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Hossein Party
Turning the sacred into an instrument of joy

November 13, 2001
The Iranian

From Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights by Behzad Yaghmaian (2002, State University of New York). Yaghmaian is an associate professor of economics at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

It was the Month of Moharram again, around the Norouz (New Year) I recall. It was in Moharram that, nearly fourteen centuries ago, Imam Hossein, the third Shiite Imam and a grandson of Mohammad the prophet, was martyred with seventy-one comrades in a war with a large army of enemy soldiers in the desert of Karbala.

I remembered Moharram from my childhood days in Tehran"a month of mourning", self-beating, religious parades at nights, and free food on the day Imam Hossein was martyred. I always liked going to the parades with my friends. We could stay out until really late at night.

We also beat our chests imitating the adults, men in black shirts, and the kids who seemed much more devoted than us. They cried for Imam Hossein, beat their chests nearly to death, passed out, and were carried away by the men in black. Brave, heroic, and devoted, they were envied by other kids. Oh, how much I loved to be able to cry like them, and get carried away by the men in black. But I could not. I was not really hurt, no matter how much I tried to convince myself of the psychological pains of the loss of Imam Hossein thirteen hundred years back. I guess I was not a good Shiite.

That was then. Now I was back in Tehran during the month Moharram many years later. This was Moharram in the Islamic Republic, the state that celebrated the martyrdom and dying for God and Islam, and made a virtue of mourning, self-beating, sorrow, and worldly pain. This was Moharram during the 20th anniversary of the Islamic Republic: no music on radio and television for a month, unshaved men in black shirts, Quran readings, black flags, and magnificent religious parades

Having spent long hours writing, tired of staring at my computer screen, I heard the phone ring. "You are invited to a party tonight, a Hossein Party," said the happy young relative, wishing to show me "the other side of the Islamic Republic." I laughed, thinking that this was a bad joke by my bored relative. A joke this was not! I was told of Hossein Parties across the city that night. Curious and tired of writing, I accepted the invitation.

A mild night in early spring, I waited for my sixteen-year old relative in front of her parent,s flat, waiting for the "girls" to get ready. And the girls appeared before my eyes in a column of seven. They came dressed up, made up, wearing loud lipsticks and shoes with high soles -- the fashion in the Islamic Republic. They came with nicely brushed hair, scarves pushed back to reveal their young hair, and the scent of all types of expensive and cheap perfumes filling the fresh air of this early spring night.

On our way to the party, we were joined by other teams of young teenage girls and boys, all dressed in their best, wearing strong perfumes and colognes, joyfully marching towards the big party of the night. Youthful laughter, occasional ringing of cellular phones in the hands of the voyagers of joy, and secrets whispered into the ears of friends -- this was the night I went to a Hossein Party in Tehran, twenty years after the victory of the Islamic Republic.

And finally at the Hossein Party, I stood in the middle of a street in the state of disbelief. A bright street, busy, noisy, and active -- this was the site of the Hossein Party I attended in the 20th anniversary of the Islamic Republic. I stood facing the local high school with walls covered with black and green flags, loud Quran recitation from the loudspeakers inside, and young men going in and out of the school, looking busy and important.

Hundreds of teenage boys and girls, festive looking and beautiful, they created a spectacle of defiance in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Boys on one side of the street, girls on the other side, boys driving around in fancy cars, girls going up and down eyeing the boys -- they were the boys and the girls of the Islamic Republic on the night before the martyrdom of Imam Hossein. They stayed out late, marched in the parade, returned to the school and stuffed their sensual selves with the free food -- rice and curry, the courtesy of the Hossein Party!

Boys in blue jeans, hip hairdos, and cool shirts. They stroke their chests in mourning, blinking at the girls marching behind them. Girls in expensive shoes -- their best shoes indeed. They paraded, chanting words of "sorrow" after their heroic boys. Eyes meeting eyes, hearts opening to hearts, the sensation of desire and lust in the air, they exchanged phone numbers in opportune moments, secretly arranged dates, found new mates, and made a theater of deviance under the watchful eyes of the bearded men of the Islamic Republic.

They sinned, broke rules, transformed mourning into joy, and self-beating into sensual body movements of young men and women in search of love. They were the children of the Islamic Republic.

The next morning I was on my way to the Caspian Sea with friends for a short vacation away from the chaos of Tehran -- a ritual for all the fortunate citizens with a car, a villa by the sea, or money to pay for exorbitant rental prices during national holidays. Excited about the night before, I told a friend about the Hossein Party and all that I saw with my astonished eyes.

It was only then that I realized I had not been to the best of the parties, that my friend had spent the night at the Grand Hossein Party on Pasdaran Avenue, "chasing girls", and finally succeeding in giving his phone number to someone at 4:30 in the morning. He was indeed happy that morning.

I had a memorable time by the beautiful Caspian Sea.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Behzad Yaghmaian


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