This was the most amazing trip...I met the most amazing people and ill remember this forever... Im pasting my SVC report that I handed in ..mind you its very long so not appealing for all to read but it shows my experiences everything... in time ill add photos to go with it for now... just the report...i shortened it so it wouldnt get so tedious
IRAN SVC 2008
Syed Aon Muhammed Zaidi
As-Salamu 'Alaikum wa Rahmat Ullahi wa Barakatahu
This an account of my experiences during my trip to Iran from the 19th of July till the 16th of August and share all my thoughts and feelings throughout the trip, I will mention everything I can remember and include extracts from my diary entries and also my own captured photos.
I wish to thank Allah for giving me the opportunity to get an experience which I will never forget and I would also like to take this opportunity thank everyone involved in this trip which includes all the organisers, all the brothers and sisters, whom altogether have given my help and support throughout my trip.
I had always wanted to go for Ziyarat to Iran from a young age but there were always obstacles preventing me from going but I am sure that there was a reason as Allah always wishes the best for me.
It was around 2006 that I stumbled across an advertisement for the SVC to Iran with Al Asr, the advertisement was on ShiaChat which I read about it in detail and then I noticed I was too young to go so I didn’t think about it again until I saw the Al Asr thread posted on ShiaChat in 2007 and that is when I decided to think about going the following year. I hadn’t mentioned the trip to anybody else, even my own parents. Another year passed and the same thread opened this time I read the diary entries of people who had gone previously and showed even more interest in going. My father had also noticed this time and he asked me to open the poster containing the information about the trip and then it was decided that I should go and about a day later I had signed up for the trip, it was all so quick and now all I could do was pray that my visa came through and that my place was confirmed, during this time I also encouraged some of my friends on ShiaChat to come to the trip, one of those friends was having problems with his visa and chances of him coming were very slim but about one week later his luck also changed and he was to arrive in Iran a day before us, it just goes to show how by the will of Allah anything can change drastically and so I learned not to lose hope and always be grateful as Allah does everything for our well being. After a few weeks Alhamdulillah my place had been confirmed and now I knew I was going I had to prepare myself mentally for the trip so I began reading in more detail about Imam Reza (as) and his sister Syeda Masooma Qum, I also read about the culture of Iran and learned a little basic Farsi which was a useful thing to do and helped me a lot. The final week before my departure to Iran I spent packing and reading as much as I could.
My intentions for going to Iran was first and foremost purify myself and perfect myself as much as I could so that I could improve myself and also to gain knowledge in the city of knowledge, Qum and benefit from the lectures of The Sheikhs present, Sheikh Hamza, Sheikh Osama and Sheikh Hamid. I needed to be away from the environment in the west and focus on improving myself spiritually in an Islamic environment.
1.0 The Journey Begins
The day of my departure from Heathrow airport finally came and it was time to leave and so I arrived at the airport excited, nervous, anxious and obviously happy that I had got the chance to do Ziyarat. I felt anxious because I didn’t know what to expect, what the people I was going to meet were going to be like, one month is quite a long time to be away from home and so I had many thoughts running through my head which now I realise were unnecessary because after I came back my opinions and thoughts are so opposite and one month seemed not enough. I was met by my friend who worked at the airport at the time he took me to where I was supposed to be, as I got there I saw a few boys in white shirts, for that was the uniform that we had to wear, and I met a few of them and obviously we didn’t talk very openly at first because we didn’t know each other yet I didn’t realise that these few boys would soon be great friends. We did the necessary and required things at the airport and I finally bade farewell to my family and we left for Iran.
I sat on the plane next to brother Ali Imran and Molana Sabzwari and with around six hours to kill, me and Ali talked to Molana throughout the journey and I also began to feel more comfortable getting to know a brother on the trip and that was a good start. The journey progressed until we arrived at Imam Khomeini International airport.
Imam Komeini International Airport
1.1 The First Day
We arrived in Tehran in the early hours of the morning, we prayed fajr prayers in the airport and this is also where we met Sheikh Hamza for the first time in Iran so we said our salaams to him and also our friend Br Hadi and Br “Abu Talib”(Mohammad) who arrived a day before us. Then the brothers had to carry all the suitcases into a truck, now at first there were a lot of moans and groans from the brothers but in the end we realised what we were doing was for a good reason and that they should be helping out the sisters carry their baggage it was a job of sawab . We had a short stay at the Shrine of Imam Khomeini, there we had lunch and paid respects to the Grand Ayatollah and prayed fatiha for his soul. He was a great man and was the leader of the great revolution in Iran, I noticed his pictures all around Iran and I also found out that his shrine was build using money that people had donated and he had not asked for the shrine initially, this showed how much respect people have for him as well. After a while we left for the airport again for a short flight to Mashad, the first place that we would be staying also the most important as it was the place where we would get to do the Ziyarat of our holy Imam Reza (as). The flight was short and we were all very tired due to the travelling.
