Leaving Islam



Young Iranians seek out new role models


A sense of isolation has spurred the restless to devour self-help books and follow success gurus, turning their back on traditional clerics

By Borzou Daragahi

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 throughout life.

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 seminars.

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Ms Maryam, a 22-year-old photographer who asked that her last name not be published, recently bought and devoured a Farsi translation of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's autobiography.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 special.'

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 of them.

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 young people.'


Courtesy of The Straight Times






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