IRAN and PARADISE are still twins

April 25 – May 23, 2017

One of my dear memories of Iran is the evening, night and day, not far from the road to Mashad and Herat, in the spring of 1973.
It was the year in which we traveled during six months in a second-hand British Ford-transit: the first two months through North-Africa and the Sahara, and from there to Asia, crossing Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India on our way to Lake Manasbal at the foot of the Himalaya in Kashmir, administered by India. That evening, Alma, David, Job, Adam and I were invited by some men in a remote cafe. They poured tea, made music and sang. We smoked together a joint of a rare kind of hashish, while they were singing: “we shall bring you until the gate of paradise but you yourself have to enter.”

After 44 years we return to that Iran. I may be cursed, if it isn’t true: Iran and Paradise are still twins. Not only gardens, mosques, calligraphic texts, sufi poets like Omar Khayyan, Sa’di, Rumi, Hafez and Attar, religious feasts, music and sufi-congregations – often suspect in the eyes of ulema, testify of that relationship, but the hearts and minds of countless Iranians. The poor more than the rich. The first two weeks I didn’t know whether I could trust my eyes or not. This sentence you have to interpret literally in contrast to the verses of the Koran that enclose several layers, like all ‘holy’ books.

Your eyes are honest, Mohammed Jamshidi, our guide, said. He brought us to the Qashqaei’ nomads, among whom he grew up as a child. The nomad way of life is exceptionally tough, made so especially by the continuous threat of drought. There are one million nomads in the south of Iran. Two days before our arrival his family installed a large tent, while another family with hundreds of goats continued its tour another three 24 hours’ day before settling down. Jamshidi knows everyone of both families by name.  Saying goodbye to the father of a family showing their carpets and offering tea and sweets, I felt a little burdened. Because right from the beginning, it was clear that we didn’t want to buy anything, whatsoever.
Mohammad: “No, it was good; your eyes are honest, and people see that.”

The eyes tell the story of the heart
From that moment on, I dared to trust the eyes of men and women, and those of myself. I learned to look straight into their eyes, to discover that they allowed me to do so. Women even more than men.
It is a wonderful experience to SEE how women, of course not all, look at you; and accept and understand that you look back with a glance of respect and appreciation. Actually, I have to use the word ‘love’, for that It is! The eyes tell the story of the heart, like the poetry of Hafez Shirâzi recites the triad: Love, Lover and the Beloved One. Hafez is still alive; he never died in the heart of millions Iranians.
The string between heart and mind opens the gate of paradise. Therefore the men in the cafe were singing: “we bring you until the gate of paradise but you yourself have to enter.” The Beloved One lives in the garden with flowers, trees and birds, but also in the cafe and in the wine. Wine in Muslim countries without a drop of alcohol like in Iran, is nevertheless the metaphor for God and God is Everywhere.

Friday morning, May 19, 2017
Colette and I are collected by Shahram Pazouki, Miryam his wife and Ameneh, who is the assistant of dr. Pazouki in his role as professor in philosophy and religious studies at the Iranian Institute for Philosophy. We exchanged letters before our travel. Pazouki: “we might share our ideas with each other, because there are  many common subjects.” My answer: “we both have a personal interest in what really counts in philosophy: wisdom and insight.”
The contact occurred thanks to a common Iranian friend.

The Khãnãqah
Shahram Pazouki invited us for a ceremony in the place where sufis meet. Miryam nd Ameneh bring a chador for Colette. Women and men enter the Khãnãqah through a different entrance as in all public places. The building is immense. A high central hall, surrounded by spaces at different levels and corridors, with a view at the center where hundreds of sufis gather. The building reminds me of the famous fresco of Rafael: The school of Athens (1509), because also there an immense space with a central place for Plato and Aristotle. Together they represent the relation between the human being, heaven and earth. Aristotle the earth; Plato the heaven, domain of transcendent reflection and transcendent reality, beyond any form.
Pazouki sits down on a stairway in the corridor, I next to him, while he explains what’s going to happen. At the beginning a singer recites the Qutbs (Masters) of the Ni’matullahi Sultan ‘Alishi Orde’ with the prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah as first name, followed by the twelve Imams; seventeen Sheikhs; ten Shahs; two Sheikhs; and eleven times Hadrath…Hazrat Hajj Dr. Nur ‘Al Tabandeh Majd Hub Alishah’, as the last one. Then back to the first human: Adam.

The treatise by the head of the Sufi-order has been cancelled because of illness (read: ulema). De precentor begins to sing poems of Hafez Shirâzi, while hundreds of sufis meditate in the high hall, galleries and corridors. Reciting and singing the names of the Masters and ending with Adam while everyone listens in silence, unites all those names and Hafez’ poetry. Space and sound evoke their presence. They are predecessors in space and time, having lived an exemplary way of life.

Sufism refutes the linear time-line of Barrow and Newton
The worldview of sufis implies an unlimited space in which whatever exists, is in the here-and-now. Their view transforms the straight linear time-line of Isaac Barrow (1683) and Isaac Newton into an upward or downward spiral. The difference in space-time perspective between East and West becomes evident.

