Total Pageviews

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"The Rose of Marivan."

"There is a rose that was silenced, that was crushed...
  But it will grow again..the sun will shine again..."
            (The Rose of Nowruz)

There is a tiny city with a population of 92,000, tucked in between the rocky mountains, at the border of Iran/Iraq in the Kurdistan province.
 The name of the city is Marivan.
 Marivan is home to the Kurdish people, a nomadic Iranian ethnic people without a recognized homeland, scattered across the regions of Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
 The Kurdish people have suffered a very difficult life, persecuted and murdered under the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, but valiant and courageous in fighting against the barbaric terrorists of ISIS.
 After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Kurdish people were discriminated against by the New Regime, largely because they were Sunni Muslims, who desired an independent existence apart from the dictatorship of Khomeini.

 "Pastor Randy..teach me the Bible...

A few months ago, I received a unique friend request on Facebook from Maryam..(For security reasons, I have changed her real name) 
Maryam had a very strange request. She asked if I would be her friend and help introduce her to an Iranian Christian man. When I asked Maryam why, she explained that she was a Christian and her parents were pressuring her to get married soon, to a Muslim man of their choice. She had concealed her new found faith from her parents and desired to be faithful to God by marrying a Christian man.
Maryam's request startled me and took me by surprise. I thought to myself, "wow what can I possibly do to help her?"
However, what really impacted me was how Maryam addressed me..she called me
Pastor Randy......
Maryam's next request touched my heart beyond words..."Pastor Randy..teach me the Bible...."

The Lord had blessed me with a young 29 year-old Kurdish girl, all the way around the world, at the border of Iran and Iraq, that desperately needed my help and my prayers.
My heart melted with joy and gratitude, especially when she called me Pastor Randy.
I have always wanted to serve the Lord, asking him to use my gifts and talents, and for as long as I can remember, the number one job I have never desired, was that of a Pastor. The responsibility and hard work of being a faithful pastor has always terrified me.. I remember pleading with God saying.."Please don't call me to be a pastor..."
But...God has a marvelous way of showing us, His plans for our lives and like Jonah..we run!!!

"Please pray for me..I want a Christian family...."

The internet is very weak and slow where Maryam lives and to add to that difficulty, her English is very poor.
 However, despite her weakness, Maryam astonished me one day during our texting. Suddenly she typed the words to a song I had written in my book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom.."
"The sun is gonna shine again..The rose is gonna live again..."
I was touched beyond words! A few weeks earlier, I had sent her my book and now my dear friend was sharing a song from it that had impacted her life. In our texting back and forth, Maryam struggled to spell English words correctly and yet, here she was perfectly texting back to me the words to a song in my book!
I was overwhelmed with joy that God had so powerfully used my book to give Maryam hope. When I asked what I could pray for her about, Maryam quickly responded by saying, "when you talk to God, please ask him to give me a Christian family.."

I am awestruck by Maryam's faithfulness to honor God by wanting to marry a Christian man. She is an a very difficult situation, hiding her Christian faith from her parents, and struggling to have hope that God will intervene in her life.
In my book, the rose is a symbol of hope. When I think of Maryam, I think about a young Kurdish girl who desires a new life of freedom and happiness where she can publicly proclaim Jesus without fear.
I intend to be faithful to God and be a "pastor" to Maryam. I will teach her God's Word and pray for her every day. Maryam truly is, "The Rose of Marivan" a light of hope in a Kurdish city at the border of Iran and Iraq!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Man's best friend banned in Iran!"

"Prayer is annulled by a dog, a monkey and a woman, 
 (if they pass in front of the praying people.")
               Bukhari Vol. 1, #490
               The Hadith

One of the greatest thrills for my dear Iranian friends when I meet them on Skype, is seeing my dog Jezzie. Jezzie is a 58 lb, tan and white, playful and energetic, border collie dog.  Their eyes light up whenever the camera shows Jezzie, getting out of her cage. They love to watch me toss a treat to Jezzie and then they burst into laughter when she skillfully catches it in her mouth.
The age old cliche' is true that a dog is, "man's best friend!'
 However, that cliche is sadly not true in Iran.
Recently 32 members of the Parliament have proposed legislation that would make it a crime for owning and or walking a dog publicly in Iran. The pending legislation would penalize the dog owner with the threat of arrest, 74 lashes and a fine equivalent to $3,700 in American money.
This really doesn't shock me! It disgusts me, but I'm really not shocked. Look at the way they treat human beings! Iranian women are oppressed by the Hijab law and can also be arrested, lashed and fined for showing too much hair or skin. Just recently women living in Isfahan had their faces disfigured by acid attacks for not wearing a proper hijab!
So I'm really not shocked by the way they also treat dogs.
I remember not long ago, my dear Iranian friend Zainab sent me a picture of her cute little puppy dog. She was so proud of having her first dog and was actually enjoying life, until her next door neighbor complained and shortly after that, she was forced to get rid of her beautiful furry friend.

"So what on earth could possibly be wrong with owning a dog?"

