Khuda Hafez

IMG_4340 It seems like this may be my last blog as a Saudi in Iran, or to be precise, a Saudi who was in Iran. This fact brings with it tremendous sadness, but also reassurance that the efforts I had in mind when starting this blog and going to Iran in general are now more important than ever.

As political events take on a life of their own, as usual it is the average people who bear the brunt, and the relations or potential for constructive relations between them as well as between future generations that are poisoned. In this region it is common practice for most to sit back and, while perhaps feeling uneasy about developments, watch them all unfold. I truly believe however that we have failed as a people when we fail to speak out against intolerance and harmfully divisive narratives against each other, or indeed when a simple call for moderation can grant you the label of a traitor.

Many of those who insist that Islam is a religion of peace and acceptance see no contradiction whatsoever in using violent and bigoted language against supposedly ‘opposing’ sects, nationalities and peoples – this is a critical problem that cannot be underestimated. The principles of moderation, understanding, forgiveness and tolerance, which are abundantly provided for in local cultures in the region as well as in its dominant religions, are progressively being eschewed in the face of rising animosities between its inhabitants, which will in the end take us nowhere but down.

I’ve repeatedly mentioned on this blog that during my time in Iran, I did not encounter any racial or other prejudices as a result of my being a Saudi Arabian, and instead was met with overwhelming kindness and warmth. I should add one caveat here: on one of my last departures from Iran, someone at the airport questioned me on what I was doing in the country after learning of my nationality. I proceeded to tell him that I was a student of Iranian Studies and language, at which he seemed perplexed, commenting that relations between our nations are sour. In line with my usual responses to such comments (which are typically put forward out of curiosity towards my being in Iran more than anything else), I said that I don’t believe the tensions or animosities have anything to do with an innate enmity between the two peoples, but rather arises out of specific circumstances and commonly-held narratives – both in history and the present day. He disagreed with this fact, and said that he himself held an inherent dislike towards Arabs. I narrate this now not to emphasise or inflate this unfortunate point of view, but in the name of full disclosure and indeed to stress that in the course of meeting and interacting with hundreds of Iranians over my year there, I only once came across such chauvinistic views.

On the other hand, among the countless messages of support and positive feedback that I received after my blog was publicised – mainly originating from residents of the region itself – I received only one negative one from a young Egyptian man who could not understand why I would choose to live in the ‘land of infidels’. Again, this can be contrasted with a young Egyptian lady in my class at the University of Tehran who possesses a deep and profound interest for Iranian culture and language, and to be sure many other Egyptians and Arabs in general who do not hold such parochial views. The point here is that extremism and intolerance no doubt exist, and sadly they are here to stay. What must be focused on instead are the positive engagements and trends that also exist and have the potential to slowly but surely ameliorate some of the dangerous views and rhetoric circulating around the region. Compared with the countless wonderful Iranians I met, who do not share and in fact are ashamed of such views, the words of the airport fellow were not even a drop in the water. My decision to live and pursue studies in Tehran was partly driven by my endeavour to discover, in the face of embittered regional politics and popular portrayals of ‘intrinsic hatreds’, what kind of reception I would find as a Saudi Arabian in Iran. Not only was this reception warm and wholehearted, but I have also found myself making some of my best memories in the country, as well as some of my most cherished friends. I can only hope that the reverse experience would be the same.

Regardless of the dominant or more forceful narrative, more must be done to show the other side – the abundance of people in the region whose only desire in these troubling times is to live in peace and goodwill with each other. Otherwise, all we are doing is allowing the cycle of prejudice to begin all over again, subjecting generation after generation to blind hatred, until the idea of tolerance or coexistence is nothing more than a distant memory. We are seven billion people on this planet represented by roughly 200 nations. It is conceptually impossible to fathom that what goes on at the highest levels of statecraft must perennially affect and jeopardise our potential ties with each other. There are many who brand this as a lost cause, stating that things will never change. Yes, many of the deeply entrenched and negative attitudes are unlikely to be positively modified. Nonetheless, it is vital for average people to do their part in halting the stubborn advance of such bigotry and prejudice, which is only being exacerbated along with political developments on the ground. Even if the regional media and common parlance are not providing hopeful impressions, this is not reason enough to give up on the overarching ideal to promote better, more peaceful relations between us. Good will begets good will, and it’s becoming evermore imperative to emphasise the human side to the prevailing issues and increase our exchanges with each other. It is harder to blindly hate someone who you can relate to, someone whose story you know.

On a lighter note, the Mexican standoff of generosity and gift-exchanging that was running between my mother and my neighbour (who had kindly given herself the task of becoming my proxy mother and took care of me immensely) will finally come to an end. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my unsung heroes of the blogosphere, my family and friends, who tirelessly helped me with edits and posts from afar when my internet connection just couldn’t handle it. Lama, who gave me the push I needed to start this blog in the first place; and Jumana, who did the same when moving to Iran was still a half-formed dream I was daring myself with. The experiences and memories I take with me from Iran are unparalleled in their beauty and will always stay with me. Thank you all for reading.

