Listen up boys and girls: We are now at a day and age when religion
is more or less a personal choice
March 8, 2005
Recently, I came across two diverse articles in
the Iranian, one by Pesar Gol ["Hossein
hocus pocus"] and the
other a response by Sanaz ["Your
loss"]. I can only
imagine how emotional, and perhaps young, they both must be.
Their heated discussions reminded me of decades ago and similar
arguments in my family. The problem is, in a society that is
in desperate need of unity, too many debates seem to be going
on. I want to reach both these authors as well as many others
who feel the same and hope to offer a semblance of peace to an
Having seen it all gives me the advantage to
appreciate both sides. I can justify one’s frustration
over demonstrations that mean little to him and the other’s
anger over self bashing and what seems to humiliate a culture--or
has been imposed on it. But the truth lies somewhere between
the two points of view and if there’s one good thing about
aging, it is the ability to tolerate both.
Pesare Gol belongs
to a generation that was raised with a Westernized culture. That
was neither his choice and nor his fault. Considering
the Pahlavi’s infatuation with the European trends, most
of us -- including Sanaz -- fall into a similar category and
need to come to terms with it. We were sent to boarding schools
abroad, learned a second language, followed the fashion and grew
up with music, dance and arts that were imported from the West.
we are to discard the satellite TV because it is not Persian,
and if we want to go back to being pure Persians,
then we also
need to sit on the ground, eat with our hands, and sleep in bedrolls.
So while we take the good and discard the bad, let us not try
so hard to separate the East from West, but rather find a happy
median where we can keep up with our times, yet remain who we
Sanaz is moved by a religious demonstration she
has witnessed, but reading the insulting comments, her national
pride is bruised.
In fact, her frustration is shared by many Muslims who grew up
in a country where religion meant “Islam and other minorities.”
drastic change that followed is hard to adapt to. Today, not
only are Muslims often considered a minority -- regardless
of the fact that they are over eight hundred million in number--but
against the backdrop of a negative propaganda, it is hard to
be proud of being one.
The sad part is that while the two young
writers debate on opposite sides, ironically they belong to the
one and the same group! In fact I could bet neither one of them
understands the meaning of the words Ashura or Tassoua because
these are Arabic words we all grew up to respect without understanding
their meaning. And, these are only two words out of volumes.
Sanaz is right to point out that
in every religion there is some fanaticism. But Muslims seem
to be too radical and often too
loud in their demonstrations; and that may be what the world
sees as odd, if not hard to understand. Perhaps if thousands
of Christians went around each year and crucified themselves
it would seem ridiculous, but a few isolated cases fail to get
the same attention as the millions who mourn Ashura in a most
While other religions seem to have evolved over
time, Islam has maintained its ancient traditions. Take Christianity
Except for the Vatican and a few other places, Christian women
are no longer obliged to cover their heads to enter a church.
Also, Christians no longer punish adultery by stoning
-- as they used to. Many nuns do not wear the habit and there
many women priests. These are only examples of the many changes
in one religion but the list goes on and on and the same is true
for most others. What is hard for people like Pesare Gol to understand
and tolerate, is the absence of such changes in Islam.
frustrating aspect is our lack of knowledge and the mere fact
that most of us were born to Muslim families, but we received
little training for it. While grandmother prayed for the outcome
of our final exams, we were exempt from religious schools, prayers
or going to religious ceremonies and received limited Qoran studies
On the other hand, through books, magazines and
watching films, we became familiar with the most glamorous church
the suffering of the Jews and the purity in Buddhism. When we
left home and needed our faith the most, we witnessed all sorts
of atrocities in the name of Islam and the world simply labeled
us all as terrorists.
Frustrated, many abandoned their religion
and did not feel strong enough to join any other sect either.
What we didn’t like,
we blamed on the Arabs and what we liked, we shamefully kept
a secret. I yet have to hear a Christian say, “We are Arians
and have nothing to do with Israel. They imposed Christianity
on us!” But such a feeling toward Arabs is second nature
to many Iranians. True as it may be that Christianity spread
through peaceful missions, they also endured massive wars that
are hard to ignore.
I hope that both Sanaz, and Pesare gol (and
many other pesar and dokhtare gol) hear me out because the future
is in their
hands and unity and peace is what our dispersed nation needs
the most. We are now at a day and age when religion is more or
less a personal choice. True as it may be that there is much
politics involved and that there will always be those who in
their struggle for power, will take advantage of religion, but
on a personal level, it is all about peace.
In order to reach
inner peace, one needs to believe in something. I am at a point
where I only see one God and find it fascinating
how man has managed to divide Him into pieces and each group
believes they have the better piece! While I have equal respect
for the good in all religions, I also feel equally sorry for
the fanatics. Let us not forget that sorry and angry are entirely
different emotions and while one tolerates and understands, the
other suffers and is outraged.
These debates are timeless and
I doubt if they will ever resolve. While Pesare Gol may be bashing
on religious people and how they
choose to demonstrate, Sanaz’s comments are equally insulting
toward young people who are frustrated over what they fail to
understand are unable to relate to. As someone whose age gives
her the advantage to understand, I see them on the same side.
They both belong to a generation who has lost much but is given
the tremendous responsibility to build something better.
Despite the hardships they have endured, young Iranians
around the world are doing a great job of getting on with their
and it gives me immense pleasure to follow their success stories.
But the fact remains that if Iranians--as a nation--are to
survive, we need to maintain unity. Like the small particles
of a mosaic,
our beauty can only emerge from such harmony. Only then is
there hope for our Persian culture to survive.
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance
writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is
Gham" (see excerpt).