First of all, The Iranian regime considers that owning a dog symbolizes rebellion against the government. Owning a dog is becoming "too Westernized," it's participating in the deadly culture war with the West!
According to Islam and Sharia Law, dogs are considered unclean. The only exception to this law is if you are a farmer or police officer that requires the use of a dog for your vocation. Otherwise owning a dog symbolizes resistance to the government. Dogs are viewed as damaging the health and tranquility of people.

Although The Quran does not specifically forbid the ownership of a dog, the teachings of the Hadith explicitly forbid it. Muslims are warned that dogs annul their prayers, forfeit their rewards and keep angels from visiting them.
Bukhari Vol.1, #490 says, "The things which annul prayers were mentioned before me. They said, "Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people.")

Muslim Number 2815, Allah's messenger said, "He who keeps a dog other than

that meant for watching the herd or hunting, loses every day out of his deeds equal to two qirat."

Bukhari Vol.4, #448,  "I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "Angels of mercy do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture of a living creature."

Muhammad had a deep problem with dogs. He believed that money made from the sale of a dog was considered as evil as the money acquired from the practice of prostitution, witchcraft or usury.
One of my favorite cartoon characters I watched as a child was Charlie Brown. He had a wonderful cute, little dog named Snoopy which was everyone's favorite pet. We all would chuckle whenever snoopy was banned from going to the beach or library. Snoopy would get a sad and depressed look on his face from staring at the "No Dogs Allowed," sign in front of his face.
However, In Iran, "No dogs allowed," is far from from a laughing matter and certainly nothing to chuckle about. It's a crime!

If there is any silver lining to my depressing story, its the fact that my Iranian friends can still smile and have fun whenever they see Jezzie on Skype. That is the closest they can get to my "furry" kid without being lashed and fined!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Final Word

"Perhaps someone in this world would hear my cries
 and feel my pain...."
                       -Reyhaneh Jabbari-

"Khoda! Khoda!" ( Farsi for God! God!) Reyhaneh! Reyhaneh!"
 For as long as I live, I will never forget the agonizing and gut-wrenching cries of Shole Pakravan, as she received the painful news of her daughter's execution.
 I was quietly praying for Reyhaneh inside of the chapel at work during my break time.
It was 9 pm on a Friday evening in St. Louis, Missouri and approximately 6:30 am in Tehran, Iran. Dawn had just broken over Evin Prison and despite International outcry and a petition containing over 200,000 signatures, The Iranian killing machine hanged 26 year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari, an innocent martyr, for the crime of "self defense!"
No doubt, the final words of her daughter, were racing through Shole's mind at that agonizing moment,  "I love you..I wish I could have hugged you until I died...."
I had been in the middle of praying when I discovered this haunting video on my cell phone. I stopped for just a minute and I as I watched dear Shole in her agony, I wept and pleaded with God for His mercy.
I remembered the words of Reyhaneh, in one of her letters from prison, in which she cried out for someone to listen to her and be her voice

"Perhaps someone in this world would hear my cries and feel my pain..."

At that unforgettable moment in the prayer chapel at work, I truly connected with both Reyhaneh and Shole......I felt their pain..I was gripped by their suffering and agony...Indeed, I heard their cries and it is a moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

The day that this brutal and unforgiving regime hanged Reyhaneh and thrust a "sword of injustice" through her mother's heart, was only 11 days until her 27th birthday! For seven agonizing years Reyhaneh had suffered in prison for the stabbing death of Morteza Sarbandi, a former Iranian intelligence agent, who had lured her into his apartment to do some interior designing work and then tried to rape her.
From the age of 19 until her unjust death at the young age of 26, Reyhaneh had never experienced a normal adult life. "The world allowed me to live for 19 years.." Reyhaneh writes in her prison letter (Part 1)...I want them to know what happened to me at the age of 19 that has made me no longer fear death...."

For Reyhaneh, her life had stopped....her life had ended at 19..when she was thrust into the grave of Evin Prison. Yet inspite of her suffering, Reyhaneh cried out to the world through her prison letters which became her "voice" to anyone who would listen to her cause, her side of the story of what really happened.

      "With a hanging rope in front of my eyes..I want to tell you everything that I said in court..everything that I screamed  while I was brutally kicked by four forceful interrogators, who regarded themselves as almighty..perhaps someone in this world would hear my cries and feel my pain...."

For more than six months, I heard the cries and felt the pain of Reyhaneh. My Facebook page was filled with petitions and stories about her plight. I wrote a blog about her entitiled, "The crime of self defense," and pleaded with my listeners on my radio program to be a voice for Reyhaneh, save her life and sign the petition for her freedom. 
For one month before her execution, I paused from work at break time and went to the chapel and prayed for her. I was confident that God heard the cries of the oppressed and suffering and would deliver Reyhaneh.
It was only an hour after watching that agonizing video in the chapel that I received the tragic news on my cell phone that Reyhaneh had been executed. I paused from my work at the hospital and found a quiet place and went to my Facebook page. With tears streaming down my face, I wrote the following post to my followers:

"With sadness and brokenness, I have to report that our dear Reyhaneh was executed just a few minutes ago....I am truly broken and yet there is a part of me that is rejoicing because now Reyhaneh is finally safe at home in the arms of Jesus....Death no longer has power over her...The Iranian Regime has lost..they can no longer hurt her...
Jesus had the final word!
Reyhaneh we love you and we will miss you, but one day soon we will see you again at the great banquet table in heaven..This is a promise.

