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August 12, 2003

Separation
Hamid Ahmadi  [info|posts]

rings.jpgA year ago a friend of mine, Shabnam M., met a guy at ShabehJomeh, a monthly lounge meeting for young Iranian professionals in New York. They began talking and drinking. They shared their childhood memories in Iran and discussed the current political climate. There was a certain chemistry between them; they had a lot in common. He asked her out, and a year later they are still together.

Last weekend something happened. In a jolt of joy and enthusiasm, they allowed each other to think and talk about the future, their future. "fuck it, damn it all to hell," he finally said, "Lets get married!" And she couldn't have been happier. They immediately called Iran and informed their parents.

But as Hafez likes to remind us every once in a while, Love seems simple at first; but then pour the downfalls.

Last night we went to their semi-engagement party. Everyone was there. Champagne bottles were uncorked, and glasses were toasted. Everything was moving along smoothly until someone asked: "Well, what kindda ceremony are you guys planning to have?"

"What do you mean?" they asked.

"Are you going to get a mullah to do the--"

"Fuck no! No mullah's gonna attend my wedding," said the bride.

There was a moment of silence. "Then what?" the groom answered back, a bit confused. "You want to have a church wedding? I'm not Christian, and neither are you. I'm not having a church wedding. My mom would never attend a church wedding."

The music was stopped, and people were whisked out shortly after that.

I'm not worried about them though. They'll work it out. At one point one of them is going to "fuck it and damn it all to hell," and compromise. But it's quite evident that Religion and Politics are very much mixed not only in the state level, but in our day to day lives. To Shabnam, having a Quran or a Muslim cleric at her wedding would mean nothing but an approval of Iran's current government. This is true even though, in theory, she strongly believes in the separation of religion and politics.

Should the people change first, or should the government? That seems to be the big chicken-or-the-egg question.


Comments
Saoshyant at August 12, 2003 01:25 PM [permalink]:

Modern Iranian Identity Dilemma:

Hamid, allow me to first commend you for bringing up such fantastic and yet sadly true issue forward that is indeed coupled with a real life story.

I, perhaps rather opportunistically, would like to use Hamid's entry as a testimony to my first ever entry on this website. The groom's reaction is a typical reaction of a person who has not still straightened out very basic dilemmas of his identity in his mind. The example cites the deeply conservative and hidden religiousity of some of the very modernist segments of the Iranian society, however its upper middle class and professional segments outside and inside the country would not want to admit.

The funny thing is that my Turkish friends who are not from rural Turkey and/or Syrian friends, who are supposed to be amongst the least fanatic Arabs, find Iranians that they have seen in the West exteremely un-Islamic.

It is amazing when it comes to rituals, all of a sudden the guy or the girl, depending on the case, get back to the conservative "roots" and cannot decide how they have to react to the other side's non-traditional. That makes me wonder how a secular democratic Iran can survive a civil war (it could be a civil cold war and not a real "war") between Fundamentalist + Conservative + Traditional coalition vs. secular + modernist.

When I posed the challenge that I doubted Iranians could prove being tolerant of the legalization of homosexuality, I brought a rather extreme, hypothetical challenge. Hamid's contribution is in fact a better example to the "Modern Iranian Identity Dilemma".

Iman at August 12, 2003 01:33 PM [permalink]:

I think it is not necessary that people change themselves. They have to learn that they can have religious life in private and live in a secular state. But people think that they might be categorized as an ignorant person if they follow religious customs. You see in the west people use holy names like Jesus, God as swear

BHS at August 12, 2003 02:13 PM [permalink]:

Swearing in the holy names could be seen in Iran too: Astaqfor-o-Allah (Forgive me God!), La-Elaha-Ella-Allah (There is no god but the God), or even Allah-o-Akbar (The God is great). But there is a difference in the usage, I agree: Thes are used by more or less religious people when they are angry, not when they are surprised, and these expressions are never abbreviated into other things, unlike in the West (Gee, etc.).

Iman at August 12, 2003 02:40 PM [permalink]:

There is a point that you may miss it. I think that religion and culture is not two completely separated things. Going to church is not only a religious practice but also is a cultural issue. Or New Year in the west is the Jesus’ birthday. So it is not true to say that, Look! all westerners are religious since they do not change this day.

Yashar at August 12, 2003 02:57 PM [permalink]:

I don't dig why the conversation was reduced to one about swear words, and don't understand their significance. the use of strong language that has become so mainstream in American pop culture now is a rather new phenomena starting back in 50's and 60's in line with cultural changes that the counterculture movements of beatniks and hippies brought. Whereas, say democracy here dates back to 1780's. anyhow i don't think people need to forsake their personal beliefs whether traditional or modern(historically) in order for the society to be able to embrace democracy.
America is the most religous country in the industrialised world (maybe that's why their democracy sucks :) ->opium?) and yet these people are rather tolerant of other people's beliefs which maybe contrary to their own. you must seperate church from state, you don't need to annihilate the church to have a democracy.

