Islam in the Islamic Republic
This arrival in Iran was in stark contrast to the last (read about it in Prose: Tehran International Airport). I didn't smell cigarette smoke, only three members of my family came to greet me, and people were mildly less rude trying to get their luggage. The major change was that this was a completely different airport: Imam Khomeini International.
His picture wasn't glaring at me when I arrived, but under a constantly slipping and uncomfortable headscarf it was hard not to remember whose idea these legally-enforced coverings were, anyway. As my little sister struggled, my dad and I joked about the manipulated meaning of Islam, telling her laughingly that these coverings were the burden of being too sexy for our own good.
My cousins are quick to point out the Tehrooni "type" (pronounced teep), which honestly looks to me like prostitutes in the winter time. Of course, I can completely understand why Iranian women would want to bleach and crimp their hair, wear thick eyeliner and mascara, and tight-fitting manteaus and loose headscarves. It's easy to assume that they're rebelling against religion, but I realized quickly that that's not necessarily the case. Although it's true that many of the people who dress that way are anti-Islam, finding it to be hypocritical and corrupt because of the Islamic Republic, it could also be that many of the people who dress this way do so because they are actually religious, but don't believe that the Islamic Republic is the true arbiter of their religion.
And, even though Tehran is full of these overly made-up types, there are so many images in my head that show that people do believe in modest dress (regardless of the governmental requirements)--the most striking being the woman in the full black chador (literally, tent) on the opposite side of the phonebooth from a young male soldier.
Driving to the Caspian, I noticed several mosques. In fact, when we stopped for (not at all appetizing) fast food along the way in a foggy, chillingly verdant mountain town, there was a mosque right next door. Although it was beautiful outside, when we went inside we saw nothing but a woman dressed in trendy modern style and (what was much more fascinating to my little brother) a dead bug on the floor. I couldn't help but think of this emptiness in metaphorical terms.
In shomal (the north), we had a breath of fresh air as we played BS (cards are illegal in the Islamic Republic because gambling is frowned upon in Islam), drank (also illegal), and smoked qualyoon (hookahs are a-okay). All of this while sitting outside with no headscarf on. In the little gated community, my cousins were free to berate religion both with these actions and with many jokes and comments, but we couldn't keep the Islam out completely.
On the way home, we passed a troupe of young men following a truck covered with banners in beautiful caligraphy. My aunt read that these boys were walking all the way from Amol to Tehran (it's a winding, mountainous three-or-so hour drive, by the way) to commemorate Imam Khomeini's death. My mom speculated that they were probably being paid by the government.
I guess it all goes back to Imam Khomeini in the end. I still hear snippets of conversations about the enqelab (revolution) on 1979, but it's clear that the goals of Islam have not yet been completely accomplished. People are still drinking, dancing, playing cards, viewing blocked websites, showing hair, wearing makeup, and not believing in Islam despite (or because of?) the best efforts of the government. And the government is finding that, to keep its secular power, it's best to relax enforcements of supposed religious basics; for example, young couples are out in public all over the place, and enforcement of female covering is lax in light of the upcoming election.
It's my opinion that a government based on Islamic principles could work, but only if the most progressive and equitable interpretation of the Quran is taken. If you're interested in learning more, check out Reza Aslan's No God But God.
Please note: I've come to the sad conclusion that I can't possibly share all of the beautiful intricacies and incongruencies of my trip. As much as I try to keep track of every charming and surprising detail, I've decided that it's best that I take in all that I can and not stress about catching it on my camera. And so, from now on each (sadly underdeveloped) post discussing a part of my itinerary will focus on a singular aspect to the best of my abilities. If you have suggestions or things you'd like me to focus on, please let me know! So far, entries about food, fashion, advertising and the political campaign, and several others are in the works.