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Breaking the Bond Between Mosque and State

by Correspondent in Tehran

28 Sep 2009 08:006 Comments

[ 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

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SO TRUE> islamic republic is full of irony. "ISLAMIC" "REPUBLIC" the name by itself is an irony. very nice article.

sasan / September 28, 2009 9:16 AM

Right on target.
The precursor to all this is the system of government that under Khomeini's baton was orchestrated to marry state and religion. Now, as the author says, that unholy alliance is falling apart, and in the most ironic way imaginable. Time for separation, and hopefully a divorce.

mahasti / September 28, 2009 9:25 AM

I´ve just tried to share your artikel on Twitter, but since you have changed your design, I´m having problems with too long text to retweet. Can you please check it?
I´m just a usual reader of your artikels and I like to share them with others.

Rori / September 28, 2009 8:24 PM

There is no system in the contemporary world where there is some link between religion & state. In Britain, the head of state & that of the Church are the samr. The difference is in the exercise of executive powers. What is probably required is to limit political intereference by the para-militaries & the reduction of the executive powers of the vali e faqih & perhaps a change to a tripartite council of mujtahids. I doubt if a complete seperartion will work in Iran even if possible. A halfway house needs to be found which can marry the Islamic & republican parts. I can't see how a divorce would work satisfactorily & will bring its own challenges and not necessarily a fair democratic system.

rezvan / September 28, 2009 10:55 PM

The banning of the Laylatul Qadr ceremony on the basis of national security is well founded especially since there was a bomb blast just after the elections. Why is this not mentioned in this article?

Carlos / September 29, 2009 4:09 AM

That is a great story and I praise your courage to withstand the indoctrination and recognize it as just that. In no way is my story as extreme but I too attended a camp of indoctrination in the US. It is a program ran by the American Legion called Boys State. The stated intentions are to promote citizenship, patriotism and to provide pre-senior high school boys with a crash course in civics focusing on the inner workings of our state and federal governments. God is certainly acknowledged, but not expressively. It is required that every attendant wear jeans and identical shirts for the week and break into small self-governing units called cities which fit into gradually larger units of government. Each city is required to march in military formation to and from events, meals, etc... It really stresses leadership and running for public office.

I feel just living in a ultra-conservative region like I do is indoctrinating enough. With Fox News most peoples source of information it is hard not to hear people spouting ideological rhetoric consistent with that of the right-wing neo-conservative's values.

David / September 29, 2009 2:07 PM