“There is no God, I swear to God there is no God…” These were words that Hamed spoke in a pained voice, which brought tears to my eyes. After fleeing Iran
with a battered body and a shattered mind and seeking refuge elsewhere, he was pouring out his anger and pain to me over the phone. Hamed’s only crime was that he had become a member of our family when he married my daughter, Kimia, a few years ago. A quiet and dutiful young man, undemanding and modest, healthy and wholesome, with no political aspirations or any cravings for status. He strode along at a gentle pace, without making exorbitant demands, and, in life’s turbulent sea, he tended to swim fairly close to the shore. With a mother and a father who were both teachers and both charitable and kind.
Ten months ago a savage storm had ravaged his peace and calm. The animals in the ruler’s zoo had been braying for a prey. So, the ruler’s retinue, with all its paraphernalia of persecution, had sought him out and terrorized him. And as its last stroke, it had ordered him to choose one of the following two options: “Kiss your life goodbye or go to the broadcasting studio and say whatever we tell you to say.” They only wanted him to say two simple (!) things. First, to say that his wife was a loose woman and, therefore, deserving of divorce. And, secondly, to say that his father-in-law (Abdulkarim Soroush) was a “good-for-nothing” who was affiliated to foreigners; was adorned with an assortment of vices; did things that were forbidden by religion; was the enemy of the Law, the Way and the Truth; etc.
The animals in the ruler’s zoo thought that they had found the “weak link” in the chain and could break it easily; that they could report their victory to their master – with video evidence – and obtain substantial recompense. And when Hamed’s resistance and strength of mind broke the claws of their hard-heartedness, they rolled up their sleeves and set out to break him through and through. They tormented his mind and tortured his body (the least instance of which was that, one night, until the morning, they kept him naked in a freezing morgue, watching him tremble, terrorizing him, etc.)
Finally, they sent him home, physically unwell and in a terrible state. At home, he was so aggrieved and anxious that he would, on occasion, hit his head against the wall so hard as to almost break both the wall and his head. Now, too, when he has sought refuge abroad, he still has nightmares about the instruments of torture and he thinks that he is being followed everywhere by the ruler’s vicious retinue.
When he told me his sad tale, I said, out of shame and sympathy: “May God never forgive them.” Hardly had the words left my mouth that his rage exploded and he cried: “Dr Soroush, don’t speak of God; there is no God… Where was God in that freezing morgue when I was suffering blamelessly and defencelessly? Where was He when I was screaming and begging Him to help me - which made those shameless animals taunt me and assail me even more? Where was the One, Almighty God, when three criminal brutes fell upon me and beat me senseless in the name of God?” Hamed was saying these things and crying. Now, he wasn’t complaining about anyone any more. He wasn’t complaining about God either; a God who, for the time being, was asleep or dead.
It was as if he was challenging me; for, had I not devoted my life to teaching divinities, philosophy and mysticism? It was clear to me that they had not only robbed him of his health and his peace of mind, but that they had also shaken his conscience and his faith. Clearly something in him had shifted and crumbled. It was no small matter: He had sought God and had failed to find Him! He had experienced the eclipse of the deity, death, defencelessness, torture, religious duplicity, unrelenting cruelty, naked evil, human beings’ boundless wickedness; he had tasted all of these things. It was truly a perilous experience.
Although I had not spent my own life in untroubled waters, I had not had to swim through quite so deadly a whirlpool myself. So, what could I offer him? I could see that theology would be of no help. I tried to calm him down and to give him courage. I said: Many are they who long to be in your place. You should be glad that you've escaped the clutches of those cruel people. You have been through hell, now come out of it. Don’t let them see you broken. Stand up tall. You hadn’t asked for defeat and misfortune, now ask for victory and recovery. Be a model for other people. Clamber out of the wolves’ pit as Joseph did and rise to the pinnacle of power. Let your encounter with evil show you the way to goodness. Having seen the cruelty of persecuting the defenceless, make sure you never persecute the defenceless yourself. Think of a future in our country when no one has to experience humiliation and wretchedness, when no one is tortured, when no one’s honour and dignity are aggressed, when no one has to feel so abandoned by God and so nakedly defenceless, when no brute sheathes his wickedness and inhumanity in the cloak of religion and uses it to torment God’s servants.