Justice, liberality, modesty, contentment
The poet Sa’di writes in Bostan (1257), the Orchard, in verses about the classic virtues of a Muslim: justice, liberality, modesty, contentment.
A year later Sa’di hears from eyewitnesses the stories about the destruction of Bagdad by the Mongolian Ilkhanate invaders under command of Hulagu. Sa’di got captured by the Crusaders in Acre. He toiled seven years as slave in the trenches outside the Ford till the Mamelukes payed a ransom to free the Muslims in the dungeons of the Crusaders.
Sa’di wrote in Persian and Arabic.

Mongols in the 13th century; the West in the 20st and 21st century
I am writing about Sa’di’s experiences because the history of the Mongols in the thirteenth century repeats itself in our time. Bagdad suffers 750 years later on April 9, 2003, a similar fate through the hands of G.W. Bush and Tony Blair. Both lied about Irak in the face of their own people, causing a wreckage in Irak that needs 100 years to recover, according to Amna Nusayr. The attack on Irak took place after Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 to suppress the ‘Islamic revolution’ by Imam Khomeini (1979), herein supported by the USA , while Israel secretly sold weapons to Iran.
The Irak-Iran war ends in 1988. The civil war in Syria (2011…) is a new chapter in the tragic fate of the Middle-East, where the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 entails the forced exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinians: the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Jewish Zionists. The name for the catastrophe: Al-Naqba. A peaceful settlement in the interest of both Jews and Palestinians seems further away than ever.

I cried inside myself of emotion
After the ceremony Shahram asks Colette about her experience. Her answer: “I cried inside myself of emotion.” The sphere between the women was of a rare beauty.
A comparable experience I felt about the men. They greeted each other with openness, friendliness and kisses. No question of macho-behavior. The contrary. Some men, their hands together, are kissing each other’s hands and heads, and this several times, like little birds nod their heads to each other.

Migrations from the North of India: six- till four thousand BCE
For the first time, I see and understand another side of the patriarchal way of life that entered Iran, Middle East and Europe. Thousands of years ago vua migrations from the North of India. The prehistoric matriarchal culture in Iran, Middle East and Europe mixes itself since 2000 BCE with the patriarchal culture of the migrants. Earth goddesses initially share their place with male gods and forces, until they have to relinquish their place to the god(s) of heaven of the monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The idealistic brotherhood of men in Sufism and Freemasonry speaks to the imagination if there is real openness and friendship like on this Friday, the first day in the Islamic week. That intense bond is also tangible among the women. Colette experiernced it more than once. All women are beautiful, tells the guide in chador during a visit to the great, congregrational mosque of Shiraz. The culture of Shiraz is pervaded by beauty. The large portal of the Kasiem Mosque only shows flowers and geometrical patterns. If mosques, mausoleums, palaces, traditional houses and gardens are already so beautiful, then also the women and men living there.

Iranian Institute for Philosophy
Monday, May 22, 2017. Pazouki orders a taxi to our hotel for a meeting in the ‘Iranian Institute for Philosophy’. The first we see at arrival is a garden, carefully designed and maintained. The garden: a metaphor for paradise. The transition from a frenzied traffic bustle in which buses, trucks, taxis, lorries, motors and passengers move slowly but without any hesitation through each other, filling every hole there is, to the silence of a garden, couldn’t be more drastic.
I enjoy the traffic, although it is frightening. Most amazing is how everyone watches everything. Not traffic rules or traffic lights determine the state of affairs but the unlikely flexibility of drivers and pedestrians. Women are the best. The traffic manifests an absurd kind of beauty, if one disposes of enough anarchistic sentiment.

Such a society defeats any tyrant or dictator
Only a society in which people daily communicate and are always prepared to help each other, is able to deal with such an ‘organized chaos’. The urban traffic in Iran is a permanent demonstration of Ilya Prigogine & Isabelle Stengers’ Order Out of Chaos.
Such a society defeats any tyrant or dictator, if state repression lasts too long and when its violence becomes too brutish. The last Shah of the Pahlevi dynasty (1925) leaves ‘silently’ the country in the middle of January 1979. He makes place for Ayatollah Ruhulla Khomeini who after fifteen years of exile returns to Teheran on February 1. Michel Foucault was at Orly among the crowd for his farewell. Khomeini arrives on the waves of a million demonstrators in the streets of Teheran to become the head of the government. After a start with several political parties, a referendum about the formation of an ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’ is accepted with an overwhelming majority of the votes in April 1979. Since then, the power is legally in the hands of the clergy. The political context changes from secularism to religion but within a similar pattern as before. Forms don’t change so easily.
Both secularists and ulema (Muslim lawyers abd scribes) don’t dare to trust the human heart. Therefore, religious authorities distrust Sufis.

Shahram Paouki invited his colleagues for a meeting that would last two-and-half hour. He introduces us with the remark that we traveled more than three weeks without a guide: ‘this happens rarely’!
Tehran-Qom-Yadz-Kerman-Shiraz-Esfahan-Tehran: circa 2800 kilometers.

