Magazine article Tikkun

A Rabbi's Journey to Iran

Magazine article Tikkun

A Rabbi's Journey to Iran

Article excerpt

TWILIGHT CASTS A MYSTICAL GLOW UPON THE MOUNTAINOUS desert of Qom as Shia worshippers stream through the gates of Jamkaran Masjid where the twelfth hidden Imam is said to have appeared a hundred years ago by "the well of requests." Pilgrims tie prayer knots around the iron grid covering the well to express humanity's urgent prayer for an end to suffering. The mosque takes a more active role, serving a free meal to thousands of people every Tuesday evening. Tears overflow as I walk toward the sky-blue dome and soaring minarets, trembling with the call to prayer on the last stop of our journey to Iran.

Allah hu Akbar

Allah hu Akbar

Allah hu Akbar

Allah hu Akbar. God is great Come to prayer.

I pause at the reflecting pool that mirrors above and below, dip my pilgrim hands into the water and wash my hands and face in preparation for Muslim prayer. In Iran, everyone knows the words of the poet Saadi by heart: "Are we not cut from the same jewel? If one member is struck, do we not all feel the blow?" Only someone who cares for the pain of others can take the name "human being."

The seventh Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation to Iran, whose purpose is to promote civilian diplomacy, is ushered to the interior courtyard of the masjid where men and women separate for prayer. Muslim sisters offer plastic bags for shoe storage and pass out optional chadors. Suad wishes she had not polished her nails as this place evokes piety and simplicity. Our brilliant, emancipated Persian rose, who is the delegation's interpreter of language, culture, and history turns off her cell phone, wraps herself in white and hands me a clay stone, cool and smooth, upon which I will rest my forehead during salat. The Prophet, peace be upon him, used to say that the best spot for prostration is the earth (Kanz-ul-Ummal Part 4. p.113).

The insight that wisdom arises from the earth is ancient and universal.

The previous evening a few of us meet Jewish, Muslim and secular youth in an apartment in northern Teheran. Here hijabs are removed and people are free to reveal their true thoughts. The conversation drifts to the widespread Iranian belief that we are one humanity and should not let religion divide us. Michelle Cook, a Navajo woman on the delegation, shares the core principle of indigenous thought The earth is our common ground, the soil of our existence, the place our dreams arise. As we reflect on indigenous wisdom, I mention this region's oldest written story. Inscribed on earthen tablets, it recounts the myth of the Goddess Inanna who initiates her quest for wisdom by placing her ear on the earth and then descends into the interior rather than climb the heights to seek knowledge. Iranians love poetry and stories and the youth request the entire tale. Because I am a storyteller, I am delighted to oblige them.

Now I am here, bending my head to the earth in order to touch the clay stone, like my ancestor Yaakov, whose first divine awakening occurs when he places his head upon stone in a place he does not know. Our ancestors taught, "The Creator formed the first human from brown, yellow, red and white clay so that no one can claim, 'My ancestor is greater than yours.'" Everywhere I travel in Iran, people repeat the same sentiment. We are one religion, one people, one family, bound together in one all-embracing destiny upon the earth, mother of us all, as Michelle would say.

The Qur'an teaches there shall be no compulsion in religion. I willingly bow my body in thanksgiving for the invitation that has brought me unexpectedly to this place at this time. I kneel, prostrate, rise, kneel, prostrate, rise in the rhythm ofsalat. Bismiuah HaRachman HaRachim. May we have the courage to turn away from fear. May we embrace each other as brothers and sisters. May we learn to see each other as one family striving not in war, but in righteousness. May we behold the tapestry of difference as a beautiful gift emanating from divine abundance given to us in orderto enrich our spirits. …

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