Iranian Cultural Mores


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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Iranian culture has a somewhat rich grace. 

Resilience, the consciousness of religion, learning and patriotism have defined the Iranian ways of life throughout history, especially in postmodern Iran.

In fact places like Qom, regarded as the seat of religious learning, have been exemplified by poets where even the birds are believed to be ‘pilgrims’. 

The ancient world acknowledged that the Iranians loved calling green spaces as paradise, and Greeks adopted the word paradeisos, borrowed from an ancient Persian word pairidaeza, which was later used in the Greek New Testament.

There have been many local chores of preachers and edifying story tellers called rowzeh khan who have guided the tourists to golden domes and flanking minarets like the Tomb of Imam Rida's sister, Fatemeh who died in Qom.

It was actually the immigrated Muslim Arabs who out of their wealth made it an economically equitable town, which once consisted of various scattered villages and a brackish river.

Arabs who became new settlers of Iran gave up their native language and became speakers of Persian.

Napolean, tempted by Alexander The Great, once sent military instructors to Iran to help him in his great campaign from Europe to the Middle East and finally to British India.

For secularised Iranians, European models of ideology, progress, nationalism, the French-speaking instructors at schools found resonance and they were ready to get sacrificed on the ideals of a western republic, where the pool of Iranian skilled labour were ready to compete with workers of other countries.

During the times of Iranian revolution, however, the word of God was exalted to new heights, the bazaars of Qom, for the empathy of protestors, use to call themselves off for the sake of the revolution, where its popularity was getting increased amidst the peasant gentry class in the kingdom of Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Bazaars thus signified a ruminative character, an arena of political expression and a place for public discourse, just like mosques that formed as spirituals lungs of Iranian life.

Mullahs used to get incomes for their political actions on pious endowments, often set up by wealthy men. Mojtaheds, as they were called, had the exclusive right to choose between right and wrong in matters of personal, social and political morality. For example, the economic law of ‘invisible hand’ for Ayotullahs was actually ‘the hand of God’.

The Shiah elevated reason to the fundamental principle of law, which was derived from Aristotelian deductive logic. Mojtaheds were also rowhaniyun, specialists in spiritual matters.

Books like ‘The Return to Ourselves’ by Ali Shariati had called the people, like many mullahs to return to their traditional roots, and renounce the European ways.  

Koran was taught every day in maktabs and formed the core of the curriculum, bestowing mullahs an ideological armour.

For mystics like Sohravardi, knowledge was ‘illumination,’ a concept which won him a celebrated place in Eastern Islamic thought. According to him, spiritual genealogy was traced from Adam itself, the first beneficiary of intellect. Knowledge according to him was also the source of existence.

In fact, erfan was a system of mysticism, where there was no distinction between the subject and the object or the experience in which seer and seen were one.  This philosophy had even inspired leaders like Ayotullah Rohullah Khomeini.

In literature, ‘The Book of Kings’ by Ferdowsi has been regarded as the greatest source of early Persian poetry, which had been completed in 1010, depicting the glory of good over evil. Poetry has thus become pivotal to Iranian culture, and a focus of lament by the pen.

In Iranian history, confrontations between Islamic government and other institutions were often made due to a sense of neglect. Shiite Muslims didn’t see any virtue in Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. In the eighteenth century, the Safavi state had collapsed due to invasions by Sunni Afghans and for most of the eighteenth century, Iranians lived in disorder and fear.

‘Nineteenth-century Iran, however, was, in general, the land of blurred distinctions, ill-defined jurisdictions, and overblown rhetoric,’ Roy Mottahadeh claimed, in the book (The Mantle of the Prophet, May 2000).

Iranian leaders like Mossadegh who served as the Prime Minister in 1951 was stipulated by many as the Leader of the Third World. He nationalised Iranian oil and had a knack for creating a huge following base through radio and through public speeches. However, there are also moments in history where he had been tainted with suspicion.

The era had seen countless provocations and tumultuous tussles between the state and the madresehs. Left’s basis of power in oil fields and factories gradually diminished, partly because of government suppression and partly because the State was also able to deliver some welfare means. Many more universities were found, and economy of the country has remained highly unstable.


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