From Condolence Theater in the Role of Ruqayyah bint Al-Hussein (PBUH) to Eulogy in Geneva

Interviewer: Atieh Mohammadi
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad

2020-09-22


Note: Hajj Yadollah Behtash has been a eulogist of Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH)[1] for nearly half a century. His background includes eulogies in the House of Leader and Geneva, Switzerland, and he has written numerous religious books, but few interviews are available from his memoirs and life. The "Iranian Oral History Website" decided to conduct an interview about the life of this patriarch of the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH) on the occasion of the days of mourning of Aba Abdullah (PBUH).[2]

■ Hello, Mr. Behtash, please introduce yourself, your place of birth, your family background, and the culture in which you grew up!

I am Yadollah Behtash, born in 1329 in the village of Alik, Sabzevar.[3] I have been doing a eulogy for Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH) for more than fifty years since I was 70 years old. In our village, my father used to do tazieh.[4] Because I had a good voice, I started doing eulogy at the age of 7-8 through tazieh in the role of the children of Karbala[5]. I immigrated to Tehran when I was about 12 years old and settled in the Majidiyeh area. When I went to elementary and high school, I would do eulogy from the school to home. Muharram and Safar[6] I also do eulogy and homily in my home assembly. These homilies, at home, had many goodness and blessed. These caused mercy and relation among people and the children were exposed to the eulogy and homily of the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH).

 

 

I was eighteen years old when, through one of these homilies and by the benefit of Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH), the preparation for my marriage to a religious family was made. On Friday mornings, Nudba[7] prayers were held at my father-in-law's house. Once I was invited to pray there. My mother came with me when she saw my wife in that house and later proposed to her. My father-in-law was the late Seyyed Mehdi Mirsharifi, the imam of the Mohammadiyeh Mosque on Seyed Khandan Street. We had the honor of joining this family by the benefit of being the follower of Sadat Alavi.[8]

 

At the same time, in addition to high school, I also started preparing for Arabic. From then on, I wanted to be influential in the assemblies and not be satisfied with just one homily that turns people upside down. In the assemblies, I used to recite a related hadith and used it in the homily; because I believe that the meetings of Imam Hussein (PBUH) should empower cognition.

■What were your activities in the struggles leading up to the Islamic Revolution?

During that period, the media activities were done by religious assemblies and mosques. When a leaflet or tape of Imam Khomeini reached one of the residents of the neighborhood, s/he reproduced it and gave it to the others. I was not a direct member of a particular political group, but I cooperated with these people by attending the mosque and the religious assemblies. I tried to bring revolutionary themes to the eulogy and homily; For example, I read these verses about the freedom of Imam Hussein (PBUH):

Hussein's behavior taught freedom to the world

His thoughts planted the seeds of effort in the world

 

He revealed with his uprising to the people:

It will be a shame if they pursue oppression in the world

 

If you do not have a religion, at least to have freedom 

These words are the speech of Hussein to the world

 

Death with honor is better than life with humiliation;

Hussein donated the words as a worthwhile garnet to the world.

 

■Please tell us about the atmosphere of one year before the Islamic Revolution.

One year before the revolution, the protests had become more widespread. Sometimes we marched and shouted slogan in a long distance from Seyed Khandan Street to the Revolution Square. I remember once when we arrived at the police station at the end of North Suhrawardi Street (formerly Farah Street), people would give bouquets to military officers and say: "Army brother! Why do you kill a brother?!" I went behind the police station and saw some of these officers crying. These slogans provoked emotions, which resulted in our allies and some military forces joining the revolution.

Every night at a certain hour we used to say aloud: "Allahu Akbar"[9]. In our Christian neighborhood, men and women marched and shouted the slogan: "Christian brother, our leader is Khomeini". When the military attacked the demonstrators, the residents of the neighborhood, even the Christians, opened their doors to the shelter or hide demonstrators. Once or twice, the police of the neighborhood arrested me for participating in the same demonstration, but they released me because they had no evidence.

Which of the places and mosques was the center of your activities?

I used to go to the meetings of the late Mohammad Mofatteh in the Qoba Mosque, which was close to our area of residence. Sometimes we would go to a mosque located in Haft Tir Square, where Martyr Motahhari used to go there, and to Al-Mahdi Mosque, where Mr. Habibi, one of the late Mujtahid's students, was lecturing in there.

What do you remember about the cultural and social atmosphere of that period?

The cultural conditions at that time were so deplorable that it reminds me of some street scenes! We did not have a radio or television at home, but I had seen on television of some relatives or friends that the cabarets and nightclubs were broadcasting the programs live. This dirty environment had created hard conditions for us who were constrained to religious rules; we were looking to change this situation.

