Saturday, October 13, 2007

My visit to Iran


Note: forwarded message attached.

My Visit to Iran
Dr Javed Jamil
Executive Chairman
International Centre for Applied Islamics
When I landed on Ayatollah Khomeini Airport, Tehran, I already anticipated I was entering a country which was different from most of the other countries. As I was taken out of the Airport by the staff of the Government of Iran and taken to Laleh International Hotel, the difference started unfolding itself. What attracted my first attention were the hoardings on the roadside. They were beautifully decorated with written messages in Iranian Nastalikh, but unlike India and Western countries, there were no pictures of naked women selling commercial items. There were of course no casinos and bars, no evidence of any night life. The road was full of long cars, and I was told that most of them had been manufactured domestically. By the time I checked in the hotel I was convinced that I was in Khomeini's Iran which had a beautiful blend of Islam, Persian culture and modernity.
I stayed in Iran for 8 days. Right on the first day, I was introduced to the participants from 19 countries. I was told that I was the only Indian to have been invited, and only second one in the last fifteen years' history of Quran exhibition. The other one was some calligrapher from Hyderabad who attended the exhibition several years back. The participants belonged to two categories: artists and Quranic scholars. I obviously belonged to the second category. The countries that had their representatives included Britain, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Georgia, Turkey, Palestine and Rumania.
The exhibition was just unbelievable. The decoration was fabulous, and the calligraphy, books and paintings related to Quran were too beautiful to believe. People in large numbers thronged to see the exhibition. I think nowhere else such a Quran exhibition was organized at this big level. I was particularly pleased to see that the emphasis in Iran has shifted to the Quran in a big way. Quranic centers are burgeoning all over Tehran. Of course, Iranians have huge faith in Ahl- e-Bait but they do not make issue of it the way some Indian Shia tend to do. However, I felt that the exhibition would have served the purpose better if the emphasis was on the content of the Quran rather than simply the Quranic arts. I told this to Mr. Hashmi, the chief organizer of the conference, and I have been requested to submit my plan for the next exhibition. I will Insha Allah prepare a format that will enable the visitors to understand the messages of the Holy Book.
I had the opportunity to have a long discussion with Hojjatol Islam Iraqi, the Cultural Minister. I told him that while Iran was pursuing the political agenda of Islam pretty well at the world level; unfortunately the socioeconomic agenda is not receiving the attention it deserves. I stressed that Iran must lead a campaign for the socioeconomic philosophy of Islam on every possible international platform. He said that while he agreed with my point of view, it could not be done unless other Islamic countries cooperated. I stressed on him that Iran must take a lead; if Iranian government takes an initiative, others will have to follow suit. I told him that due to the commercialization of Islamic prohibitions, more than 70 million people die every year, millions of homes are broken and children and women suffer in unbelievable numbers. If Islam's socio-economic agenda is pursued, this will enhance Islam's popularity and Iran too will win greater number of admirers. I had discussions also with several other prominent clerics. The International Conference on Quran that was earlier planned was cancelled due to unknown reasons but I had the opportunity to explain my ideas of Applied Studies of Quran to several small groups. I explained to them that we have had been studying Tafsir of Quran for a long time, but now we must concentrate on the application of Quranic knowledge and guidance in various fields. We must endeavour to pursue Quranic commands at the world level in a way that the whole mankind benefits from the great social, economic and moral values of Islam.
When I visited the Centre of Comparative religion, I had a round of discussion with the faculty about the difference of attitude in the Iranian and Indian Shias. I was glad to see that Iran had been doing everything to unite the Muslim Ummah and did not promote any literature containing controversial material. At this point I also stressed that Quran in fact aimed to unite the whole mankind. When we talk of the unity of Muslims, it must be stressed that the unity of the mankind was the ultimate purpose, and the unity of Muslims is aimed at achieving that purpose. If Muslims unite just to subjugate others it would not serve the purpose.
There is a lot of propaganda in West about the status of women in Iran. What I found was a different picture altogether. I can say it for sure that no women on the world enjoy perhaps a better status than the women of Iran. Women are everywhere to see. They are in almost all the offices and the business centers. They form more than half of the population of the universities. They can be seen moving with aplomb and dignity. They are most elegantly dressed, with long shirts and Jeans and the headscarves covering all or part of the head. They are of course arguably the most beautiful women of the world. They confidently talk with men wherever required. There are no evidences of their commercial exploitation. The crimes against women are negligible compared to West. There are a very few cases of rapes, there are no teenage pregnancies (if there are any at all, they are hardly known). Most of the girls marry boys of their own choice and the government of Iran helps them marry as soon as they want to. I had a discussion with a woman who seemed to be Western minded in her approach, and criticized Islamic republic for not giving women freedom to dress. When I told her that if there was a curb on women's dress, it was in fact a curb on men, she ultimately seemed to agree. If women wear revealing dresses, I asked her, who enjoys this site most. Men, obviously. I saw in Iran Empowerment of Women with Security. And this is what Islam prescribes. Not the Western style empowerment which has become only a tool for exploiting women by the forces of bazaar. Empowerment without security has no meaning at all.
The most wonderful spectacle of the trip to Iran was reserved for the last day of my stay in Tehran. It was the Juma Prayer at Tehran university. A gathering of about 1.5 million was there. We had the honour to get the place just behind the Imam. Ayatollah Jannati discussed the world situation in some length in his 45 minute long Khutba in Farsi. The fervour and enthusiasm of the people was worth watching. And the credit goes to the administration that it made extraordinary arrangements to handle such a big crowd.
I returned back hugely satisfied with the trip. The only negative thing I noticed was the extraordinary feeling of Persian nationalism in the minds of Iranian people. This can prove counterproductive in the long run.

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