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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
More beauty here. Check out these incredible photos from Iranian photographer Hossein Zare. Surreal and majestic, and out of this world.

More beauty here. Check out these incredible photos from Iranian photographer Hossein Zare. Surreal and majestic, and out of this world.

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Oh, what an image. Iranian men perform the weekly Friday prayer at Tehran University. Reminded of this by a listener who asked about our show with Leila Ahmed today. 

Just beautiful.

Oh, what an image. Iranian men perform the weekly Friday prayer at Tehran University. Reminded of this by a listener who asked about our show with Leila Ahmed today.

Just beautiful.

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For me, the privilege of handling the files of executed Bahá’ís is that it enabled me to view these believers from another time and place as part of my own life story. And though we are left with only memories, these soul scraps are more precious to me than any physical remains.

They are traces of human beings who learned to drink the bitter with the sweet. Memories of weddings, a favorite poem, and the dreams a young girl who dove headfirst into the ocean, arms and legs flying.

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Andréana Lefton (@AELefton) graces our blog this week with "A Dark Privilege: Bearing Witness to Victims and Prisoners of Conscience in Iran." Bahá’í leaders in Iran are being persecuted and imprisoned — simply for their faith. From a desk in London, Ms. Lefton reflects on their circumstances and how they remind her of the sacrifice and the richness of human life.

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I chose this photograph to lead A.E. Lefton’s commentary, "A Dark Privilege: Bearing Witness to Victims and Prisoners of Conscience in Iran." The image captures a rally in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the seven Bahá’í leaders in Iran, known as the Yaran (“Friends in Iran”), who were incarcerated by the Iranian government in 2008. It’s visually interesting and also hints at the solidarity of the global Baha’i community.
(Credit: Comunidade Bahá’í do Brasil/Flickr, cc by 2.0)

I chose this photograph to lead A.E. Lefton’s commentary, "A Dark Privilege: Bearing Witness to Victims and Prisoners of Conscience in Iran." The image captures a rally in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the seven Bahá’í leaders in Iran, known as the Yaran (“Friends in Iran”), who were incarcerated by the Iranian government in 2008. It’s visually interesting and also hints at the solidarity of the global Baha’i community.

(Credit: Comunidade Bahá’í do Brasil/Flickr, cc by 2.0)

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While editing a commentary on the persecution and imprisonment of Baha’is within Iran, I happened upon this interview with Roxana Saberi. The American journalist, who was accused of espionage by the Iranian government, talks about the time she spent in an Iranian prison and the relationships she developed with Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, two of the seven Yaran (“the Friends”), who are sentenced to 20 years in prison because of their faith:

"I think the lessons that Mahvash and Fariba taught me in prison are universal. And they can apply to anybody, anywhere in the world. You don’t have to be in prison. We have our own prisons, are own adversities, and we can try to turn those adversities into opportunities."

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Nowruz: Celebrating Spring and a New Year

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Kurdish girlModernity meets history. A Kurdish girl in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq wears traditional clothes while peeking out from a sunroof. (photo: Ahmed Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

On this first day of spring, Persian families around the world are greeting each other with Sal-e No Mobarak!” and “Happy New Year!” in celebration of the holiday of Nowruz, a day of beginnings. Translated as "new day," the solar-based holiday marks the first day of the first year of the Bahá’í calendar and the falls on the vernal equinox.

The holiday has wider cultural and national significance for modern Iranians who often celebrate with family and friends by sharing meals together, cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, and performing contemporary expressions of ancient customs. Rooted in Zoroastrianism (the prophet Zoroaster himself is credited with creating this festival) in pre-Islamic Persia, Nowruz is also celebrated in surrounding geographic regions influenced by the Persian empire in the countries of Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan.

Fire jumperA man jumps over a bonfire as Kurds gather to celebrate the start Nowruz in Ankara, Turkey. (photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

Chahar Zanbe Suri is a prelude to Nowruz with a fire-jumping tradition. It occurs on the last Wednesday of the year before Nowruz. Iranian-American Semira Mirzaie describes it:

"Everyone lines up, and, one by one, each person jumps over the piles and sings, 'zardi-ye-man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man,' the special song means ‘my yellowness is yours, your redness is mine.’ Iranians believe, people give pain and negativities to the fire, and receive the warmth, the health and strength from the fire.”

