IRAN – 1974 … part two

After having spent and very much enjoyed several days in Tehran, we were on the road again and headed south-west, to the holy city of Qum, some 155 km (96 miles) away. I had no idea that I was in for a surprise of a kind I certainly had NOT expected …

Back then Qum was quite a bit smaller than today, what I distinctly remember though was the large number of religious men visible literally everywhere. Today the city has somewhere around 1,050,000 inhabitants. She is considered holy in Shi’a Islam and the site of the shrine of Fatima Maesume, sister of Imam Ali ibn Musa Rida (Persian Imam Reza, 789-816 CE). The city is home to Iran’s largest seminary, competing only with Najaf in Iraq.

Well, we had finally – after some two hours drive – made it into Qum and stopped the car at at place which, I seem to remember, must have been somewhere in or toward the city-center. The picture which is stuck in my head is a place in the shape of some kind of a half-circle, possibly a “madrasa” …. which a number of religious men sitting there, quietly though rather intensly watching what was going on.

I still felt my confidence level to be rather high when I climbed out of the car, thinking my appearance would be appropriate for this location, wearing a summer dress, which I considered very decent in colour, short-sleeved with V-neck and – so I thought – being knee-long, most decent! At a time when Mini-fashion all over the western hemisphere was most popular, I found nothing wrong with it and would certainly not have roamed around this way, considering it MOST conservative. At that time I had NO idea how MUCH I was wrong!

The moment I had exited the car and was cautiously looking around, I noticed to my horror every single of these religious men stare at me in a rather hostile way and retrospectively I would say that if eyes could kill, I’d probably have dropped dead on the spot! The whole situation scared the wits out of me and after a few tense seconds of feeling like paralysed and glancing around, I decided that NO, I’d definitely NOT go ahead, climbed right back into the car … and continued our way – further south, direction Isfahan!

Today of course I do understand how naive I have been, 21 years old and totally unexperienced, thus insensitive toward the feelings of religious people. I feel extremely sorry I had not taken the one-time opportunity to see all those magnificent buildings and places, a chance which I will certainly not get a second time in my life!


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