The Malek-e-Ashtar mosque went through some ups and downs during its 15-year long activity but managed to score a spectacular success. We interviewed some people who were active there to tell us how their mosque managed to make a name for itself, making it a model for other mosques.

Interviewer: How did your mosque become so famous? Please tell us whatever crosses your mind.

Javad Arabshahi: From a cultural point of view, our mosque was one of a kind. The Malek mosque did a good job in spreading the ideals of the Revolution and attracting people. The youth who came to our mosque were different from others, and we were very active in working for the revolution.

Javad La’lmohammadi: The Malek mosque’s cultural team was different from the teams in other mosques because they wanted to bring together wise and intellectual people and place them on the right track. Everyone thought of the mosque as their second home. They felt comfortable at the mosque and spent most of their time there.

Gholamreza Salem: Narrow-mindedness harms us, going to extremes also harms us. People mostly take it to the extremes when they enjoin good and forbid wrong and as a result young people don’t go to mosques any more. What made the Malek mosque so attractive at that time? Nothing! But every night people came there to have fun. Whenever they were free, they went to the mosque and had the time of their lives.

Saeed Aghasizadeh: I was a few years younger than the others. I guess one of the reasons we went to the mosque was that we were each in charge of something. I was the lead of our singing group and in my childish thoughts, I used to consider myself a very important person.

Mohammad Zarabi: The secret to unity in the Malek mosque was that our members were clear-sighted and were aware of their surroundings. They spoke the same language and this was really important. I went to different mosques but none of them could be compared to Malek. The power, stability and discipline found at the Malek Mosque couldn’t be found anywhere else. Although the youth were all knowledgeable, they accepted what their leader said. It was thanks to this kind of people that the Revolution was a success.

Javad Feizabadi: Our mosque held the same standing as  a congregational mosque. It had an influential Basij base and its members were more active in the arts. Our strongpoint was that we were active in art and that Hamid Soheili was a fine manager for the group.

Hassan Laaki: Some people in our mosque had a talent for attracting and bringing people together. Wherever you put people with such characteristics, they bring success. At the Malek mosque, MohammadReza Rahmani, HamidReza Soheili and Alireza Soheili had such personalities.

Saeed Aghasizadeh: People at the Malek mosque were close to one another, pure and sincere. I remember how Masoud Soheili gave his spare time to work with children. He spent all his time at the mosque. He could have spent his time differently, he could have gone to university, but he preferred to spend his time at the mosque.

Javad Abolfazli: People there had two main characteristics, the first being their passion for the Revolution, and the second, their sincerity. They started to work without worrying whether they were paid or not. They didn’t care about money. That is what allowed us to make such a good team.

Asghar Toodarbari: We were all enthusiastic about working. If they asked our theater group to practice until morning and stay at the mosque, everyone would do so because they loved what they did. We all thought alike and never protested the duties we were given.

Javad Arabshahi: I would credit it mostly to the dedication of our members. They even spent their own pocket money to fund the groups’ activities and if more money was needed, they borrowed it from their families.

Abolfazl Gholami: Our strongpoint was that we got involved in artistic activities. Religious people started to act in plays and sing songs. Hamid Soheili wrote stories, and these people would go on to found Howze Honari (an art organization) later.

Gholamreza Yazdi: Before I became acquainted with the Malek mosque and its people, I loved my job, I was passionate about it. But I didn’t care whether my work delivered a message or not, I just wanted to entertain people at the time. But after joining the Malek theater group, I came to feel that acting is a sacred job, that the stage is a sacred place. I heard that our Supreme Leader said: “the theater is like a pulpit [for an actor], and even stretches beyond that.” [That’s why] Masoud Soheili (may he rest in peace) used to do ablution before going on stage. I also took part in the Komeil and Tavasol du’as. So you can understand why I rejected offers from other theater groups: I no longer cared about having the main role, I wanted to do something for the Revolution.

Mohammad Zarabi: We followed a strict organization at our mosque. Our meetings were on Sundays and we always started and ended at a certain time. Responsibilities were divided between us all, – there was even a specific job for breaking sugar cubes. I was in charge of checking on martyrs’ families, so I went and visited them to see if they had any problems or needed anything. Once when I went to martyr Ghalamdoost’s house, I saw that their house was quite old and that the paint on the walls had faded, and so I told the others about the house in one of the meetings. We gathered some money and bought paint and painting equipment, and then we went to their house and painted it. This atmosphere at the mosque helped bring up responsible individuals. Two generations of people grew up in this mosque and they were all later given important positions in different cities.