Outside the Shrine of Imam Reza a.s. During Shabe Meraj
I have a lot to talk about regarding Mashad, and so I won’t go into too much detail about everything but I will mention some places in more detail than others.
We arrived in Mashhad and unloaded all the suitcases in the entrance of the place we would be staying in and their we almost immediately went to our allocated rooms, all the boys and Molana Hamza in one room and the management in the other room next to ours. That day we were all very tired so the day was spent resting, everyone was very eager to do their first Ziyarat.
The next morning there was an introduction assembly where we all introduced ourselves and we were told the rules and regulations as well as a rough schedule of the places we would visit. Coincidently I was the first person up to speak and I was not at all confident at the beginning of the trip but slowly I opened up. I got to learn the names of all the brothers on the trip and began to talk to them all quite openly and casually now.
2.1 The Holy Shrine
It was now time to go to the Holy shrine of Imam Reza (as) we all did ghusl and took the books provided by al asr explaining the etiquettes and way to perform Ziyarat and quietly we got in the bus ready to leave. At this point I wasn’t feeling much but as we drew nearer and closer I felt something very strange I looked directly ahead and saw the beautiful golden dome of Imam Reza’s shrine and I recited Salaams and Salawat at the same time I was hearing beautiful recitations by Brother Ali Imran all the way through the journey adding to the feeling. We all got off the bus and water welled up in everybody’s eyes there was a great silence that overtook me and everyone surrounding me. We followed the sheikh with our heads bowed in respect, walking, reciting and we entered the “azadi courtyard” this would be our meeting spot for the whole time we were here.
I was aching to go inside and see the Zari of the Imam as was everyone else but it was time for prayer and the most amazing azan was echoing throughout the courtyards. We sat down under the sun as the entire place was incredibly packed, so much that there was not a single gap remaining and I mean not even space for one to stand up on one leg. The sun in Iran was burning hot but we had to get used to it, sometimes the temperature would reach 50 degrees Celsius and carpets had to be placed to walk on the ground which was giving off the immense heat. We prayed Zohr and Asr prayers and we went in to do our first Ziyarat. I kissed the door and recited the ‘Idn Dukhool or the entrance permission and I did this and did not enter until I felt that connection when I did it prepared me to do Ziyarat properly. The hallway leading to the Zari was so packed it was unbelievable with almost no space to breath, I struggled on until I reached the golden doors and I saw with my own eyes the Zari of my Imam a.s.
Azadi Courtyard of Imam Reza’s Shrine
Imam Reza’s Shrine at Night
2.2 Mushkil Kusha
After just seeing the shrine it was as if all my worries had disappeared, I recited Ziyarat of Imam Reza(as) and prayed 2 rakat salah and the pushing and shoving due to the desperation of touching the Zari was so intense that I somehow managed to land myself in another courtyard without walking the sea of ziyareen took me there I saw the tears in the eyes of the people that were present all of them had come to present their problems to “Mushkil Kusha”, a title given to our Imam. I drank the cool water from the fountain in this courtyard and I just sat there and recited tasbeeh of Fatima Zahra (as). Afterwards I came back to the meeting point and we all took photos as discreetly as we could because photos were not allowed in most places we went, but we managed. All of us went walking back not facing our back to the harem at any time we paid our respects and went back to the bus just before we got there however, some of the brothers were over whelmed with emotion and started lamenting outside the complex before finally getting in the bus and returning back to the ‘Urdugha’.
2.3 Chilu Kabab and Sheik Humza
We ate Iranian food for the first time, it was different, although I personally liked it a lot especially the chilu kebab, rice and tomatoes. The daily schedule was generally two classes either before or after doing Ziyarat or after an outing or visit somewhere the classes covered a variety of topics including aqauid, ahkam, wilayat-e-faki and other optional classes, followed by dinner and a group discussion at night. The group discussions gave us the chance to ask any question we might have and then discuss it, sometimes we had debates on certain topics overall it was a good experience and it was a chance to gain knowledge. On most nights we also had recitations of dua Kumail and dua Tawasal recited beautifully by Sheikh Hamza, whilst reciting anything Sheikh would narrate in English in between especially during Ziyarat Ashura, during Ziyarat sheikh would recite masaib in English to get that special connection I will talk later on about the special moments on the mountains with Sheikh’s recitations.
