Islamic clerics resolving religious quandaries in Iran

By Artemis Razmipour

Qom, Iran, Jun 3 (efe-epa).- Thousands of Islamic clerics are putting out fires daily by offering relationship counseling and guidance on personal issues to the faithful in Iran.

Several specialized centers have opened in the country providing support on a range of issues, including marital, family and relationship problems.

“People really need our advice, this is like a fire station,” says Mohammad Hosseini, a 38-year-old cleric who has held this role for five years at the National Center for Answering Religious Questions in Qom.

Sitting at his desk beside a phone and a computer, he stresses the importance of responding sensitively to defuse potentially volatile situations.

“Sometimes the callers are at the point of suicide or about to do something crazy,” he explains.

“We talk to them and through the solutions that our religion has given we convince and calm them.”

To do this, the clerics turn to the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and the religion’s history and moral teachings.

Iran is governed by a theocratic system based on Sharia or Islamic laws that impose moral standards ranging from the segregation of the sexes, obligatory veils for women and a ban on alcohol.

Hosseini, who studied at a seminary in Qom, said some of the calls are very “delicate”.

Many of the callers have “problems with their children or infidelity within a marriage and it is as if they are on fire”, he adds.

Other issues included on the center’s website include premarital sex and questions such as whether it is halal, or allowed by Islam, to see the naked body of a person you want to marry.

The faithful can contact the center in person, over the phone, by letter, by email and online through a messaging service.

Qom’s National Center for Answers to Religious Questions, which has around 260 advisors, also provides guidance to other smaller establishments throughout the country.

The city is one of the most sacred religious locations in Iran as it is home to the Shrine of Fatima Masumeh, sister of the eighth imam Reza and the daughter of the seventh imam Musa al-Kadhim – the most important seminaries for Shia Muslims.

Mohammad Javad Asghari, director of the religious center, tells Efe that it receives between 4,000 and 12,000 calls, letters and messages a day and that this number rises significantly during holy months.

Asghari, 41, has been working at the center for more than a decade and says there are six groups which work shifts so that support is available 12 hours a day from 8 am to 8 pm.

These advisors sit in their booths, each with a computer and a phone, wearing headphones over their turbans.

They are mostly men with a smaller number of women who offer support on the theory of Islamic laws for females.

The sector which received the most queries is family counseling, according to Asghari.

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