A Friday Prayer that will never be forgotten

Mir Hossein Mousavi at the Jult 17th Friday Prayers

Mir Hossein Mousavi at the July 17th Friday Prayers

I have not been updating as frequently as I would have liked to. One reason is that I can barely find time to follow the news, since I actually have a full-time job in the real world :).

Also I have written so much about the Iranian elections here that I am actually not sure what other sort of stuff I want to write here. I guess I’ll figure out in time.

What intrigued me to write now is the footage that has come from today’s Friday prayers (FP). It is just awesome. After the government refused to issue permits for gatherings of the Green movement supporters [which is our constitutional right, btw], and cracked down so violently, particularly after Khamenei’s Friday prayer sermon on June 19th that resulted in at least 20 deaths on the 20th (including Neda), there seemed to be no hope for peaceful gatherings. The atmosphere was that of martial law.

Mousavi repeatedly suggested in his statements that people be creative and try to find new ways for peaceful protests. There were/are various ideas releasing green balloons in the air at a particular hour, exhausting the power system by plugging irons and high-consumption electric appliances whenever AN speaks on TV, spraying green paint on walls, … but still none of these had the effect of the huge silent protests.

The next idea was participation in the Friday prayers. There is always one unifying prayer site in each city and Friday prayers are unique in Iran (in comparison with the rest of the Muslim world, as far as I know) since they have a vary political atmosphere to them, each city’s Imam(s) is(are) appointed by the supreme leader himself . Usually, only very pro-government people and typical basiji-like types go to Friday prayers, another sad example of how religious symbols are exploited by the Islamic Republic. There are 4 or 5 Imams for the Tehran Friday prayers and they have turns circulating between them. This week after postponing Rafsanjani’s turn two or three times, he was finally given a chance to lead the prayers, and of course, give the sermon. From the very beginning that this was announced talks of the Greens attending these prayers also started. There was fear that Rafsanjani, although being severely attacked by the AN clan, would have reached some sort of compromise with them, and thus may end up “betraying” us after we have made an effort to show up. There was also a high probability of being cracked down again (yes, even at the prayers), particularly since The final general consensus was that people should show up if Mousavi [and Karroubi] himself plans to come, and this is officially announced.

Eventually in a very short, yet remarkable statement on Wendnesday, which is worthy of another post in itself, he announced that he would come. He wrote that it is actually he who is responding to the people’s invitation, not the other way around. Anyhow, today we witnessed the largest gathering at Friday prayers in the history of Iran (link in Persian). Hashemi indeed served us right and defended our right to protest and criticized the turn of events, including the current government and the Guardian Council. He called for the release of the prisoners and empathy with the injured and families of the dead, said that nothing has come to an end and that the current situation can be described as a crisis. He also referred to some examples from the revolution and the prophet’s (pbuh) life, emphasizing the importance of people’s votes and the crucial role of unity. More of what he said can be found here.

The number of attendee’s was estimated to be at least a million. The outstanding point is that we actually managed to take a gathering that has always been a place to show their power for the hardliners into our hands and there was nothing that they could do about it. They were so afraid of what may happen that they did not even let some reporters from hardline news agencies (e.g. Fars News) to cover the event. Still there as been a constant stream of amateur videos and pictures coming out all day. There are some reports of people booing the “national” TV (IRIB) crew.

In the live radio broadcasting today, the slogans that are shouted by the people at crucial points of the sermon where actually censored this time, instead of being fully covered as a show of power, because people were shouting unconventional slogans in support of the Green movement. In one place where Hashemi spoke against the crackdown on protesters in China, a stance which the official government refuses to take due to their close ties with China, there were shouts of “Death to China”, as opposed to the usual “Death to …” slogans against America, Israel, and sometimes (like now, depending on the political circumstances) England. It was so load that it was still recognizable although they had turned down the volume in the radio broadcasting. This is unprecedented.

A particular video (you can see it below) that was most remarkable shows a group of people in the streets before the sermons start, moving towards the FP venue (it is usually held in Tehran University, which has a special area for FP whioc usually fills up and people overflow into the surrounding streets). The guy who always leads slogans in Friday prayers and official government gatherings (a.k.a. slogan minister (SM) ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) is shouting the traditional lines, but people reply there own cleverely chosen similar ones instead. It is interesting that they do this so naturally, it’s actually funny. It is 40 seconds long, but he sound has been recorded for less than 30 second, and this is a rough translation of what they say:

SM: death to England
people: death to Russia

SM: the blood in our veins is a present [sacrifice] for our leader [khamenei]
people: the blood in our veins is a present [sacrifice] for our people

The FP gathering turned into a rally afterwards, that is still going on as I write this, there are unconfirmed reports of people moving towards the IRIB headquarters, Evin prison, and the Interior Ministry. There were confirmed reports of teargas being used even during the sermons/prayers, and of course the plain-clothes forces and basij would not keep quiet on such a day! I hope it can have a relatively happy ending.

Shadi Sadr

Shadi Sadr

There has already been this awful news of Shadi Sadr, a prominent lawyer and women’s rights activist being basically kidnapped in an extremely violent manner (dragging her into a car, beating her, and yanking her manteu and hijab off when she resisted and refused to go wtih them) by the plain clothes forces while she was on her way to the FP today. She is one of the Iranian feminists that I have the most respect for because she is not into the “business” of human rights and women’s rights and really helps real people. I hope she is safe and will be released soon, she also has a young daughter.