MarketIranians shop for Nowruz at a market in Tehran. (photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

The traditional haft-seen table is an important part of Nowruz celebrations. Iranians prepare these settings in their homes by gathering seven items that start with the letter “s,” which have positive meanings: the spice sumac for sunrise, seeb (apples) for beauty, and sir (garlic) for health, among others.

Haft-seen table Haft-seen: a traditional table setting of Nowruz, present in many homes. (photo: Jean-Philippe Daigle/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Goldfish also make an appearance on the haft-seen table. They are symbols of new life and the end of the astral year associated with the zodiac sign Pisces. They are sold in markets along with other Nowruz accoutrements.

GoldfishGoldfish for sale in preparation for Nowruz. (photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Singing with LeninAn artist sings during Nowruz in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (photo: Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty Images)

Del370189A man on a swing in Kabul, Afghanistan where the festival of Nowruz is celebrated annually. (photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images)

Sabzeh is sprouted wheat grass, symbolizing rebirth and renewal of nature. On the thirteenth day of the celebration, it is customary to throw these sprouts away into running water, as the sabzeh is thought to collect negativity and illness in the household while it grew there. This purging represents purification and new beginnings.

Sprouts for salePhoto by: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

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Rumi: A Perfect Voice for the Spiritual Longing and Energy of Our Time

by Krista Tippett, host

Whirling DervishPhoto by Meir Jacob/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0

There is no formula for our shows, no template. Each begins with the raw material of a conversation, and we shape its pace and sound and elements around that. I think great radio emerges when the whole feel of the experience seems at one with the words being spoken, taking the listener more deeply into the passion and intent of the voice being heard. Creating our show around the life and words of Rumi has felt a little like having magic to work with.

I take away many gems of idea and image from my conversation with one of Rumi’s delightful 21st-century interpreters and successors, Fatemeh Keshavarz. Rumi saw human life and love as the closest we come to tasting and touching transcendence, and he approached all experience with his whole mind, heart, and body.

Fatemeh Keshavarz describes Rumi’s “whirling” around a column as he recited poetry — a habit that inspired the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Sufi Order — as a way to “stay centered while moving.” He believed that, as searching and restlessness propel us to keep learning, plowing the ground beneath our feet, they are themselves a form of arrival. In Rumi’s way of seeing life, perplexity is a blessed state, sometimes a necessary state. This idea has special resonance, perhaps, in the 21st century when so many basic definitions and institutions of previous generations seem to be up for grabs.

But Rumi’s recent “discovery” in the West also holds no little irony. I found this best expressed in my research by a British journalist, William Dalrymple:

"It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations, but the best-selling poet in the U.S. in the 1990s was not Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, nor Shakespeare or Dante. … Instead, remarkably it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught Sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey."

Yet as Rumi has been translated and popularized in the modern West, the religious sensibility behind his beautiful, best-selling words has often been lost.

Fatemeh Keshavarz is adamant on this point: Rumi was steeped in Islam. He represents and speaks to “an adventurous and cosmopolitan Islam.” The generous, cross-cultural appeal of his words reflects ideas at the core of Islam that are muted by the extremists and headlines of our time. To the extent that Rumi would deny or subvert those, he does so through his grounding in Islamic tradition, and his profound love for it.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, who was born in Iran — the center of the vast civilization that spawned Rumi and where he remains to this day a household name — takes special solace in Rumi’s insistence that we can create worlds and possibilities by way of language itself.

Where that part of the world is now concerned, Fatemeh Keshavarz says, U.S. political culture has adopted a language of fear. Rumi champions and models a language of hope. This is not tepid and naive but full-blooded view of human reality, fully aware of the double-edged sword of the passions and pulls of real human experience. In this, Rumi speaks to those of us on both sides of a real or imagined “clash of civilizations.”

As we conclude this show, I hear Rumi as a perfect voice for the spiritual longing and energy of our time. With his vigorous and challenging language of the heart, he reminds us that we need poetry as much as we need science, alongside our politics and within our diplomacy. We need passionate searching words, not just logical decisive words, to tell the whole truth about what it means to be human, and about the past, present, and future of our world.

Here is one passage of many I’ve seen quoted of Rumi, which I’ll now hear with new layers of relevance:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
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Good gosh is this photo series incredibly cool. Be sure and click through to the photo of one female ninja running up a wall; Spider-Man beware. These images of empowered women in Muslim countries are a welcome relief to so many of the newswire images published nowadays.
From the guardian:

Photograph: CAREN FIROUZ/Reuters
See more images of Iran’s female ninjas - many women in Iran have found a novel way to express themselves: training in the arts of the ninja warrior

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Good gosh is this photo series incredibly cool. Be sure and click through to the photo of one female ninja running up a wall; Spider-Man beware. These images of empowered women in Muslim countries are a welcome relief to so many of the newswire images published nowadays.

From the guardian:

Photograph: CAREN FIROUZ/Reuters

See more images of Iran’s female ninjas - many women in Iran have found a novel way to express themselves: training in the arts of the ninja warrior

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Comments
So, what does this story have to do with modern-day Iran and Iranians? Everything. For the vast majority of Iranians who identify as Shi’a and even for many who don’t, the story of Karbala lies at the heart of all struggles against oppression and tyranny — personal and political.
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Melody Moezzi writes this smart, informative piece about the relevance of the one-thousand-year old story behind Ashura and modern-day politics in The Washington Post.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Iran’s Spiritual Leader Isn’t a Hardline Islamist, But a Mystic Poet

by Melody Moezzi, guest contributor

Dancing ShadowA boy dances and leaps around in the Old City of Yazd, Iran. (photo: Mohamed Somji/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

Iran’s officially recognized “spiritual leader” today may be Ayatollah Khamenei, but for hundreds of years before the current establishment of mullahs and ayatollahs, Iranians of all creeds have looked to another spiritual leader: Jalal ad-Din Rumi. While this 13th century Persian Sufi poet is known in much of the West as “Rumi,” he is referred to more affectionately in Iran as “Mowlaana,” or the master.

Among Iranians, he is a spiritual guide and guru whose words hold unmatched moral authority. Over 700 years after his death, it is nearly impossible to spend a day walking around any Iranian city, suburb, or village and not hear his echo. His words live on in everyday parlance: No matter one’s station, religion, or occupation, everyone in Iran knows at least a handful of Rumi’s poems by heart. They are taught in classrooms as an essential part of the basic curriculum, but more than that, they are learned in homes, cafes, bazaars, parks, and houses of worship. No place is beyond this poet’s influence.

And there is no better way to understand that influence than through Rumi’s own verse, although it often defies easy translation. Still, English speakers have a wonderful resource in understanding Rumi — and Iran — through the translations of Coleman Barks, including the following:

“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

Understand this poem, and you will understand the soul of Iran — not just the role of religion or dogma, but the spiritual role of faith, love, and beauty.

Read More

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Rumi’s Continuing Emergence in Our Culture

by Krista Tippett, host


A young man from Islamabad, Pakistan expresses himself through photography and the poetry of Rumi. (photo: "Spirit" by Esâm Khattak)

We’ve created a memorable hour of listening that’s fresh and lush with the sounds and the texture of the great Sufi poet, Rumi.

There is no formula for our shows, no template. Each begins with the raw material of a conversation, and we shape its pace and sound and elements around that. I think great productions emerge when the whole feel of the experience seems at one with the words being spoken, taking the listener more deeply into the passion and intent of the voice being heard. Creating this show around the life and words of Rumi has felt a little like having magic to work with.

I take away many gems of idea and image from my conversation with one of Rumi’s delightful 21st-century interpreters and successors, Fatemeh Keshavarz. Rumi saw human life and love as the closest we come to tasting and touching transcendence, and he approached all experience with his whole mind, heart, and body.

