How I visited a mosque in Iran
How I visited a mosque in Iran

I was born into a religion that I did not choose or practice.  In fact, no one in our household ever practiced Islam, and particularly, we were warned by our parents never to go near any mosque or other such place.  It was considered taboo in Persian culture.

From the moment Islam penetrated the Iranians' lives, it clashed head on with the existing order.  It clashed with people who had lived and believed in the monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism for millennia. It contradicted Persian ideals, traditions, and culture, as is obvious from the splendid pre-Islamic Iranian festivities and celebrations such as the Persian Nowruz.

During the period I lived in Iran, I noticed that most middle and upper-class families in Iran considered those who participated the Islamic rituals or prayers in a mosque or in any public place thugs.  They did everything they could to make sure their children stayed away from such places.  Keep in mind that most Iranians still consider Islam an invader upon their culture.

Those warnings coming from my own parents frightened me from ever getting close to a mosque, much less getting inside.  They say "curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back."  I was inherently a curious person.  I always wanted to know why I was forbidden to enter a mosque.  For years, I did what my parents asked me to do.  But as I got a little older, I became bolder and wiser.  One day, I asked my older brother to make a trip to the city of Kashan and on our way back to stop and visit the shrine of Lady Masoumeh in the holy Shiite city of Qom.

According to the Shiite Hadith, "Masoumeh was and is to this day the envy of womanhood in the world."  She lost her life by undertaking a strenuous trip for the sole purpose of visiting her sacred brother, Imam Reza.  She didn't make it and died in Qum without having a chance to visit him.  Now she is buried there.  Her mausoleum has experienced constant changes throughout history: during the Safavid dynasty, a hall and two minarets were added, and later, the roof was replaced with a golden dome by the order of king Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.  Every day, thousands of Shiites visit the place.

My brother accepted my offer, and two of our close friends, a Christian and a Jew, decided to go along to the city of Kashan with us.  Kashan, where some of my relatives lived, is one the oldest cities in Iran.  It is known not only for its rugs (Persian rugs), famous for their elegance and quality, but also for having one of the greatest archeological sites in the world.

Kashan's proximity to the city of Qom and the shrine of Fatima Masoumeh made it all the more interesting to visit on our way back to Tehran.  There was only one problem: they would not allow Jews or Christians to enter.  Shiites consider Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Bahá'ís, and others "najes" (unclean).

This notion was difficult for me to swallow.  Then I realized why we were warned by our parents never go near a mosque or anywhere close to a Shia mausoleum.  Shiite clerics had their own rules and laws that contradict Persian laws and values.

The last prime minister of Iran, Shapur Bakhtiar, suggested isolating the clerics in Qom: "we will build a wall around Qom, so that Ayatollah Khomeini can have his own little Vatican there."
It is interesting to know that the Shiite city of Qom has been under consideration to become a Shiite Vatican-type city — in other words, the capital of Shiite Islam, in competition with either Najaf or Karbala in Iraq.  Even the last prime minister of Iran, Shapur Bakhtiar, suggested isolating the clerics in Qom: "we will build a wall around Qom, so that Ayatollah Khomeini can have his own little Vatican there."

After visiting the historic city of Kashan, on our way back, we drove through the holy city of Qom.  I told my brother, OK, we need to park the car somewhere and make a bold plan to enter the shrine of Masoumeh and satisfy our curiosity.  My Jewish friend, Albert, was open to the idea and said, "They can't tell the difference between a Jew and a Muslim, so what's all this fuss about?"  My Armenian Christian friend basically said the same thing.  It was my brother and I who were scared to death.

I gathered my strength and said, c'mon, guys, let's go inside — though I was petrified, because we had never practiced Islam and were unfamiliar with the protocols inside an Islamic shrine.  I was aware of one important rule, and that was to take our shoes off before entering the place.  Despite that, I was still worried.  What if they notice our naïveté?  What if they notice that Albert is a Jew and Razmik is a Christian?  Although my brother and I had never practiced Islam, we did have a better understanding of Islam's rituals than they did.  Albert and Razmik?  No, we must change their names in case they interrogate us.  So Albert became Ali and Razmik Reza.  Voilà!

After long minutes in line, it was our turn to enter the shrine.  We all took a deep breath and passed by a few clerics, and we were in.  I noticed that a few mullahs were looking at us with suspicion.  Mullahs are always suspicious.  That's their nature.  We ignored them and kept walking.  We were in awe of the shrine's beauty, with courtyards of brilliant tile work and art.  All for an Arab woman who had no connection to Iran? I asked myself.  She just happens to be the sister of another Arab who was supposedly buried in Mashhad, Iran.

I said to my friends, quietly, this is gorgeous.  Too bad it is wasted on the enemy of Iran.  This is like building a shrine for Hitler in Tel Aviv.  After all, the Arabs killed millions of Iranians and imposed Islam down our throats with the sword of Allah.  That was another reason I always resented anything Islamic.

After spending some frightening moments in the shrine, it was time to leave before we got into trouble.  We went back to the car and on our way back to Tehran.  I must confess, that was the first time and the last I have ever visited a mosque or shrine in Iran.

People still don't get it: Iran is not an Islamic country, but people are forced to pretend they are Muslim in order to save their lives from the butchers of Allah.  Who can blame them?

Crossposted with American Thinker. Sent by the writer.