The life of Iranian Shiite clerics

This article is the third in a series on Iran’s Shia clerics, explaining how they study, get a clerical rank, get married, and what they do for a living.

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As the Iranian cleric Seyyed Ahmad Batha’i has observed, “Generally speaking, there are two types of clerics in Iran: those who are good orators and those who are not, regardless of their level of knowledge”.

A good cleric must have a good voice, be a good storyteller, and be able to grab and hold the audience’s attention. They should also know a little classical Persian music, dastgahs, so they can sing the dramatic bits of religious stories. Some clerics do this very well. Some don’t.

Former President Hassan Rohani was definitely a bad singer according to his friends and foes alike. All Muharram, he used to eulogize and sing at cabinet meetings to pay homage to the martyrs of Karbala, including Imam Hussain. But as most Iranians saw him on state television, his singing was horrible. Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri recalled in his memoirs that former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also not a good singer and his eulogy was supposed to make listeners cry, but made them laugh. “I had to beg him to stop singing,” says Montazeri.

Any good cleric knows that singing and eulogy are the high points of religious performance art. Although being a clergyman is not just about singing or speaking, they are essential tools of the trade. In Qom, many clerics prefer riding motorbikes to driving or walking. They usually sing while riding. A motorbike drives fast and puts a distance between them and people who like to tease clergymen. And the people of Qom are really good at teasing.

Qom’s traffic department in the 1980s exempted religious motorcyclists from wearing helmets, arguing that a turban was enough to protect the heads of religious people in the event of an accident.

Mehdi Parnian, a cleric born in 1975, who studied at the Seminary in Qom and then went on to university for a master’s degree in communication, is now the head of the seminary’s “Humour Office”. Parnian has collected the forms of address and titles of Iranian clerics into a brief lexicon.

Sheikh Where Sheikh as the word is pronounced in Iran, was a title and form of address in ancient times for respectable aged clerics and tribal leaders. However, in modern Persian, shaykh is the lowest rank for a cleric. They’re the ones that maybe haven’t even been to seminary. Some people call them Achaikhmeaning Mr. Sheikh.

Seyedwhich was previously used for clerics who were descendants of the holy prophet, is now also used for all descendants of the prophet even if they are not clerics.

Influential clerics, mostly senior civil servants, politicians or heads of large quasi-religious entities.

Mullah Where soft, in the past meant a literate person. Later it was used for clerics. According to Parnian, these days it’s a word with a lot of negative connotations one step away from a swear word. Among traditional intellectuals, it means a well-educated person.

Akhund, literally means cleric and is the most popular Persian word that describes a cleric. In the past, an Akhund was someone who ran a religious school or madrassah.

Seqat ul-Eslam literally means someone whom Islam trusts. It was a very respectful form of address in the past. In the modern world, the term has lost its true meaning. Any cleric can be called a Seqat ul-Eslam regardless of his actual rank.

Talabeh, is a student of divinity or religious knowledge. Although it is a plural world, it is used for a single cleric, the new plural is Tollab. These are newly coined words. They did not exist in Old Persian. They come from the same root as the Taliban, or students of religion.

Hojjat ul-Eslam, means reason and a guide to Islam. It was not a popular word in the past, but when it was used it was for prominent clerics except an ayatollah. Nowadays, any cleric, even at the lowest level, can use the title.

Hojjat ul-Eslam val Muslemin, is the same as Hojjat ul-Eslam and signifies a reason and a guide for Islam and Muslims.

Ayatollah, is the sign of God. The term became popular after the 13th century. They are high-ranking clerics who can make religious and Sharia interpretations by referring to the Quran or the stories about the holy prophet and the imams.

Ayatollah ul-Uzma, is a great sign from God or a Grand Ayatollah. It is a new term that was first used in 1961 for Grand Ayatollah Boroujedri.

Allahor as it is pronounced in Modern Persian Allah, designates a highly qualified multidisciplinary researcher. This title is very rarely used and is not one of the official titles used in seminars.

Despite all labels and ranks, Iranian clerics today are divided into two large groups: a minority who are senior state or religious officials and the rest who earn their living as clerics, or maybe has a regular job as a teacher or a subordinate. bureaucrat.

About Pamela Boon

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