■ Where did you first see and hear the name and photo of Imam Khomeini?

On September 4, 1978, the Eid al-Fitr[10] prayer led by Dr. Mofatteh was held in the hills of Qatarieh, a big demonstration took place after the prayer. The photo of the Imam was spread there, and it was my first memory of the demonstrations and seeing the photo of the Imam. I remember on the morning of September 8, I went to the Sadat Mosque in for prayer Nadbah, and I wanted to go to the demonstration after the prayer, but they closed the road due to the conflict and I could not go. I remember on the morning of September 8, I went to the Sadat Mosque in for Nudba[11] prayers, and I wanted to go to the demonstration after the prayer, but they closed the road due to the conflict and I could not go.

■ Where were you when Imam Khomeini returned to Iran?

We were waiting in front of the University of Tehran with some friends when Imam Khomeini's car passed in front of us. They had grouped to meet with the Imam. One night they announced that the clerics would visit the Imam. Mr. Hadi Ghaffari controlled the people when they were going inside the school. Since I did not have the uniform of the clergy, they did not allow me to go inside at first, but finally, I went inside the school. This was my first visit. The clergymen were sitting side by side when the Imam entered the hall. The Imam asked:" Does Mr. Falsafi come here?" They said yes. Imam said "Tell him to come here". Mr. Falsafi went to the same place where the Imam was sitting. The Imam said to him: "Go to the pulpit and lecture tonight!" Because before the revolution, Mr. Filsafi was forbidden to the lecture by the Shah's regime. Mr. Falsafi had an excellent speech in the presence of the Imam that night. At the end of the speech, the prayer of Vahdat (unity) was held for the first time among the revolutionaries. Like Mr. Falsafi. He was one the best lecturer and we do not have a lecturer like him. After this meeting, I visited the Imam several times in Jamaran Hosseiniyah.[12]

■What were your activities after the revolution?

I first became a member of the Committee.[13] Maybe I still have the committee cards from that time in the Mohammadiyah Mosque Committee. The committee of each neighborhood was depended on its main mosque and was responsible for the security of the neighborhood. Later, I was offered executive work, but I liked to do guidance and eulogy activities.

Do you remember anything from the year 1981 and the actions of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization (the hypocrites)?[14]

Yes. One of our relatives named "Mir Sharifi" had a shop in the Majidiyeh area that was attached to their house. Their mother explains that one-day several people enter the shop and shoot her son. He heard his son was saying: "I am not doing anything." but they do not pay attention to his words and killed him." At that time, everyone who looked like the Revolutionary Guards was targeted by the hypocrites’ gun. The purpose of these actions was to create panic and blind assassinations.

■When did you enter the front?

To be honest, I was never sent to the front as a fighter; however, when I was sent with the logistics team, I was honored to be inured. They usually sent a eulogist with the support groups. I, along with the guilds, went to the front three or four times. On one of the deployment, we were taken to visit war zones when a mortar shell landed near us. As I lay in the corner, I heard screams from the wounded. I said to me: "They say you do not understand when you shoot! Otherwise, I was shot and did not understand! I looked and saw blood coming from my arm and thigh. I realized that the arrow had hit me and I did not notice because my body was hot. When my body got cold, I realized I could not move; We were taken by helicopter to the back of the front and from there to Chamran Hospital in Tehran. One of the quivers, which had hit my waist, reached near the spinal cord but cooled down and stopped moving. The doctor said that if he had gone a little further, your spinal cord would have had been amputated! In short, I did not testify, but I still have some quivers in my body as a souvenir.

■Do you remember anything from the moment you heard the news of Imam Khomeini's death?

Before that day, people were constantly asked to pray for the Imam's health. This is how the image of that day is recorded in my mind; We just woke up in the morning when we heard the announcement on the radio. My wife put her head on the wall and started crying. I listened to radio dazedly. The children were confused. We got ready and went to the house of my lady's father and from there we went to Mosalla. Mosalla was not like now, it was a dry and empty land that reminded me of the Arafat desert. People were crying, some were lighting candles, some were shaking their heads. I had never seen such an expression of emotion in the absence of anyone and such a funeral in my life. People did not sleep at night, they came in groups, sat around the Imam's tomb, and lit candles.

■What made you write books and teach eulogy?

I am very interested in reading and whenever I read a book I used to making code for it and making a note for my lecture and the sermon. Gradually, I came up with the idea of compiling these notes into a book. On the other hand, the influence of the cultural environment of Amirkabir Publishing House, where I was the Imam of the congregation at the beginning of the revolution, and the guidance of my friends in that center, led to the publication of several volumes of books. The first book called "Night Prayer" was published in thirty thousand copies and sent to the fronts.

