By Diana Darke
The works of the 14th Century poet Hafez can be found in almost every Iranian home – more than 600 years after his death, the writer still offers an insight into his country’s identity.
In Iran they say there are two books in every household – the Koran and Hafez. One is read, the other is not.
To understand this joke you need do no more than join the millions who regularly throng the tomb of Hafez, the 14th Century poet of Shiraz and Iran’s national hero, as I did one recent afternoon.
The atmosphere was buzzing, happy and relaxed – Iran at its best.
Day and night the tomb, raised up on a beautifully decorated dais surrounded by its own fragrant rose gardens, water channels and orange trees, is crowded with devotees stroking Hafez’s alabaster sarcophagus, declaiming his verses, relishing his clever plays on words.
Hafez represents all the rich complexities of the Iranian identity. His brilliant use of metaphors in their native Farsi language unites them.
Thanks to Hafez, Shiraz is Iran’s most liberal city. […] the lively groups both young and old, men and women mix freely, laughing and chatting together.
As the sun disappears from the sky and the illuminations come on round the tomb, the atmosphere becomes ever more festive. People start singing and reciting their favourite poems.
Children dangle their feet in the pools, giggling and soaking up their parents’ infectious high spirits.
The scene conceals the paradoxes of Iran but, thanks to the Mullah’s policy of education for all, there are some surprising changes afoot in Iranian society.
More women than men now graduate from university. The birth rate has dropped so dramatically, to one child per family, that the clerics have introduced financial incentives for couples to breed more. Most refuse, saying that it is still too expensive to have more than one child.
While the west remains obsessed with Iran’s nuclear enrichment it is an open secret that the well-connected clerics and businessmen enrich themselves through sanction busting.
Rubaiyee 21, by Hafez
Don’t make me fall in love with that face.
Don’t let the drunk the wine seller embrace.
Sufi, you know the pace of this path.
The lovers and drunks don’t disgrace.
Unfortunately for the mullahs the mystic poetry of Hafez, besides lauding the joys of love and wine, also targeted religious hypocrisy.
“Preachers who display their piety in prayer and pulpit,” he wrote 600 years ago, “behave differently when they’re alone. Why do those who demand repentance do so little of it?”
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