Jesus had the final word, not the cruel and barbaric Iranian Regime!  During his suffering for his Christian faith on the Island of Patmos, John had an incredible vision of Jesus that encouraged him in the midst of his dark trial. John fell down in worship as Jesus laid his right hand upon him:

"Fear not, I am the First and the Last and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of death and hades!"
                                         (Revelation 1:17-18)

This is a powerful and comforting claim from the one who conquered death, hell and the grave! Jesus is the sovereign Lord over life and death. He has the final word, which means that at our moment of death, we are safe and secure in his arms of love.
As I pondered this Scripture, I was comforted by the fact that Reyhaneh was finally free from the grave of her prison and had been ushered into the arms of a loving Savior.....
Jesus holds the keys of death and hades! He had the final word! The many cruel years of torture and injustice had finally came to an end for our dear Reyhaneh. There was a few moments of frustration and sadness for me that God had not spared her life and yet I realized that he had indeed delivered her and answered my prayers. It was just ten days until her birthday! For the past six years, Rehayneh had spent her birthday behind the bars of a dark and cruel prison. However this year on her 27th birthday, she would finally be free! 

On November 5, the world will pause and remember Reyhaneh by lighting a candle in her honor..I too will light a candle...

"Happy Birthday dear Reyhaneh..We will never forget your suffering and injustice..we will remember your bravery, beauty, patience and your hope for justice!


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Breaking the Silence

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves....."
                      (Proverbs 31:8)

Sabah was only 12 years old when she heard about the first honor killing. A young Muslim girl had became pregnant and when her family found out, they were outraged. Her selfish act had brought shame to the family and the community. In retaliation, the mother tied her hands behind her back and sat on her chest, while her brother strangled her to death!
After reading this horrifying account, Sabah was shocked, "What is going on? This is not Islam! My religion is a religion of peace!"
 A few years later in 2004, Sabah was exposed to another honor killing, only this one hit way too close to home. She learned that the elder brother of one of her good friends had been murdered.
 Unable to keep silent, Sabah stopped researching and began speaking out!
I first met Sabah on Twitter and since then we have become good friends. I invited her to be a guest on my radio program, "The Cross in the Desert." when I learned she was doing a screening of the powerful documentary film "Honor Diaries."
Sabah is a British Muslim with a Pakistani background. Several years ago she came to the United States and is currently a student at a University studying Biology.
Yet Sabah is much more than just a student pursuing a degree at a University. She is a very open-minded, outspoken and courageous Muslim woman who is unafraid to "break the silence."
 When Sabah discovered other Muslim women were speaking out against honor killings and injustices committed against women in the "Honor Diaries," film, she realized that she had an obligation, a duty, to bring awareness to her own community.
While most non-Muslim students were shocked by the film, The Muslim community was not, instead they were outraged and offended. Sabah was called a "devil, an infidel" and was warned that showing this film could even cost her, her life!
Sabah confessed to me on my radio program that her emotions have been like a pendulum swing, "Did I do the right thing? Should I really be doing this?" The criticism and death threats have resulted in a great emotional toll on Sabah. At times she has felt lonely and depressed and wondered if she should continue. Yet despite the difficult challenges, Sabah has vowed to continue:

"I must speak up when I see injustices! I can't save the world, but maybe I can be like a ripple in the ocean. I will tell one person and they in turn will tell someone else...

Bringing awareness and education is the passion of Sabah's life. She is committed to making a difference in the lives of abused women in Muslim majority countries. Yet the challenges she faces is not limited to just the Muslim community. Sabah faces great challenges from her immediate family. While her father doesn't know about her activism, her mother does and is worried about her safety. In addition to that stress, Sabah had to hide her screening activities from her brother, since he goes to the same university that she does! 

During our interview, I asked Sabah how she felt about ISIS and she immediately denounced them as "monsters" and not Muslims.

"I wish the ground would swallow up these monsters and take them down to the lowest hell!"

One of the biggest challenges that Sabah faces is the ongoing stereotypes about Muslims that is largely created by the media. She hates the stereotype that "All Muslims are terrorists" and is saddened by the suggestion that her religion is guilty of oppressing women!

"True Muslims would not oppress women. They cannot do that because our Prophet Muhammad taught that we should treat women and children like petals of a flower...."

I have nothing but admiration and respect for Sabah. She is one of the most courageous Muslim women that I have ever met! Despite the numerous threats and the fear of her brother finding out, Sabah courageously continues her battle for the rights of abused Muslim women. For Sabah, "real Islam" is a peaceful religion. "There is no compulsion in religion, "Sabah proclaims, quoting from the Quran.