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26 comments

  1. Moe · January 20, 2016

    Congrats on completing such a courageous and inspirational journey. This is already a great achievement but I hope this blog comes back soon, and inspires many similar accounts and blogs by Iranians, Saudis and other people travelling to the corners of this small world, bringing love and empathy and bridging differences between people. Thank you for existing !

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Amiri · January 20, 2016

    It is too sad to see you leave my country, especially after this rage of hatred is burning the last remaining ties between these two “countries”. Now at this point, while regretting for what has happened, I see no point to look forward to how the governors, authorities, kings, etc. of the two countries may fix the issue, but I feel this more than ever that the duty is now upon the “people” of the two country to redefine another understanding of brotherhood, free from all those political limitations. Even if there’s only one person in Iran declaring his hatred toward an Arab and vice versa, this hatred may soon become widespread. I see this with my own eyes everyday; the most vivid one being the recent slogans in mosques. The slogan of a Muslim/person against another Muslim/person from another country. Yet there’s not enough voices to accompany such slogans, but I’m afraid, soon, hatred finds its way into hearts. And the most immediate consequent, is another person who feels animosity for someone who he doesn’t even know.

    I personally enjoyed all your blog entries that I had time to read, especially after I read about the blog on the Internet. The subject was so unique that I didn’t think twice before following all your blog entries. I hope this won’t be your last blog post. I hope others could follow in your footsteps and you’ll discuss about the possible better days.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Azadar Hussain · January 20, 2016

    Good blog written by a young, uncluttered mind. Hope it will bring two ancient civilisations closer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Negin · January 20, 2016

    I’m so sad to hear you’re leaving not only because of how stupid men and their stupid politics have ruined too much in that beautiful region, but also because your superb writing if such vivid and hearfelt emotion will be sorely missed. I do hope you continue to write and please update us here on where we can read more of your beautiful stories.
    Thank you. And مارو ببخش

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lalehjon · January 21, 2016

    It’s sad to hear that politics again get in the way of people. However, I am happy to hear that Iran left a positive and memorable impression.

    Your writing perfectly captured some of my own personal experiences in Iran and it was nice to read through your entries and relive them.

    Best wishes on your next journey! Hope you can return soon!

    Laura

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amir · January 21, 2016

    Hello.
    I wish I had discovered your blog sooner. I am happy that you had a good experience in Iran, and I fully agree with you, that what matters is civility and progress which come when there is understanding and peace and cooperation, rather than blind branding and categorizing, which is then followed by blind judgement, I am glad that you let go of what that certain individual said in the airport to you, such insults, direct or indirect, will only lead towards more hatred, they are not needed. It might seem strange for me to apologize for the person who said such things in the airport, but I do say this: It does sadden me, it really does, my heart feels heavy after I hear or read about such incidents.

    I was quite curious to understand why did you decide to leave, was it because of increasing hatred? Or because you finished your education and wanted to go? I cannot seem to be able to find the reason in this particular post.

    Either way, I wish you would decide to keep staying in Iran, as you experienced yourself, we, at least most of us, really have nothing against any person of any race because they are of that race. My own experience shown me that only people, who want to be proud of something, but they are utterly hollow and void inside, find racism and their race to be proud of, and not only to be proud of it, to say “I am better”, to feel morally superior, a superiority which is of course fake, and unfortunately comes with big dangers and harms to the world.

    Already a bit late but it is time for me to start exploring your blog and read about your experiences and the places you visited 😀

    (And I am expecting to find at least SOME reference to Ghorme Sabzi in here 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

  7. arash · January 22, 2016

    کار خوبی کردی که این بلاگ رونوشتی نوشته هات فوق العاده جالب بودن برای من و خیلی تاثیر گذار بود و باید بگم به تو حسادت کردم بخاطر زاویه دید خوبت به
    همه چی . فوق العاده بود نوشته هات واقعا لذت بردم از خوندنشون .امیدوارم نوشته های جدیدی بخونم از شما .
    و چه بد که بخاطر این مسایل از ایران رفتید و خیلی متاسف شدم .

