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Notes from Iran: Religion Was Not My Identity

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Why is it that I was forced to believe and follow a religion I did not support from the day I was born? Why was I never given a choice, a freedom, to decide my fate for myself?  I never truly felt like an Iranian. In Dubai I couldn’t speak Arabic fluently, so I didn’t fit in with the community there. In Canada, I was constantly met with the question “where are you really from?” I had to take the time to consider my own background and experiences, and how that had shaped the person I am today, says Sayeh Yousefi. 

A life well travelled is a life well lived. But what if such travels were far from leisurely, tarnished with one setback after another, making for an unceasing journey of colossal disaster, one that never ends and never seems to get any better. What would cause someone to follow such a seemingly disastrous route, you may ask? The pursuit of freedom, perhaps the most important pursuit of all.

A child born into this society of lies and oppressions faces many crises in a pursuit of self-identity. I recall vividly standing in religion class, listening to other students boast about their commitment to practicing the Quran at home, and reprimanding me for not doing the same. Asking my parents why I had to pretend to be Muslim at school never yielded any concrete responses. I was always met with, “it doesn’t concern you, just do as we say,” or, “it’s for your own good, just trust us”.

These answers never sufficed, for I continued to wonder why it was that I had to wear a headscarf, why I couldn’t talk about the Western movies and shows I liked to watch in school, and most importantly, I was taught that there was only one religion you could follow if you wanted to be considered a good human being. A child’s brain is particularly malleable, and had it not been for the extensive exposure to Western entertainment and ideas that my parents were adamant on providing for us, I think I would have fallen prey to the same close-minded views this regime was hoping to instill onto children.

I was forced to follow a religion I did not support from the day I was born

Why is it that I was forced to believe and follow a religion I did not support from the day I was born? Why was I never given a choice, a freedom, to decide my fate for myself? Was it not our own empirical leader, Cyrus the Great, who declared that everyone should be free under the law to follow whatever religion they wish? These questions, among others, haunted me through my childhood. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada and could finally explore my ‘home country’ and its history, when I realized why my parents had gone through such great lengths to move us to a free country.

Myself, having been born in Iran, but having to move so often, I never truly felt like an Iranian. In Dubai I couldn’t speak Arabic fluently, so I didn’t fit in with the community there. In Canada, I was constantly met with the question “where are you really from?” I had to take the time to consider my own background and experiences, and how that had shaped the person I was then. I never felt as though I belonged to a specific country or culture, but although this may sound like a negative, it has allowed me to experience life in a truly wondrous manner.

I had the opportunity to volunteer at the WFUNA Plenary Assembly this past year. This assembly brought together accomplished delegates from all around the world, many of which had worked directly with government parties in their nations to make political change.

In the closing dinner, a delegate from Australia, Jay Jethwa, who had a uniquely diverse ethnic background, gave a speech about feeling as though he never fit in with a specific country. His speech moved me to tears, because for the first time in my life, I felt as though someone understood the struggles that accompany moving around the world. The part of his speech that really resonated with me was something along the lines of “each and every one of us, we don’t just belong to one country.We belong to the greater community, the community that comprises of all the nations in the world, the community more famously known as the United Nations.”

I’d never viewed the United Nations in this context before, but I realized that it really was just that. An organization created to diminish the differences and prejudices created by imaginary border lines, to create a community of united world leaders, to serve as a prime example of the things that can be accomplished when we unite, rather than when we divide.

Knowing that I have no allegiance to a specific nation has allowed me to be truly open to different cultures and countries. It has allowed me to make decisions and claims on political matters with an open-minded perspective, in a way that I believe is truly unmatched.

Nationalism and a feeling of belonging is a very special and important aspect of finding self-identity, but I am proud to have finally found my identity. The sense of unity that comes with knowing that you are a citizen of the global community, not just a specific country, has provided me with an entirely new outlook on life. It has driven me to find solutions to world problems that don’t only affect the country I live in, but the world as a whole.

 

Featured picture: Copyright: Mikhail Klyoshev

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  • It is good to hear the opinion on religion from someone who is from Iran. I hope it encourages more women to speak up

About the author

Sayeh Yousefi

Sayeh Yousefi

Sayeh Yousefi is the Editor of Naked Opinion section of The Pavlovic Today. She is a Loran Scholar 2016, Yale Young Global Scholar 2015, and passionate human rights advocate. She's currently studying at the Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto. Throughout her life, she's had the privilege of living in many different countries, including Iran, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Exposure to such diversity, and witnessing injustices, whether it be on the news or in person, has fuelled her passion to help improve conditions for victims of human rights violations. Sayeh hopes to be able to encourage youth to become more involved in global affairs and become more engaged in issues of human rights and social justice. Sayeh believes this can best be done through the digital world of writing.

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