At the risk of her life, Sabah will continue to speak out and be that "ripple" in the ocean bringing education and awareness to everyone who is willing to listen. What Sabah is doing is taught by the Bible. To her Muslim community, she is bringing fear and shame, but to the God of the Bible, she is bringing honor and glory through her activism.
Proverbs 31:9 instructs us to, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless and see that they get justice!"
My prayer is that there will be more "Sabah's" who will speak up and not be silenced by fear. Sabah has broken the silence and as a result many lives will be saved by her courage and commitment!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

" I Stand with Israel."

"I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt.
 All the families on the earth will be blessed through you."
                         (Genesis 12:3)

One of the most remarkable privileges God has blessed me with on Facebook is linking me with dear friends! For the past three years, God has given me wonderful friendships with Iranians. I have had the privilege to be their voice on my blog and share stories of their struggles for freedom. We have laughed together, cried together and even prayed together. My friendships with Iranians are the most precious friendships to me in the world.
However recently, the violent conflict between Hamas and Israel has put a real strain on our friendships. Even though my Iranian friends despise and hate their government, the many years of propaganda by the Regime has left a lasting impression on their thinking. They see Israel as an aggressive entity and view them as the enemy of the Middle East. Therefore when they see that I'm standing with Israel on my Facebook page, they are outraged and want to know why I am siding with a nation that commits terrorist acts!
With gentleness and respect, I pointed out to my Iranian friends that Hamas is using the Palestinians as human shields and that Israel is not purposely targeting innocent civilians. Yet in all of my persuasion, my Iranian friends still don't understand that the media is manipulating the violence in the Gaza Strip and using it to deceive the world. However, in the midst of my frustration and despair, God once again has blessed me with a wonderful friendship that is making a difference in my difficult situation!
To this day, I still can't remember exactly how I met Sharolin, but I am so grateful that I did.
I saw her name linked to a comment on a post and I noticed she was from Jerusalem, so I decided to friend request her. Within a few days Sharolin responded to my friend request and immediately cautioned me by saying, " I am Israeli IDF," meaning she was a member of Israeli Defense Forces."
"That's not a problem, " I enthusiastically replied, "I am a big supporter of Israel!"
 Without hesitation she accepted my friend request.
 Sharolin Ehsani is my first Jewish friend on Facebook and her friendship came at a crucial time.
 When you come to Sharolin's page, you are immediately educated. She has postings and videos responding to the cruel and hateful anti-semitism that is alive in the world!

Her timeline picture is a postcard drawing of missiles and homes with the caption declaring that, "Israel uses weapons to protect its civilians, Hamas uses civilians to protect its weapons!"
Further down the page is a video Sharolin produced showing the hateful and violent threats made by Hamas and how Israel is fighting courageously to protect their homeland!
As I scrolled further down her page, I arrived at a video posting that touched my heart!
It was a video produced two years ago featuring young Jewish citizens from all walks of life, holding up posters colored in green and red, declaring, "Iranians, we will never bomb your country, We love you."
 The short two minute video pleads with Iranians and reassures them that, "We don't hate you, We love you, we want to meet you someday..."
I watched this video with tears in my eyes and I realized what a "God send," Sharolin was! Here was a video from the hearts of the Jewish people saying to Iranians, "We love you."
WOW! A message of peace and love, rather than hatred and hostility. A message that could heal the deep wounds and scars and break down the many barriers created from years of propaganda.
Sharolin has created a beautiful Facebook page, a page that both educates and reassures Iranians that Israel does not hate them! With all of the misinformation and anti-semitism created by the media, Sharolin has responded with a message of peace that shows the true heart of the Jewish people. Israel is a beautiful and historical nation that is fighting for its survival against hostile terrorists. They are the last hope for freedom and democracy in the middle east!
I immediately knew that I had to share this beautiful video with my Iranian friends. Like me, Sharolin has a heart for the Iranian people. She has a heart for peace and understanding and in a climate of hatred, she responds with a message of love.
I have posted her video on my page with the sincere prayer that my Iranian friends will see the true heart of the Jewish people.
I also have had the privilege of sharing the books that I wrote about the Holocaust with Sharolin, "The Promise and Beauty from the ashes,"
Please join me in standing with Israel at this critical time in her history. God has promised to bless those who stand with her, but also warns against those who show contempt for His chosen people.

    "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt!"

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Please don't hang my daddy!"

"You are Sunni dogs who must be hanged!"

    ( Iranian trail Judge Moghisseh)

