Friday, October 12

Turkey-Iran, Day Eighteen: Jummah

As usual Friday means Jummah. Except today's congregation promised to be less a than usual one for me. But first we had some sights to mop up in Isfahan.

The Vank Armenian Cathedral was a pleasant surprise, yet one which with some thought fit in quite well with what we had seen so far. Despite a diminutive and even boring exterior, the interior was stunning, with European style frescoes and architecture taking the stage.

The cathedral grounds also housed an Armenian museum which had a lot to offer those interested in religious literature or the historical treatment of Armenians of the area.

Which brings us to Jummah. Being in a Muslim country, I automatically assumed that this would just be a matter of procedure, but it turns out that Iran does things a bit differently from other more Sunni dominated countries. Indeed my initial plan was to find a minority Sunni mosque to join for prayers, but despite my tenacity I wasn't able to find any information on where such a place might be. Asking the usual places - the hotel concierge or even our guides - resulted in an inability to even know how to find out, and it almost felt like I was offending in asking. In the UK or even Pakistan one could easily make a few calls to find out this kind of information. At one point I started to believe what I had previously read about how the Sunni minority was treated in Iran.

But it turned out that this wasn't entirely a case of sectarian conflict. After switching our plan and deciding on joining a Shia congregation finding out about where we could do even that was an exercise in rumour and hearsay. There seemed to be a bit of explicit hostility toward religious practise by those who were more secular, and it highlighted a tension I had noticed throughout the trip so far - it's as if the young secularists felt that religion was holding them back. Given the context, I'm not sure if I'm entirely surprised by the push back.

I don't mean to overstate this, and as far as I can tell there was no overt signs of persecution or hate - people generally didn't care. On the other hand they didn't seem to want to progress either and it resulted in a strikingly non-cohesive and non-diverse society. I always say how enlightening attending Jummah is in finding out about a local Muslim society and my experience here didn't disappoint.

Mosque #41: Musallah of Isfahan

The difficulty we had in finding the Musallah of Isfahan was particularly surprising once we found the place. Since Iranian custom discourages multiple congregations in the same locality, most cities have one or two Musallahs - vast halls used just for Jummah congregations. The Musallah we visited was huge and impressive, although it was disappointing to see it only a quarter full. The Khutba and prayer itself were interesting to partake in; it was like a Sunni prayer but with a few striking differences.

After Jummah, we made a beeline to Yazd where we visited the Yazd Atash Behram (the main Zoroastrian temple in Yazd) and the Dowlat Abad Garden as well as a quick look at the Amir Chakhmagh Complex closer to our hotel.

At night we settled in to play a couple of rounds of Coup. Given the peculiar and possibly insular social culture here I wondered if that was the first game to be played ever in Yazd?

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