(WOMENSENEWS) Turkish journalist Rabia Kazan's life and perspective of Islam changed profoundly after an eye-opening trip to Iran in 2007.
Kazan, born in 1976, began her career at Flash TV, the first Turkish private TV Channel, when she was 20. She was considered to be a radical Muslim woman in 2007 when she traveled to Iran, hoping to find a haven for Muslim women. Iran had been an Islamic Republic since 1978. But the things that she witnessed in Iran not only changed her mind but also made her question her belief in Islam. She is in New Jersey now, trying to publish her 2007 book in English. We sat down in New York City to learn more about her and her book.
Q: Guide us through your book, "The Angels of Tehran." Why did you write it and what is it about?
A: I wanted to go to Iran for such a long time. I eventually met an Iranian woman in Istanbul in summer of 2007 when she sublet my parent's house and invited me to her home in Tehran. When I arrived in Tehran, she told me that her grandmother had passed away and that she would have to leave me alone in her home, but her brother would stay with me. I soon discovered that not only were they not siblings; they were members of a prostitution ring. I was trapped.
Finally, I told her in private that I was a journalist and I had a press pass from Iran's embassy in Turkey. They would find themselves in trouble if someone reported me missing. She was scared and helped me run away. After that I changed hotels several times. I got to a hotel but I figured out that there were some people coming after me, I changed to two more hotels and contacted one of my father's friends in Istanbul. He found a safe place for me with the help of his friends in Tehran. I was finally safe, but there was a question that kept coming up in my mind.
Q: What was that?
A: A question about Sigheh (temporary marriage): what it is and why it is legal in that country. Once, while I was running between hotels, I went to the hotel's restaurant to eat something. It was in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan (Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown.)
I met a nice old man there who warmly invited me to join him for dinner. When we finished eating, he wrapped $500 in a napkin and gave it to me. Well, I couldn't speak Persian, and he couldn't speak either Turkish or English, I thought the money was for the check and called the waiter.
After the waiter spoke to the old man, he told me that the money was not for the check, and, in fact, it was the price he offers for two nights of Sigheh. That was the first time I had heard about Sigheh. The waiter had to explain it to me: it is a fixed-term marriage under Sharia. The duration of this type of marriage is fixed at its inception and is then automatically dissolved upon completion of its term. The marriage is contractual.
I couldn't see any difference between that and prostitution.
I left that hotel and finally settled down in a safe house. I was sick for a couple of days and during that time I reviewed what had happened to me. I decided to conduct some research on this topic and see what Iranian men and women think of Sigheh.
Q: That's why you stayed in Iran?
A: Yes. I interviewed various types of people, from taxi drivers to retail store managers. I talked to every woman that I had a chance to talk to, and I interviewed some women's rights activists.
Q: How did the Iranian women affect you?
A: I admired their courage. They don't accept the injustice. To me, it is like Iranian women talk through their eyes. I witnessed a scene in Iran that stunned me. A group of young girls were sitting around a table in a cafe, and a couple tables to their right, a group of young boys were hanging out. One of the girls was staring at one of the boys. After a while, that boy walked toward the girls and left a small piece of paper on the table (I was told that it was his phone number). She just looked at him but she wasn't only looking; she was, in fact, talking with that boy.
I have no doubt that one day these girls will "explode" and bring freedom for themselves and their country.
Q: You mentioned that this trip changed your view of Islam. Could you explain it more?
A: I went with a friend to a party one night in Tehran. Drinks and drugs were everywhere. It was like a Western nightclub. I was very religious at the time, so I was cursing them out loud when a young girl turned to me and asked, "Do you even know what is written in the Quran?" The truth hit me that even though I am a Muslim woman, I haven't read my holy book in my own language to fully understand what it says.
So I read the Quran as soon as I found one, and I was shocked by its severity toward women by allowing men to repress women's rights.
Q: Did your criticism of Islam cause any problems for you?
A: Of course it did. When I went back to Turkey, I gave my perspective in an interview. I made lots of enemies after that. Even my mom wasn't happy about my criticism. Then I decided to take off my Hijab, since the Quran does not require, only recommends, that women wear the scarf.
Q: That is a big change. Why do you want to publish your book in English?
A: When I published the book in Turkey, the Iranian government threatened me. Iranian officials wanted me to interview with their TV channel and say that I was hired by western countries to write this book.
Their reaction made me determined to publish my book in English so that more people around the world could better understand Iranian women's fight for freedom. I want to help Iranian women. I will donate my income from the first 2,000 books sold to an Iranian women's rights organization.
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Solmaz Sharif is an Iranian journalist and broadcaster with more than 12 years of experience. Sharif founded the first Iranian women sports magazine called, "Shirzanan," and was a broadcaster in BBC Persian. She moved to America in 2007 and now lives in New York.
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Rabia Kazan's blog: