Catch The Fire Ministries has Changed it's Name

Catch The Fire Ministries Inc. has changed its name to Reformation Harvest Fire, and moving forward, you will see references to this name. We aim to complete this name change as soon as feasible and by 30 June 2020 at the very latest.  – 15th August 2013

Iran has been referred to as a post-Islamist society – one in which conservative religious discourse and practices are losing their hold after decades of state promulgation. Iranians’ perspectives on the holy month of Ramadan, observed in Iran this year from 10 July to 8 August, appear to underline that view.

During Ramadan, in addition to taking special care to avoid certain sins mentioned in the Qur’an, Muslims must abstain from food or drink of any kind during daylight hours, a long stretch in the middle of the summer. The first call to prayer arrives shortly after 4am and the final call just after 8pm. The rules must be abided by throughout, and the summer heat – this year regularly nearing 40C – doesn’t make the job any easier.

Tehran’s Vanak Square bustles with hyperkinetic foot traffic at six in the evening. Maliheh, a 56-year-old employee at an car company who has come to pick up prescription medicine, shares her thoughts on Ramadan. “You know, I just love the atmosphere,” she says.

Asked what she loves most about it, she sneers. “Seriously? Who could find anything to like about this? Seventeen hours of fasting in 40-degree weather? It’s a living hell! We all sneak bites here and there at work, save for a few people who are scared about not getting promotions and whatnot,” she says with a laugh.

Her expression turns more serious as she continues. “Honestly, though, it has been more difficult. It’s the law and it has to be followed at work, too. For example, I’m being forced to drink less water, and there’s no cold water around to begin with.”

Hamid, who plans to retire in a couple of years from his telecommunications job, strolls down Narmak Street in north-east Tehran on his way to purchase some sweets. He is also fasting throughout the day.

“Everything is different this year,” he says. “In 1995, if someone had even a drop of water, everyone went and reported it and that person would get fired, or just scolded if they were lucky. Not any more, though. People are looking out for each other. I almost miss those days, though. It’s like people’s hearts just aren’t in religion any more.”

Does he think the easing of the authorities’ attitudes toward Ramadan customs is the result of a conscious decision? “I doubt it. I mean, yeah, for sure what’s going on in government has something to do with it. It’s all cyclical. When [the reformist ex-president Mohammad] Khatami was around, it was more like this. The police and all took it a bit easier on people and people relaxed a bit more. When [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad came and tried to turn everything upside down, it turned out he didn’t really have the brains to pull it off and a kind of silent resistance began forming.

“Take the headscarf, for example: The girls get all pretty and come hang around outside, even though they can’t be certain that they won’t get harassed [by the morality police]. They do it anyway. People just won’t take it any more.”

Ali, a 45-year-old live-in janitor at a commercial building, isn’t fasting for Ramadan, and the reason is evident even before he explains. “Man, I’m ill,” he says. “I have to smoke [opium] several times a day just to stay on my feet and take care of this building. I swear to God, I used to fast. As a little kid in the shah’s time I did fast, but when the mullahs made it obligatory I stopped. I’m not mental, after all.”

Still, no one on the streets of the capital is ready to go so far as to light up a cigarette, take a bite of food, or sip from a bottle of water outside during daylight. Two years ago Sardar Ahmadi Moghadam, chief of Iran’s national police, warned that anyone breaking the fast in public would be arrested. According to the semi-official Mehr news agency, no such threat was issued this year, but Moghadam has stressed that those who have received official exemptions from fasting – nearly a third of the population – are still forbidden from breaking the fast in public.

Majid, a 28-year-old computer store clerk, feels that most Iranians “sure know how to put on a show,” but sincere religious practice has long been fading. “Only during Ramadan am I reminded of how it was before, when the morning azan rings out and the streets are empty. Otherwise, nobody is really in the spirit of Ramadan.

“Before, everyone had a more spiritual attitude whether they were fasting or not. Everyone tried to be a bit friendlier, a bit nicer, and put on a smile. The evening iftar meal held great importance for people. Nobody cares about any of it now, though. For example, during Ramadan a few years back, the police were reporting that the crime rate had fallen during the month, but there’s no news of that now. What does that say?”

In a small boutique upstairs from Majid’s shop, Roya, a young woman who works there, says: “I never used to get a spiritual feeling from the city during Ramadan anyway, so forget about now. I mean, we’ve all grown up. We’ve all grown out of the excitement for eating the morning pre-dawn meal and getting invited to iftar meals and whatnot. Of course, you could say the same about Nowruz [the Persian new year], no one is as excited about it these days as we were when we were younger.”

Her 30-year-old male co-worker, asked whether Ramadan has affected business, replies: “Absolutely. This place is practically dead, like the people.”

He continues: “I definitely think that people have lost the spark for our customs and holidays in general, but there’s something in particular about Ramadan that makes them extra indifferent. It’s like everyone suddenly felt they were being put on with the whole fasting and praying thing their entire lives. People just don’t give a damn any more.”

Ghasem, who works in the media, says he fasts for the sake of convenience. “It’s just easier to fast,” he says. “When I go out, there’s no food. You can’t eat anything on the streets. At home, my mom is fasting. I don’t do lunch either. So I just prefer to fast.

“You know what’s interesting about it though? Even though 80% of Iranians don’t fast for a variety of reasons, when you go to pick up bread around iftar, or stand in line for aash, or in line for haleem, there’s such a long queue. We’re a country devoted to ceremony. That’s what we seek out in anything – the ceremonial value. It doesn’t make a difference whether it’s Nowruz, Chaharshanbeh Souri, Ashura or Ramadan.”

As he prays in a nearby mosque, Ali, a resident of Khorasan Street, says not much has really changed. “In the older and more religious neighborhoods of Tehran, it’s still as it was back in the day. If anything, the harsh economic conditions have made fasting even more of a spiritual act and brought people together. I don’t know anyone uptown who was ever fasting to begin with.

“Come and take in the atmosphere in the mosque after the azan and tell me how it’s changed at all. If anything, it’s gotten better. The ones telling you that nobody fasts never fasted themselves anyway, so how would they know? They’re the same who couldn’t live without a fatwa allowing them to drink water during Ramadan.”

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