During the stay in Mashad we went to a small place called Nishapoor, here was the graves of famous people like Omar Khayyam and, Kamal al Mulk, and other famous poets and artists, the buildings over here had amazing designs and architecture and the place of Nishapoor overall was very pleasant. We also visited an imamzada, one of the sons of Imam Musa Kazim and the Qadamgha of Imam Reza (as). Before we left we took a break and ate and in this time we met a bunch of Iranian children, me and a small of group of brothers were going down to a place where people played football and basket ball and here we came across an bunch of Iranian kids, one who understood English and spoke it quite well, at first it was strange because we didn’t understand each other very well, but after we learnt alot from them and even got them to recite the Iranian national anthem! In the same day we visited the grave of bibi Shatita and an Imam Zadaeh.
Entrance to the Qadamgha
The Iranian Children
We visited Imam reza(as)’s harem almost regularly during the stay in Mashad but in this time we also got to visit the various great alims and scholars buried there such as Sheikh Bahaie and Sheikh Hur al ameli.
2.5 The Shahadat
One memorable day in Mashad was the day of the Shahadat of Imam Musa Kazim (as) the father of Imam Reza (as) In this day we visited the harem and the atmosphere was very different, the entire harem complex was echoing with the sounds of masaibs in Farsi and crying and wailing of everyone listening, as even though it was in Farsi one thing was that the recitations in Iran were from the heart and all the words absorb and it was as if I understood every single word. Many processions came through the courtyards; I remember two processions that came through, an Afghani group and an Iraqi group they both came through the entrances lamenting reciting eulogies in Farsi and Arabic beating their chests crying. I proceeded that day with the brothers as we recited our own ‘nohas’ and after returning later on that day everyone had ‘soft hearts’ and this prepared us for the majalis that was recited in the masjid. After the majalis everyone was crying and we were all very emotional that day, this day ended quietly.
2.6 Great Personalities
We went to visit other places situated around the harem such as the museum where many beautiful pieces of art were displayed including the famous picture of Zuljana, the horse of Imam Hussayn (as), I was amazed that I actually got to see the original painting. We also met two ayatollahs, Sheikh Behjat and Sheikh Makarem Shirazi, in our visit to Ayatollah Behjat’s place we heard the most amazing recitation of Ziyarat Ashura and a masaiab in Farsi. I have always wanted to meet Ayatollah Behjat as I have heard great things about him, unfortunately the rush was so great that it was not possible for us to see him in person and talk to him. Ayatollah Makeram Shirazi gave us a short speech in Farsi which was translated by Sheikh Hamza in it he told us deep things and gave us advice about living in the west.
2.7 Our Dinner invite
One day I was asked to get up earlier with a few other boys because we needed to sort out a place for us all to eat in the Harem of Imam, this is the tabaruk of Imam and everyone who visits Imam never goes empty handed, so we lined up for hours and we finally got all the passports stamped. Later on we all came and ate the food Alhamdulillah, it is a great honour to be able to eat here as it is hard to get even one passport stamped as there are masses waiting and some wait the whole night so that they can get their place in line.
The last day of Ziyarat arrived this is in my opinion one of the main highlights of the trip. We all went to do Ziyarat as usual but this time every single face was sad as we knew this would be our last Ziyarat and who knows when we will be able to see Imam again, so we all did our Ziyarat alvida and came to the meeting point, at this point everyone began to cry or at least everyone was very sad, we slowly walked out of the entrance for the last time and some of the brothers couldn’t move. We eventually got to the bus after constantly stopping and looking back, in the bus however every single person now was in tears and Sheikh began reciting Dua al faraj, the atmosphere in the bus is one thing I’ll never forget Inshallah I get the chance to go to this amazing place again.
All of us packed and got ready for another journey, this time by bus to the holy city of Qum. We had a comfortable journey there but again the constant loading and unloading did tire us out. We got to the place we were staying in Qum and even though I was tired I was suddenly filled with life when I noticed some Iranians at the gate waiting to greet us with candles and smiles on their faces a man was holding the Qur’an so that we passed under it on our way in, this made me feel very happy and this also made me aware of the hospitality of Iran. After we had ate something we went and prayed fajr salah and went straight to sleep in our rooms, again on the way to the rooms I noticed hand drawn posters welcoming us and I greatly appreciated this.