I told him that religion is like wine; it magnifies things. It makes brutes more brutish and humans, more human. Of course, those brutes, those animals from the ruler’s zoo who persecuted you were religious; they were not hypocrites. It was exactly this religiosity that had magnified their savagery – because they were being savage in the name of God. They didn’t see savagery as a game. They didn’t see it as a right, but as a duty. This is how the masters behave in a theocracy. They see killing, usurpation and rape as their duty, underpinned with “religious arguments”. This is what makes them so dangerous.
I told him: If you look at them with pity, you will see that those animals are ill. Their mental illness arises from an inferiority complex and the fact that they have never experienced magnanimity. You must wish for a day when our country no longer breeds such ill creatures, no longer breeds martyrs, no longer breeds hypocrites, no longer breeds theocratic rulers. That it breeds wise, happy, magnanimous people instead. And wishing alone is not enough. You must strive for it.
I told him: Your grievance is grave. You've told me a fraction of it; I, in turn, will tell the public about a fraction of their shameless deeds. Blameless though you were, they brutalized you and made your wife, your erstwhile elixir (Kimia), weep. They destroyed your lives and stripped you of your livelihoods. They forced you out of Iran
and dispatched you to a dark future. Now, don the garb of patience, which is the most effective elixir of all. Remember that the scale of the injustice in our aggrieved land is so grave that your tale and your share is but a speck on the ocean.
Place your moist eyes, heavy heart and brutalized body alongside the lives of all the others who have suffered and allow their injuries to serve as a salve for yours. Look at the sheer extent of the killings and the rapes, the pillage and the plunder, the crimes and the hangings that our rulers have committed. See how they have placed themselves on a par with Hajjaj Bin-Yusuf, the historical tyrant. They have not even shied away from stealing votes and stealing martyrs! Look at all of Iran's grieving mothers and fathers, all the orphans, all the lonely spouses, all the ill-treated prisoners, all the broken families. Think of them and feel compassion for them. And join the Prophet, peace be upon him, in saying: May God prevent us from being vanquished by oppressors and may we continue to sing His praises as Jonah did in the belly of the whale.
Having addressed God's praiser (Hamed), now, let me address Hamed's God:
O, Almighty God!
Your lovers demand nothing from you. Let Jesus, Hussein and Hallaj burn in the furnace of your love and shed their blood - and have no fear. But what about those who approach You with rationality? What will You do with their discontent? Was it not You who gave them the right to reason? Leave loverly contentment to Your lovers; the rationalists need reasoning, kindness and compassion.
I know that suffering and torment can sometimes strengthen and hone a person. Sometimes, they can even nurture love. But they can also harm rationality and erode faith. Although they can make lovers more grateful, they can also make the rational more argumentative.
Of course, I know that none of these things disturbs You. The infidelity of the infidels does not sadden you, just as believers' faith does not gladden You; for, You transcend sadness and joy.
This being the case and since You have risen so high that even mystics complain of being separated from You; since You are so eclipsed that Your servants' infidelity and faith, sorrows and joys are all the same to You; since You no longer intervene in history, as You used to do, and rain down punishments on oppressors; and since You have left human beings to their own devices, are withholding Your retributions and have imbued rational people with the notion that they should not expect You to intervene in anything, may I ask You not to burden Your servants with more than they can endure; not to turn away from the discontented rationalists; not to be angered by those who complain and have lost their faith; not to punish them for their disbelief. Since You do not hold god-peddling oppressors to account, do not hold the oppressed godless to account either.
You can see that the celestial catapulta is raining down sedition. Power is in the hands of villains. Those who claim to follow your religion have fallen upon one another, like snakes entangled with snakes, breeding infidelity and destroying faith, feeding Joseph to the wolves, enslaving a nation and perpetrating evil. Surely, You can see that even the great Hafez, the memorizer of the Qur'an - if he were alive today - would only complain and would not just "mingle a few complaints into his praise". Your work is so beyond any whys and wherefores that it brushes aside all judgments, purposes and interests. Why, then, should it not bewilder minds, make tongues utter complaints and drive hearts towards infidelity?
Yes, we human beings cannot see all that there is to see. We cannot glimpse the full course of history and the full breadth of being. We are unaware of the true purpose of events. But, with this breath that You have given us, we try to reason with you and try to draw on our wisdom. We are not fearful, but confident that we will never leave the circle of Your servants.
O, Almighty God!
I have learnt from Al-Ghazali that I must never curse anyone, even Yazid. But, now, I humbly ask Your permission to curse the infidel-breeding Islamic Republic of Iran.
Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser