TEHERAN - Like many of Iran's Shi'ite Muslims, Mr Babak Moradi has
a marja, a source of inspiration to act as his spiritual guide
Unlike many of his faith, however, he does not follow an ayatollah
or high-ranking cleric. He takes his lead from American Jack Welsh,
the former chief executive officer of General Electric.
'I read his books and I read articles about him,' says the
24-year-old management student. 'It's very important for me that he's
old. But his attitude is very young. He's very creative. He's a
manager. But first of all, he's a coach.'
Tired of the ageing old clerics who run the country, many restless
young Iranians have gravitated to self-help books and self-annointed
gurus who promise success and happiness at pricey, well-attended
They are also seeking out new role models.
Ms Maryam, a 22-year-old photographer who asked that her last name
not be published, recently bought and devoured a Farsi translation of
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's autobiography.
'She was a normal girl and I wanted to know how a normal girl like
me could be successful, too,' she said. 'She was not rich. She was not
beautiful. But she became the wife of the president and one of the
most successful senators in the United States.'
Cultural observers say the self-help phenomenon is the result of a
sense of isolation and misery among Iranians. Although it is loosening
up, the country is still run by a clerical dictatorship with harsh
social controls and little political freedom.
'The people are in an environment where everything is closed off,'
said Mr Moniroo Ravanipour, a critically-acclaimed writer who ekes out
a living selling experimental novels. 'They live in a very unhealthy
environment that they're unable to change. By reading these books they
try to change themselves, to convince themselves that they're
The country's ruling clerics have cast a suspicious eye on the
trend, but have not cracked down on it.
Thus, self-help books are best sellers at the busy line of
bookstores at Teheran University.
Homegrown gurus, too, have begun popping up, promising happiness
and joy amid the Islamic Republic's stresses. There are books on how
to improve your memory in an hour, boost your business skills in a day
as well as fix your relationship in a week.
'Not only do you have to respect others, but you have to respect
yourself,' author Fakhrian Khoshiar writes in the book Self-confidence
In One Day.
Gurus charge fans US$50 (S$86) to US$60 a session to attend
workshops. A new magazine called Success has advertisements for dozens
Dr Nasrine Jazani is a management expert who gets paid as much as
US$500 a day to give companies motivational speeches.
'This millenium is about self-help,' she said. 'And Iranian people
are not exceptional.'
Iranians say they're in the market for spiritual advice but not
calls from ruling clerics to pray and embrace Islam.
'I'm a Muslim and I accept Islam,' said Ms Maryam. 'But as a young
person, the clerics are not interesting to me. They don't talk to