Here we first met Sheikh Osama, so the schedule was as it was in Mashad only the classes were split between both Sheikhs, Sheikh Osama’s classes were quite different to Sheikh Hamza’s as Sheikh Hamza made us ponder and then question where as the other class was more about how we can improve ourselves and about Islamic spirituality.
Bibi Masooma Qum
3.1 The Sister of the Imam a.s.
We went first of all to the harem of Syeda Masooma the sister of Imam Reza(as) here we spent most of our time. The shrine itself was magnificent especially during the times of wiladats at this time lights were put up making the place so incredible. Here it wasn’t so packed giving me more time in the actual harem. I noticed alot of graves in the harem, and many great Ayatollahs are buried here including Ayatollahs Lankarani, Burujudu Shaheed Mutahari, and many other great respected alims, alot of them are buried in a way so that people walk over them this fascinated me, I saw this alot in Iran. We also visited the library or Ayatollah Marashi Najafi along with his grave just outside the harem. Most days we would go out into the garden after dinner just before the group discussions, the gardens all over Iran were beautifully kept and were pleasant to walk in. One great thing was that the great Masjid of Jamkaran was a small walking distance away from the hotel and so I could go and pray fajr prayers there every day in Qum, I loved the recitations at this time, the man who recited at fajr did dua al faraj so nicely even though he was so old he had the voice of a youth.
3.2 The Wiladat
For three days in a row we had Jashans of the wiladats of Imam Hussayn(as), Imam Sajjad(as) and Hazrat Abbas(as) we did our own little milad inside with recitations by brothers Ali Imran, Asif, Adil, and Riaz it was all very cheerful and joyful. We did a special Ziyarat to Masjid Jamkaran it looked amazing at nights all lit up.
Musjid Jamakaran Entrance
We met Ayatollah Araki and Ayatollah Musawi Lari in Qum. Ayatollah Lari showed us his library and answered any questions we had, then as a gift he let us select three books to take with us. Ayatollah Araki gave us a speech in Farsi translated into English after we prayed Maghreb and Isha and then he offered us some ice-cream.
3.3 The Final Ziarat
One place we saw was the Ibadatgha of Bibi Masooma where she used to pray and also the house of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, we saw how simple it was and it was not just simple but plain, it showed the way the Ayatollah used to live.
We had a last Ziyarat to bibi Masooma’s shrine where we did a ‘Matamdari’ and beat our chests, alot of other Ziyreens joined us and we attracted alot of attention. I’m not sure in what order we went to these places but during the last days we went swimming and then the sisters went to Jamia tuz Zahra whilst me and the rest of the brothers went to the Madressa of Imam Khomeini. The madressa was a fairly large complex and it had all the up to date computers and technology, we learned about what went on around there and the opportunities.
We did a final Ziyarat in Masjid Jamkaran and then left for a journey to a place not far from Qum.
4.0 A little place called Visf...On the way to Tehran we had a 2 day stay in a small isolated place called Visf. This was one of my most favourite places in Iran, although there was no Ziyarat here alot happened here. The area was surrounded by mountains and nothing else, we saw a particular high mountain and the brothers said that we would climb it that night! So later on after Salah of Maghreb and Isha about 10:30pm we all got ready and began climbing the enormous mountain in the pitch darkness. Me and Br Hadi were together and as we climbed we recited Alhamdulillah!, subhanallah!, fascinated by Allah’s creation, the climb was very hard especially because we were in the darkness of the night and couldn’t see the cactus, at this point Hadi said a quote from Ayatollah Khamanie encouraging youngsters to climb the mountains.
‘I am disappointed every time I come to the mountain an see it deserted of people, why don’t the youth and non youth alike take advantage of this divine blessing’
After about 2 hours of climbing we reached the top to find Sheikh Hamza already at the top, he could get up there at lightning speed. After we had all gathered at the flag Sheikh said we should recite Ziyarat Ashura, now this was a moment that I always will miss, the recitation was immense, everyone was crying and Sheikh was reciting Masaib all the way through. After this we all lay down and looked at the stars, In didn’t know that many stars existed, it was an amazing sight. We climbed this particular mountain many times through the stay in Visf, one time we recited Dua tawassal together , just me and 3 or 4 other brothers in the daytime this time, we saw the flag on the peak which read “La illaha illalah Muhammadar rasool allah Aliyun Waliyullah”
The brother on top of the mountain of Visf
These 2 days were great, we went up the mountains many times, and I sat and drew the scenery at times. After a few brothers made omelette and Pakistani tea, we were off to our final destination Tehran.
