anwar light is a South American student who was invited to study at a Qom religious institutionthe Iranian holy city of shia islam. What for any person could be an enriching experience, for this Muslim convert ended up becoming a true nightmare.
In reality, Anwar Luz is a pseudonym chosen by this student to preserve his identity. His story in the first person was narrated in an article for the magazine New Lines Magazinein which he describes in great detail his months in Iran.
present the passport it is an obligation when crossing the border that divides one country from another. However, it also appears to be a common practice for admission to Qom Al-Mustafa University, in the heart of theocratic Iran. “I would never have come to Iran if I had suspected that this could happen. I already knew that the country’s human rights record was appalling, but the lack of a rule of law was something that would gradually surprise me during my stay,” Anwar recounts in his article in New Lines Magazine.
Anwar presented his nearly delivered passport. After a long and tiring journey from South America, he understood that he could not throw everything away so quickly. The warning of a Mexican student who escaped at night to tell his embassy in Tehran about the scandalous life at the university made him open his eyes, but he still decided to go ahead with the adventure.
The converted Muslim arrived at this institution as part of a delegation of Latin American religious students. “It was not a shady deal, nor secret in any way: Iran maintains good relations with several Latin American governments and operates openly in these countries”Explain.
In their classes, the teachers promoted the regime ideology through videos and reminders in Spanish, aimed especially at Muslim converts native to South America.
“Their propaganda is a mix of far-left and nationalist rhetoric, with echoes of the official narratives of left-wing governments in the region, including those of Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba. HispanTV, for example, is the main channel used for religious and political disclosure in Latin America. The tone and message are similar to those of the Russian state channel RT in Spanish: the root of all evil in our region is the United States and its allies. This is identified as a left-wing point of view, since it is the same political line as the Venezuelan state media, teleSURwhich in fact would often promote content and share resources with HispanTV”, says Anwar.
Many Latin American countries host cultural-religious organizations whose main objective is build bridges with Iran. The regime wants these to be led by natives of the country. For Iran, Anwar was the perfect candidate to carry out that task since he was relatively new to Islam and he struggled to make sense of his different sects and groups. That is to say, he still did not question himself so much and had a cleaner and more open mind.
“I was especially curious about the Shi’ism, both from a philosophical perspective, which I had approached by reading the work of the French orientalist Henry Corbin, and from a political perspective. The forceful calls for justice from Iranian thinkers like Ali Shariati resonated with me in a way that mainstream Sunni thought did not.”
His curiosity put him on the road Shiite organization in his country. She contacted them and quickly received a call and an iinvitation to dine with a religious scholar, who happened to be visiting his town that week. It was about his future recruiter: Sheikh Gray Beard.
“We connected almost immediately and spent countless hours talking in depth about theology, philosophy, and politics. I was impressed by his rigorous academic background, and since I was still not sure what he thought of Iran’s dominant ideology – Khomeinism, named after the Islamic Republic’s first “supreme leader”, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – I asked him and I challenged him, to put him to the test.”
Anwar was surprised to find a critic of the former president of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and with certain aspects of the regime. Regarding Khomeinism, he claimed that it was secondary to Shiism and that “the Iranian system was an Iranian matter that should not affect Muslims outside of Iran.” Basically, he said what Anwar wanted to hear.
Weeks later they met again and the sheikh told him that he had been chosen to study in Iran for four years. All subsidized by the regime.
“I was stunned and did not understand what had earned me this opportunity, especially since he did not hide that he was very skeptical both of Khomeinism as a political ideology and of some of the basic tenets of Shiism. However, I was fascinated by Iran and it seemed to me that it could be an incredible life experience. He told me that I would learn Persian and Arabic, study philosophy and could become a scholar,” Anwar recalls.