The second book was called "Forty Hadiths from Fourteen Imams[15]" which was a collection of hadiths and narrations suitable for the use of eulogists and preachers in the pulpits. After that, I wrote a murder book called "The Narration of Karbala" which was reprinted twelve times. The next book was a summary of the lives of fourteen innocent imams, which is now used in some eulogy classes, and I teach it as well. After that, I decided to publish an independent book for each of the Imams. in total, I have been published 36 or 37 book titles. I am interested in transferring my experiences to the youth and I teach in the board of Islamic warriors and the House of Eulogists in the field of ethics and manners of the Imams (PBUH).

 

 

■Which country were you first invited to do eulogy?

I was first invited to the Emirates through a friend, and for about 12-13 years I went to the pulpit and lectured in Garashi’s Hosseiniyah in Dubai. Once, on one of the streets of Dubai, someone called me and resorted me to his favor greatly. I did not know him  and asked: " how do you know me?"  He said: "You have had a great impact on my life." I said: "how?" He said: "during the war, I went to Ahvaz for work and was captured. Ten years after my captivity, when I returned, my children did not know me, and the love of father and son was not well-formed. One Friday morning, we happened to pass by the Ansar al-Abbas’s mourning assembly on Pasdaran Street. You were talking about loving your parents when we joined the assembly. Your words affected me so much that after that the children hugged me and cried. I owe you."

The next experience is related to travel to Mecca. Once, while I was doing a eulogy for the travelers, Mr. Hedayatzadeh, the Iranian ambassador to Italy, heard and liked my voice. He came forward and told me that if we invite you to Italy for a eulogy, will you come? I also greeted him and said: Why not? At first, I did not think it was serious, but then when I came to Iran, they called me and I went to Italy.

After a while, this style of the eulogy I used – i.e. I used to do both eulogies and give sermons- was welcomed by Iranian families living in Italy. For this reason, I was invited there for two years of Muharram and two years of Ramadan.[16] One year, when the Muharram decade ceremony at the Italian Embassy ended, there was no flight from there to Iran for two days. They offered to take the opportunity to see Venice as well. Early in the morning the driver and the translator came and took me to Venice. Since the condition of the Venice hotels was not good for me, I was taken to an Iranian student dormitory near Venice. When I entered that complex, I saw that one of the rooms was covered in black and they said that this is our Hosseiniyah!

When they heard that a eulogist is their gust, they vacated one of the rooms and turned it into a small Hosseiniyah with black fabrics and clothes. On the twelfth night of Muharram and the martyrdom of Imam Sajjad (PBUH), a very good eulogy and prayer meeting were held there. I had a ceremony in Rome tomorrow night and flew to Iran in the morning. I went straight from the airport to another mourning assembly. When I got home, my wife said that you like your mourning and eulogy meetings more than us. (Laughs).

 

 

The next trip was to Switzerland. Mr. Hedayatzadeh introduced me to the Iranian ambassador to Switzerland, and thus the preparations for the next trip were made, and I went to the pulpit in the last decade of Ramadan in the Iranian office at the United Nations. From there, I was an Albanian guest for 24 hours to do the eulogy. Later, Haj Javad Golpayegani invited me from his office in London to England for two years. After the eulogy, the mourning group used to walk to Hyde Park in London to reach the office of the World Assembly of the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUM). 

For two years, I was invited to do a eulogy for Ahl al-Bayt (PBUM) for the Shiites of Bahrain.

■You have been done eulogy several times in the House of Leader and once you have been invited to the house of the supreme leader. Could you tell me the memory of this invitation?

I was invited to the general assembly held in the House of Leader for 6 years: five years on the night of Ashura and one year on the night of Tasca. The first time I was invited, I vowed to go to the pulpit and do eulogy in the usual style. I said to me:" I do it even if I will be no longer invited! I know they won't remove the microphone from in front of me! In short, I first read a poem, then a hadith and a brief description of it, and then I finished with the eulogy. When I visited the leadership, he used exactly those words:" It was good, it was good, and it was very good." After this sentence, I was encouraged that, thank God, they liked my style. Later they recommended that your meetings not be empty of sermons. The last time I was invited was the night of Tasua[17]. I read this poem from Saib:[18]

 

Prayers won't be accepted with no lawful food

Keep your stomach away from forbidden food

 

And in the continuation of this hadith, I read: "Three things cause a person to have a comfortable life: lawful foods, companionship with scholars, and congregational prayer." I spoke briefly about these three things and then do the eulogy. After I went to visit the supreme leader, they said to me: "Your poem was Saeb's masterpiece. Your sermon was also a good topic. Tell these things to the people."

