Interview with Abdul Shah Hoesseini
Carpenter, Tehran, Iran
Q: How did you demonstrate your objections to the rule of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi?
Hoesseini: In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Ordinarily in the world there are two types of government: democracy and monarchy, a dictatorship. The monarchy usually exists by force. Shah had imposed himself on the people and was oppressing and suppressing us.
I was a drop in this ocean that was opposing the Shah and rising up for our rights. Before the beginning of the revolution, twenty-some years ago, we demonstrated... We were expressing our opposition to the Shah.
I was underground and at the same time I was openly opposing. The bulletins were underground and the demonstrations opposing the Shah happened openly during the last 25 years of his reign. At the time that he started his anti-people movement, we started our anti-monarchy movement. And we have presented this revolution, this popular movement, with many martyrs.
Q: How did the revolution begin?
Hoesseini: During the reign of Reza Shah, the father of the Shah, even Islamic and popular movements were being severely suppressed. Revolutionaries and the clergy and religious people were arrested and exiled and tortured by the Reza Shah. Under no circumstances could the free Islamic people express their opinions.
After the fall of the Reza Shah and World War II, movements became more popular and closer together. During the Shah's reign moral corruption prevailed and because of this, the revolutionary people founded this revolution and rooted out the monarchy.
During the Shah's time religious ceremonies were allowed to be conducted within the household, but if they turned political, they would have been suppressed. But in Islam, when you say religious you mean political.
Q: What was the government's reaction to criticism?
Hoesseini: In all the mosques in northern Teheran, anywhere, the clergy would start a sermon and criticize the actions of the government and the laws passed by the parliament. He would immediately be suppressed by the SAVAK, the Shah's secret police. The preacher would be arrested.
I saw the SAVAK people rush in and take away a preacher in the middle of his sermon. I can give you the name of the preacher and the date if you want.
All the Shah's moves were observed and planned by the CIA and his policies were coming from them. He was under their rule. The CIA ruled this country, not the Shah. And when they gave orders, whatever they said, the Shah would unquestioningly do it. We were a colony of the colonies that America has in the world, and the Shah was here to do the orders of the CIA.
Q: The Shah held festivals in 1971 to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the pre-Islamic Persian Empire, but millions of Iranians were offended - they felt the coming of Islam in the 7th century was the founding date of modern Iran...
Hoesseini: These ceremonies upset people ... In order to stabilize his regime the Shah drummed up those celebrations which resulted in devastation, mental torture, for us. We denounced it with our shouts. The most difficult and torturous days were during those celebrations in Shiraz. If our bodies were cut up into pieces, that would have been better than the broadcasting of the scenes of celebration from the global television networks.
Q: What do you remember about your participation in the revolution?
Hoesseini: Once, on the day of a great demonstration, I was standing on the Saadi Bridge. One of the brothers came from the late Ayatollah Tolahani's house. The central clergy council had written new slogans and I was asked to shout them because I have a loud voice. My third martyr, Said, was 10 years old then and I was holding his wrist on that overpass as I was looked down at the people. I said, "People! Why don't you shout what's in your hearts? Why don't you say what is Islamic, what God wants? You should all say, 'Death to the Shah!' Say 'Death to the Shah!'
The people were shouting "Death to the Shah!" and that was the greatest joy of my life up to that time. Of course after that I have had better joys. But up to that point, that was the greatest joy of my life.
Q: What was your primary motivation?
Hoesseini: The motivation for our revolution was all Islamic. The movement was Islamic. Nothing but Islam could have moved this nation; no leader could have succeeded except for Imam [the supreme religious ruler], may heaven be upon him. If I had 100 lives, I would have sacrificed all for him. It was all religious. Those secular political parties were destructive all throughout history, whether they favored the east or the west.
Q: On September 8, 1978, soldiers fired on 20,000 demonstrators in Tehran. Several hundred people were killed and thousands more were wounded in what became known as Black Friday. What do you remember about that day?
Hoesseini: There had been a demonstration the day before and everybody said let's go to Jalet Square tomorrow. They all went there -- and then they were gunned down. Everybody was crying on that day. The whole country was crying that day. It was the spark of victory for the Iranian revolution -- it was proven that day that the Shah had to leave.
Q: Two months after Black Friday, demonstrations in the streets of Tehran involved the destruction of shops, banks, liquor stores, and other symbols of Western "corruption..."
Hoesseini: Muslims do not tolerate corruption because it's their religious duty to fight corruption. When our religion succeeded, we wanted to eliminate signs of western corruption in Iran. We wanted to burn down even the cigarette-making factories; we were so opposed to everything.
We wanted no relationship with the United States or relations with the oppressive western regimes. We wanted to discontinue the flow of capital from this country to the outside. We wanted to rid the country of the American military personnel. We wanted no alcohol, no corruption among the young people. I personally did not want any of these things existing in this country.
The Shah's television and radio were forbidden religiously so we did not watch television at that time. We did not want these manifestations of America in the name of civilization and the Shah.