    Liked by 1 person

  8. arash · January 22, 2016

    sara joon: chera miri? koja miri? bemaan! doostet daarim. hamanja bemaan va shohar irani bekon. zan-e man mishi?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Behzad · January 22, 2016

    You are a gifted writer. Please continue writing. I hope we’ll see your book some day soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Monty Ahwazi · January 22, 2016

    Stupid politics have and will always have unintended consequences! So sorry to see this although I never had the opportunity to visit your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Banksyst (@Kafkanni) · January 23, 2016

    I would like to salute you for your inquisitive mind and courage to discover a country that does not have a reputation of being a safe place to travel. As a compatriot, I am somewhat surprised that you depict a hospitable people and a friendly country which we do not hear from their officials or see in news clips or in football matches when our teams play there. All what we see and hear is unadulterated hatred towards Saudi Arabia and the Arab Nation in general. We also see banners about Hussain, as though we we were the ones who killed him early this morning. Unlike you, I really cannot be oblivious to what Iran is doing in Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon. While I am not quick to blame the people there for the crimes of their government, I have not heard many encouraging words coming from there, except Sadeq Ziba Kalam. I am sure there are decent people there, including the ones that are writing posts here, but I believe actions are truer than words.

    We want Iran to be a prosperous and a thriving country, respecting its people and its neighbors. We know that brilliant moments in the region’s history were when Arab-Persian collaboration were at peak. We also know about not so subtle current in Persian culture that is anti Arab, and resented subjugation to Arabs, starting with their national poet, Hafez. We know that they are sour from the defeat of Al-Qadissiyyah and Thi-Qar. While secularists are blatant and curse the day Islam came to Persia, the clergymen have other names, such as “Nawasib” or “Whabbis,” etc. We really hope they reform and extend a hand of peace. However, we will not allow Iran’s dominance, period. If they do not control their wild leaders, we will stand to them and face them down.

    Like

  12. Reza · January 23, 2016

    Dear Sara,
    As an Iranian who loves and adore Iran and its beautiful people I would like to thank you a thousand times for being such a gifted writer with a beautiful heart. Never say Khuda Hafez as you and people like you are always in our hearts and minds.
    God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. arash · January 23, 2016

    Sara jaan: bargard, pashimoon mishi akhar:

    We miss you already! Hope to see you back to finish your studies; in the meantime wish you all the best in whatever you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Arian Sohrabi (@arian_sohrabi) · January 24, 2016

    I cherish that you came here and lived among a nation which its government mostly spreads hatred towards other nations and especially Arabs, but it pierces my heart that you ought to leave due to political idiocy of the two countries and cant continue your journey here. wish to read and hear more of you, the messenger of peace 😀
    خیـــــــــــــلی شیرین می نویسی! ادامه بده، بلاگ بعدی ات رو هم بگو اگه شروع کردی. بی خبر نذارم

    Like

  15. Mehrdad Dastgir · January 26, 2016

    I very much enjoyed reading your blog. It sits in my favorites, and as a bookmark where I can easily get to it. Unfortunately people are blindly racist towards each other, both Arabs and Iranians. We must understand we have some differences in our culture, and accept each other for being ancient neighbors. I hear a lot of Iranians saying “I hate Arabs” but the underlying fact is that we common people aren’t the decision makers of our governments, nor do we represent them. So peace out to you, hope you spread good things about Iran (as you have been) and let go of the negative comments you have received 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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  19. saeid toranji · March 24, 2016

    سلام
    خانم خدابخش حافظ
    ما خوشحالیم که شما در ایران هستی و برای شما آروزی سلامتی داریم و موفقیت در دانشگاه و درس هایت
    خانم حافظ از این که شما به این باور رسیده اید که برای وحدت دو ملت تلاش کنید جای بسیار خوشحالی هست
    خانم حافظ از تلاش های شما متشکریم و اینکه همه ای ما انسانیم و خدای همه دینها یکی هست
    .
    با آروزی روزهای خوش برای همه مردم دنیا
    آمین
    با احترام
    سعید ترنجی
    Ms. Kh Keeper
    We are pleased that you are in good health and we wish you success in your university course
    Ms. Keeper of the fact that you’ve come to believe that rather than try to unite the two nations is very pleased
    Ms. Keeper of you for your efforts and that we all are human and God of all religions is one
    .
    By wishing a happy day for all peoples of the world
    Amen.
    with respect
    saeid toranji

    Like

  20. jafar · March 25, 2016

    موفق باشید و سلامت

    Like

  21. one of Patriot · March 27, 2016

    I hope our great government to be aware who you are, either you have got a Positive motivation as you had written in this blog who you wanna be…. or you are a spy woman- all of us know that saudi is our enemy and enemy is enemy- one day our great supreme leader have advised to us which people wanna come in this country and which people wanna go to other country and for what!!!!…. i hope you are not

    Like

    • Bond, James Bond · March 29, 2016

      I agree, lovely Sara Jooni is definitely Agent XXX (aka Major Anya Amasova aka Barbara Bach) in the Spy Who Loved Me!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Bond, James Bond · June 21, 2016
  23. 123 · January 24

    The ruling elite in both Iran and Saudi Arabia is slowly but surely coming to an end because the youth in both countries have chosen a different path, the path of peace and mutual respect.

    Kudos to you Sara for being a frontrunner in this new and exciting movement!

    Like

  24. 123 · January 24

    the *era of the ruling elite… 🙂

    Like

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