 Children are gifted with amazing creative abilities to draw pictures of the things in life that bring them great joy. They draw pictures of beautiful rainbows, picnics in the park with mommy and daddy, their favorite pets, and the list goes on....but rarely does one see a picture that depicts sadness, suffering and death.....
One such rare exception was a drawing by four year-old Mohanna Ahmadi. Mohanna didn't draw the usual picture that four year-olds commonly draw..she didn't draw a picture of her dog and cat or a picture of playing with her best friend, or a bright colored picture of the sun shining..instead she drew a picture of her father being hanged!
Mohanna drew a picture of her standing next to her mother, holding hands and watching her father being hanged in Iran.
When I gazed upon this heartbreaking drawing, I was driven to tears!
 Mohanna, an innocent four year-old child, was doing her best to understand the cruel and suffering world all around her. She picked up a crayon and said to the world, "Please don't let them hang my daddy!"
The heart of their precious four year-old was desperately crying out to you and me over the internet and pleading with the government not to hang her father.
 Hamed Ahmadi was one among three other Sunni Muslims, on death row for the alleged crime of murdering a pro-government Sunni cleric.
Ironically the murder of the cleric did not take place until long after the four were arrested and so the Iranian regime dropped the original charges and instead tried them on charges of  Moharebeh (enmity with God) and acting against national security by supporting opposition Kurdish parties.
However when one understands the contentious history between the Sunnis and Shias, then it becomes obvious the real reason these four Sunnis are on death row is because of their religious orientation.
Soon after the death of Mohammed in 632 A.D., there arose a dispute of who would be his successor. 
The Shia party declared that Mohammed had appointed Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, to be the rightful successor. The Sunni's disputed this claim and that's when the contentious wars began.
During the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. Ali's son, Hussein was killed and this further deepened the division between Shia's and Sunni's.
The Sunnis, the largest majority group of Islam, reject the teachings of the Shiites because they venerate the Imams and look to them for spiritual guidance. Sunnis consider this as blasphemous and idolatrous and reject any religious association with them.
After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the remaining Sunni population suffered intense discrimination in employment and were prohibited from broadcasting and expressing their opinions. Thus, began the long and bitter history of discrimination against Sunni Muslims in Iran.

After their trial, Iranian judge Moghisseh warned The four Sunnis to be quiet and declared, "You are Sunni dogs who must be hanged!"
He warned them to be quiet and ordered them to quickly leave the courtroom.
Intelligence agents began threatening their families and cautioned them to remain silent or else face dire consequences.
Gazing upon this innocent, beautiful and yet sad drawing by Mohanna, I felt so broken inside. I quickly consulted with my dear friend Shadi Paveh, a powerful Iranian human rights activist and together we began speaking out for the four Sunnis and sending out numerous petitions for people to sign. Shadi was a guest on my "Cross in the Deseret," radio program and we talked about the dire situation of the four Sunni prisoners, pleading with people on Facebook to sign the petition.

We spoke out and prayed and waited.......

Two weeks ago, while I was at work at the bookstore, my friend Shadi greeted me with some incredible news!! She shared a post that the Four Sunni prisoners, who had been on a hunger strike, had been taken off of death row and returned to their normal prison cells!
I was overjoyed beyond words. I quickly excused myself and ran into the back stockroom at the bookstore and cried for joy!
Our praying and petitioning had been heard!
I believe with all of my heart that four year-old Mohnna's drawing had touched the heart of our compassionate God! I tried to visualize and imagine how she was feeling at that moment..I thought, Mohanna, you can make another can draw a new picture of your father without a noose around his neck!
Although Hamed Ahmadi is still not free, he is still a prisoner of Iran, he is at least still alive..Mohanna still has a daddy..and my prayer is that one day, she can draw a new picture of holding hands with her father once again..only this time its a picture of him free, alive and out of prison!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Stories of Stealthy Freedom."

"If the meat was covered, then the cats wouldn't roam around it!"
 Taj El-Din Hilaly (Muslim Cleric)

"I cannot accept that my hair can make men sin and lose their faith
 unless they have a sick heart.......
  (Iranian stealthy freedom woman)

March 7, 1979: The new leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini decrees that it is mandatory for the woman to wear the hijab. (veil)
One day later on International Women's day, thousands of Iranian women take to the streets of Tehran launching a massive protest against the wearing of the hijab!
Now exactly 35 years later, a new silent protest has begun called ,"My Stealthy freedom," that is a little more obscure and yet it is having profound effects on young Iranian women who are rebelling once again against the mandatory Hijab Law.
Iranian Journalist, Masih Alinejad, who lives in the UK, was overwhelmed at the response she received when she asked Iranian women about their desires to be without the veil.
The Stealthy Freedom Facebook page was bombarded with over 500,000 hits in five weeks, including pictures and stories of women without their veils.
The word, stealthy, is used to describe the new revolution, because of the danger and risk to women who participate in it. If they are caught they can be lashed, fined and imprisoned for disobeying the mandatory law. Therefore in order to avoid the harsh consequences they must "secretly" remove their veils.
For some, removing the veil is a frightening and difficult choice. One Iranian woman, who posted her picture of being hijabless and standing in front of the Azadi Towers in Tehran, described her journey to removing her veil as a scary event.
 "Whenever I saw revolving lights or people dressed in uniforms, I would think it was the police and begin to shake with fear!"
 Eventually she gained more courage and decided not to let what people think or say bother her anymore. She began to ride her bicycle without the veil and ignored the judgmental stares given by women dressed in chadors.
The history of the Hijab is important to the context of understanding why Iran imposes this mandatory law.
On January 8, 1936, The Shah banned the wearing of the veil and threatened arrest to women who defied the law. The law was enacted as an attempt to modernize and westernize Iran.
 On March 7, 1979,  Ayatollah Khomeini reversed the law, making it mandatory that women wear the hijab publicly. Iran had been transformed from a secular to a fundamentalist Islamic state in order to conform more closely to the teachings of the Quran.
Fear and guilt tactics have been employed by mullahs and clerics in order to manipulate the thinking of women in relationship to wearing the veil.  One such Muslim cleric, Taj El-Din Hilaly,  publicly declared, "If the meat was covered, the cats wouldn't roam around it."
Hilaly characterized women without the veil as being like,"uncovered meat," implying that they would be responsible for gang rapes by Muslim men!
In response to this sick implication, I love what the Iranian woman in the Stealthy Freedom movement says: "I cannot accept that my hair would make men sin and lose their faith, unless they have a sick heart, in which case, they need to seek a remedy in their own souls instead of making us keep covered!"

