Liberal to a degree
As a child of the revolution, who remembers little of the years preceding and following 1979, I am stunned by how deep the teeth of theocracy has sunk into the Iranian psyche
Ocotber 7, 2005
Today there are many things one can say and do in the Islamic Republic without fear of government reprisal. Young people openly defy social taboos in dress, speech, and interaction with the opposite sex. Opposition political leaders make comments and accusations that would have been punishable by death ten years ago. Even artists, in all forms, both indirectly and directly make criticisms of the status of life in post- revolutionary Iran. But there is still an underlying sense of fear when it comes to speaking about certain topics--particularly religion.
While visiting family during a trip to Qom I decided to strike up a serious conversation with two cousins of mine; both of whom are in their mid 30's. My male cousin, Hassan, is an ex-communist who returned from studying in the United States to join the revolutionary fight in 1979. My other cousin, Shiva, is a painter who studies yoga and takes her two teenage children to daily English lessons with the hopes of one day securing them a "Western" education.
Needless to say, neither of them would be considered "conservative" or "religious" in any sense. But in a matter of moments I would find out that religiosity and personal philosophy are complicated matters in contemporary Iran.
I looked over to Hassan, who was driving, and announced that I wanted to talk about something serious: Islam. He quickly sat up in his seat and assumed a stance as if he were about to engage in a street fight. I sensed that my forthcoming question would cause a rise, but I decided to act against my senses and proceed with it anyway. I started slowly by stating:
"Last year during a course on modern Islam I read an article written by a scholar who questioned whether or not Islam as a way of life and faith should have left the Arabian Penninsula. In other words, can Islam ever be compatible with any other cultures, i.e. Iranian culture?"
After I finished silence overtook the car. I expected that they would consider my question and possibly agree; after all, they were firsthand witnesses to the manifestations of Islam in Iranian culture. But I was wrong.
Both Hassan and Narges reacted with frustration. They proclaimed that the Qu'ran itself was an impeccable decree from Allah and it was imperfect humans who have corrupted the interpretation of the message. Fair enough, I thought, but I had heard the same response from Muslims all over the world and it just did not add up.
So I decided to use some quotations and primary source information to combat their claim. I asked, "If the Qu'ran is perfect, is it possible that Allah, the most beneficent and merciful, could have ordered that adulteress women be stoned or proclaimed that men are the superior sex?" Furthermore, I declared that my God (not associated to a particular faith), is not capable of such intolerance.
After a few minutes of silence, she responded angrily that "Allah was so merciful in this decree that he specified that women who managed to escape stoning, should be free."
I finally sensed that I was going too far so I changed the conversation, but not without realizing that Iran's problems are deeper than elections and nuclear facilities. There is a deep sickness and fundamentalist streak that has entrenched itself in Iranian culture. It no longer seems necessary for the government to impose limits on free speech and social liberties; the people impose it on themselves.
As a child of the revolution, who remembers little of the years preceding and following 1979, I am stunned by how deep the teeth of theocracy has sunk into the Iranian psyche. This is not to say that the most Iranians support the current regime or any of its sociopolitical ideals, but the mere fact that Islam permeates so profoundly in the individual philosophy of Iranians is a testament to the success of the IRI.
There is no space among most Iranians to question or criticize, let alone deny, Islam. For a reformation to occur in Islam there needs to be an element of apostasy among thinkers who pose searing questions about the legitimacy of the faith. If this does not happen, Iran will never come out of the dark age of backwardness, which has rendered women socially immobile and has resulted in the destruction of the new voices of young people who may potentially have an entirely different approach to religion. This includes encouraging individual interpretation and agency with regards to the Qu'ran and Hadiths. For everyone's sake I hope this change comes in a progressive, yet timely manner.