Despite his desire and enthusiasm, he rejected the proposal because he did not want to leave his wife for so long. It was there that Sheikh Gray Beard’s attitude took a 360-degree turn. “It started to be very manipulator. Tried subtly embarrassing myself about my choice to pursue a career over religious educationeven reaching blaming my wife for preventing me from reaching my ‘true potential’”.
Anwar insisted that he did not want to leave his wife but the sheikh did not give up. He used religion and mentioned a “upper call”. As if that were not enough, he told her that the Tehran regime would also pay for his studies. “I was surprised and disturbed by the amount of effort (and money) that was being put into it, but it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he recounts. He finally accepted a vacancy within two months.
Gray Beard never mentioned that the classes would have content political or ideological and that being a student would imply that Anwar was forced to work for Iran.
He received the plane tickets and the visa three days before the departure date. The price surprised him: it was more than double what he had expected, and he paid it in cash.
He traveled with a compatriot, also a Muslim, with whom he became a good friend. After a stopover in Istanbul, they took off for Tehran. As the plane began to descend, they asked the women to put on their headscarves. “It struck me that 99% of the women, almost all Iranians, did not choose to wear it from the beginning of the trip,” Anwar recalls.
“Salam aleykum, brothers!”yelled a tall, elegant man, dressed in a strapless suit, as is customary for Iranian officials, who was waiting for them at the airport.
After an hour’s drive, they arrived at qom. “After more than two days of travel and long waits at airports between flights, I was eager to explore this new world.”
The group arrived at the university, but Anwar found it more a jail than an educational institution. “In each corridor there were one or two portraits of Khameneiand I started to feel uncomfortable when I realized that there was television cameras in closed circuit that covered all the angles of the building, except the bedrooms and the bathrooms. This was where they demanded me and they took my passport”.
Anwar met Gray Beard again and asked him why he had to hand over his passport. He replied that for safety reasons. “Will you give it back to me?”, she asked him. “Sure, but you would have to give us our plane ticket back,” was the sheikh’s reply.
The plane ticket was now double or triple its normal price and Anwar had to pay for it now in advance just to get his passport back. “He was trapped”he remembers sadly.
Sheikh Gray Beard now seemed cold and distant. He lived very close to the university but was never available. Anwar only saw him three times in Iran. “At that moment, I understood that his mission was over. He should have gotten his recruiting commission and walked away”.
In the room he shared with four other students there were a television with only religious programs from state television, although available in many languages. On the wall was a portrait of Khamenei.
In his first class, a student asked what proportion of the world’s Muslim population was Shiite. “Well, I don’t have an exact figure, but between the 40 and 50%”, replied the sheikh comic.
It is estimated that the Shiites actually represent between 10% and 15% of the Muslim community. “But since the goal was to introduce Islam to Latin Americans, it was better to make them believe that they were receiving mainstream islam, not a subsection of a subsection”, Anwar maintains.
The teachers also constantly repeated that Khamenei was the leader of all Muslims in the world: “Not only of the Shiites, nor of the Iranians, but of all the Muslims”.
It was difficult for Anwar to remain silent, bow his head, and acquiesce. “We started to develop a doublethink, to walk the line between what we really believed and what we pretended to believe. After a while, the distinction between the two began to break down and we no longer knew what was true.
On the third day, Anwar realized that none of the subjects had academic or religious value, except for the Koran classes, which he describes as “the only positive aspect of the degree”. “Everything else was or extremely basic, or completely insane, or ridiculous and obvious propaganda”.
A normal day at the university consisted of getting up at dawn to pray, before reading Arabic and reciting the Qur’an, and then continuing with classes throughout the morning. Despite the fact that the study pace was not intense or demanding, the students had little time for leisure activities. At nine at night they had to be back to have dinner and go to bed. “We had very little time outside of classes, so I used most breaks to go for walks in Qom with other students. They were a much-needed breath of fresh air and form some of my fondest memories,” recalls Anwar.
