No joy please, we’re Muslims 4

Islam fears fun.

To humorless puritan Muslims, laughter and joy are decadent Western vices.

The Ayatollah Khomeini declared:

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.”

Here’s a story about the Iranian mullahs trying to put a stop to joyful celebration – and not succeeding.

Chahārshanbe-Sūri (“Wednesday feast”) is an ancient Persian festival whose origins lie in the Achaemenid era of Persia’s civilisation (549-330 bce) and its successors, when Zoroastrian beliefs were strong. [See our post, Thus, more or less, spake Zarathustra, May 26, 2009.] By tradition it is celebrated on the last Wednesday night before nowrooz (Iran’s new year) in mid-March. It is a jubilant collective moment for Iranians in the country and among diaspora communities across the world. In Iran itself, people gather in streets and back-alleys to make bonfires and (in the case of the younger and more adventurous) jump over them; set off firecrackers; play music, dance and sing; and enjoy special foods and the joys of conviviality. In the life-affirming Chahārshanbe-Sūri, modern Iranians each year take the fire that was at the heart of the Zoroastrians’ sense of their world and their collective self-definition, and make it the centrepiece of their own modern ritual.

This year, the approach to the Chahārshanbe-Sūri – which fell on 16 March 2010 – was of a different character to any in the country’s history. Iran’s doctrinal regime politicised the ritual and made it an object of official fear. A campaign to discourage people from joining the celebrations began when the head of the national police warned parents to prevent their children from going out, and continued with plans by the state-run television to show popular movies to keep youngsters indoors. Then, the authorities deployed security forces (including basij militias armed with guns and batons) in the streets and around the strategic locations of Iran’s major cities. The campaign culminated in the issuing by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of an unprecedented fatwa that castigated the ritual as both “irrational” and in Islamic terms “illegitimate” (gheir shar‘i).

It didn’t work. As ever, millions of Iranians poured into their neighbourhoods to observe the national “calendar custom”. Many of them responded to the state’s politicisation of Chahārshanbe-Sūri by using the occasion to express their own defiance of the clerical regime, chanting slogans and songs of resistance. In Tehran, fifty people were arrested after clashing with the police and basij vigilantes. …

The suspicion of puritan Islamists towards many public expressions of human pleasure has been evident since the foundation of the regime in 1979. Any occasion of festivity and spontaneous life – informal gatherings at street-corners, concerts and sporting contests, student parties and even bustling shopping-malls – is regarded by Islamist zealots with profound disdain. In this context, Khamenei’s fatwa seeks to give a new doctrinal form to this larger paradigm of disparagement.

The zealots’ opposition even reaches into private and individual expressions of festivity. The many videos posted by Iranians of their Chahārshanbe-Sūri celebrations (and protests) onto the web includes a shocking attack by the police and basij on a late-night indoor private party in a Tehran neighbourhood on 16 March 2010. It shows the security agents dragging a screaming woman into custody – spreading terror among everyday citizens doing what people in normal countries do and take for granted across the world: having fun.

In its attitude to everyday enjoyment, the Iranian regime has …  much in common with fellow-Islamist states or movements such as Saudi Arabia and the Taliban in Afghanistan. There may be variations in what is regarded as “un-Islamic” (television, dance and even kite-flying in the latter case), but the mindset is the same.

The fear of enjoyment is a singular feature of these Islamist states and movements, whose doctrinal models are unable to accommodate expressive behaviours that are at the heart of human life: even including playfulness, laughter, and displays of fashion. These power-driven forces seek to reinforce their case by depicting such behaviours as part of a “western cultural invasion”

Posted under Iran, Islam, Muslims, Totalitarianism, tyranny by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, June 30, 2010

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This post has 4 comments.

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  • Bill

    Well my ex Kuwaiti girlfriend was a sinner in her Muslim religion. She laughed at my jokes (some of them, because I mainly was a punster and that got lost in cultural translation). She had a gorgeous smile. She LIVED with me – an infidel – out of wedlock.

    Not all Muslims are bad. Unfortunately most Muslims are afraid to oppose the extremists in their religion, so that is taken as defense.

    I am not condoning any religion. I just think it's collectivistic to group every Muslim with the bad, or every Christian with the bad.

  • Ralph

    During the few years, in my youth, that I was a Christian I felt that anything I enjoyed was immoral. Some churches didn't allow their members to dance. Some didn't allow musical instruments. I felt guilty because many of the things I enjoyed were considered immoral and some were actually illegal. I lived in a dry county; alcoholic beverages were illegal. Christianity is also oppressive. Christians don't use the same tactics as Muslims, but their goals don't differ. They both want to force their version of morality on the entire community.

    • Robert

      I experienced the same thing, every thing I did felt immoral. I felt a profound sense of freedom when I broke the chain and ball of religion.