Friday, 4 December 2009
From the Fin Gardens we drove to Qom, the most holy city for Shia Muslims as it contains the Nazrat-e Masumeh shrine, the grave of Fatimeh, the sister of the 5th Imam. Times have changed; when I was in Iran in 1978 access to Qom was forbidden to non-Muslims and at that time there were signboards on the highway informing non-Muslims that they could not go within 5 miles of the holy city and there was a special bypass on the highway that skirted the city. Nowadays there is access to Qom but travellers must dress conservatively, act discretely and enjoy whatever level of access may be given to them ie sometimes photography is ok, sometimes its not. Ayatollah Khomeini lectured in Qom before his exile as the city is a theological centre for Shia Islam with numerous colleges and madrassah. On the streets of Qom the women were 100% wearing chador and to get into the Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine I had to borrow one. A chador is like a large piece of bedsheet that's worn over the head and falls loosely to the ground. It's held closed across the front of the body by one hand or in some cases by the teeth. Give me an abaya any day!
Inside the shrine we were able to take some photos and then we were invited in to the majlis to meet Mullah Hosseini. Mullah Hosseini had spent the last 20 years or so living in Dubai and he had been a member of the 'clergy' at the Jumeirah Mosque. The Mullah speaks perfect English and, while his secretary took copious notes, he discussed Islam's relationship with the nations of the west, western perceptions and prejudices against Islam in general, Iran's face to the world and inter-Islamic relations. A fascinating discussion and a memorable experience. After the serious discussion was over we talked about Dubai. The Mullah knew Ravis restaurant well and he confessed that he misses Lal's supermarket in Satwa.
From Qom it was a long drive into Tehran. Not in distance but in time. Everything anyone has ever said about Tehran traffic being wild,demented uncontrolled, gut wrenching and terrifying is true. At one point Jess and I could no longer watch and we were highly mature, shut our eyes and hid under our coats. I cannot begin to describe the sheer terror of being a passenger in a car in Tehran. Jess and I were in the backseat without seatbelts as they're only mandatory for front seat passengers but poor Colin, he may have had the seatbelt but he also had a closer view of the mayhem that was going on around us. Except for when he put his hat over his face because he couldn't handle it any more!
In the evening while Colin went out to buy sharwarmas, Jess and I went for a walk around the area just to window shop. Our walk involved crossing the road several times and I'd figured that the Cairo technique of crossing one lane at a time, checking for injuries and then crossing the next lane as so on until reaching the far shore, seemed to be the best approach. Eeek, it was at this point that I discovered that since being knocked over by the stupid Nissan Sunny on a Dubai pedestrian crossing, I'm not so gung-ho about traffic. I stood cowering on the roadside, Jess was in 'let's do this thing' zone so she was ready to tackle the challenge. A local couple came along to cross the road, we quickly put them between ourselves and the oncoming traffic and following their lead we safely negotiated the first crossing. The subsequent times we crossed on our own with one of us saying "I'm scared Mum, I don't want to do this......" and that was me!
Anyway we made it back safely to the hotel, ate the largest shawarmas in creation and tomorrow we have a full day seeing the sights of Tehran.