“Management of Non-Iranian Pilgrims”, as one of the four subsections of the Assistance of Islamic Propagations of Astan Quds Razavi, is responsible for welcoming and receiving more than two million pilgrims coming from other countries to the Razavi holy shrine.
They have chosen the name of “Fatima” for themselves. One comes from Swede and the other from Germany; the two newly Muslim women were freed from the prison of ego and converted to an emancipating religion whose salvation ship is Hussein (A.S.).
But the story of conversion to Islam and that in the Razavi holy shrine is not confined only to these two ladies. This is a long story; perhaps, one or two persons are converted to Islam each month in the Razavi holy shrine and only within the first semester of this year, seven people and in 1392, 15 people have been registered to convert to Islam.
In fact, they are free people who either before coming to Iran have studied about Islam and have inclined to it or after visiting Iran and especially the holy shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.) have become interested in Islam.
The ritual of conversion to Islam in the holy shrine has its own specifications. Anyone who has made up his mind to adopt Islam, first is given some particular books, and religious issues of Islamic beliefs are mentioned to him. When he is determined to convert, the ritual of conversion to Islam is held for him. Then the religious expert explains to him about the primary principles of Islamic beliefs and the religion basics. Then he should utter Shahadatain (confession to faith) in Arabic in order to be able to join Muslims. He then receives some gifts as well as a certificate of conversion to Islam.
All these beautiful events occur in a place called “Management of Non-Iranian Pilgrims” that is to be illustrated step by step in the records of this week.
Goals and responsibilities of “Management of Non-Iranian Pilgrims”
“Management of Non-Iranian Pilgrims”, as one of the four subsections of the Assistance of Islamic Propagations of Astan Quds Razavi, is responsible for welcoming and receiving foreign pilgrims coming from other countries to the Razavi holy shrine. The primary goal of this management is rendering cultural services to non-Iranian pilgrims; another goal is keeping perpetual relation with the pilgrim and the relation of the Razavi holy shrine with the Shi’as and enthusiasts living abroad.
This office primarily called “Office of Islamic Relations and Non-Iranian Pilgrims’ Affairs” was established in 1368. With expansion of activities of Astan Quds Razavi, it was changed to “Management of Non-Iranian Pilgrims” in 1391 in order to get more reception by pilgrims. It is now consistent of two offices of “non-Iranian pilgrims” and “Islamic relations”. The responsibilities of this complex are promoting the level of knowledge and insight of non-Iranian pilgrims, propagation of Islam principles, illustration of the Ahl al-Bayt’s knowledge and especially the conduct of Imam Reza (A.S.), and illustration of principles of the Islamic revolution.
Furthermore, three areas are defined within the activity domain of this management: the area of the Razavi holy shrine that is covered by the Office of Non-Iranian Pilgrims; the area of abroad, and the area of media (virtual) space that both are covered by the Office of Islamic Relations. In fact, the functions defined for this office include supporting the Office of Non-Iranian Pilgrims, media relations, and connection with abroad. All these activities are performed for five groups of pilgrims including Arab speakers, Urdu speaker, Turkish speakers, English speakers, and Persian speakers (Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, abroad-residing Iranian, etc.).
Statistics show that the total number of nearly 3 million foreign pilgrims in 1392, and 3 million and 500,000 pilgrims during the first six month of 1393, consists of about 70 percent Arab speaking, 20 percent Urdu speaking, and about 8 percent Turkish speaking pilgrims and non-Muslim tourists. It is worth mentioning that 15000 tourists visit the holy shrine yearly. Non-Muslim tourists are allowed to visit all the areas of the holy shrine except for the central nucleus of the holy shrine and the mosques (Places that are forbidden to enter religiously and legally for non-Muslims).
Office of Non-Iranian Pilgrims’ Affairs is responsible for receiving and rendering services to over 2 million foreign pilgrims coming each year to the Razavi holy shrine. This office consists of three units called “Pilgrim Guide” (environmental propaganda, contests, etc.), “Ceremonies and Assemblies” (holding ceremonies, circles of insight, etc.), “Training and Specialized Meetings” (holding training classes and professional workshops, conferences, answering religious questions, literature and art, caravans, tourists, and conversion to Islam).
Welcoming the pilgrim
In “Management of Non-Iranian Pilgrims”, a variety of programs are intended for Muslim pilgrims. The first is the program of welcoming that is performed by the Pilgrim Guide Unit and includes showing film, lecture, visitation from the museum and exhibition, and dedication of cultural packages (including Cd, book, poster, blessed salt, etc.) that are offered either to individual pilgrims or caravans (groups).
For caravans, lectures over knowing the holy shrine, the Razavi conduct, and occasions, panegyrizing, and training workshops on the request of caravans are specifically held.
