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The Smiling Ayatollah Kariminia

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

Last Friday afternoon, a few Iranian friends who have all worked or are still working for UN and other international agencies in Afghanistan, came over for tea. It was so lovely to see them after such a long time, and the conversation was quite delightful, informative and encouraging, well except for the dust and driving. One of our friends was talking about how strange and enlightening Iranians are and what a mixed bunch, for better and for worse, we are. I could only agree with him as the day before when I was in Qom I had a most interesting and enlightening experience.

A few days earlier, a friend had called to say that their translator was down with a terrible flu and that they had this meeting with an Ayatollah and asked me if I would accept to be their translator. What else could a good friend do? So, we set off early the next day for Qom. Tehran's early morning traffic was even worse than we had imagined, and although I changed routes a few times, it took us more than an hour to get out of Tehran and head to Qom. But what was even more shocking was the thick fog of pollution that made breathing difficult, even in the early hours of the morning. On our way to Qom, we noticed the salt patches so near the road which is not a good sign; one can only hope that an effective tree cultivation program takes place soon to stop this encroachment by the desert.

We got to Qom just before 10am, the time we had arranged for the interview. We called to say that we may be a little late as we did not know our way around Qom. After a while, we parked the car in front of a narrow alley and walked to the address where we met the kind Ayatollah, at the head of another alley, waiting to lead us to his home.

The interview was taking place because of Ayatollah Kariminia's PhD thesis, which was done about eight months ago. It was on the issue of tran-sexuality and its implications on legal and religious matters, in particular the subjects of inheritance and marriage after a sex change operation.

Based on Ayatollah Khomeini's important book, The Collection of Fatwas, one of the most important findings of this thesis is that, in Islam, it is considered a right to have a sex operation if you need it. In Iran, there have been 390 such operations in the past 12 years. Of this number, some 320 men wanted to become women and 70 women wanted to become men. The state allows and supports this, and we were told that as their statistics show, there are about 7000 transsexuals living in Iran. They suffer like all their counterparts in other countries in many different ways, especially the dilemma that this brings to and for their loved ones. I do not wish to go into this further as I am sure you have or you will read it in other places, as the ayatollah has several interviews a week with foreign and local journalists.

What I want to tell you about was my amazement with Dr Ayatollah Kariminia's open-mindedness, his shining smile, bright clear eyes, and calm and peaceful face which must come from a deep sense of pure spirit and affection for life and fellow humans. We were received in their humble yet immaculately clean home, and we witnessed their warm and generous hospitality. How wonderful, bright and sophisticated Mrs. Kariminia was, and what a wonderful open, respectful and engaging relationship there was between the man and wife who were our hosts for an hour or so. I was almost mesmerized with this relationship that one hardly sees in middle class westernized Tehran northern suburbs. How lucky they are to have such a communicative, lucid, astonishing, gracious and healthy relationship!

Once we were done with the interview and we were out in the kouches(alleys), we took a few minutes to take some pictures. I share those with you here, as well as the ones we took on our way back from the terrible view of the thick smog that surrounded Tehran. We could only enjoy the fresh air on our way back to that hellish pollution again!

Related Article:

Iran's sex-change operations

... Payvand News - 2/7/05 ... --

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