Faith and Sorrow Interlace in Tehran

Thomas Erdbrink in the Washington Post:

Screenhunter_1On Saturday, Shiites all over the world will commemorate Ashura, the day their third imam, or holy leader, was killed in battle in the 7th century. The story of Hussein’s death inspires many deeply religious people in this overwhelmingly Shiite society and helps explain Iran’s “culture of resistance,” as politicians here refer to their international posture.

Assadi, a gray-haired man of 54, organizes the yearly commemoration in a working-class south Tehran neighborhood centered along Tous Street, where he owns an ice cream parlor. He also manages the area’s privately run takyeh, or religious community center, where he not only handles the light switches but also takes care of the chains used for harmless self-flagellation during Ashura processions and leads the 20-member kitchen staff. During the 10-day tribute, workers serve 1,200 meals a night.

Ashura at Assadi’s center is a family party and a yearly reunion for former neighbors who travel from across Tehran, and sometimes farther, to participate. On Friday, excited children played outside, and women in traditional black chadors that covered all but their faces laughed with friends wearing loosely draped head scarves. Cups of hot milk warmed hands in the frigid Tehran winter. “I like everybody to feel at home here,” Assadi said.

More here.  [Thanks to Zara Houshmand.]