Q: What was your reaction when the Shah fled Iran in 1979?
Hoesseini: Like everybody else I was happy -- applauding, dancing. I was very enthusiastic. Everything was Islamic of course. When I say 'dancing,' you shouldn't have an image that it was any kind of un-Islamic dancing.
Q: What do you remember about the day in February of 1979 that Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile?
Hoesseini: On that day we left the house with my three sons and went to what is now Asadi Square. Said was only 10 or 11 years old. I was holding his wrist. We stood in the northwestern part of the square. All of sudden I thought my spirit was flying because I saw the plane coming from France at the southern corner of the square and my spirit and my life were taken to the airport. We were all there. 13 million people were there on that day. We couldn't all be around Imam. We were in this ocean of people. We were mixed with the people. We started to applaud Imam's arrival. That day was one of those unforgettable days.
People were singing, they were chanting the slogans, "We want to die for you, we want to be sacrificed for you, our lives for you, Imam welcome." People wanted to sacrifice their children. That's how high the fever was.
Q: When the Iran-Iraq War began, were you concerned that your sons could become involved?
Hoesseini: Well, my wife has three brothers in the States who have taken higher education. They are professors at universities. At the beginning of the war I told my wife, 'You have three brothers and three sons. Tell your brothers to invite our sons to go to the United States. I want to send them to the States because all three will be martyrs if they stay here.' I said to my wife, 'We cannot prevent them from going to the war.'
No father or mother wants anything to happen to his children, but I could see their martyrdom with my very own eyes. Not with the eyes in my heart, but with eyes of my head. During the seven years that these three sons were at the war front, every day I was expecting to receive their corpses not their letters. We knew they would be martyred. My wife knew that they would be martyred. I prayed that if they deserve martyrdom, let them become martyrs and that's no problem.
Q: How were you able to let your sons go to war?
Hoesseini: It was their wish. It was the peak of their wishes. Sometimes they were praying all night long, putting their foreheads on the ground, crying. Before the triumph of the revolution, they were conducting late night prayers, asking God for their martyrdom, crying.
My children weren't the kind to stand aside at the front. They would volunteer for all the dangerous tasks and missions so they would reach that wish in their hearts.
Q: What kind of relationship did you have with your sons?
Hoesseini: I talked to my sons often. I was a friend to them. I was a master and a student to them. We used to work together as carpenters in my shop. We were very friendly together, very intimate. They were so understanding... my sons, of course, would come and tell me that they wanted to become martyrs, that they wanted to go and defend the holy war. My first son, Hasan, asked me one day to pray for him to become a martyr. I told him that martyrdom is a gift from God. It is not something that you create for yourself. God presents it to you. It must descend from God. Until then the warrior will not enjoy that position. And with the calm in my heart and assurance, I knew wholeheartedly that they wanted to become martyrs. Therefore we were content that they'd be martyrs.
Q: What sort of person was Hasan?
Hoesseini: Hasan's level of religious, political and social knowledge was very high. He was 22 years old. He was educated. At the front, the other soldiers all liked him very much. The regular army would not allow him to go to the war front and we went to the trouble to transfer him to the front. He was very calm -- as opposed to my personality. I am a shouting person, he was very calm. I grew up as a laborer, but he was an educated person. By looking at pictures, you can tell his personality.
At the war front he was considered a religious figure. Many times, if no clergy were present, he would lead the group prayer.
Q: How did he die?
Hoesseini: He directly participated in several operations... In 1982, in the spring at 11:30, he was targeted by a mortar shell. One of these hit him and the particles from the mortar fire martyred him.
Q: How did you deal with his loss?
Hoesseini: We did not lose him. We gained something. God gave us a martyr. It's like giving a penny to someone and getting a great big diamond in return. I was very happy. God has given me five children. I praise him five times. One daughter fell off a mountain and I praise him four times for the martyrdom of these four. But emotionally speaking, I am not a rock. We are human beings. People have love and passion, emotions, but we did not cry in front of other people. When we were amongst ourselves, my wife and I in private, we cried a lot. Of course, most of these cries were cries of happiness.
Q: What happened to your second son?
Hoesseini: Hussein went to the war front before Hasan did. And he was martyred 11 months after Hasan. Hussein was in the demolition column. He was a member and then the commander of that division. He handled various kinds of demolition tasks; he was a good expert. And he loved his work.
In the spring of 1983 he had a group under his command on the 1-12 hill north of Vaker. He had been injured three times before. Early in the afternoon he became a martyr. It was one of the most oppressive operations that they experienced because Saddam used these automatic French guns to drop 800,000 bombs in 24 hours. Hasan's corpse was never returned to Teheran and it is still remaining in that area.
Q: Did you know that Hussein would be martyred as well?
Hoesseini: Our children would come home from the war front for visits. They would go to Koran and they would see what Koran has to say and they would consider that a blessing. The last time Hussein came home he opened to a page and found this verse which said that sometimes we are asked to do things that we don't like, but it's good for us, and sometimes we are asked not to do things and we feel it is wrong, but it is for the best.
