Monday, June 1, 2009

Part One: Tehran to Amol and Back

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.


  1. SANAZ. it is so wonderful to read your blog. so insightful to things Id have a hard time understanding without your perspective. i love how you are finding clues, the vestiges of the past to realize how elements are shaping your time now in Iran.
    the video where you sneak up on that mosque is flawless. its a perfect story in itself.

  2. Don't worry about posting everything, i'm already learning loads. I especially enjoyed the snail collecting-- please tell Kavan.

    i like the idea of focusing on singular aspects and thank you for not assuming we know anything at all about Iran ;)

    i love and miss you. all is well.


  3. I'm obsessed and I'm not even kidding. I love love love reading about all you've seen but most especially for your beautiful insight. I see Kayvon has progressed from cars to snails, or maybe they are just a convenient substitute. I would love more videos, but I understand that you need to capture your experience for yourself first and foremost. I miss you and I'm glad I got to hear your voice!

    love from dc


  4. I love the videos! I miss youuu but I just wanted to let you know that I'm keeping up with your blog. =) I'm having a good time reading everything. Keep it coming! Videos especially. It's nice hearing your voice!

  5. Dear Sanaz,
    Why do you read books from other authors like Reza Aslan to learn about Islam? Because either this is his personal point of view of Islam or he has been paid to show this Islam and promote Islam. Who knows????
    If you or your readers want really to know about Islam why don't you read the coran itself (written by the prophet himself with no risque of interpretation or lies)? You will then realize that all the Islamic Republic's principles and rules are based on the real Islam.

    Further, you said young Iranians who are dressing and having lots of make-up are not rebelling against religion but they are in fact religeous. It doesn't make sens. I don't know on what basis you affirm such thing. Do you know the rate of Iranians converting from Islam into other religions? I am atheist and I don't want to promote any religion. After the elections, a friend of mine wanted me to meet her pastor because he wanted to know my opinion about what was happening in Iran. When I met him he said he travels a lot in the middle east because there is a huge demand for Muslims form middle east who are converting into Christianity. He added that they have the highest demand from Iran. I know he doesn't lie because on of my family became pastor and when I asked her why she was traveling that much, she told me that she has lots of demand for conversion (from Iranians).
    Even a mullah called Daneshmand said that IRI should be worried because young Iranians are converting into Zoroastriasm. His video is on youtube and you can watch it.

    So, I don't think Iranians and especially young Iranians are religeous and I do disagree with you on this point and you could witness it in this empty mosque you visited. Furhter, I strongly disagree with you when you say that a government based on Islamic principles could work. No, it never did and it never won't either way. We are witnessing this failure every day since the last elections.