Various subjects are exchanged: 1. how space and time determine a worldview; 2. there are no logical contradictions within physical and organic realities; 3. Iran between East and West; 4. the gap between secularism and religion. Especially this subject raises many questions. My colleagues are more skeptical than I am. They see no or hardly any way out.
I consider the contrast not as contradictory but as a polar yin-yang relation. The Renaissance in Europe’s Quatrocento (15th century) developed a fruitful dialogue between the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures and Christianity in the late Middle Ages.
The University for Humanist Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands, chose after its establishment in 1989 for the Enlightenment (read: secularism) as philosophical foundation. I argued in favor of the Renaissance as a source for research. Why? Precisely for reasons that cause in today’s world a dogmatic breach between two domains of human intelligence and human needs: secularism and religion.

The straight way and the crooked way are the same way
Blaise Pacal, philosopher and mathematician (1623-1662): “the heart has reasons which reason doesn’t know at all “- (le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point’), is the key to meaningful answers about the gap between both domains.
Our argument: human nature is ‘divine’ by origin, because it is capable by its creative imagination to explore nature; to pose to itself the most divergent questions, and finally to reach a similar insight like the one of Heraclitus (circa 540-480): the straight way and the crooked way are the same way.

Shahram Pazouki and I share a similar vision of human nature with its intuitive desire for beauty, truth and goodness. Each child radiates this endeavour, and is capable to adapt itself to any culture. Children are the answer to the problems of the adults. They are aware of the fundamental Oneness and Wholeness of all that exists.
David Bohm (1917-1992) describes the interactive exchange between all that exists in Wholeness and the Implicate Order: “I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general, and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment…”.

Albert Einstein named Bohm as his successor, because he realized that one could never solve a problem from the level out of which the problem had evolved. If we don’t realize this elementary truth, the stalemate between religion and secularism will continue until both black and white decide to start a new game of chess.

Islam has a problem
We came in our hotel across a French Muslim with great interest in Christianity. He tells about his encounter with an educated salafist who told him decidedly: “it is better for you and also for me that I would kill you; it is even better that you go to Israel than to Iran.“
So great is the hate of this salafist towards Iran and apostate Muslims.
Islam has a problem if there are many Muslims with similar ideas.

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (1943-2010) about humans and religions:
“Religion is what people make of it. Truth with a capital T is the most dangerous concept that allows people to kill each other.”
Again, no single problem can be solved unless we understand that we humans are the root cause of our problems; not Nature or God.
Sufism: a bridge between East and West, and between heart and reason.

A black chador
Our last bus travel from Esfahan to Tehran ends in South-Tehran. I ask a man in the bus how we can reach the Khomeini Square in the center.
He takes his IPhone as everyone does, searching for the answer.
A woman in a black chador suddenly puts her mobile in my hand. I listen: a man tells me in English that the metro is the best way to Khomeini square. We shall find the metro station in the corner of the Southern bus station. I thank him, and return the mobile to the woman who looks friendly to me. The woman in her black chador had been quietly sitting in the bus, not far from us, for six hours.

Two women: shall we vote – yes or no
A manager of Lufthansa whom we meet accidentally, offers to help us with the flight back to Amsterdam. She knows everything about procedures of Turkish Airlines, although the company doesn’t belong to her office. If we enter her office, she says: “I expected you already.”
It is the day after the presidential elections in Iran. The actual president dr. Hassan Rohani (68) won the elections with 58 percent of the votes.
She says: “I didn’t vote; I haven’t voted for years because one promises all kinds of things before elections, but one forgets the promises immediately after the elections.” Her English is perfect. She asks me whether I would accept an invitation to visit Iran again. Her question surprises me. I nod ‘yes’. Three hours later we visit ‘Malek National Library and Museum’, a gigantic building with an exceptional collection of coins; calligraphic texts and countless handwritings. We meet Roshanak, the curator. Also she speaks good English. She didn’t want to vote but friends convinced her to do so, after long deliberations and admonitions.
The open mind of both women is disarming.

Atheism and religion don’t exclude each other
Iran and Sufism are twins, notwithstanding the critical attitude of the clerus. The spontaneity, readiness to hel Spring, 2017  p and open attitude of Iranians, their love for Sufi poets, mosques and mausoleums, are the fruits of a deep religious worldview, in which also atheism has a place. Even Zoroaster is never far away.
Doesn’t Hafez write in “The ocean of nothingness: ‘What’s the difference between the monastery and the convent of the magicians?’ ‘Pas grand chose!’ Not much.”
Millions of energetic, talented, young Iranians will break down the invisible walls that surround them, if their time has come.
Iran and Europe share a common history. Darius is the name of Jamshidi’s son of three. European sons carry the name Alexander. Europe’s religions have their roots in Iran, Greece, Rome, Palestine and Mecca.
Secular values stem from those sources. What’s wrong?
Might Iran and Europe inspire each other in the 21st century.

Fons Elders

La Source, St. Jean de Valériscle, Gard, France – Spring, 2017


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