Hussein showed this verse to his mother. At the time of goodbye we have some traditional ceremonies. Members of the family hug and kiss each other. I kissed Hussein... All of a sudden, when his mother tried to kiss him, I noticed that she was wearing a white chador. I noticed that they were both covered by blood. When Hussein left, I told my wife that this scene prevailed before my eyes. I told her, "You were both mixed in blood. You should know that this time Hussein will not come back and will be martyred. If you will be upset, if you cannot tolerate his martyrdom, I can call back and ask him to return home before he goes to the war front." "No," she said, "I am his mother and you're his father. I am content with God's content... what is good for the country."
Q: Do you feel your sons' deaths were fated?
Hoesseini: There are two kinds of fate. One is from God and you can change it. Another one is certainty and that you cannot change. Their destiny was God's will - not only that they would become martyrs, but by the worst of people. The worst of the criminal governments, the United States government, killed these people. God does not want these people to get cut up into pieces. Just because God knows of it, is aware of it, does not mean it has his approval. God is compassionate.
Q: Is the martyrdom of your sons a difficult thing to live with?
Hoesseini: As I said before, martyrdom is a great blessing. This is a light put in the heart of a person by God. A person's heart is enlightened by it. God chooses the martyr. The martyr does things so that he deserves martyrdom. When he reaches the point where he deserves martyrdom, God chooses him.
Q: Your third son was also killed in the war...
Hoesseini: Imam Khomeini, may praise be upon him, ordered that if you have only one son, he should not go to the war front. Those who have two brothers martyred should not go. Those who are underage should not go. Those who are too young and their parents unwilling, should not go.
So Said has four obstacles to deal with.
He had previously gone to the warfront with his brothers, but if his mother or I had filed a complaint, he couldn't have gone. But we did not file a complaint. We were not happy that he would go, I should tell you this. We wanted our last son, the last child of our family, to stay with us. He was an extraordinary child. Other people also say that. He was a self-motivated person and he was an extraordinary, self-made person. He wanted to go to the war front and I said, 'you are underage, you shouldn't go.' He took his identity card and he forged his birthday - he added three years to his age. Then he forged the signatures of his parents.
He stayed at the war front for five years. And in 13 operations, he was the peak of the arrow. His job was to gather information. He was injured 11 times by chemical bombs. You could see it on his face... He was martyred in Bostan in 1986 by a direct bullet to his heart...
Q: Do you feel God owes you something for the sacrifice of your sons?
Hoesseini: I owe to God. God does not owe to me. My children were about... 210 lbs. each. God has taken 630 lbs. and has given three martyrs back to me. I must pray and kneel and thank God for this path, that they became martyrs. America killed them. Not only us, but the whole world believes that the war, the imposed war by the Iraqis, was inspired by America.
Not by the American people, but by the American government. We feel like brothers and sisters with the American public. The American public is bright as the sun and clear as water; it is the government we oppose.
Q: You are at peace with the loss of your sons to this cause...
Hoesseini: If I had 100 sons and all 100 wanted to go to the warfront and become martyrs, I would kiss their feet and let them go. For me it is not any difficulty. For my emotion, yes, for my intelligence and intuition and Islamic understanding, it is beauty. All I see is beauty. I see nothing but God, but the greatness of man. It was no defeat. I have not lost anything to be sad about. I have gained something.
Why are you here? You are here because of the greatness of these martyrs. Otherwise I'd be a simple person. I am a laborer. I am a nobody in this country. I am a carpenter, an old man. Why are you here? This is the greatness of martyrdom that is bringing you here from the other side of the world, from the United States. You've come here to find out about martyrdom, to help people accept it. We haven't lost anything.
So our hearts are calm, we are comfortable and as you see, I am not upset about my sons. But when you talked about Imam, my heart stopped. He was the leader. He was God's strong rope. He was the support of all the oppressed people of the world. The whole world.
Q: What was your reaction to his death?
Hoesseini: I would have preferred to be cut up into pieces than to hear of Imam's demise. My reaction was that I wore black for 40 days... for 41or 42 days, I wore black. I never wore black for my children, but for Imam... With his demise our house became the house of sadness. When people came to mourn with us when our sons were martyred, I would throw them out and ask for their congratulations, but Imam's demise put us all in mourning.
Q: Is there an effort today to spread Islam throughout the world?
Hoesseini: You like the good things naturally, instinctively. You like a beautiful face, fresh water, a nice baby... you like these things because our essence is based on the essence of God, the spirit of God... so we like all the good things.
We have not exported Islam anywhere because this revolution is as bright as the sun and as beautiful as all the beauties of the world, and it is as nice as clean water for thirsty people. We are not trying to spread our revolution. Because of the holiness of our revolution, it is spreading worldwide. You see that Muslim students in the United States are not telling Americans to become Muslims. People accept Islam... when they see this beautiful thing they fall in love with it.
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