Cultural Trends/Popular Culture

Turkish Writer Discusses Her About-Face in Iran

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Solmaz Sharif speaks with Turkish author and journalist, Rabia Kazan, who is looking for English publication of her 2007 book "The Angels of Tehran." It chronicles her trip to Iran and a reshaping of her perspective on Islam.

(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.

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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.

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To say that I admire Ms. Kazan's courage would be an understatement. The fact that she traveled to one of the most harsh nations in the world and came out to write a book about her experiences is something I don't think I could ever do.
My only worry is that she is looking at Iran from an "outsider's" prospective. Yes, she shares the religion of a majority of Iranians; yes, she is a woman. Yet she is not an Iranian woman writing about the lives of Iranian woman. Her perspective, her view on the whole situation facing women will have a more Western skew. I understand she can empathize with the women there, but to me, it's like a French woman coming to America to write about the arguments about birth control here; she herself might have had personal issues regarding birth control, but her perspective is an outsider to the whole situation.
Nevertheless, I'm eager to buy and read her book.

Ms. Kazan is a very courageous woman! And thanks to womensenews for publishing her story!