Quran, ass, duct tape and I

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!

I am the atheist Seyyed

Since I remember I have always had problems with my name! Particularly since I have become an atheist! Not my first name though, but the religious title of “Seyed” which follows me everywhere I go in all official documents!

My first name is Maziar. I kinda like it! I prefer Maz though! Maziar originally belongs to a rebellion Persian freedom fighter in the 9th century AD who fought the spread of Islam (the spears wasn’t a peaceful one as you know) and the Islamic regime and eventually was killed by Abbasid soldiers. However, in my birth certificate “Maziar” is always preceded by “Seyed”. Seyed ( Sayyid, سید) is an honorific title given to people who are accepted as descendants of the prophet, Muhammad, through his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali, who were the sons of Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah and his son-in-law/cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib. So, the title is common in Shia but not in Sunni, hence its popularity in Iran. So, as I have been told, my family tree shows that my ancestor was Hasan ibn Ali, although I have never seen this family tree. And Come on!… the sons of Fatima (12 Imams as they call them in Shia) fucked and created offsprings until they died and had trillions wives, they were worst than hamsters! Wherever they went, took a wife for a week, made a baby and left! How can you actually make a family tree? You will run out of paper and ink!

Now let’s see why I have had problems! Well…The problems began when my parents named me! As I was born in Islamic Republic of Iran, and my father had this title in his documents, it was mandatory to write it in my birth certificate! Then I became Seyed Maziar. Do you see the paradox too? Seyed a religious title, Maziar a man who died fighting the religion. After naming me, my grandfather went batshit crazy and had a quarrel with my father that “Maziar was a muslim killer, why have you named him Maziar?” And apparently he didn’t talk to my parents for a while. He was strictly Muslim you see! And I remember him calling me MuhammadAli or sth similar, instead of my own freaking name!

The problems didn’t end in the family though! When I was in school, I was bullied by teachers and students. My religion studies teacher always tried to avoid my first name, they either called me Seyed or by my family name! It wasn’t all bad! Once, a history teacher gave me extra mark because I was a Seyed! (Stupidity has no limit!)

When I was 19, I decided to remove the title, but I couldn’t as that would have been considered as apostasy! (WTF indeed!). Later, I moved to Australia, and guess what!?…the problem persisted in a different way! Now as the damn title is in my passport, everyone thinks that my first name is Seyed and Maziar is my middle name!! I was in VicRoads the other day, and the poor receptionist was looking for Seyed for 5 minutes, walking around yelling “SEYED” until I realised I was Seyed! She was a bit suspicious then, asked me a few tricky questions to see if I am actually the person in that passport! Seyed is everywhere, in my driver’s license, my insurance card, my bank card :(. Yep… I am the atheist Seyed! (Actually the atheist Seyed was my 2nd choice for the blog’s name). 😀

P.S. I couldn’t find a funny image for this post, if you have any idea please shoot!

A personal journey of flourishing as a non-believer

As an Iranian, coming out was not easy. I had struggled for almost 8 years before I stated my views on god and religion publicly.

I was born and raised in “Islamic Republic” of Iran, and moved to Australia in 2013. Although I have been an atheist for a few years, I have only recently overcome my inner and outer struggles of being an atheist publicly! So here I am!

All those struggles rooted in my fear of god, hell, damnation and chastisement and the Iranian government, which is the scariest one of course.

The Iranian education system is based on the doctrine of fear of God and his punishment. So schools and media are constantly bombarding people with the pessimistic ideas of Islam.

My deconversion was not an abrupt process. As a child I believed in Allah out of fear. I remember praying for my parents and begging God not to send them to Hell. I remember crying out of fear, I remember doing rituals during Mourning of Muharram when I wore black clothes, did chest beating and swung chains onto my shoulders until they bled. Later, in high school, I started to grew out of these dogmatic ideas. I became familiar with Nietzche, Bertrand Russell, Kafka and Richard Dawkins. Then, I entered a prolonged stage of skepticism. Finally, during my undergrad years, as I was young and rebellious, I got myself in trouble. I was arrested in an arbitrary arrest after a Green movement demonstration and was taken to a secret detention centre where I was left in a solitary cell with one book, Quran. Since I had nothing to do during those 28 days, except listening to a guy crying in the ajoining room, I read The Quran more than a few times. First, I read it as a holy book, word of Allah, and begged him for freedom (ironic!) but then I read it as a work of fiction. That’s when I realized I had never believed. I had believed only to conform with others. I had believed because others told me to. Those days of my life, I learned to be a realist. Someone who doesn’t wait for an imaginary being to manipulate him. I became a rational atheist who believed in science rather than a poetry scripted by some men 1500 years ago in the Arabia.

Now, here I stand with an urge to tell my story, should it stop anyone from going through what I have.