Ten Days in Tehran: Day 1 – Eid, a time for celebration

Arzu looks at how the demonisation of Iran is nothing new and has permeated the ummah’s psyche

It is Eid ul Adha today. Most shops are closed, the TV is full of celebration coverage and oh yes, the news recounts the killing of 45 and injuring of 50 worshippers including women and children in Northern Afghanistan after a human bomber detonates during Eid payers. How do Muslims end up hating each other so much that this is possible?

It is 25 years since the slaying of some 600 plus Iranian Hajjis, protesting in Makkah at the ongoing injustices waged on Muslims world-wide. I was in Makkah at the time and watched the celebratory news coverage of the massacre with a Saudi family, who clapped and cheered as pictures of pilgrims being shot and slain were relayed. “This is too much,” my distressed mother – whose childhood was punctuated by three wars and hiding under tables during air raids – spoke as she watched. One or both of us asked why. She translated the Hindi reply our Bollywood savvy hosts gave for our horror and confusion. “You mustn’t feel sorry for them. You know the women carry knives under their Ehram and chadors.” Many things suddenly made sense that moment.That Iranian women came for Hajj armed was clearly preposterous. That they and their menfolk, came in hundreds of thousands, as many as the equally numerous Indonesians was a given. Their demonstrable piety as detestable to the Saudi elite as that of the millions of non Arab ‘others’ they had to endure during Hajj in particular. Insofar as anything was institutionalised at that time in Saudi Arabia, a crude replication of the colonial hatred of the ‘other’, complete with a near deification of the ‘West’ permeated Saudi elite thinking.

With a religious establishment so dearly in hoc to its patronage, it was surely inevitable that such hatred and racism would trickle down, not just the curricula and dissemination of state sponsored religious education world-wide but down the corridors of time too. Pigeonholed according to ethnicity as are all ‘other’ Hajjis, back in 1987, the Iranians had been clearly the target of extra special attention from Saudi authorities. By fluke of bone structure and the type of Ehram clothes someone had lent me, I had been regularly singled out from my family group when visiting the Haram and subjected to body inspections by female guards, sometimes so intrusive they would, in the UK, be classified as sexual harassment. “You look Iranian,” I was repeatedly accused many times. I began to understand what victims of the UK’s Sus laws must have felt like. My rage at those injustices was no longer just empathetic.

In Madinah, I had seen stones (in retrospect I think and hope by provocateurs and agents not actual pilgrims) thrown at a building from which hung a beautiful banner announcing the Quranic ayah 3:103 in its original and with various translations, one of which was in perfect English, “And hold fast by the covenant of Allah all together and be not disunited, and remember the favour of Allah on you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favour you became brethren; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it, thus does Allah make clear to you His communications that you may follow the right way.” “They are Iranians in that building,” stated one supportive observer. Three years later, I was discussing the experience with someone I met in Cambridge. “My brother was in that demonstration when they were fired upon in Makkah,” she told me.

He was, like myself of Indian heritage, meaning that that annual protest led by ‘Iranians’ had begun to be something much more. It had become something more akin to what Hajj was meant to be about – the ummah as one, united and holding on to the rope of Allah and standing up for the Truth as one body. She continued, “In the mayhem, he lost his glasses, he became lost and disoriented for hours. He doesn’t say what happened to him or how he got back to his group. He just won’t talk about it. Sometimes he just cries.” In Tehran, 25 years later, I see no mention of the massacre, at least nothing so obvious to someone interacting with the media on a holiday could pick up. No calls for revenge. No elevation of these martyrs as exceptional against others, though the manner of their passing was particularly cruel, at the hands of those still feted as protecting the Holy Places and supposedly supporters of justice elsewhere. It appears that all they protect the Holy Places from is believers. I did see, before I left the UK, more of the same demonization resurge (I think it is clear now it never really disappeared). One Muslim editor tweets, “Iranians do pilgrimage in #Syria (right not Mecca) these days with a twist: they also carry weapons to make sacrifices to God.” Does he cheer when he hears of the human bombers and the beheadings? Does he await Israeli and US bombs on Iran too, just as he decries the same in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere? Twenty five years later, we still cannot see that those who would torture and kill us en masse or one by one, do not see the differences. We only continue to be complicit in the massacres they perpetrate against us and believe the lies about each other they need for us to either do or applaud their dirty work.

Tehran, Friday 26 October

Arzu Merali is a writer and one of the founders of IHRC.   This article was first published here.


Photo: Women offering Eid prayers, Tehran from WANA News Agency