Important Note: All characters in this piece, that is myself, my father, my relatives, the deceased, the mullah, and those depicted in the pictures, are all fictional!
During my trip to Iran last summer, one of the places I visited was a small mosque in Tehran. A very old distant relative had passed away a week before, and a memorial for her was being held in the mosque. As we headed for the mosque, the other male relatives in the party told me about the plan: We will go in and sit and when the mullah shows up we'll get up and leave!
Actually it seemed my relatives were very reluctant to even visit the mosque, yet alone listen to the mullah preaching. This is not to say that they were anti-Islam or something. We didn't even discuss why they felt this way. But that's pretty much understood. Most people in Iran have pulled away from the mosques and prefer to practice their religion in the privacy of their homes. The obvious reason is many people associate the mosques and the mullahs preaching in them with the ruling establishment which they prefer to avoid or even boycott.
I on the other hand not only didn't mind visiting the mosque, I actually welcomed it! After 23 years of being away, this was an interesting experience for me. After all, I did have good memories from my childhood when I used to go to the local mosques. So I gladly joined the others and we all piled up in one car and drove to the place!
A we were entering the mosque, the close relatives of the deceased had lined up at the door greeting us. As a "high-profile" visitor from America, I was naturally warmly greeted! We then went in and sat on the beautiful Persian rugs and in seconds were served with an inviting cup of tea and some dates.
While the others in our party could not wait to leave the mosque, I was actually enjoying myself and was even busy taking pictures. The cup of tea sitting on the Persian carpet definitely deserved a shot! But what happened to the tea? As I said it was very inviting and was gulped in no times!
How about a shot of that playful boy?
And one of the columns?
And another one!
After about 10 minutes or so the mullah arrived. My relatives hinted that it was time to split! But I couldn't bring myself to do that. We had only been there 10 minutes and I thought it won't look good to leave so soon. I didn't want to hurt the feelings of the mullah. Plus I wanted to hear what he had to say. Maybe he could say something that would help me out with my sinful life in the "Great Satan's" land! So I asked my relatives to wait a little longer.
When the mullah started talking, I knew he had at least one eager listener, that is the "high-profile" visitor from America! But I'm going to admit that I wasn't there to seek guidance. I rather had ulterior motives. My real intention was fishing for faults and mishaps so I could torment my deeply religious father afterwards! I remember when I was a kid, whenever my father returned from religious sermons, agitated by the words of the mullahs, he would threaten to throw the "box of sin" in the yard. He was referring to our beloved television set that was one of our main sources of fun. And perhaps he would have thrown the box out, if it wasn't for the fact that he had paid for it! But these godly bursts still tormented us, until we finally realized that they were all huffs and puffs that last no more than few minutes. My father would even later sit in front of the box with us and would have quality sinful time together! But I wonder if I and other kids like us who were subjected to the "throw out the box" episodes have been scarred for life? And we the tortured have now become the torturers! I guess we all have our roles to play in life! I may even be re-incarnated as a deeply religious man or a mullah to suffer for my acts. But for now I need to stick to my role! So I was listening very carefully.
The mullah first said a few good things about the deceased and then got into serious stuff. His sermon was about the importance of daily prayers. When he started saying that the government should shut down everything at noon time and that everyone, and he made no exceptions either, should get together in mosques to say their noon prayers, I knew I was going to have a field day. I was thinking about how the mullah's advice was going to work in today's Iran? It's hard enough to get the people to say their prayers at a time and place of their choosing. And this mullah wants to bring everything to a halt at high noon! Actually that may not be a bad idea for the people living in Tehran! They could certainly take a break from the busy traffic. But that's another issue and not my problem to solve. So I started looking at my father with a grin, questioning him with my eyes about the mullah's words. I felt joyful! I was going to ask my father if pregnant women about to give birth have to wait an hour for the prayers to be finished? Or even better, should they also join in and say their prayers and deliver their babies on the fly? What about the fire-fighters, the various technicians in charge of critical installations, etc? My father nodded to me to wait. But what could he say in defense of this mullah? I was certainly going to win this battle!
So when I had finally heard all that I wanted to hear from the mullah, I agreed to leave. I guess I had tormented my relatives enough by keeping them there for those extra ten minutes or so! So we all got up and quietly exited the mosque, even though I still felt bad to leave in the middle of the mullah's speech. So as we got out, I looked at my father victoriously and asked him what was the mullah talking about? My father looked at me and while shaking his head said: "This man doesn't have any brains. How can he talk about shutting down everything? He's talking nonsense."
My father's words took me completely off-guard! I had been fully disarmed! It was only then that I realized that even my deeply religious father had been reformed! I guess I had been away for too long!
... Payvand News - 4/17/03 ... --