In the month of Muharram and the days of the martyrdom of the Infallibles, in addition to the general assembly, the supreme leader also has a mourning assembly in his house, which is attended by relatives and friends. The program includes speeches and eulogies and brief speeches about that occasion. Once on the day of the martyrdom of Imam Hadi (PBUM), I was invited to this assembly as a eulogist and preacher.

■Please share one of your pleasant memories of eulogy.

I have had both pleasant and unpleasant memories of the nearly 60 years that I have prayed in various assemblies, but I will describe one of those pleasant memories that pertain to the home mourning of an old woman where I have to do a eulogy for many years. He has nothing to do with my background and experiences and still, like the past times, he used to say his children to call Yadollah to come one night to do eulogy of Hazrat Abolfazl for us. Then they put a twenty toman[19]  in the envelope for us (laughs). It is very interesting for me that without mentioning my last name, he used to say: "Tell Yadollah to do a eulogy for us." This is very good and blessed. It is because of this blessing that I, Haj Yadollah, who has neither a particular style nor a particular voice, have been invited from the Supreme Leader to London's Hyde Park.

Thank you for taking the time to the Iranian Oral History Website. These days, pray for us with your warm breath.

 


[1] Within the Islamic tradition, Ahl al-Bayt is a phrase that mainly refers to the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and a lesser extent, his ancestor Ibrahim. In Shia Islam, the Ahl al-Bayt are central to Islam and interpreters of the Quran and Sunnah.

[2] It is the surname of Imam Hussein. He is one of Ali's sons who was killed in Karbala and is considered among the martyrs of the Battle of Karbala.

[3] It is a city and capital of Sabzevar County, in Razavi Khorasan Province, approximately 220 kilometers west of the provincial capital Mashhad, in northeastern Iran.

[4] In Persian cultural reference it is categorized as Condolence Theater or Passion Play inspired by a historical and religious event, the tragic death of Hussein, symbolizing epic spirit and resistance.

[5] It is referred to as the Battle of Karbala was fought on 10 October 680 between the army of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I and a small army led by Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, at Karbala, Iraq. Before his death, the Umayyad caliph Muawiyah I had nominated his son Yazid as his successor.

[6] Muḥarram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and Ṣafar is the second month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar.

[7] Du'a Nudba is one of the major Shiite prayers about Muhammad al-Mahdi and his occultation. Nudba means to cry and Shiites read the prayer to ask for help during the occultation. The supplication is recited during Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Ghadeer, and every Friday morning.

[8] Sadat is those that said to be descended from "Hashem" (ancestor of the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah) or in other words from the tribe of Bani Hashem on their father's side. They reach the children of Muhammad through Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad and Ali, the son of Abu Talib (the first Imam of the Shiites and the fourth caliph of the Sunnis).

[9] This a Takbir in the Arabic phrase meaning "God is greater" or "God is the greatest".

[10] It is also called the "Festival of Breaking the Fast", which is a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan.

[11] It is one of the major Shiite prayers about Muhammad al-Mahdi and his occultation. Nudba means to cry and Shiites read the prayer to ask for help during the occultation. The supplication is recited during Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Ghadeer, and every Friday morning.

[12] It is a congregation hall for Twelver Shia Muslim commemoration ceremonies, especially those associated with the Mourning of Muharram.

[13] Islamic Revolution Committees or Committees of the Islamic Revolution, simply known as the Committee, was a law enforcement force in Iran acting under the Ministry of Interior. The Committee was responsible for enforcing Islamic regulations and moral standards on social behavior.

[14] The People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, or the Mujahedin-e Khalq, is an Iranian political-militant organization. It advocates overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran's leadership and installing its government.

[15] It means, the Fourteen Infallibles in Twelver Shia Islam includes Islamic prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima Zahra, and the Twelve Imams. All are considered to be infallible under the theological concept of Ismah.

[16] Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community.

[17] It is the ninth day of Muharram and the day before Ashura. Several events occurred on this day.

[18] Saib Tabrizi was a Persian poet and one of the greatest masters of a form of classical Arabic and Persian lyric poetry characterized by rhymed couplets, known as the ghazal.

[19] Iranian currency



 
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From Condolence Theater in the Role of Ruqayyah bint Al-Hussein (PBUH) to Eulogy in Geneva

Hajj Yadollah Behtash has been a eulogist of Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH) for nearly half a century. His background includes eulogies in the House of Leader and Geneva, Switzerland, and he has written numerous religious books, but few interviews are available from his memoirs and life. The "Iranian Oral History Website" decided to conduct an interview about the life of this patriarch of the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH) on the occasion of the days of mourning of Aba Abdullah (PBUH).
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