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It defies MY logoic
We are supposed to beat ourselves bloody for that? And that proves what?

By Mehrnaz Mahallati
August 12, 2002
The Iranian

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!

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By Mehrnaz Mahallati

A big beautiful lamb
Memoires of a sacrifice

Aghajoon to the rescue
Tuleh sag-e valadezenaa! Ye baar bet nagoftam invaraa paydaat nasheh?

Khaanomjaan had a secret
Love was not even invented when she was young. So we thought.


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