Another example of the ridiculous superstition surrounding the wearing of the veil is the statement of what a clergyman said on Iranian TV, that a woman's bad hijab is the cause of rainstorms and floods.
A brave and courageous woman outraged at the statement, posted a picture of her standing in front of a dried up river bed without her veil, looking up to the sky, begging  for
it to begin raining.
Despite the consequences and the fear and guilt tactics employed by the Iranian Regime, women are standing up fearlessly in their pictures and stories in order to say to the world, "I am a woman, I am more than just a veil!"
One such Iranian woman praised Masih Alinejad in a personal letter on her Stealthy page declaring, "Thank you for creating a page that has given us a chance to be seen by the people of Iran and the people of the rest of the world. I like most of this generation, wish not only for the day when I will have freedom of clothing, but also the day when Iran will be a free country....these chains we bear are never something that we have chosen for ourselves!"

Two years ago, I wrote a very important book called, "The Rose of Nowruz: Dreams of hope and freedom," in which I described a woman freedom fighter in Tehran named Bahareh, who finally broke her silence and stood up against the oppressive government. There is very poignant scene in Chapter two, where Bahareh is waiting for the bus to take her home from university and while she waits patiently she composes a declaration that I think perfectly describes the inner cries and convictions of women in the Stealthy Freedom Movement! 

             "I am a woman. I am more than just a veil.
              I am more than what I wear.
              I am someone. Someone who has the right to speak her mind.
              The right to be heard.
              The right to pursue her dreams.
              The right to be respected and the right to be treated as an equal.
              God has given me all of these rights and no man or government
              can take these rights away from me.
               I am a woman and I proclaim my right to be free!"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Happiness is a crime in Iran."

"It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness..."
                              ...Pharrell Williams....

Thomas Jefferson, the original architect, of the Declaration of Independence, is credited with the "often quoted phrase" that has revolutionized the world's thinking on the subject of "God-given" rights.
Jefferson writes, in the preamble of the famous declaration:

                 ....."We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness....."

Jefferson in his eloquent style, clearly outlined that there are certain rights given by God to men that are undeniable. His point is that no matter where one lives, they have certain unalienable rights that must be respected and recognized.
Life is a gift from God. Freedom is a gift from God..and then the famous last statement that is quoted most often...the pursuit of happiness.....

While it is true that happiness is often defined differently from other cultures and other peoples, the point is that happiness as well as life and freedom, is a "God given" right that should be respected by others and not suppressed by tyrannical governments.
Unfortunately, The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn't seem to agree with the famous words of Thomas Jefferson.
Recently six youth were arrested in Tehran for making a video glorifying the "God-given right" of expressing happiness. The video was a remake of the "Pharrell William's," chart busting hit single entitled, "Happy."
Williams had challenged the world in a global campaign to upload videos and photographs of every day people engaging in happiness. The youth of Tehran excitedly responded and with the help of a director put together a dazzling video showing them dancing on the rooftops of Tehran. The video was an immediate hit all over the world, scoring more than 100,000 hits. But there was one small problem..The Iranian Police were not so excited about the project. It is against Islamic law for women to appear in public without their hijabs and equally against the law for them to be dancing with males.
Within hours of the video being posted, the police descended on the "happiness project," and arrested the six participants. They raided the home, bashing and destroying everything, confiscating computers and hauled them off to the Vozara police station. On the second day they were transferred to solitary confinement and interrogated. The female participants were humiliated and forced to strip naked performing squats before female officers.
In the end, the youth were paraded before live state run television and forced to give a public apology for making the video. Each of the participants were fined for their actions and required to pay 40 millions Tomans ($10,000) bail.

It is beyond comprehension to me that these young, brave Iranian youth have had to suffer so much for simply showing the world, (in their own words)  "We still have moments of happiness even though we face so many problems in Iran..."
One of the participants, Siavash Tavarti, is quoted as saying, "They were only showing their happiness and they were arrested for that!"

