Breaking the Bond Between Mosque and State
by Correspondent in Tehran
28 Sep 2009 08:00
[ comment ] It was Quds Day - the last Friday of Ramadan. I do not recall ever going to a Quds Day rally before this year.
In previous years, I stayed home like many of my friends, not noticing it at all. Our private lives were separate from the public arena. Quds Day was for the government, and Friday was and is our day of privacy. We could stay home, invite friends over to talk about anything, or dance to music. For one day, there was no dress code, no ban to implement, and we were free inside our homes. We did not want to share this small amount of freedom with anyone - certainly not on Quds day - so we stayed home.
This year, Quds Day was different: many noticed it, marked it, emailed about it, talked about it and anticipated it. It was not the government's anymore; it became ours. We left our privacy to enter the public arena - possibly one of the most significant shifts in Iranian society.
The dissatisfied public and angry voters now use any chance the official ceremonies offer them to express their existence. This has given a new unexpected aspect to all government functions.
Before they would have liked people to attend, now people are un-invited!
The pattern began in July, when thousands attended the annual memorial service for Ayatollah Beheshti, one of the founders of the Islamic Republic. He was killed in a bomb blast in 1981, along with 70 or so other members of Parliament and the Islamic Republic Party. Usually such events were occasions for government officials to make speeches paying tribute to the memory of these martyrs of the early days of the revolution and draw from their legacy lines that would justify their own policies.
This year, the tables were turned. Beheshti's sons supported the public, and the reformist leaders such as Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami. The memorial service became a platform for the dissidents.
When the annual memorial of another martyr, Ayatollah Ghoddousi, approached -- he was an attorney general during the first years of Islamic Republic and assassinated -- government officials duly notified the family that they had better cancel it, fearing the repetition of the July event.
It didn't end there.
There is nothing holier than the nights of Qadr on the Islamic calendar, which fall during the month of Ramadan. The traditional rituals include praying, hearing a good sermon about Islamic teachings, and reading the Koran. For the past 20 years, the official Qadr ceremony was held at Khomeini's shrine south of Tehran. Most high-ranking officials and many ordinary people attended.
Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, Khomeini's grandson, who acts as the guardian of his shrine, invited former president Khatami to give the customary sermon this year. Of course, protesters announced that they would attend the ceremony, too. So the government did the unthinkable.
Seyyed Hassan Khomeini was persuaded (no doubt) that it was in the interest of national security to cancel the event. For the first time in the history of Islamic Republic, its government denied the permission to hold the Qadr ceremony in the shrine of its founder.
Since the beginning of its history, the Islamic Republic of Iran was never lacking in irony. Still, it is the height of irony that the protests have forced the government to retreat from the public arena. Instead of filling the customary ceremonies by rank and file and ordinary people who simply follow their religious beliefs, for the first time, the government is distrusting those in attendance. In this, somehow, the public is taking over the religious rituals and pushing the government aside - using the tools of the government against itself.
Maybe for the first time, an Islamic Republic government has welcomed a separation of politics and religion, simply because even religion has turned against them.
And isn't that the biggest irony of all.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau