Cover image for Persian pilgrimages : journeys across Iran
Persian pilgrimages : journeys across Iran
Molavi, Afshin.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Norton, 2002.
Physical Description:
xx, 315 pages, 12 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS259.2 .M65 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Afshin Molavi, a young journalist and writer born in Iran and educated in the West, traveled his homeland for more than a year, encountering every facet of Iranian society--students of the right and left, bazaar merchants, Islamic clerics, pro-democracy journalists, Islamic hard-liners, reformist politicians, grumbling taxi drivers, urban slum dwellers, partying teenagers, village farmers, handicapped war veterans, and kids hooked on anything western. All opened their hearts to him, speaking candidly about a wide range of issues: unemployment, politics, freedom, religion, poetry, history, the Internet, the legacy of the Islamic revolution, the current pro-democracy movement, Iran's relations with the West, and much more. Throughout his meetings and travels, Molavi wove the tale of nearly 3,000 years of Iranian history through pilgrimages to ancient and contemporary sites, shrines, and monuments, vividly explaining the relevance of Iran's past to today's Iranian predicament. The pilgrimages ranges from the tomb of Cyrus the Great on the windswept plains of Pasargad to the splendid rose gardens at the Shiraz shrine for the fourteenth-century poet Hafez, the golden domes of Ayatollah Khomeini's vast mausoleum in Tehran, a haunting war veterans' shrine for survivors of the devastating Iran-Iraq war near the border of Iraq, and the European embassy "visa pilgrimages" of college graduates frustrated by bleak job prospects and the social and political restrictions at home. Cutting through the official rhetoric of the Islamic Republic, Molavi adds much-needed context to its political power struggle and demonstrates that the realities of today's Iran are far more complex than if often understood in the West. Through interviews with courageous journalists, students, and pro-democracy advocates who battle an entrenched conservative ruling class unwilling to accommodate popular opinion and numerous conversations with average Iranians frustrated by their deteriorating economy and the conservative stranglehold on power, Molavi chronicles a land and a people hungry for change. Few books have penetrated the soul of Iran--both past and present--as deeply as this exceptional report on one of the world's most important nations. Persian Pilgrimages is a journey to remember. "A rare and important work that examines Iranian society from a grassroots, human level while offering a taste of the grand sweep of Iranian history. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary Iran." --R. K. Ramazani, professor emeritus of politics, University of Virginia.

Author Notes

Afshin Molavi holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and has reported on Iran for Reuters and the Washington Post. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This impressive travel narrative by Iranian American writer and scholar Molavi covers not only Iran's vast geography but also its long history of foreign invaders, poetry, and Islam. Using his journeys to religious shrines and conversations with Iranians from different walks of life, Molavi covers an immense period of time and history. Detailing pre-Islamic Iran when Persia was a thriving empire ruled by Cyrus the Great to the current economic hardships and conservative Islamic rule, this work is a rich and entertaining resource of Iranian history. Molavi illustrates many different regimes and rulers here: the 637 Arab invasion that brought Islam to Iran, the Safavid dynasty that secured the beginnings of Shi'ism in Iran, and, of course, the 1979 revolution. But the author also includes the vibrant culture and the hospitable people who cherish their great poets and who continue to revere the Ayatollah Khomeini while criticizing the hard life under the Islamic Republic of Iran. Molavi packs a lot of information into this work, but his readable prose makes this an appealing journey. --Michelle Kaske