Make no mistake, The "God-given" right of happiness, is considered a crime in Iran. A great example of this is demonstrated during the "day of Ashura." The day of Ashura is a very special event in Iran commemorating
 the martyrdom of Husayn Ali, considered by Shia Muslims, the legitimate successor of the prophet Muhammad. It is during this time that Iranians are supposed to engage in public mourning for Ali who was killed in the battle of Karbala for defending Islam against corruption from other nations. Many of the participants during this time of public mourning, bring with themselves chains and engage in a type of "self flagellation" showing their sorrow for what happened to Ali.
My point is, the climate of Iran, the culture of Iran, is a culture of sorrow and mourning based on the history and teachings of Islam. Many of my Iranian friends have privately shared with me their utter dismay for how the government expects them to always be sorrowful and be in a state of mourning for the Imams. When considering this background, one can now understand why making a video about happiness is really frowned upon by the Islamic Republic. It is more than just the fact that the participants weren't wearing their hijabs or dancing with the opposite goes beyond just that....Happiness is a crime in Iran...And the youth were desperately trying to make a statement to the let their voices be heard...They were literally shouting from the rooftops that, "We know how to be happy just like everyone else in the world!!"

Let me say emphatically..Let me shout this from the rooftops!!!  God has created you and me to express to the world that He is a God of great joy, of great creativity, of great freedom, of great love!! God is not a depressed, mean, angry Orge, who spends all of his time in mourning, rather God is a being of great Truth, joy, happiness, love..etc!!

I salute these brave and courageous Iranian youth for showing the world that they too can be happy regardless of their circumstances. They have taught you and me a great lesson that we need to learn. Happiness is a gift from God...He has given each one of us the right to pursue our own happiness.
The young people of Iran need our constant prayers every day. Despite living in a society where individual freedoms are not respected, they have chosen to "break the law" and make a statement to us in the west.
We really have no right to complain. We should be the ultimate examples of happiness because where we live there is true freedom!
Let's all celebrate freedom and happiness while we can. Please type the hash tag  #FreeHappyIranians on Twitter and support these courageous youth today!


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Reyhaneh Jabbari: The crime of self defense!"

"I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by you....
 Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?"
       (Hadith 6, number 301)

During the 2012 presidential election, liberals accused conservatives of suppressing the rights of women. The common phrase that was used to describe their "discrimination" was the hot button term entitled, "the war on women."
I believe there is a "real war on women," that has nothing to do with the continuous political debate being waged between conservatives and liberals!
The real war on women transcends the political arena here in America! The real war is being waged every second of every day against women in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the middle east. This war has many scars, many casualties, many innocent victims..a deliberate hatred and discrimination against women!
 Recently I came across an article on the internet, (where else? lol) was a blatant statement made by an unidentified Saudi Professor ( who didn't have the balls to mention his name...) The Saudi Professor said,

"If a woman gets raped walking in public alone, then she, herself is at fault. She is only seducing men by her presence. She should have stayed home like a Muslim woman..."

Women all over the world should 
be outraged by this sexist and discriminatory statement! (As of yet I still don't hear any liberal women rising up to defend these women's rights in the middle east..) 
 Adding insult to injury, this man is a professor, a teaching professor at a university in Saudi Arabia!

In the Islamic world, women are treated like possessions, like property, and are considered little more than second class citizens. They are not allowed to travel alone and must obtain special permission from their husbands if they want to leave the country.
When you understand the male mindset against women in the middle east, then you can understand why a young 26 year-old girl is on death row in Iran.
Her name is Reyhaneh Jabbari. Her crime is self defense.
In 2007, Moreteza Abdolai Sarbandi, (identified as a former intelligence agent in Iran) contacted Reyhaneh and asked her to do some work in re-designing his office. According to Reyhaneh's testimony, she was driven to his apartment. Once inside the apartment, Sarbandi began to attack her and Reyhaneh did what any normal woman would do who is being sexually assaulted. She defended herself! In the struggle, Reyhaneh found a kitchen knife and stabbed Sarbandi. Later he died of his injuries.

The trial of Reyhaneh has been a travesty of justice, a perversion of the true judicial process! She was convicted of murder, coerced under pressure to confess and sentenced to hang! 
 Subsequent evidence of drinks laced with drugs demonstrated that Sarbandi had the whole scenario planned from start to finish and yet this vital evidence was suppressed along with many other facts in the case that would have easily exonerated Reyhaneh in any other criminal court!
 The simple question to be asked is, "Why wasn't Reyhaneh's testimony of the events accepted by the Iranian court?"

I think the answer lies in the view of women, according to teachings of Islam in Iran and all across the middle east.
In the Hadith, (The teachings and sayings of the prophet Mohammed not contained in the Quran) there is an interesting story:

Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
                                    (Volume 1, book 6, number 301)

In another Hadith, The Prophet Mohmmaed was given the news that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their queen, to which he replied,  "Never will succeed such a nation that makes a woman their ruler..."
                       (Volume 9, book 88, number 21)

When considering the weight of this evidence, it is easy now to understand why Reyhaneh's version of the crime was not accepted! She is a woman..her evidence is less than half that of a man's..she is deficient in intelligence and in her religion.
I know exactly what I speak of. Everyday I talk with my dear Iranian friends and they share with me story after story of the oppression and discrimination of women in Iran.
 Reyhaneh faces execution in Iran for the crime of self-defense! You ask any woman who has been raped and they will tell you in tears of how the scars and humiliation of this disgusting crime has traumatized their lives forever!
Reyhaneh has spent the last six years of her life behind bars for doing what any normal woman does when sexually assaulted.
 It is time for women, regardless of their political orientation or religion, to stand up and be a voice for the oppressed women in the middle east. This is where the real war on women is being waged!
 Please join me and be their voice!

"Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves:
 Ensure justice for those being crushed.
 Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice!"
                           (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"I am more than just a veil."

"I am a woman.
 I am more than just a veil,
I am more than what I wear,
I am someone."
                   (The Rose of Nowruz)

Two years ago, I had the privilege of writing a very special book on the rights of women for my Iranian friends, entitled,  "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom."
My dear friend ( her name withheld for security reasons) who lives in Tehran shared her powerful stories with me that became the basis of the storyline for my book. Since it's publication, The Rose of Nowruz, has been read by major human rights groups in both Iran and Canada, including my dear friends who live in the heart of The Islamic Republic.
Just recently I asked my Iranian friend to write a short, personal reflection on the treatment of women in Iran. She happily agreed.
I want you to hear, word-for-word, her feelings and convictions. My Iranian friend is an English teacher and has an amazing gift of describing from her heart, the way of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The following short paragraph is her latest story, reflecting on the treatment of women in Iran.

"Security. The word sounds familiar to many people around the world, but for me..that's not tangible. I would love to feel it one day if I get the chance and I hope no woman in the world feels the insecurity I'm coping with here.....
Everywhere else women are praised for their beauty, all the sacrifices they do for the family and for bringing life into this world, but here, when it comes to women..there are no rights, no values...women are THINGS which must be used!
The worst thing about this inequality is that you have to feel it every day from the bottom of your heart...
The simplest example that I can mention is standing at the street corner waiting for a taxi..
Just because of standing there, every cab driver or motorcyclist feels free to honk the horn, stop next to you, and begin flirting with you, saying nasty things to you....
It is reminder that every day you are being treated like an object created to make life full of pleasure for men.
It really doesn't matter whether or not you are single or married, well dressed or not, having a complete hijab or not, what I'm describing happens to every Iranian woman every single day!
It is very devastating to experience being watched and harassed from the moment that you leave home until the time that you arrive at your destination.
They feel free to whisper whatever dirty and nasty things that they wish. They feel free to comment on your face and body, and even the minute things that you never noticed in the mirror.
Narrating and elaborating this issue really makes me sick of being a woman here.
I bet you could never tolerate a single day here!

While it's true that in my culture, flirting and harassment of women is also a problem, In Iran, it is a way of life resulting from the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith. Some of my Muslim friends insist that the Quran is a book that highly praises the equality of women, but when carefully read, it contains statements that seem to teach quite the opposite.
For example, Surah 2:223 declares,  " Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like.."
Reflecting back on my friend's description of the harassment and flirting of men, it is now understandable why she is treated this way in every day life. This verse from the Quran essentially is giving permission for a man to treat his wife in a lude, sexual and vulgar way.
Another example, Surah 4:11 states: "The share of a male shall be twice that of a female..."
The Quran is very clearly teaching that when it comes to the issue of inheritance rights, the man is preferred to over that of a woman.
One more example: The Hadith, (a collection of the sayings and deeds of the prophet)
 Volume 1, book 6, number 301,
 The prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half that of a man?"
 The women said, "Yes."
He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."

You can now clearly feel and understand why my dear Iranian friend suffers from this type of abuse and harassment everyday. Her culture has been taught that men are superior to women and they are permitted to treat them as mere sexual objects! Instead of treating women with dignity, honor and respect, men engage in perverse behavior and treat them as mere possessions for their entertainment.
This is the cultural mindset that my dear friend has to cope with everyday.
In contrast to the Quran, The Bible portrays women with dignity and respect as image bearers of God. Women were treated with compassion and kindness by Jesus during his earthly ministry. In the Jewish culture, women suffered from much of the same treatment and Jesus came on the scene treating women with the worth and dignity that they deserved!
Proverbs 31:10 is a perfect example of showing high praise to the value and worth of women. The writer, King Lemuel asks the question, "An excellent wife, who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels!
Verse 25, "She is clothed with strength and dignity..." (verse 26) "when she speaks her words are wise and she gives instruction with kindness."

What a contrast to the portrait of women painted by the Quran and the Hadith!

Life is hard for women in Iran. They are daily scrutinized by the morality police making sure they are wearing their hijab properly and if not they can be arrested and fined. In my book, I describe this in much more detail.
My heart goes out to my dear Iranian friend. She deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. In chapter two of my book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom," My character Bahareh is sitting alone at the bus stop reflecting on how her culture treats women and suddenly she begins to write down her thoughts and feelings:

 "I am a woman. I am more than just a veil. I am more than what I wear. 
   I am someone.
  Someone who has the right to speak her mind. The right to be heard. The right to pursue her dreams. The right to be respected and the right to be treated as an equal.
 I have the right to live as I choose. The right to pursue my dreams and the right to be happy.
 God has given me all of these rights and no man or government can take these rights away from me.
 I am a woman and I proclaim my right to be free!