For some forty years now, a Muslim cleric by the name of seyed Jalal has been coming to my mother’s house to recite prayers. On many occasions as the five of us kids were busy playing, the door bell would ring and Jalal would come into our house, which would remind my mother of the event of the day. She would then quickly put a chair in a corner of the living room for Jalal and rush out to call the neighbors to participate in the prayer recitation. Most neighbors would not be at home, so my mother would be the only audience to this ritual. Jalal would continue to recite even when my mother would leave the room to bring him tea. But as a child I repeatedly asked myself what is this prayer that Jalal would read out even to an empty space. Jalal is now 80 years old and still visits my mother’s house to recite his prayers, which have not changed a word.
But during these 40 years since Jalal began to come to our house, the world has completely changed. Human beings have gone to space, houses today have Internet and satellite dishes, etc. But Jalal continues to repeat the very words that used to recite 40 years ago.
Contrast this with Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and Pixar, the inventor of iPad, the iPhone smartphone and other technical gadgets, who in a 20 minute talk to students at Stanford University created a wave in the minds of millions of young people. His 20 minute speech he did not talk about inventions or the wealth of his companies. He talked about how he lived, not succumbing to failure, hope and accepting death, words that are not much different from those of the messengers of God.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. ‘Live each day as if it was your last.’ This sentence made an impression on me, and since then I think all prides and fears or embarrassment or failures just fall away in the face of death.”
When I heard these words about freedom and respect for the views of others, I was reminded of the execution sentence that has been passed on Yusef Nazarkhani, an Iranian citizen who chose to change his faith, and for which he is now facing the death penalty. Tell me, how can one claim to believe in one religion and a divine book but deny merci and rights to others who are willing to die for their beliefs.
I respect Yusef Nazarkhani because he declared the shift in his gaze from one corner of the universe to another, and was not afraid of the consequences. He could have chosen to be like masses of others who sit at sermons similar to those of Jalal and remain with the same thoughts and beliefs for life.
There are many Muslims who have turned Christian, so one more is not really an issue. We should not close our minds to believe that diversity is a danger to our religion. Unless destroying a group of people to terrorize other groups becomes part of state craft. But because of the curse that lies, duplicity and corruption have brought onto this land, in future we may have to engage in a hard search to find any individuals who may still have beliefs in something out there in the sky.
This article first appeared in Iran's Rooz on October 21, 2011.