Imam Reza's shrine, Mashad.
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In an effort to indulge the where's-and-ways of Iranian life I figured I'd give the whole fasting malarky a go, regardless of my religious persuasion. This simply entails a nil-by-mouth policy during sunlight hours as well as restricted smoking and sex. The duration of Ramazan is seen as one of the more holy periods in the Islamic calendar and follows the transition of the moon and the movement of the sun. During this month Muslims are expected to be courteous and considerate which was shown in the generosity each day when breaking the fast, yet, this depravity seems to bring out the beast in people. During the first day of Ramazan I witnessed above average car crashes as well as minor physical scuffles as people struggle with the deprivation.
My fasting was put on hold (as is the case when traveling) whilst I was given the opportunity to visit the city of Mashad to join my uncle and his son-in-law for a short 2-day trip. The purpose of this visit was to pay our respects to Imam Reza - Iran's only Imam whose shrine resides within its border's. I was informed that Imam Reza is very much the person one would see to make requests from, and it seemed, my uncle had developed a long list. He even boasted a few times that his previous requests' have never taken more than 72-hours to be met.
Our flight to Mashad was most picturesque and certainly more so as my uncle's influence had arranged for his son-in-law and myself to sit and experience the landing within the cockpit, for which brought a great childish excitement. The awesome sights were even more amazing up close as we later entered the immense shrine of Imam Reza. The main courtyard was roughly the size of a premiership football pitch with many appendages therefrom. Every last detail had not escaped the touch of some master craftsman - be it the fine work of goldsmiths', the intricacies of ceramists' or the relentless geometry of glassworkers'.
Navigating through the shrine is not something one can consciously do, we would drift through a river of human traffic, colliding with bodies that were stopping to kiss and rub faces with doors frames, bodies that respectfully walked backwards bowing and bodies that took to praying in any available space. The soft tones of muttering prayer would be interrupted by loud ripples of Islamic phrase, chanted in unison. The epicenter of the inner shrine - where the tomb lay - was 4-people deep with ushers prodding weeping grown-men with fluorescent Poundland feather-dusters. Upon finding a calm spot, we set about business repeating Islamic prayer between relaying our requests to the Imam. A little later we repeated these activities among a crowd of nearly 50,000 people, split between the main courtyard like two opposing teams: that of head-to-toe black-clad women competing with the earthily toned men. We sat in baking heat, line after line on Persian rug after Persian rug, listening to the prayer leader spout foul words regarding America. I was disappointed to later hear the group's chanting of, "down with America", which seemed to set off a day of protest concerning the current theatrical antics regarding Iran's nuclear power ambitions.
Our subsequent day was filled with meetings with old friends and shopping for local delicacies before heading back to Tehran to make preparations for the 4am kebab feast and thus resuming the fasting. As it turned out, that next day my uncle was to hear of good news, this was that Imam Reza had granted his wish - once again, within 72-hours - as for me, I'm still waiting.