Religion did not play a big part in my upbringing in Iran. What little I know comes from those interminable compulsory Religious Study classes at high school in Tehran which as I recollect were either run by clerics or Literature teachers looking for extra income. The Persian Literature teachers never took it that seriously and as long as you remembered the main tenets and could basically write. You were assured of getting through with a reasonable grade.
We (or at least I) could never understand what the clerics were on about, as they seemed to speak in a foreign language. Those who have read Jamalzadeh's short but very witty ingenuous piece “Farsi Shekar Ast” (“Persian Is Nectar”) will know what I mean. They seemed to pride themselves into making the subject at hand totally uninteresting and arcane. And to a child they were dangerous as they were liable to fail you in “Feqh”. IMagine the risk of losing those beautiful summers having to study for a Religious Studies re-sit.
I know even less about Christianity and it wasn't till my daughter started school run by the local church in the suburbs of London, chosen mainly for its proximity and better reputation that I had any proper exposure to it. Don't worry! This is not an attempt to convert you. The religious schools in England are very popular with the immigrant communities, non-religious and even non-believers.
They are chosen solely because of their reputation for better discipline, smaller class sizes and higher standard of learning. In some ways it shows up something of the double standard by these groups and I have often wondered why the school organisers tolerate it. Some Catholic schools now insist on at least one parent being Catholic and the local priest confirming regular worship before acceptance.
One of the stories the kids become familiar with from an early age is the story of three Magi (or the three Kings) who foresaw the birth of Christ and went on a pilgrimage to see the newly born baby Jesus. My mother, god bless her soul, was kind of funky with a surreal aspect to her character. She had a habit of sometimes dropping and boring you (that is how it seemed to me then) with “pearls of wisdom” either totally unrelated to the subject of conversation or what you were up to at the time (like trying to find an excuse to get out of the house to play football in the street or to spy on the girls in the neighbourhood).
The funny thing was that she never liked anyone else doing the same to her and if she was concentrating, say reading a good book, the only response you could ever get would be a 'hmmm'. You could shout and scream about the house being on fire but if she was reading a particularly good novel, 'hmmmm' meaning: “don't bother me kid; let whatever is happening, happen without me.”
Just after my mother moved to England I have a vague recollection of her dropping one of these pearls of wisdom without any solicitation on my part about the three Magi, according to her the the three Magi must have been Iranian as Magi must be the same as “mogh” in Persian meaning Zoroastrian priests, being young and not interested in these matters I never really paid attention.
I recently read “The Travels” of Marco Polo translated by Ronald Latham for Penguin Classics and the first story Marco Polo relates about Persia proper is about the three Magi.