I stayed with a young couple who tell me they feel like aliens in their own country. The main reason, is that they are non believers in the Islamic faith. The problem is, this is not a topic you can share, even with your best friends. Too many people in Iran have been arrested and imprisoned for less than making such an announcement. You must, however, live as an Islam, because you are in the Islamic Republic of Iran. What does this involve?
Perhaps the most obvious difference from any other country, including many countries that follow Islam, is the compulsory wearing of a full body covering by women. This includes the head scarf, and the need to show no hair. One day I was walking down the street with my female host, ( this in itself could be hazardous, me not being a close blood relative). My hostess was visibly uneasy, anxious that she did not draw attention by her attire, from members of the military or police. I have been told many times that a policeman would focus on a woman without a headscarf, rather than a robber stealing a wallet, such are the priorities of policing in Iran. My hostess's discomfort was infectious. I felt as if I too was "underground", a member of some covert group or organisation. I felt as if I was in some spy movie or book from WWII France. It was unpleasant, and unnerving.
When my hostess and I arrived back at her house, I spoke to her about this feeling. She told me that was how she and her husband felt every time they left the house. They dressed up, as if on stage, they performed a role, they acted like believers, because if they didn't, the consequences were dire.
This couple are not rebels. They are not revolutionaries. They are just a young couple that have their own beliefs, contrary to the laws of the land. They do not stand up and shout out their beliefs, as that would get them arrested and imprisoned. Instead they keep their heads down, and make plans to try and leave Iran.
They do not believe that you must not have a dog or cat as a pet, because these animals taint your prayers. They do not believe that a toilet must be built at right angles to the direction you pray. They believe they should be allowed to drink alcohol, touch the hands or give a hug to a member of the opposite sex not immediately related to them, that women should be allowed to climb a hill and have wind blow through their uncovered hair, that women should be allowed to lie on a picnic rug, as the men can, and swim in a lake, river or ocean with the opposite sex, and not be relegated to the back of the bus. They think you should be allowed to choose your wedding date, and not be banned from getting married for the months of the "black flag". They believe that a young couple should be allowed to choose their own partners for life, and not have to conform to the age old "selection by parents", of a spouse, as promoted by the state. They see no harm in wearing colourful clothing during the months of the "black flag". They believe in freedom of speech and choice.
This couple meet at a young age, and fell in love. They did rebel, in that they married outside the norm, without their parents consent. This happened ten years ago, but the resentment and repercussions continue.
That, along with an experience the female had as a twelve year old, have pointed this couple away from Islam. As a small in stature twelve year old, my hostess had gone with her parents to visit a holy shrine. While waiting for her parents to finish praying, another woman had approached the twelve year old. "How old are you? You should be in full body cover. Why are you breaking the law of Islam and our country?". This was followed by a severe slap to the face. Is it any wonder that an intelligent twelve year old, might ask questions of the "faith"?
As I prepared to ride away from their house, my hostess gave me a hug. She dared to come outside her front door with her hair exposed to take a last photo, although she was very wary that no one saw her. Such a digression could get her reported to police, and questions would be asked, waves created, that might hinder their plans to leave Iran for good. They told me of others who had planned to "leave for good", had everything arranged, visas, jobs, accommodation, flights to a new country, and been arrested the evening before departure. All a very scarey prospect, as is their whole existence.
Don't misunderstand. The lifestyle in Iran is high compared to many countries that surround it, but many, many people do not like the way they are repressed. They live with this repression, living two totally different life's, being them self behind closed doors, and acting a part in public. That is the only way to survive in The Islamic Republic of Iran.