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Thursday, June 19, 2014
We publish some excerpts from the travel diary of Robert Catalano, co-responsible of the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue of the Focolare. In the religious capital of Iran, seeing beyond the stereotypes.

20140619-01Here we are in Qum, the religious capital of Shiite Islam in Iran. A city that can be summed up with a few numbers: a little less than a million inhabitants, hundreds of universities, academic institutions, religious seminaries, among which a female seminary that has nearly 12 thousand students. There are about forty thousand students of the Koran and other aspects of Islam.

“The first morning in this “holy city” concludes with a deeply spiritual and intensely emotional moment. We enter what everyone considers one of the most visited places in the Shiite tradition in the world: the shrine dedicated to Fatima Masumah, a woman who died very young, not yet thirty years old.

Fatima was the sister of Imam Ali ibn Musa Rida (the eighth Imam, according to Shiite tradition) and the daughter of the seventh Imam (Musa al Kdhim). The tradition of this part of Islam often regards women as holy, especially if they are relatives of one of the Imams. Here our guides, extremely polite and expressing themselves in perfect English, tell us that they get up to 15 million pilgrims every year. The most striking thing in this environment is faith, spirituality and the depth of the sense of the sacred. Living a day in this environment, is to immerse oneself in the world of mysticism and the spirit beyond words and what can be seen and touched: here you experience it!”

Serenity and peace: an Iran you would not expect. The austere and committed life of Qum is serene, where the commitment to learn, to study and to follow the path of Islamic wisdom and its laws, occupies the minds and hearts of the people with obvious social repercussions. The number of libraries is impressive, but also bookshops. People flock to them!

“It goes through my mind how the media in Europe present this people, the stereotypes, the grim looks of their leaders. Some of it is true, of course, but to experience life here is quite another thing. Direct contact makes these stereotypes crumble. In all honesty, I have rarely found anywhere else this depth of peace and serenity. I understand why Sufi mysticism (the mystical dimension of Islam) found its root among the ancestors of these people.

“As the day draws to an end, under the hot sun of Qum that in summer will bring the temperature up to 45-50 degrees, I know in my heart that it will be mysticism and spirituality that save humanity and give a real possibility of encounter between different religious traditions.”

Source: Roberto Catalano’s Blog

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