Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi’s new song, "Naghi," contains the perfect ingredients for controversy.
The lyrics include joking references to Naghi, the 10th imam of the Shi’ites; a penis; Viagra; and the breasts of an Iranian actress.
The image that accompanies the song on YouTube depicts the dome of what appears to be a religious shrine as a female breast, with a rainbow flag -- the symbol of the gay community -- flying over it:
Naghi, I swear on your sense of humor
On this exile that is far from [you]
On the great organ of life
That sits behind us in a threatening mode
Naghi, I invoke you on the length and width of sanctions
On the rising value of the dollar and the feeling of humiliation
Naghi, I swear on the cardboard imam
On the baby who was saying “Ali!” while stuck in his mother’s womb
The song has been condemned by some inside Iran as disrespectful and insulting to Imam Naghi, while others have praised it for breaking religious taboos.
Najafi, who moved to Germany in 2005, told RFE/RL that his aim was not to insult religious sanctities.
“I had done something similar in the past. I have another song titled 'Mahdi' [and] there hasn’t been any such reaction to it," Najafi says. "Also, I thought many would like the song. It’s satirical. When I [create] something, I never think about its consequences.”
The consequences this time include a $100,000 bounty on his head and calls for his execution. The hard-line website Shia-online is offering the reward and says the sum will be paid by an unnamed Arab country in the Persian Gulf.
Call To Violence
The hard-line semi-official Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), claimed earlier this week that senior Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani had issued a fatwa against Najafi and declared him an apostate. The punishment for apostasy in Iran is death.
The ayatollah issued a written statement in response to a question about the song. Without naming names, he said, “If they have insulted the imam, they are apostates.”
Whatever is not in praise and approval of the political and religious system is dismissed and declared as apostasy.
Najafi says that’s a call to violence. He says he has had to take measures to ensure his safety.
“When you issue a death sentence for someone – even under the assumption that that person has insulted [religious sanctities -- that’s [spreading] violence, and it’s unacceptable,” Najafi says.
The song touches on social problems in Iran, mentioning "prayers rugs made in China," "fossilized opposition in the diaspora," and the reported "3 percent of Iran's population that reads books." But it also mentions sensitive religious issues, including the return of the Hidden Imam.
In the song, Najafi calls on Naghi to appear and redeem the world instead of Imam Mahdi or the Hidden Imam, who Shi’ites believe will reappear and bring justice to the world.
O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi
Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi , O Naghi, O Naghi, O Naghi.
It’s not just religious hard-liners who are offended. Some members of the Iranian opposition believe Najafi has crossed a line.
“It is our right for our beliefs and sanctities not to be insulted,” a reformist activist based in Tehran wrote on Facebook.
Religious Iranians consider their imams to be saints. For Najafi, who is an atheist, Naghi is merely a "historical figure.”
Najafi says the definition of what constitutes an insult should be reviewed.
“This is the problem of those who have dogmatic and ideological views on issues," he says. "That is why in Iran’s history, art has not been accepted as it should be. Whatever is not in praise and approval of the political and religious system is dismissed and declared as apostasy.”
Despite the threats, Najafi says has no regrets, however.
“If I regretted what I did for a second," he says, "I would say farewell to music."