How Successful Was the Malek-e-Ashtar Mosque ?
Hamid-Reza Soheili: Testament to the Mosque's Success
September 17th, 2016
Among the people who had an active presence in the Malek-e-Ashtar mosque, we focus on Hamid-Reza Soheili who was there since the beginning. He was one of the youth who supported Mrs. Ashrafi at the Kheirkhah Mosque, and played a great role in the mosque’s later activities. The formation of a theater group was due to his never-ending efforts. He already had experience performing in high school plays and had a chance to put his experience into action.
Interviewer: How did you come to know about this mosque?
Hamid-Reza Soheili: We heard that there had been an argument between a woman and a prayer leader [Imam] in the mosque. News traveled fast in our neighborhood. It was the talk of the town that a woman had asked a question from the Imam and when he couldn’t answer, the elderly in the mosque kicked her out. We were curious to go there and see for ourselves. I don’t remember who accompanied us exactly, but Hossein Ramezanzadeh and I went there. It’s also interesting that we knew nothing about Mrs. Ashrafi then and had never seen her before.
Interviewer: Would you please tell us more about what happened when you went to the mosque?
Hamid-Reza Soheili: I remember it was Ramadan and we were fasting. We went to the Kheirkhah mosque for noon prayers. Mrs. Ashrafi was on the other side of the curtain in the women’s section. When Alami, the mosque’s Imam, stood on the pulpit to give his speech, we started to ask him some questions for which he had no answer. One of the questions I remember was about heaven and hell. We asked him whether Thomas Edison would go to heaven or hell. He answered he would go to hell because he wasn’t a Muslim. We said: “How can a person who committed himself to serve society by inventing electricity go to hell? Is it fair that he go to hell just because he wasn’t a Muslim or Shia, but a Shia who had done nothing to help humankind go to heaven? These lamps here and the microphone you’re speaking with; all work because of his invention.” We told him that he was wrong and whether he went to heaven or hell depended on his intentions and if his intention was to help people, he would definitely go to paradise. “If you don’t know such simple things, how dare you presume that you can lecture people?”. Mrs. Ashrafi, who was sitting on the other side, sided with us, although she didn’t know us. Some people opposed us and asked us what we were doing in their mosque. Some even said we were communists.
Interviewer: What happened after that? How did you contact Mrs. Ashrafi?
Hamid-Reza Soheili: We met her on that day. She came and thanked us for what we did. She told us about what had happened before and how she was treated there. I told her we had revolted to stop seeing such behavior. She asked us to visit the mosque more often and make it more active by forming branches of the Islamic association [Anjoman-e Eslami] and the Basij there, and we promised to help her.
Interviewer: Please tell us about the establishment of the “Islamic Association” at the mosque.
Hamid-Reza Soheili: After Imam Khomeini said: “the mosques are the fronts, and the fronts should be secured” some other young people joined us and we all gathered at the mosque. We had meetings together and decided to establish a branch of the Islamic Association at the mosque. Alireza, my brother Saeed, Hossein Ramezanzadeh, Saeed Hosseinpour, and Mrs. Ashrafi and I were the directors of the association. Our association was independent of other organizations and we continued our activities.
Interviewer: What activities was your association was in charge of?
Hamid-Reza Soheili: Before the Revolution, I used to attend a technical school in Mashhad. There was a teacher named Mr. Asghar Mirkhadivi. He used to work in radio and also performed in comedy plays. He was an interesting man. He directed a few plays with our school’s students and I played in them. After the Revolution I never once thought about stopping my art-oriented activities. I thought we needed to have a type of art that helped us achieve the goals of our Islamic Revolution. So when we all got together, I wanted to start a theater group, and later became our mosque’s art director. There was no election or anything of a sort, they just asked me to take charge, and so, we began to practice acting at the mosque. Our group didn’t have many members but we were of the impression that more people would join us along the way.
Interviewer: Were your activities only limited to plays and theater?
Hamid-Reza Soheili: When I became in charge, I said we needed to have other courses such as story writing, film criticism, singing, … and we had them all. We held different story writing courses for people. We also had a book club and Alireza Soheili who was more erudite, was assigned to manage it. They managed to read most of Shariati and Motahhari’s books. What we did in our singing group was very professional. We introduced our group to Ostad [Master] Iraj Amirnezami and he promised to help us despite his busy schedule. The fruit of our efforts was the album “Proud Tulips”. Our singing group became popular and they even performed their songs in Friday prayers. They also went to the front and performed for the soldiers during the holy defense.
Interviewer: Were there any martyrs from your mosque during the war?
Hamid-Reza Soheili: When the war began, our mosque sent a group to the front that included Hamid Rajabian and a few others. Hamid was a martial arts instructor and trained people in our mosque. Before he went, we asked him to stay and continue training, but he said: “I train them and sent them to be martyred, but deprive myself of martyrdom? I have to go.” And so he went and became our mosque’s first martyr in 1980. Hamid’s martyrdom encouraged the youth to go to the fronts even more. Sometimes we had to close our office at the mosque because everyone had left for the war. In total our mosque has about thirty martyrs, including my brother Masoud Soheili was one of them. He was martyred in 1986 in Shalamcheh.