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Society & Culture

Iran Weekly Wire Podcast

February 9, 2015
7 min read
Iran Weekly Wire Podcast
Iran Weekly Wire Podcast

Iran Weekly Wire Podcast


In 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power claiming he was saving Islam from the Western-leaning, infidel Shah.

Soon after Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, his supporters killed thousands of Iranians on the premise that they were endangering Islam.

Over the last 36 years, the Islamic Republic has continued to crack down hard on whatever it sees as threats to the faith.

What the government perceives as a threatening can seem improbable.

This week, I talk about three stories of officials trying to enforce Iran’s Islamic identity.

I’m also going to look at dust storms plaguing Iran’s western provinces, which endanger many Iranians—Muslims included.


Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is the biggest, happiest celebration in Iran each year.

The holiday marks the first day of spring, and has its origins in the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. All Iranians celebrate it. 

But it is a celebration at odds with conservative ayatollahs’ vision of Iran. For them Iran is just part of the broader Muslim world, and not a nation whose history predates Islam by thousands of years.

Every year, this conflicting view of Iran and Islam is illustrated by the conflict between the lunar calendar some ayatollahs use, and solar calendar of Iran, which is the Persian calendar.

The Lunar calendar is only 354 days. The Persian calendar, like Christian calendars, has 365 days.

That means that some years, mourning ceremonies on the lunar calendar, coincide with festivities in the Persian calendar, and makes ayatollahs uncomfortable.

This spring, Nowruz coincides with commemorations of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima and the government wants to keep celebrations sober.

Authorities are particularly unhappy about tour companies that advertise concerts by popular Iranian singers in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

The government want prevent Iranians travelling to enjoy banned entertainments on a religious occasion.

The Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Tehran has set out new regulations demanding “strict and rigorous observation of Islamic values” this Nowruz.

They are demanding that travel agencies shun [quote] “any conduct that is against the dignity of the Islamic Republic and the Muslim population of the country.”

The director of the organization, said that advertising or services that conflict with Islamic values will be strictly forbidden.

The new atmosphere might even prove noticeable to foreign tourists in Iran.

The tourism organization has asked foreigners to observe the new tone, and has urged them to visit only sites that promote and respect what they call “Islamic Iranian cultural values.”


Shia Islam places great emphasis on the authority of the clergy to interpret the Koran. 

The term Ayatollah, reserved for senior mullahs, means ‘sign of God’. 

So any unsanctioned movement that contains a spiritual element is seen as a threat, even if the movement itself seems peripheral to outsiders.

In 2010, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has final authority in all matters in Iran, said the government should fight against what he called “fake philosophies”

He did not specify any group, but, as in previous cases, his followers tried to prove him right by rounding up anyone who fit the bill.

Last week, courts sentenced 16 followers of a movement called “Interuniversalism” to between one and five years in prison.

What Interuniversalists believe is not easy to understand. The group’s website promotes the movement as a “totally holistic way of viewing the human being,” and a “completely mystic based view.”

It’s a non-profit organization with a California address on its website. It accepts donations via major credit cards.

Authorities charged the group with setting up illegal classes, acquiring illegitimate wealth, and most serious of all, blasphemy—a charge that sometimes carries the death penalty.

This wasn’t the first big case surrounding Interuniversalism in Iran. In 2011, authorities imprisoned the group’s leader, Mohammad Ali Taheri.

Taheri is a homeopath with an honorary degree from a university in Armenia.

According to the website Iran Human Rights, courts sentenced Taheri to five years in prison for blasphemy and gave him $300, 000 fine for “interfering in medical science,” and “earning illegitimate funds.”

They also gave him 74 lashes for touching female patients’ wrists.

Following his conviction, they charged him with “spreading corruption on earth,” a religiously-loaded charge that often carries the death penalty.

Authorities have reportedly held Taheri in solitary confinement for three and a half years, which likely means they are still interrogating him about his activities, and they don’t want him to spread his ideas in prison.

While they seem to have treated Taheri as a dubious faith healer, they also see him and his movement as a threat to Islamic orthodoxy.

Prior to his imprisonment, they had warned him to stop telling people about his spiritual powers and offering treatment in the name of Shiism’s Holy Imams.


Sometimes it is almost impossible to work out why the Iranian government takes up a particular cause at a particular time..

Iran’s administration is secretive and labyrinthine,  with different factions jostling for power and trying to prove their Islamic credential.

At a press conference last week, Hadi Sadeqi, the cultural deputy of Iran’s judiciary, mounted a defense of polygamy in the name of preserving Sharia law.

One might wonder why, since the practice isn’t exactly under threat.

Polygamy is legal in Iran, even though it’s extremely rare.

An Iranian man can marry up to four women, although even Iran’s laws don’t make it easy.

The law says that if a man marries a second wife without the consent of the first, the first has the right to divorce. Everyone has to agree to the arrangement.

Iranian clerics argue that the Koran requires men to treat all their wives honorably, and that polygamy has benefits, like preventing men from abandoning women who can’t become pregnant, or allowing men of means to support widows and older women.

But in a country where large numbers of women are educated and participate in the work force, such arguments may be seen as antiquated.

Indeed, another reason polygamy is so rare is because of the social stigma attached to it.

But because Islamic law permits polygamy, marriage laws are unlikely to change to reflect prevailing mores.

At the press conference, Sadegi said “No law can veto the recommendations of sharia law, and no law can prevent polygamy because it would go against the Koran.”

Iranwire has tried to find out more details about Sadegi’s press conference but has been unable to unearth any clue as to why the regime should suddenly have taken up the  pro-polygamy cause. 

It could be that that someone, somewhere has raised objections.

But maybe this isn’t about the particular issue of polygamy at all.  For an Islamic Republic, any religious question is a constitutional one, and possibly even an existential one. Getting religion right is crucial to the survival of the regime.

Ayatollah Khomeini once said ‘Anyone who will say that religion is separate from politics is a fool; he does not know Islam or politics.’  And you can see what he meant – sort of.


Earlier this week, powerful and dangerous dust storms hit the Western Iranian provinces of Khuzistan and Azerbaijan.

Photos taken by IranWire readers show scenes that recall the Dust Bowl disaster that afflicted American prairies in the 1930s.

They show highways clogged by cars moving through a surreal sepia cloud.

In some cities, layers of dust covered cars like snow, and the sky was invisible. People wore masks to protect themselves.

Pollution levels were said to be 35 times higher than was considered healthy, and schools and government buildings closed.

The storms were partly a natural phenomenon, and partly due to climate change.

In the southern city of Ahvaz, residents blamed pollutants from local industries and the depletion of nearby marshlands.

While there are limits to what the government can do, the environment is becoming a political issue in Iran.

The Los Angeles Times reports that six protesters were arrested in Ahvas, where people were calling for better water management to prevent desertification.

Iran has faced frequent droughts in recent years, exacerbated by poor farming techniques and overuse of water.

In fact, 90 per cent of water is used for agriculture.

According to Iran’s own figures, daily water use per person in Iran is more than double the global average.

In an interview with IranWire last month, climatologist Nasser Karami said the environment is not high on the agenda of either the government or opposition groups.

Karami said that unless the government changes its approach, Iran could end up like Horn of Africa, where drought has caused violence and instability.

That is a threat the Islamic Republic has barley begun to face.


Society & Culture

Iran Weekly Wire Podcast

February 9, 2015
5 min read
Iran Weekly Wire Podcast