TitleRamadan in Tehran's underground

The taste of forbidden fruit

20 Aug 2010

■ N. Sayeh
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Ramadan has arrived. These days, it makes Tehran’s streets seem different. During Ramadan, eating and drinking in public places is illegal. I’m in the women’s wagon in the metro, with some teenagers sitting in front of me. It seems that they are coming back from a class; after a few minutes, they take biscuits and cakes from their bags and start eating. They are laughing out loud – I think the joy of offense is the only cause of their laughter. People are looking at them, some with anger, some with a big smile, but many stay indifferent. At the next station, the students get out of the train.

A middle-aged woman with chador next to me sighs. “During Ramadan, eating wasn’t illegal before the Islamic Republic was established, but people respected this month out of themselves.” Another woman continues: “You are right, maybe not outwardly, but in those days, youth was more religious. They used to fast and pray more, but now, statesmen annoy people under the name of religion and Islam, and it’s obvious that young people hate all the things that have the label of religion on them.”

I then hear a younger voice a bit further. “Everything that has the pressure of compulsion and force behind it is ruined in advance. When sometimes they arrest people because of eating in Ramadan and whip them, it’s clear that young people do exactly these things out of spite.” The woman who started the discussion shakes her head with sorrow, saying: “God knows how many times I’ve doubted this ‘Namaaz’ (five times prayer during one day in Islam) that I’ve obeyed my whole life. Sometimes I ask myself: this is the same thing that these evil people do and they are proud of it, so what is the difference between me and them?!”

An old woman now: “You can’t blame the regime for all faults. Sometimes it’s our own fault. If these girls had a good family and parents, they would teach them not to eat during Ramadan in public places.” Another woman answers: “Mother! Upbringing is not only in family. When children grow up and come out of their family, at school, in the park, with their friends; they clearly see that the only thing which looks clean in our society is just the appearance of everything.”

We get to the last station. As I’m driving home, I remember that I prayed continuously after the “Islamic adolescence celebration” until I went to guidance school. At school we had a so-called break in mid-day when the prayer bell rang (like the dining bell); it was called praying time. We had to go to a big chamber and say our prayers. Some students had the duty to search classes and write the names of those students who didn’t go for prayer.

I remember that after a few months of obligatory prayers, I ran away with my friends.

And we ran and ran and hid in a yard at the back of the school….

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  1. Karin says:

    What do you think would happen with the dutylike character of Ramadan when the obligation would change into a free choice? Would there be a huge downfall and loss of rituals or would (young) people start to develope their own traditions as some kind of substitute? If so, would those new or adapted traditions become an obligation for the next generation? In other words, forbidden fruits always seem to be part of religion and culture, but the strength of pressure can be very different of course.. In fact, my own neighbours don’t allow their children to spend money on Sundays, which is absurd to me. These children sometimes challenge their parents, which also feels like eating forbidden fruits. The joy is great, the fear of being caught too. It’s like a cat and mouse game . . . but in Iran a very serious one so to speak. It’s a pity however that spirtual roots in religion(s) are being forced and desacrificed into this kind of ‘game’, isn’t it?
    Nice story by the way. Especially the difference in how people cope with this pressure and it’s consequences.

  2. نیما says:

    You are right Karin, the only point is our cat and mouse game in Iran longed for more than 30 years and this makes it absolutely frustrating with all of difficulties this game made for us. dear Karin, its great if you be free to choose your own game to play. Freedom is always great!

  3. Karin says:

    Freedom of choice in Iran (and everywhere) certainly should be the right of every single person, I agree with that. I didn’ t mean to bluntly compare the pressure I experience in my country with the pressure in Iran, because the source of the pressure is totally different (regime and personal related), but the process of pressure and what people tend to do with it are comparable I think.

    In a free country as well as in a country like Iran, people resist against pressures because they want to be able to follow their own way. The longer and harder pressure is being forced into people’s lifes, the more severe resistance will get and yes, definitely more and more frustrating! I am just wondering how great a risk there is, for this frustration to turn into it’s own supressive way of thinking and acting when freedom finally would be achieved.

    Even here, in my free country, there are people with radical anti-religion statements because of being raised at a bible belt place (the fundamental christian churches). They have developed a strong aversion against their church and parents , because of the suppresive way of religious standards they were expected to respect.

    That;s okay with me and I totally understand their reaction for themselves, but the respectable and let’s say ‘normal’ , less fundamental group of believers are being connected with this too.
    A proces of generalization starts controlling the new born freedom, which is not okay!

    I gues I can say this for Islamic believers in my country too. The radical believers are being misused by people like Geert Wilders, to discredit all muslims and every Islamic way of believing. The radical anti-islamic ones, being sick of their personal slamic roots in the way they have experienced them (Ayaan Hirsi Ali for instance) take all others (the peaceful and respectful as well) with them in their battle against religious pressures.

    It’s sad that a minor anti-group with influence is the cause of terrible judgements of a major group of harmless, respectful and peaceful religious people. This small anti-group with influence at political platforms, is promoting hate and fear, as the legitimate truth. Alas too many people are vulnerable for this easy way of making other people responsible for all the bad things in the world. People want to be guided in some way and nothing easier than blaming others. It makes one feel superior, strong and victimized and gives them a right *they think* to attack and destroy.

    That’s what I meant: a suprresive life, may end up in another suppresive life, with a freedom being harassed by personal suffering. Sad, very sad and not a position religion ever was meant to be in.

    Thank God or Allah (whatever) for the people who take or get their freedom in a peaceful way without hate or feelings of revenge. Not easy I think, but the only way a religion may be used in my humble opinion

    Hope I made things more clear now :-)
    But yes, I’m totally aware that my freedom is precious, though my country doesn’t feel like a place where freedom is being respected for everyone anymore. I’m free, but sense too much hate and fear around me and that feels awful.
    Free countries have their own means of suppression I guess . . . .

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