Saoshyant at August 12, 2003 03:01 PM [permalink]:

Iman, the picture is not as simple as you drew, I am afraid.


Not necessarily so, for many Canadians and Germans that I know Christmas is something just remained from the past. In terms of its cultural significance, many Scandinavians and Germans today identify it as something that has more to do with their pre-Christian cultures namely the Nordic culture. For example the Christmas tree is in fact a Nordic ritual as well as Santa and/or Papa Noel.

More and more Western central and Northern European identify that many of such rituals got a Christian superimposition that they refuse to identify with.

Today 5,000,000 Canadians, adult Canadians who responded to Census Canada, "have explicitly no religion." If you go to Kensington Market in Toronto on the Solstice night, every year around 2000 Canadians get together to celebrate our Yalda night (Are they Zoroastrian?), or can we say because Iranians celebrate Chehara-shanbah Soori are still Zoroastrian?

Your generalization is cheerfully fallacious.

On another note, Christmas in the present Calendar is not really Jesus’ birthday, they had to change it and bring it back to the present date because they wanted to make sure that they super-impose it on the Solstice rituals of the newly converted Germanic tribes.

Yashar at August 12, 2003 03:07 PM [permalink]:

Plus, unlike Soashyant i don't think you can conclude anything about the groom's deep-rooted religious dogmas from Hamid's story. in fact he's only objecting to going to a church it seems, which belongs to some religion far as i know, and by definition is not a secular institution.
I agree that many people have stupid prejudices in Iran, but I think that's also tue about so many here in the US or even in Europe (prejudices can be non'religious too), as long as they keep these prejudices to themselves and don't force it on others and maintain a culture of tolerance, democracy can florish among them. hala berin haal konin.

Saoshyant at August 12, 2003 03:28 PM [permalink]:

Yashar,

Allow me to clarify I do not conclude that the groom is suffering from deep-seated religious dogmas. The fact that the groom should raise the question is like flagging a concern that he never thought of as a problem. If he does not have any such problems, why should he be so concerned about bringing the Mullah? You could respond, because he does not want to hurt his Maamaa's feelings. But who is going to finally live with in the "US" (please pay attention to the emphasis), his Maamaa, or his wife?

The question is that secularism and religiousity penetrate all practices private and/or public. Whether you like it or not, that is the basic question. Can Iranians be selective about how much they want to be secular even in their private lives or not? It appears to me that even when the religious government is long gone, inside the Iranian families when some of the parents or elders do not or would not permit/tolerate such a selective approach to culture, will effectively act like the Pasadars of religion against their increasingly secular and selective-to-their-culture children.

Iman at August 12, 2003 03:43 PM [permalink]:

Soashyant!

I think you did not get my point. I said ----So it is not true to say that, Look! all westerners are religious since they do not change this day---- I wanted to emphasize on this point that many cultural customs have religious roots. But it is not matter since it is part of culture and identity as long as it is not because of our ignorance.
Indeed, I do not know why you mix Modernization, conservatism and religion. Do you think every modern society is necessarily non-religious. Or only religious people are conservative people.

Saoshyant at August 12, 2003 04:07 PM [permalink]:

Iman!

No, indeed I do not think modern societies are necessarily non-religious. I am aware that there is a country called the United States of America ;}

But! France is an extermely secular country, so is Germany and the whole Sandinavia and people respect selective chosices between culture and religion in their private lives because, in my view which can be humbly wrong, they have sufficiently and intellectually become secular and modernized, and by sufficiently I merely mean they respect such choices with tolerance. What I meant was that secularism should be practised enough so that people can be tolerant of each other choices, which does not necessarily happen in deeply conservative societies like the US, and diversely religious ones like India.

Saoshyant at August 12, 2003 04:59 PM [permalink]:

Iman!

By the way, I also believe a religious person is indeend conservative if that person extends his/her religious practice in private and public spaces.

For example, if someone decidedly votes for parties that are anti-abortion or support them one way or the other, based upon religious belief, and wants to live in suburbs where white protestant people live and go to the church every Sunday, and stop one's relation with one's sister who is now married a hindu Indian, that person is a conservative person.

In short, this is the case religious people are in general conservative. If you search enough you very well may run into "gay Christians" and they are against stem-cell research, against abortion, and believe that poor people's poverty is almost always their fault.

Mistress at August 12, 2003 09:20 PM [permalink]:

Firstly the guy was a little careless to ask "So what"? I would expect myself and my fiance to sort things like that out in private, even if either of us say something without prior thinking.

Secondly, there is no need for a Mullah! Where was the guy from? Iran? Most of the weddings I have seen in Iran were done WITHOUT a mulla, the person was always a senior member of one of the families or just a respected person who was introduced to the couple by some friend.

Modern! at August 12, 2003 11:09 PM [permalink]:

The better campaign policy is to burn all the mullahs because there is NO good mullah.
That would be a platform for a bright Iran. That makes us a great nation. That will also correct our laziness and non-tolerance GENES!

