"Let the People of the Book know that they have no control over the
grace of God;
that grace is in his hands alone, and that he vouchsafes
it to whom he will.
God’s grace is infinite.” Qur’an
57:29, trans. n. J. Dawood.
“Strive always after ready bliss; for Adam, when by fortune
Abandoned the abode of Peace, and of the garden’s joy was
Drink one full cup or two, and then from life’s bright
banquet turn aside
Check thou, to wit, too eager hope that happiness
may ever bide.”
Hafez, Divan, 15, trans. herman Bickwell.
I brought my copy of the Qur’an to Iran, and managed to read it
in its entirety during the two weeks that I was there, in late April
and early May, 2009. The Divan of Hafez I purchased in the home town of
Hafez, sultry Shiraz in southern Iran. It is difficult to understand
Iran fully without coming to the realization that some Iranians love
the Qur’an most of all; some love Hafez most of all; and many
Iranians love both of these books.
Our guide, Mana, was an Iranian that loved Hafez, but who could do
without the Qur’an. Mana was thoroughly secular. She chafed under
Islamic dress restrictions, although she was clear just how far she
could push them. “There are more Iranians like me every
day,” Mana an- nounced brightly, one of the first things that she
She had been a graduate student, undoubtedly a brilliant one, who had
mastered the study of what she had loved, pre-Islamic Iranian culture.
But, for her, the seventh-century Arabs who had brought Islam to Iran
were just unfortunate foreign invaders. When asked about Islam, her
answers were short and concise; when she was asked about Persian
culture, her answers were passionate and effusive.
A few days into our stay in Iran, the counterpoint to Mana showed up.
Elham was a friend of one of us 24 Americans on this expedition.
Elham was very traditionally muslim, in a typical Iranian way. She wore
the chador, which exposed her face, but covered the rest of her body in
a swath of black. On festive occasions, a colorful cloth peeked out
from her chador and covered her throat.
When Elham first saw Mana, she told her, “You are not dressed
right.” Mana ignored her. Elham accompanied us on some of our
bus expeditions. When I asked Elham about Shiite muslim holidays, she
answered, but she was much more interested in asking me about
English usage. my dog’s name was “Sojourner,” I
admitted at one point. “So what does the word
‘sojourner’ mean?” She asked.
Although Mana and Elham found it a challenge to encounter each other,
each in their own way was extraordinarily hospitable to us Americans,
and that was our experience all over Iran.
My sense was that their hospitality was not just a result of Iranian
culture, although indeed hospitality is engrained in Iranian culture.
Instead, their hospitality, and that of other Iranians we met, was
based on a genuine interest in America and Americans, not based on a
desire to make the past thirty years of difficult relations to vanish
(there are real issues that divide our countries), but rather based on
the knowledge that such issues are so much easier to work with when
there is genuine friendship and dialogue between our two countries, not
just at the level of leadership, but also at the level of
As I was about to board our tour bus in Tehran, an elderly Iranian man
with virtually no English stopped me. “French?” he guessed.
Since there are virtually no Americans in Iran now, his guess was a
one. “No, we are American,” I replied. “American? I
am so happy!” he stated with a huge smile. May further moves
toward peace and reconciliation, toward further dialogue and better
understanding of our two beautiful countries and cultures, bring us
much more happiness!
Steve Angell, Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies
Earlham Shool of Religion, Richmond, IN 47374