Mahdi Karroubi, after an attack that resulted in his turban falling off, at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers

Mahdi Karroubi, after an attack that resulted in his turban falling off, at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers

Hashemi’s statements show that there is a tough battle going on between the different figures in power behind the scenes (e.g. between Hashemi, Khamenei, other high ranking clerics, AN’s clan), and it also means that there is still a long way before the end of this. A friend pointed out something that I find very true: Rafsanjani actually took the role that would have naturally been expected from the supreme leader. He took the tone of someone who cares about the revolution and wants to solve the crisis as opposed the stance of Khamenei who irresponsibly erased the question instead of attempting to solve it, threated and initiated violence.

Zahra Rahnavard at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers

Zahra Rahnavard at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers



  1. tunahan said

    Nice to hear the way it happened!
    I feel really very happy now after reading this; considering how you and other Iranian brothers/sisters were feeling a couple of days ago (sinking into depression). So you see; never give hope; you never know what will happen!
    I share the joy of all Mousavi supporters, all those who are after a real democracy in the country, who are after “the freedom of dialogue”, who want “to fight against any kind of censorship”

    • Sara said

      thanks tunahan,

      yeah, there is a long way ahead of us, there will be many ups and downs.
      but you’re right, the general direction is very positive, and there is a lot of hope ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Chiara said

    An excellent post that informs us and helps us understand the nuances at the same time!
    I had the opportunity to hear Rafsanjani in person and he is impressive. He is taking an appropriate leadership role as are all the opposition leaders it seems.
    Attending FP is a good example of when it is better to be present than to leave the forum to the others, who will happily fill it with their ideology.
    I agree the general direction is positive, and impressive, though there will be ongoing struggles.
    Thanks for a wonderful post, and all the best.

    • Sara said

      Thanks Chiara, I really look forward to your comments/feedback ๐Ÿ™‚

      It is so funny that Rafsanijani & MirHossein are called opposition leaders now, I just can’t get used to it ๐Ÿ˜‰
      well, i guess that sort of comes from the fact that the word “opposition”, which has most probably found it’s way into Farsi through French (and that’s how we pronounce it) has traditionally been used to refer to those who oppose the regime, while it is also normally used for the parties opposing the current government in many other places.
      yes, it will be a long, bumpy road …

      • Chiara said

        Sara–Thank you for your kind words.
        LOL Yes, I have had Iranians in exile launch into a diatribe when I mention the name Rafsanjani, only to calm down a little later, apologize and resume a normal conversation. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I think that because the “opposition” is now from within the Revolutionary regime there is more hope for a lasting “resistance” (another good word in French) and transformation.

  3. Chiara said

    Sara–How are you? Given the most recent events–violence and arrests again–one is caught between admiration for the courage of the people who take to the streets, and for the opposition in general, and fear for the outcomes of all this repression. I hope you are well.

    • Sara said

      I’m fine ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you.
      Yeah, I know. The thing is that the course of events is so fast that seasoned political analysts don’t know what to make of it, let alone me. I decide to write something, but before I get to it something new happens and I have to spend time following up on it and trying to figure out what the hell is going on ๐Ÿ˜‰
      I also worry very much, and am very sad these days as the news of deaths come out, basically on a daily basis. The arrests have decreased, but what is going on in the prisons is something you don’t want to think about. I have this feeling that I really should have been there, not here, and this also saddens me. But eventually (and this may be losing it’s effect, but it is really the prevalent feeling), I feel hopeful. It generally think that all of the political conflicts falling out like this will eventually be positive for the Iranian people, even though I can’t see clearly, as I think no one can at this moment, how this may be possible.
      Thanks again for sticking around and take care!

      • Chiara said

        Maybe writing a post and updating the same one would give you some catharsis and be easier to manage.
        I agree there is a lot of reason to be hopeful. This level of opposition and from within the system is hard to quell.
        Take care!

  4. Chiara said

    Sara–have you read this article? It is an interesting perspective:

    Iran’s Show Trial and Me
    by Abbas Milani
    Abbas Milani is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, where he is the co-director of the Iran Democracy Project. His latest book is Eminent Persian: The Men and Women who Made Modern Iran, 1941-1979 (Syracuse University Press).

    • Sara said

      Thanks for the link Chiara.
      Hadn’t seen this, but Milani I know. He is a pretty big name in Iranian studies. I’ll let you know what I thin of it.

      These trials are nothing new in the IRI, just the scale and scope of who they are doing this to is amazing.

      • Chiara said

        Milani makes it clear these trials are both old and new–I look forward to you thoughts on this. I was very impressed.

  5. Sara said

    Honestly, it had nothing new for me (I am not actually the average audience that he has in mind, of course). It was well written and gives you a perspective of how the life of anyone remotely politically/socially active is in Iran. It is the sad truth.

    The only wrong impression you may get (and I don’t think he meant to imply that, since he is talking about himself) is that life in Iran is like that for everybody. Of course a normal person who is not a journalist/politically active/somehow-dangerous-for-those-who-have-illusions-about-velvet-revolutions would not have to worry about each phone call and the like. They have extended the range of the “enemies” and “suspects” recently though. Before this, it was not normal that people would be killed in prison without being affiliated with political groups (even though unfortunately being harassed for what you were wearing was pretty common), and the cases that happened were pretty much in the spotlight. How ironic is it that you can now be charged in the “Islamic republic” for shouting Allah-u-Akbar on your rooftop? They can survive only so much with this …

    • Chiara said

      Sara–thanks for sharing your impression. I agree it was not so much new as a well written summary, and used his own dilemma to highlight the newer extremes. His impression of the fate of Rafsanjani and how they would get him was interesting to me, not being as aware as yourself.

      “How ironic is it that you can now be charged in the โ€œIslamic republicโ€ for shouting Allah-u-Akbar on your rooftop? They can survive only so much with this โ€ฆ”

      Indeed! How long it will take for them to fall, and what it will cost in lives and the future of Iran is a real tragedy.

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