Khalil Rajabian: We were all united, spoke the same language, and were completely honest with one another. No one was thinking about money because all helped each other. If someone was in need of money, the others lent it to him. It wasn’t just about financial problems. If we made fun of someone in our group, they didn’t take offense at it. We were friends and brothers and a big family.

Hamid Kianian: I think our strength lay in the intimacy between members. No one was favorite. They treated me the same as the others even when I was imprisoned for several years.

Javad Mahjoori: We argued about different things, and we sometimes shouted at each other, but after a few minutes we let it go and forgot about it. I remember one night MohammadReza Rahmani left the mosque crying and said: “I will never come back here!” but the next morning, he came back and just said: “Shake a leg! We need to finish this soon…”

Hassan Laaki: Those oldest of us always encouraged the youth to study and not spend all their time in the mosque. MohammadReza Rahmani used to send younger people home at a certain time and emphasized that they needed to study. One of the nice things about the Malek mosque was that the older members were taking care of everything.

Mohammad Zarabi: After Alireza was martyred, Saeed Soheili took care of me. He was very sensitive about my education and work. When I wrote plays he used to read them carefully and edited them. One of his trademarks was tearing my scripts apart, and I liked it. For example, I once wrote 40 pages and he tore most of it apart: It was a teaching technique. I also used it when I taught story writing to others. Many of my students later came to me and said that if I hadn’t done it for them, they would have been pampered.

Ali Adineh-sardar: My mother died in 1990 on a journey to Syria. What my friends from the mosque did for me is something I’ll never forget, as they came to my mother’s funeral. I felt proud to have them as friends.

Saeed Aghasizadeh: What made me join the group as a teenage boy, wasn’t the theater or singing, but how they had fun and cheered each other up. To be honest, my father was against me going to the mosque and he sometimes punished me for it. But I used every chance I had to get out of the house and go to the mosque. What got me addicted was the intimacy and friendship the members shared.

Mohammad-Hussein Niroumand: I went to Tehran in ’84 to continue my education but I always kept in touch with my friends at the mosque. whenever I returned to Mashhad, I had to go and visit them.

Javad Ardakani: People in our mosque were always in a good mood, and good mood is not something easily found. People there were trying to create moments to feel good, but we always felt good those days. We had the time of our lives there, and we enjoyed every moment, like it was a sacred kind of enjoyment.

HamidReza Soheili: We accepted anyone who came to the mosque and offered to hel, but nowadays they first investigate a person and his background and if it is proved that he is truly a believer in the Revolution, they’ll accept him. Back then we accepted them in our midst and if it was proved that they were truly not on the right track, we would then opt to remove then. One example was our Ashtar Group which consisted of the combatants we sent to war. It was the group that had the most members, but once in a while we had to let some of them go.

Hassan Laaki: Perhaps what made our mosque successful was the special era we were living in. At that time our society was following a certain goal and everyone had the same purpose. Everyone’s eyes were on Imam Khomeini, waiting for his orders. The Imam talked about maintaining the Revolution, victory in the war, and unity, a lot and it had played a great role in our success at the mosque.

Ali Akbarzadeh: We had some great members, but maybe they were good because of the characteristics of that period of time. We had just revolted, we were struggling with war, every week a martyr was brought to the city, young people went to war… All in all, a special atmosphere was present in the country.

Hussein Ramezanzadeh: We were able to advance our activities with the help of other organizations such as Jihad al-Bena’ [Jihad of Construction], the Islamic Propagation Organization [Sazman-e Tablighat-e Eslami] and more, but we were independent.

Javad Arkani: People in the mosque were also very sensitive about any developments in society. For example, if a moral problem took place in one theater group in Mashhad, they made a big deal out of it. But now if someone has many flaws and moral issues, but belongs to a privileged group, everything about him will be neglected. Another thing is that at that time, we didn’t limit ourselves to a certain role in the theater. Sometimes I wrote plays and someone else directed it and the next time they wrote the script and I directed it.

Hamid Kianian: Although people at the Malek mosque were religious, they weren’t self-righteous and narrow-minded. I used to hold theater courses in some institutes such as Howze Honari and I witnessed firsthand how some people believed that theater was a taboo. But in our mosque, no one was of that opinion.

The Malek-e-Ashtar mosque was a turning point for most of its artists, whether they specialized in theater or cinema. People think of mosques as only a place for saying prayers but our friends at the Malek mosque believed that one can also approach God through art. For some of them, martyrdom was an art that they perfected, and for others art was to be found in cinema and theater, a path they still tread today.

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