Studying in Iran provided him with a unique insight into how the country perceives itself and its view of the world. “As someone hoping for a religious foundation, I quickly realized that I was half brainwashed. In fact, the first day they made a joke about it, saying: ‘”We wouldn’t need to brainwash them if they weren’t poisoned so much!’”
In a class on Islamic law, they were taught how to use the service of a traveling sex worker, disguising it as a “temporary marriage” (or “muta”, which literally means “pleasure”) and the dowry being the money paid for the “service”.
The Sheikh Comic referenced the “Latin American sexuality without limits”, stating that in the region “no one really knows who is whose son or daughter”. Anwar faced him. After that episode, he became “his personal nemesis”.
Islamic history classes were like “an incendiary pamphlet on the opinion of the main ‘adversary brother’: the Sunnis”. “This was shocking to me, as it went against the official Iranian stance of ‘unity celebration’ between sects.” Sunni figures such as the first caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar or the imam Abu Hanifa were the object of ridicule and degradation. “It started to get extremely tiring to go to class every day and listen to what was essentially organized hate. Although most of the attendees had no idea who these long-lost religious figures were, our teachers were yelling about them as if they were in the room in front of us,” Anwar recounts.
islamic mysticismthe subject Anwar was most excited about, was actually a attack on “Sunni spirituality” or Sufism (“tasawwof”). According to this class, the whole aim of the Sufi orders (“turuq”) was to “dark the light of true Islam” (represented, of course, by the Shiite imams) and to give the masses a “false spirituality” so that they would obey the Muslims. the Sunni rulers, according to Anwar’s own words.
“It was pretty clear that the main objective was indoctrinate ourselves into sectarian soldiers, so that we would not feel the ideological pressure of being a Shiite minority very small within our already minuscule Latino-Muslim community,” says Anwar.
In Shiite doctrine class they were taught that they were what Sunnis are not. Anwar constantly clashed with the teachers, especially when they misrepresented what he knew to be Sunni beliefs.. “During lunch breaks, I attended extra sessions with an Iraqi scholar who tried to reconcile my love for the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (as claimed by the Sunnis) with my love for the prophet’s relatives (who today claim above all the Shias). He finally gave up, realizing that in order to fully love the prophet’s family, he would have to reject the companions who had allegedly wronged them. This was a breaking point for me and eventually led me to divorce myself from Shi’ism.”
the end of the course
By the end of the term, Anwar kept clashing with the teachers. In one of the final exams he used the usual Sunni mark of respect after mentioning the second caliph, Umar. “I realized what he had done after turning in the essay and felt intense anguish at the consequences this senseless act of childish rebellion could have. Would they finally get fed up with me? Would I end up in jail or in a ditch?”.
Finally all passed with perfect grades. They received their diplomas and officially graduated in Shia theology.
Anwar believed that he would be punished, but was nevertheless surprised to learn that he had been offered a position as director of an Islamic center in his country. All pay and you would receive your salary directly from them. “I was stunned: how could it have been clearer that I was not a Khomeinist believer? I thanked them because I felt that it was what they expected of me, and I left.
His passport was returned to him and he returned to Tehran. There he confirmed the absence of the call to prayer; not broadcast by megaphone, as usual, because the neighbors complain about the noise, according to Anwar. “In the heart of the Islamic Republic, there is no such call to prayer.”
During the three months he spent in Iran, studying and traveling, did not meet anyone (with the exception of university staff) who supported the regime. “I never risked sharing my opinion, but those were the opinions that I found. I am not saying that the regime does not enjoy any type of support from any sector of the population (which would be an absurd statement). My stories are mere anecdotes. I do not speak Farsi, and it is mainly the upper classes who speak English, but this was my experience, ”Anwar concludes in his account for New Lines Magazine.
Iran has already executed more than 90 people so far this year and warns about persecuted minorities
The regime of Iran repressed with gas the teachers who protested after the poisoning of thousands of students
“Death to the dictator”: a new wave of women’s protests in Iran against the regime of Ali Khamenei