The mourning of an Imam

by tkos on August 17, 2012

Islamic extremist and German. Probably the most feared combination of cultures in the world, but that is who we find ourselves staying with, in Qom, Iran’s most religious and conservative city.

Fatimah, now in her sixties, was born and raised as a Christian in Germany. She turned her back on her faith and most of her family when she found Allah, some time in her early thirties, and moved to the Islamic state of Iran. Now every waking minute of every day is dedicated to the teaching of Allah as she awaits her day of judgement.

We found Fatimah on Couch Surfing, an internet social networking site that hooks up travellers with locals. I have no doubt that if the government knew of it’s existence, it would be banned, just like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, BBC, NBC and anything else related to the outside world. Fatimah worked in TV, which was the initial draw for Kimmi and I, but we were yet to learn of her extreme lifestyle until we met her. She was working on a program that focused on European people who had also converted to Islam and chosen to come and live in Iran. Not really a program that The Kindness of Strangers were going to feature on.

Fatimah spoke constantly of two things: Allah and judgement day. Everything that we did or said would somehow be brought back to Allah. Yet, she somehow managed to remain unobtrusive and non-coercive. She never tried to brand us or criticize our chosen path. If we were to find Allah, He would make it so. This did not stop her informing us countless interesting ‘facts’ such as the Coca-Cola logo, when reversed in the mirror, actually reads ‘no Allah, no Islam’ in Arabic. She really was the most charming, funny and witty lady.

It was late November and the country was in mourning. Mourning the death of Imam Hussein, who died just over 600 years ago. For one month, there is to be no celebrations, no weddings, no birthdays, no smiling, no laughing, wearing all black, no colours and lots of crying. People march through the streets and beat themselves with whips and chains, sometmes to the point of drawing blood, to feel the same pain as Imam Hussein.  So who is this guy?

Imam Hussein is the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. And as we know, Muhammad was a regular Joe, or Moe in this case, until he was about 40 when he spoke to God and asked other people to write it down because he was illiterate. That writing is called the Quran, and is considered to be the direct words of God, unlike the Bible, which is considered to be the best interpretation of events by John, Paul and a bunch of other disciples. Neither seem particularly scientific to me, but are both considered to be gospel to many.

Anyway, as Muhammad was a regular person, he went on and died as regular people do. His grandson, Imam Hussein carried on his legacy of the Quran which seemed to piss a few people off around town. Now I’m not sure whether Hussein was not fitting into his new job, or whether or not there was a lack of funding in the training department, but it seemed to annoy a few people that Hussein got to step straight into the Prophets shoes without anybody being asked. And this divided the Muslim world into Shia and Suni.

The Shia believe that Allah chose Hussein to follow the work of Mohammad because he was in the blood line, therefore that only happened because Allah made it so. The Suni believe that it should quite simply go to the best man for the job, regardless of family blood lines and that some sort of democratic process should be implemented to make it fair. Both fairly grounded and respected arguments, but then the people who came to be known as Suni, gathered up thousands of soldiers and went and murdered Hussein and every living relative of Mohammad’s to ensure that the leader had to be elected and could not go through the bloodline as there was nobody left, including all women and children.

Now, if anybody reading this gets upset by the above mentioned claims, please be reminded that my learnings come from Fatimah, who also states that Coca-Cola backwards in the mirror says ‘no Allah, no Islam’ in Arabic. Fatimah, like the vast majority of Iranians is of the Shia faith. The people of Iraq for example, are generally of the Suni faith. Not really helping the years of friendly banter between the two neighbours, you’d expect.

So, as part of local festivities, Fatimah invited us to a local mosque where they carry out readings in English.  And sitting on a piece of carpet in a separate room from Kimmi, I am amongst men who listen to a reading of the gruesome events that took place at the time Imam Hussein was slain by the Suni people. I watched intensely as the speaker gave one of the most dramatic reading I have ever seen, until he could speak no more as the sobbing took over. All the men in the room held their faces in their hands and wailed in sorrow, ensuring that there sobbing and crying was louder than the man next to them.

The room howled in horrible sadness as I sat there gob smacked and dry eyed, with a video camera, catching every minute.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: