Thoughts on Shia Islam after witnessing Tazieh - the tragic street theatre reenacting to the death of Imam Hossein.
“Faith in the imams cures cancer and makes the lame walk… I’ve seen it with my own eyes, you’ve all seen it too”
The little man with the microphone. Unshaven, wearing a faded mismatched suit. Reminded me of snake oil sellers in Western movies. Do Iranians really hold beliefs so out of step with the given scientific mindset of the times? This was a speaker to the masses. He appeared to know his audience, and the 1000 toman notes were flowing.
From what I can gather, the folk legends surrounding the Imams arise from more sources than one. There is the history. Events of the time are well documented and acknowledged also by Sunnis but this only provides the barest framework. Woven into the history are parables of the strength of Abol Fazl, the moral uprightness of Hossein, the justice of Ali – superhuman qualities all, but imams are not messengers of God and nor are they miracle workers. This is one essential aspect of Shiism which suggests roots in something other than Islam.
Maybe the key can be found in the stories of pre-Islamic heroes, Rostam and Siavash. Stories which are, at heart, legends from Zoroastrian times handed down through Ferdosi’s Shahnameh. Perhaps the habit of eulogizing heroes simply got transferred. Another sign of non-Islamic influence is the imagery – fantasy portraits of the Imams, full-bearded but with glowing almond eyes, almost feminine – an unquestionably Persian beauty.
“the earth, the heavenly sphere, time itself are mourning for the Imam. Even He, yes HE is mourning for the Imam with all his angels”
The little man continued his amplified lament, bent forward, with knees bent and free hand appealing to the sky, the ground, his heart, the crowd. God mourns for the Imams? In Christianity God allowed his son to die on the cross but in Shiite Islam he weeps for Hossein. The Imams are not prophets, not messengers of God but heroes, and their powers are still felt in everyday life. Ronaldinho may belong to Jesus but Iranian weightlifter Rezazadeh pledges allegiance to Abol Fazl on his chest. The exclamation “Ya Ali!” is heard whenever an Iranian faces an out of the ordinary situation and needs help – our equivalent would be “God help me!” but critically, the Shiite version doesn’t appeal to a God but a long dead mortal.