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"Whatever is not in praise and approval of the political and religious system is dismissed and declared as apostasy,” says Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi.
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.
Rapper Shahin Najafi

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.

No Regrets

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."
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Filter not, lest ye be filtered.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has apparently become the latest victim of Iran's Internet censorship regime -- to which he himself has given his blessing and approval.

The website Tabnak reports that Khamenei's "fatwa" on the illegality of using antifiltering tools in Iran was itself blocked in the country, some 30 hours after it was published on Iranian websites. The ruling was seemingly filtered because it contained the word "antifiltering," which triggered the country's censorship system to automatically block it.

The misfire prompted the conservative website to write, "The filtering of a [religious] order is so ugly for the executive [branch] that it can bring into question the whole philosophy of filtering."

Tabnak has close ties to Mohsen Rezai, the current secretary-general of the Expediency Council and former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters in the Islamic republic, issued the ruling after being asked about inaccessible websites by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

Mehr wrote to Khamenei's office to say that some Iranians, because of their jobs -- including journalists -- need to visit blocked websites for news and information that is "usually not available on authorized websites." Mehr then asked what the religious ruling would be in such cases.

In his response, Khameni wrote: "In general, the use of antifiltering software is subject to the laws and regulations of the Islamic republic, and it is not permissible to violate the law."

In October, Iranian Telecommunications Minister Reza Taghipour said the use of antifiltering tools and virtual private networks (VPN) is a crime.

Iran has one of the toughest online censorship policies in the world. Many Iranians, including regime supporters, use proxies and antifiltering software to access blocked websites, including sites deemed immoral or against Iran's national interests. Among the tens of thousands of blocked pages are news and opposition websites.

Khamenei's ruling could create a dilemma for those among his hard-line supporters who browse blocked websites.

However, the fact that his ruling on filtering was itself filtered means that, absurdly, his followers must use antifiltering software to read his view on the illegality of antifiltering software.

Just another day in the Islamic republic.

--Golnaz Esfandiari

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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