I’m in the 4th grade of primary school. 8 in the morning, in the schoolyard. We are all in lines waiting for a student to start his tilawat of Quran. You see, in Iran, at schools, it is mandatory to start the day with tilawat of a surah of Quran. Usually done by a student or a teacher who’s a qari. They recite a short surah in a microphone to annoy the neighbours while students stay in lines silently, and pretend they listen to the words of Allah.
Well…I couldn’t! As a kid I always found it difficult to stay at one place or concentrate on one thing, particularly when that thing was Quran, which I did not understand, neither did give a shit about. My whole life was focused on how many Panini cards I had or what my best score in Sonic the hedgehog was! Mostly earthly matters just like other nine year olds I assume.
So, the student is reciting the Quran into a microphone and I am talking and laughing with my friends. Then, the qaari says “kun” which is both an Arabic and a Persian word with very different meanings! In Persian it means a butt. As a kid, it was hilarious to hear “kun” in that serious tone of the qari reciting the word of Allah. I start giggling and am trying not to laugh too loudly when something hits the back of my head hard and my eyes go black! After a few seconds, I realize that it’s the principal’s hand. A chubby hairy hand as big as a shovel. Then, he kicks me in the leg as I try to dodge, but I fail and his black boot hit my hip bone like a ramming train. It was so painful that made his other hits quite insignificant . The whole school’s watching as I am getting absolutely destroyed by the principal’s rage. Apparently, he has some sort of an MMA fighter inside him that he decided to unleash upon me. Throwing his hands and feet at me with utter disgust and hatred, he forces me out of the line into his office.
-“You little clown! What is it that you think is funny? Do you know it’s a sin to laugh while Quran is being recited? What’s your name you ass?” I will never forget his disgust towards me. My whole body is pain from the kicks, my ears are ringing from the smacks, and I am already planning my revenge on him, which would never happen of course! I mumble “Bozorgi” while I try to focus on any sudden movement so I can evade.
“Well… Mr. Bozorgi, you won’t be able to talk today!” He says with a grim which is hardly noticeable under that bush of a beard on his dirty ugly face, takes a roll of black duct tape out of his desk drawer, cuts a big piece, and duct tapes my mouth! Like a hostage! Then, he presses his big fat smelly fingers, which looked like Frankfurters that have gone off, on the edges to make sure it won’t come off “If you remove it, I will call your parents, now you can go to class.”
I am petrified, don’t know what to do, if I leave his office with that duct tape on my mouth, everyone will laugh at me forever! And if I remove it, they will call my parents which is even worse! (It wasn’t) So I cry ,a lot of course. Principal is quite content with his disciplinary action and he escorts me back to class triumphantly. I enter the class and am greeted the way I expect, with a wave of laughter. However, my classmates are more empathetic than my teacher. My teacher and the principal exchange a smile and a proud look as they have arrested the most notorious criminal of Iran.
Fun times! Having told you the story, I want to pinpoint how sacred Quran is Iran. Quran is the most important artifact of Islam. It is considered as divine and sacred. Not only the meaning and what it says, but the book itself. The book as a physical object and the words that have been printed by a photocopy machine. Everything is sacred about Quran in Islam. To the extent that you have to be “clean” while you handle the Quran. So, since I’m an atheist and considered as “unclean” in Islam, I cannot touch the Quran. A woman going through her period is not allowed to touch the Quran as she is “unclean” and the list goes on. Recently, I have seen a challenge started by some Iranians. It’s called burning the Quran challenge. Although, I don’t agree with burning a book, I totally understand the symbolic value of this movement which is to break the bubble of sacredness around this book. This book is an idol. We take it with us to our new house and car to bring us good fortune. We kiss it and touch it, when we are going on a journey to keep us safe. We all have one in our home. However, we have never questioned it!