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Molavi begins the chronicle of his year-long journey through a land in perpetual turmoil by saying, "This is a book about Iran and Iranians." In the midst of America's war on terrorism and as America is faced with the very real possibility of a second war with Iraq, this is a timely read. Reflective and at times deeply personal, Molavi, who was born in Iran and now lives in Washington, D.C., poignantly reveals Iran and its history through the voices of the people he interviewed, including merchants, students, feminists, traditionalists, children and revolutionaries, as they speak on such subjects as poetry, campus politics, personal appearance, democracy, religion, war and the West. In addition to his descriptions of landmarks and monuments, Molavi makes comparisons to other writings on Iran. He takes readers much further beyond the scope of magazine and newspaper articles, leading them through his own discovery of his homeland. In the end, he leaves Iran a conflicted man, weighed down by his new knowledge of the people and himself. "Surely, it would not be the last time I visited Iran, but somehow, I felt melancholy.... Had I seen everything I needed to see? Had I talked to enough people? What was this sense of loss I felt?" Not only a portrait of a country and people, this is also a personal journey into a man's past and his future. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Iranian American journalist Molavi spent approximately one year (1999-2000) living in Teheran and exploring the country that his family had left more than 20 years before. As he traveled the well-known cities (Isfahan, Tabriz, Khoramshahr) two decades after the revolution, he simultaneously explored the rich historical and cultural past of his roots. Molavi discovers two schisms in the popular consciousness, the first between the pre-Islamic Persian Empire dating from 500 B.C.E. and the current Islamic Iran, the second between a genuine devotion to Islam in the street and a concurrent wish for a green card or visa to a Western country. Cities with historical or cultural significance give him a springboard to discuss Persian poetry, the greatness of Persia, and more recent history and its effects. Unlike Elaine Sciolino's Persian Mirrors, which summarizes her experiences reporting from Iran for over 20 years and many visits, this account is total immersion. Both paint a warm and positive picture of a people and a place that have recently been portrayed in the news as the "axis of evil" and as always hostile to the West. Suitable for public libraries. Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Prologuep. xvii
I The Sleeping Guardian of the Islamic Booksp. 3
Notes on a Pilgrimage: Cyrus the Greatp. 11
Currencies and Passports aboard Iran Air Flight 327 to Shirazp. 14
What Is the Name of This Street?p. 18
Persepolis: Celebrations and Revolutionsp. 21
The Zoroastrian Stampp. 27
Colonial Markingsp. 30
Ancient History and Green Cardsp. 33
Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Cyrus the Greatp. 36
Cities: Tehran, Shiraz, Persepolis, Pasargad
II The Imam and the Poet: An Introductionp. 43
Mr. Ghassemi's Funeralp. 44
Islam and the Iranian Accommodationp. 52
Mohammad's Melon Truck Tourp. 56
The Sunni/Shi'a Splitp. 62
Mourning and Miraclesp. 66
Pilgrimage: Ferdowsi, the Poetp. 69
Imam Ali or Rostam?p. 75
"Global Arrogance" and Green Cards at the Nader Shah Museump. 79
Pilgrimage: Imam Reza Tombp. 82
Cities: Mashhad, Tous
III The Politics of Personal Appearancep. 87
A "Blasphemous" Playp. 92
Dance Partyp. 94
Campus Politicsp. 96
Hard-Liners and Green Cardsp. 101
Elites and Massesp. 104
The Road to Neishapourp. 106
Notes on a Pilgrimage: Omar Khayyam, the Poetp. 110
The Spice Men of the Bazaarp. 112
The Pilgrimage: Omar Khayyam Tombp. 115
Mohsen, the Student, and Hassan, the War Veteranp. 119
Martyrs' Cemeteryp. 122
Cities: Tehran, Neishapour
IV The Silenced Satiristp. 124
Red Linesp. 129
Narges and the Censoring of Milan Kunderap. 132
Why a Fourteenth-Century Poet Speaks So Eloquently to Contemporary Iraniansp. 134
Pilgrimage: The Tomb of Hafez, the Poetp. 145
Mrs. Teimouri's Weddingp. 150
The Case of Akbar Ganji: Journalist, Prodemocracy Advocate, Prisonerp. 154
Cities: Tehran, Shiraz
V Islam and Democracyp. 159
The Shi'atization of Iranp. 167
Sensual Isfahanp. 170
The Bazaar and the Mosquep. 174
Pilgrimage: Mullah Mohammad Bagher Majlesi and the Rise of the Shi'a Clericp. 177
Mr. Mohseni, the Young Clericp. 184
Cities: Tehran, Isfahan
VI Winds of Reformp. 191
A Murder in Kashanp. 194
Tabriz Student Protests, 1999p. 200
The Case of Ahmad Batebip. 206
Iran's Fight for a Constitution: 1906-11p. 209
An American Constitutionalist in Tabrizp. 215
"The Strangling of Persia": A Constitutional Endingp. 219
The Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iranp. 222
Cities: Tehran, Kashan, Tabriz
VII My Tehranp. 226
"The International Congress on the Elucidation of the Islamic Revolution and the Thoughts of Imam Khomeini"p. 230
"A Jug of Love"p. 237
Mr. Hashemi and the Pro-Khomeini "Oppressed"p. 240
Reza Shah: Forgotten Shrine, Remembered Kingp. 244
The Khomeini Risep. 248
Pilgrimage: The Shrine of Ayatollah Khomeinip. 254
Cities: Tehran, Rey
VIII My Friend Hosseinp. 260
Hossein's Warp. 264
Journey to Ahvazp. 272
War Miraclesp. 274
Pilgrimage: War Martyrs' Shrinep. 278
Haji Agha Abu Torabi and the Prisoners of Warp. 280
Cities: Tehran, Ahvaz, Abadan, Khoramshahr, Shalamcheh
IX Storming the Gates with the Software Engineersp. 283
Children of the Revolutionp. 285
Visas and Billboardsp. 293
"In Damascus, I Can Breathe"p. 298
The Canadian Embassy Visa Pilgrimagep. 302
Farewell, Iranp. 307
Cities: Tehran, Damascus (Syria)
Indexp. 309