Now as we were going to Tehran we noticed a sudden change of scenery as this was the modern part of Iran, more women weren’t observing proper hijab and it was like the London of Iran. We got to our hotel and unpacked as usual, had a class on wilayat-e-faqih and then had dinner as usual.
We did one interesting visit in Iran, comparing two places and lifestyles, the house of Imam Khomeini, and the Shah’s palace. First we went to the Shah’s palace, it was a grand place, enormous and had many rooms, when we went to Imam Khomeini’s house however it was as his house in Qum, simple plain and very small, here we learnt more about Him and saw his possessions and photos. Imam Khomeini was the greatest character of Iran the true “shah” where as The Shah was the complete opposite, a tyrant. These were the days where my knowledge increased about Imam Khomeini and also it increased the respect I have for him.
5.1 Behisht e Zehra
Now although Tehran was as it was it was the best place in my opinion to get information about Iran’s history and the fascinating revolution that changed Iran forever. One of the best places we went to in Tehran was the Martyrs museum and Behiste-e-Zahra, these were the places where the great martyrs of the revolution are buried. It was saddening to hear stories of soldiers who had given their lives for the sake of Allah, one sad story that really made me sad was one that Sheikh Hamza told us on the grave of a young boy of about 13 years old, in the battle field there were tanks approaching the Iranians and it was almost impossible to survive them and that he would have to die anyway so he lay on the battle field for the tanks to go over him and as they did it detonated the grenades he had on him and destroyed the tanks and also ended the life of the young boy saving the Iranian soldiers from certain death.
We recited Quran in this grave yard and learnt about the revolution, we were told the story of one surviving man who we met who had couldn’t talk because a piece of the explosive had struck his head. We watched a video showing the soldiers fighting, it was very hard to watch and some brothers couldn’t bear to watch it and walked out crying.
5.2 The Mountain
One day after we were staying at this comfortable hotel we were asked to pack as we were moving location, and we were going high, very high into the mountains. The new place was so high it amazed me, I could see the entire city and it was so minute by the time I reached the top I could see the whole of Tehran! We had more mountain climbing this time at the top there was the graves of the Shohada’s who were found with no name.
On the last days, Thursday I think it was, we were invited to a conference. We went to this conference where the president and many other people such as Ayatollah Shirazi spoke, we had a set of headsets with translation, a funny moment was when the translator suddenly out of the blue burst into a fit of laughter and began talking strangely! I managed to shake hands with the president and after wards we went to the famous SFC of Tehran to eat.
We visited the graves of 2 Imam Zahdeh, Shah Abdul azeem and Imam Zadeh Saleh, the boys did Matamdari here and we recited Ziyarat Ashura. It is narrated that visiting the grave of Abd’ al Azeem was like visiting the shrine of Imam Hussayn (as)
The last place we went to was the Shah’s torture prison; this is where he used to torture people who were against him. It wasn’t pleasant, the place had been turned into a wax museum and showed the different kinds of torture and also the cells of great people like Ayatollah Dasaghaib, and Ayatollah Khamanie. The place disturbed me greatly and left me almost speechless for the rest of the day, I sent Lanat on every Tyrant living or dead. After this we went and prayed Zohr and Asr prayers and left.
Until the next time Inshallah
We had a farewell assembly where I gave a speech along with 2 other brothers and 3 sisters. I talked about my experiences and talked about certain times. This was a time to ponder over the trip and think about what we had all learnt. We did the amaal of the 15th of Shabaan and also prayed Salat-e-Ayah for the second time in the duration of our stay for there was a lunar eclipse, it was a great night and everything seemed good, I was deeply saddened to know that I would be leaving this place in a few hours.
So we finally reached back to the UK after saying our farewells to Iran, the wonderful Sheikhs and that is the end of my journey for now, Now it is time for me to apply what I have learnt and Inshallah I will get the chance to go to this beautiful county again.
Overall the trip was a fantastic experience, I gained closer connections to Allah and the Ahlul-Bait and I hope Inshallah that I will be able to have this experience again, I have no complaints about Al asr and I will promote it by telling the youngsters around me about my experiences encouraging them to go, one thing I learnt was that everything happens for a reason, I lost my bag on the trip but I didn’t at all feel as if I lost something, it was as if I had gained something alot bigger. I pray that Allah grants Al Asr success and I also pray for my parents who made it possible for me to go.
“O Allah I had left my place of domicile to go towards thee, and crossed many a town in the hope of getting thy mercy, therefore, do not disappoint me, and do not send me away without awarding that which I need, have mercy on my restless agitation near the son of Thy Messenger’s brother”