop beating yourself and tend to the needs of others. You want
to advocate your faith, then be nicer to the ones who are not of your faith and lure
them with love and compassion -- not blood and fear.
Whether I like it or not, it is a big part of our culture and I am quite aware of
that. But unfortunately, part of it is just uselessly over the top. Exaggeration
has always been a big part of most Eastern cultures -- and religion is certainly
no exception. Actually come to think of it I still just like to grasp the whole logic
behind this mass demonstration. Heck, when it comes to zanjir-zani, Ashoura
and Tasoua, and the like, we put Arabs to shame. Aren't they the ones who always
claim we are not Muslim enough? Well, take that I say! Honestly, what a waste of
time, money and human resource!