GERMANIC EYES ON ISLAMIC CULTURE
The Mickey Mouse sticker was scratched off the window on the bus standing next to ours. It's Un-Islamic, we were told. Alright, we thought: when in Rome, do as the Romans, we had better do as the Iranians when in Iran. There were seventeen of us in the bus. 14 Germans, 8 ladies and six men, as well as three Persian men, the tourist guide, the driver and an assistant. Together we were to travel 6000 km around the Iranian plateau, from up north at the Caspian Sea, down to Bam, the citadel not far from Kerman, on the road leading to Pakistan.
The eight ladies adjust their headscarves, practising solidarity with all the other women in this region. It is no accident that occidental tourists like to travel to Iran. They like to follow the track of their own cultural and historical background in the Orient. The events that took place here were to have an effect on people's lives in Europe centuries later. While Europe was still sleeping, this is the region where Persians and Arabs had first understood the value of Indian, Babylonian, Arabic, Greek and Roman thinking, gathering the largest available complex of knowledge in medicine, astronomy, physics, mathematics known at the time anywhere in the world. The Abbasids, who were predominantly Persian in origin, created a flourishing civilisation in the 9th century. Without them, the works of Aristoteles, Socrates, Euklid, Pythagoras, Hippokrates, Achimedes and others might not have achieved the impact they were finally to have on our lives.
We wanted to see the remains of that culture. Standing in front of the Masdjid-e Imam in Isfahan, we eight ladies from Germany tuck our headscarves even tighter into our faces. Because it seems that the beauty of the mosques quite naturally demands a headscarf and a chador. It fits in well with these awesome surroundings. We forget our humanly shape - and maybe thoughts - and concentrate on the message of paradise to come. The colourful interior walls remind us of the < eternal garden > , as described in the Qur'an. The cupola resembles the tree of life, mixing with the blue of heaven the symbol of divinity.
For Europeans who are kept on their toes through a stressful life at work where renovations of the workplace, rationalisations, restructurings and readjustments on account of rapid technological change are the order of the day, a trip back into history in one of the most eventful regions of the world, the Orient, is a welcome change. The light, hot and dry air of the Iranian plateau of an altitude above 1000 metres is exhilarating and just the right alternative to the usual grey, moist and heavy air that is more frequently found in Germany. The cotton dress on the skin feels delightful. Back at home, the same material is heavy and restrictive.
Iranians are hospitable and charmingly inquisitive. One family on the banks of the Zayandehrud in Isfahan was so happy to see a bus of cheerful German tourists having a good time, that they distributed a piece of a water melon to each of the travellers.
We are frequently approached by groups of women wishing to come into contact with us. Open-mindedness or rather the desire to learn from outsiders are striking. We are also much sought-after photographic objects. The native citizens of Shiraz; Isfahan, Qhom, Kashan, Yazd, Kerman and other towns, like to be seen alongside Europeans. But for us there is less of a chance to ask questions. There is so much more to find out about us. "What kind of a political system would I like to see in Iran?" I have no difficulty answering that one: "The one which the majority of the Iranian population would like to see established, of course." "Personally, I like to live within a democratic system," I added.
In a group, a respectful elderly person sometimes seems to cause inhibitions to talk. It is when we meet Iranians on their own, that their faces light up and they talk to us lightly, naturally and in a more uninhibited manner. Being aloud to show only their faces to the outside world in public, women's faces are very expressive. Their entire personality is expressed in their face. The lack of affectatiousness throughout is a relaxation. No ostentatious advertisements glaring, No shocking posters to attract the attention of customers, no magazines with nude females to improve circulation figures. There is a discreet, natural, good-mannered and refined atmosphere.
I would love to see more of this back at home. But straight away I realise what the price would be: yet more unemployment, yet higher taxes. There seems to a choice for every society: move ahead in research and development, confronting the subsequent social upheavals and unrest, or stay where you are with what you have achieved, but risk falling back in way of competition that naturally exists
We walk through the bazaars, adoring the many natural products that we see. Carpets, goods made of copper, tin, wood, wool, cotton could be seen plentiful in the bazaars. Only a few of the so-called "western products" to be seen, such as balloons, synthetic or plastic commodities.
I wish this country with its lovely people all the success that it deserves so much. Whether the Qur'an was 'dictated' or merely 'inspired' by God, but created by a human with the inevitability of the occasional error, and the need therefore to revise God's message anew every century - as the Greeks thought, I cannot imagine that it is 'Unislamic' to acquire and amass new knowledge. If open-mindedness and critical thinking has made an Islamic epoch great in the past, it can do so again. But then, it is not for German tourists to judge or interfere.
Published in 'SOCIAL PAGES' in Pakistan, in the spring of 2002
Der Beitrag wurde veröffentlicht in 'SOCIAL PAGES', Pakistan, im Frühjahr 2002