What about making a lot of Liberty statures and put it in every corner of Iran?
What about making a big restroom in Khomeini cemetery’s place to be a sign for separation of politics and religion?

hamid ahmadi at August 13, 2003 12:18 AM [permalink]:

Well this is a new one on me! There is no way that "a senior member of the family" can legalize a wedding or, i donno, whatever else the mullah does. Doesn't the Mullah say:"Aya man vakilam...?" He's legaly representing the bride and groom.

if what Mistress is saying is true, however, then I could probably sit in for the mullah in my friends wedding. That would be fun.

Coward at August 13, 2003 02:07 AM [permalink]:

Any Shia person is legally authorized to do the Islamic marriage according to major Shia traditions I know of. Either the groom himself or any of his friends or bride or bride's friends.
However, this is for religous marriage; to make it legally acceptable to governments, one should also register the marriage at a government office, in Iran usually the same person who does the religous part is also a registrar. The registrar is usually a Mullah but not necessarily so, and one can always find non-mullahs for that purpose.

For Iranians marrying outside Iran there are also people who do the same thing, the religous part and registering it in books recognized by the Iranian government.

The couple mentioned in the story had another choice, and that is a civil marriage, they only get married without any reference to any religion, and their marriage certificate will be issued and recognizid by US government (although not acceptable to Iranian government as it did not include the Islamic tradition)

Hossein at August 13, 2003 02:35 AM [permalink]:

I got married in Iran and though both my parents and my in-laws are religious we didn’t have any traditional ceremony. It was mostly like civil marriage. There were no Mullahs or anything religious present. I mean the guy who registered our marriage read the phrases he has to read by Islamic and Iranian laws, but what other option you have? It’s like saying “I do”.
It just needs some arguments with parents which are frustrating but worth the choice.

Iman at August 13, 2003 08:40 AM [permalink]:

Saoshyant
Thank for your comment. I think here we need a clear definition of modernity. Indeed, we have to think about this option that what is relationship between religion and tolerance. Is Tolerance a way of thinking? What about pluralism? How can we have modern and free society but we cannot choose our thought and ideology? You said -- tolerant of each other choices, which does not necessarily happen in deeply conservative societies like the US, and diversely religious ones like India----- however, I think the most important point is the humanism. If we respect other people as a human being regardless their religion and race and…, we can tolerate them. I can understand why you are against religion in general. Unfortunately we, Iranians have had a tough experience of religious state and we forget having religion is one of our human rights.
Anyway, you agree with me that a religious person is not necessarily conservative. I do not know why you think that we cannot be against abortion or something. Our beliefs can have religious, cultural or many other bases. Of course, I agree that we can be against abortion on the basis of the morality or whatever you call but it should not have any social effect. You may ask how? Many people in the west do not drink alcohol or eat pork. But this is a personal issue and they do not care what other people think or do!
Regarding, the “gay Christians “, I have a question: I do not know how I can deal with this issue. Suppose a Muslim wants to do something in the mosque which it is not acceptable in his Moslem community (being gay) If other Muslims do not agree and tell him you are free to do that but you cannot pray in front of us, it means that they are conservative and cannot tolerant. Remember that person does not respect his friends’ beliefs how he can be expected that they respect him?

Ghazal at August 13, 2003 11:00 AM [permalink]:

some thing to note is that islamic way of marriage ceremony itself at least in Shi'a doesn't
actually refer to any religion and even god and it doesn't need a mullah either!
there are off course lot of rules about responsibilities of married people after marriage and
their rights in case of their divorce but the ceremony itself only needs the bride to say that "I
am taking the (groom) as housebound" and the groom has to accept it! what ever is added is
not actually necessary.
like most people in the world Iranians like to have someone else to perform the ceremony so
to get around this problem they choose an agent to say these sentences for them! if you
have been to an Iranian Shiite wedding the mullah for example asks the bride three times if
she takes him as an agent so he would perform the ceremony!
there are other things that are recommended but non of them are actually necessary for
marriage to be right like, saying the sentences in arabic ( but it could be in any other language)
or specifying a "mehriyeh"( the gift that groom is entitled to give the bride according to normal
codes of society and her family) and having two witnesses.
so as you see I think the discussion between the bride and groom from religion point of view
is completely baseless because even if the groom's mother is insisting on bringing the mullah it
is just a traditional custom in fact no matter how they agree to marry as long as they agree on
that issue, their marriage would be accepted by Islamic law whether they like it or not!

Mistress at August 13, 2003 08:22 PM [permalink]:

Thanks "Coward" for your informative comment. I guess this is a nice part of the Iranian culture that you don't even necessarily need to have a mulla or sheykh for marriage, and also you don't necessarily need to say things in Arabic. Because as Coward said, if you register your marriage in the office, that's enough and you'll officially be recognised as a couple. The "aghd" which is done in homes is just a traditional Iranian ceremony, which is of course a "must" for the majority of Iranian girls including me ;-)