Keshavarz describes Rumi’s “whirling” around a column as he recited poetry — a habit that inspired the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Sufi Order — as a way to “stay centered while moving.” He believed that, as searching and restlessness propel us to keep learning, plowing the ground beneath our feet, they are themselves a form of arrival. In Rumi’s way of seeing life, perplexity is a blessed state, sometimes a necessary state. This idea has special resonance, perhaps, in the 21st century when so many basic definitions and institutions of previous generations seem to be up for grabs.

But Rumi’s recent “discovery” in the West also holds no little irony. I found this best expressed in my research by a British journalist, William Dalrymple. “It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations,” he wrote, “but the best-selling poet in the U.S. in the 1990s was not Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, nor Shakespeare or Dante. … Instead, remarkably it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught Sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey.” Yet as Rumi has been translated and popularized in the modern West, the religious sensibility behind his beautiful, best-selling words has often been lost.

Fatemah Keshavarz is adamant on this point: Rumi was steeped in Islam. He represents and speaks to “an adventurous and cosmopolitan Islam.” The generous, cross-cultural appeal of his words reflects ideas at the core of Islam that are muted by the extremists and headlines of our time. But to the extent that Rumi would deny or subvert those, he does so through his grounding in Islamic tradition, and his profound love for it.

Keshavarz, who was born in Iran — the center of the vast civilization that spawned Rumi and where he remains to this day a household name — takes special solace in Rumi’s insistence that we can create worlds and possibilities by way of language itself.

Where that part of the world is now concerned, Keshavarz says, U.S. political culture has adopted a language of fear. Rumi champions and models a language of hope. This is not tepid and naive but full-blooded view of human reality, fully aware of the double-edged sword of the passions and pulls of real human experience. In this, Rumi speaks to those of us on both sides of a real or imagined “clash of civilizations.”

As we conclude this show, I hear Rumi as a perfect voice for the spiritual longing and energy of our time. With his vigorous and challenging language of the heart, he reminds us that we need poetry as much as we need science, alongside our politics and within our diplomacy. We need passionate searching words, not just logical decisive words, to tell the whole truth about what it means to be human, and about the past, present, and future of our world.

Here is one passage of many I’ve seen quoted of Rumi, which I’ll now hear with new layers of relevance:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

The Rumi Collection edited by Kabir Helminski There are many English translations of Rumi’s poetry available today. But, the craft of translating is a delicate art, one that calls for sensitivity and understanding of the Sufi master and his culture. The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski, serves as a good introduction that includes translations by Coleman Barks and Robert Bly, as well as Helminski himself — a Shaikh, or master, of the Mevlevi Order — and others.

We’ve also provided a page of translations by Fatemeh Keshavarz on our website. Not only can you read the text of each poem, but you can listen to it in Persian or English too.

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Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Arash + RaminAndy Dayton, associate web producer



» download (mp3, 8:32)
You may recognize these two voices from last week’s program, "Curiosity over Assumptions." We used an excerpt from Arash and Ramin Nematollahi’s conversation in the show, which included as part of audio above. Hearing their conversation, one gets a sense of their bond not only as Iranian-Americans and Muslims, but also as brothers.Much of their conversation seems to center around the complexity of identity that can come in a pluralistic society. “I don’t have a particular identity,” Arash says, “I’m very proud to be American … but there’s an Iranian part of me that is there, and there’s a Muslim identity in me.” Ramin picks up on this comment, contrasting that experience to the country they were born in, Iran:
"You would say ‘I am Iranian’ and that’s it — case shut. And I’m Muslim because that’s what everyone tells me to be … But in America you have all these different choices. I totally understand what you’re saying, ‘cause I am American, but I’m also Muslim, I’m also all these different things. What does that mean at the end of the day?"
For me, this really resonated with what we’ve heard in the last few months from our "Living Islam" and "Revealing Ramadan" programs. I was especially reminded of Samar Jarrah, who wrote about what makes being an American Muslim unique: “Living in the USA and being exposed to so many different Muslims from so many different countries and cultures made me realize that there are many faces to Islam.” Later in her essay, she writes:
"But being a Muslim in America makes me a better Muslim. A more hopeful one. I have had hundreds of amazing messages of love and support. I have had Americans shake my hands with tears in their eyes asking me to speak more. Just this Saturday morning, I was in the company of a very intellectual group of retired men and women (oldest was 95) who are still wanting to learn about Islam from a Muslim, and for this I am forever grateful to be a Muslim in America."
Find more stories from other NewGround fellows here. Special thanks to StoryCorps, who recorded these stories in Los Angeles in 2009.

Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Arash + Ramin
Andy Dayton, associate web producer


» download (mp3, 8:32)

You may recognize these two voices from last week’s program, "Curiosity over Assumptions." We used an excerpt from Arash and Ramin Nematollahi’s conversation in the show, which included as part of audio above. Hearing their conversation, one gets a sense of their bond not only as Iranian-Americans and Muslims, but also as brothers.

Much of their conversation seems to center around the complexity of identity that can come in a pluralistic society. “I don’t have a particular identity,” Arash says, “I’m very proud to be American … but there’s an Iranian part of me that is there, and there’s a Muslim identity in me.” Ramin picks up on this comment, contrasting that experience to the country they were born in, Iran:

"You would say ‘I am Iranian’ and that’s it — case shut. And I’m Muslim because that’s what everyone tells me to be … But in America you have all these different choices. I totally understand what you’re saying, ‘cause I am American, but I’m also Muslim, I’m also all these different things. What does that mean at the end of the day?"

For me, this really resonated with what we’ve heard in the last few months from our "Living Islam" and "Revealing Ramadan" programs. I was especially reminded of Samar Jarrah, who wrote about what makes being an American Muslim unique: “Living in the USA and being exposed to so many different Muslims from so many different countries and cultures made me realize that there are many faces to Islam.” Later in her essay, she writes:

"But being a Muslim in America makes me a better Muslim. A more hopeful one. I have had hundreds of amazing messages of love and support. I have had Americans shake my hands with tears in their eyes asking me to speak more. Just this Saturday morning, I was in the company of a very intellectual group of retired men and women (oldest was 95) who are still wanting to learn about Islam from a Muslim, and for this I am forever grateful to be a Muslim in America."

Find more stories from other NewGround fellows here. Special thanks to StoryCorps, who recorded these stories in Los Angeles in 2009.

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Revolutions notoriously struggle to live up to their principles, and America and Iran are no exceptions.
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—from the article "Reading Independence Day in Iran" by Wm. Scott Harrop and R.K. Ramazani

Though it is just over a month old, I found this comparison of American and Iranian revolutions to be still highly relevant as Ahmadinejad, now sworn in as president, attempts to control Iran’s international profile while "the world is watching."

Mitch Hanley, senior producer

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Transgender Identity in Iran: A Film
Trent Gilliss, online editor

The topic of gender and sexuality is on our long list of shows we want to produce in the coming year — in particular, a show on transgender people. The videos above and below are excerpts from Be Like Others, a documentary about a number of young men who are transsexuals living in Iran and pursuing surgical changes.

In these two clips, Iranian-American director Tanaz Eshaghian shows the complex, multi-layered conversations and struggles for transgender people living in an Islamic state — from conversations about proper attire and wearing of the hijab to familial struggles about cultural norms.

What’s surprising to me in these clips is the nature of the conversation. Even though there are discussions about operations and genetic tests confirming a biological male identity, the root of these conversations is love and caring and community. Despite her objections about his transformation, the mother in the second clip spends as much energy lecturing her son on wearing less makeup and donning the hijab properly when going out; in the first clip, a member of the transgender community reprimands a peer for going out in public with hair hanging out the back of her hijab and talks of bringing respect to their community.

Although these individuals are pursuing lifestyles that are outside the cultural norm, it doesn’t mean that they abandon their upbringings and the values instilled in them. They continue to live within the larger culture, defying some strictures while observing others. Obviously, they face predicaments I can’t imagine, but, it’s also heartening to see that their families remain in dialogue with them in tense circumstances. I find that heartening and am anxious to view the documentary.

Update (6.21): The film will be broadcast on HBO2 on June 24th.

(via VSL)

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