Internal tours consist of three sections of knowing the holy shrine, visitation from the museum and the exhibition, and visitation from the courtyards, sacred premises, the holy shrine-buried celebrities, and historical and artistic issues of the holy shrine.
Pilgrimage in mother tongue
Second, various ceremonies are held for the audience (separated by language). Arab-specific programs are held in the Ghadir and Dar al-Marhamah porticos half an hour before the morning prayer, starting with the congregational morning prayer, recitation of Qur’an verses, recitation of Ashura pilgrimage prayer (in Muharram and Safar months), recitation of Aminullah, Imam Reza (A.S.), Warith, etc. prayers. Half an hour before the noon and afternoon prayers, lecturing program is also performed for caravans. Afterwards, recitation of pilgrimage prayers, lecture, and eulogy on different occasions are held.
In each night during summer, and after the lecture, circles of insight are met. On different religious occasions, the special rituals and actions including recitation of Tawassul and Kumeil prayers are held. Urdu speaking pilgrims also can benefit the same programs (except for performing the morning prayer) in the Kowsar portico. The Ghadir portico receives the Turkish pilgrims who can perform the noon and afternoon prayers there. English speakers are received in the Ghadir portico; in the case that they are Muslim, programs such as stating Islamic injunctions, lecture, recitation of pilgrimage prayers, etc. and dedication of cultural packages have been arranged for them. The Ghadir portico on the Friday nights each week hosts Persian speaking pilgrims mainly Afghanis.
Whom to ask?
Third, the section of answering the religious questions through formation of a specific scientific board is responsible for answering the religious questions. Every day before the noon and afternoon prayers, the program of stating religious injunctions is held. Also the clergies are settled in the Dar al-Rahmah, Dar al-Marhamah, Ghadir, Kowsar, and other places where non-Iranian pilgrims are present in order to answer their religious questions. They are 35 experts including male and female seminarians who are versed in different languages. In addition, consultation services regarding family, psychological, and social matters are rendered to the foreign audience.
Preparation of the holy shrine
In the fourth plan, different environmental propagations are made that include preparation of the spaces of the holy shrine for welcoming pilgrims in five live languages of the world. On different occasions, banners, tableaus, and clips are prepared accordingly to be broadcasted in the places specific to foreign pilgrims.
The fifth step is the training section that includes holding different training classes and specialized workshops held separately for each language groups. Holding of about 70,000 hour/person training during last summer shows a good reception of this program by the audience. The trainings are mainly dealt with conducts (especially the Razavi conduct), beliefs, knowing the holy shrine, social skills, teaching Persian language, children and teens, and special training courses (on the request of caravans).
Persian teaching classes are held in three levels of elementary, intermediate, and advanced. Except for the children and teens group (6 to 9 years old for children and 9 to 18 for teens), the rest of classes may receive audience of any age, culture, and education level.
The elementary level is specific to those who have a time of only a few days to learn or those who want to enter the Persian language course and have to start from the very first level. After passing 15 sessions and being accepted in the qualification test, they can register for the next level. After taking part in 20 sessions in this level and passing the exam, they can enter the next level. The place of holding these classes is the Dar al-Rahmah portico, room no. 140 located in the western portal of the Jame’ courtyard and in the Ghadir courtyard.
In the sixth section, conferences (37 titles so far) are organized that are mainly specific to Arab speakers along with one for Urdu speakers, and several conferences in common for different languages. The locations of conferences are the auditorium of the Islamic Research Foundation, auditorium of the Razavi University of Islamic Sciences, etc. in any conference, the books and Cds related to the previous conference are distributed.
A common language called poem…
The issue of literature and art is dealt with in the seventh section of activities of this complex, where since the beginning of the year so far over eight poem nights in different languages have been held. Information over night poems is given to foreign pilgrims largely through distributing flash cards among them. The call for the night poem is made for those pilgrims who are present in Mashhad during the period of holding the night poem; they are invited to take part in the meeting and offer their works. The calls for next night poems are sent to e-mails of pilgrim so that if willing they could send their works to the secretariat of the night poem.
Guests of another kind
Who are tourists? Any non-Muslim who enters the area of the holy shrine is referred to as tourist, who are mainly from western countries such as America or Europe or from eastern Asia. During the first half of 1393, 6000 tourists from Germany, Netherlands, U.S., Swiss, Austria, China, Finland, Thailand, etc. visited the holy shrine. Upon their entrance to the holy shrine, they are introduced to the pilgrim guides by the servants. After they are accepted, they are guided to the Ghadir portico where they are given files of knowing the holy shrine, their questions are answered, receive cultural packages, and in tours of knowing the holy shrine are allowed to go to forbidden places by tourist’ guides.
Office of Islamic Relations of Astan Quds Razavi
Office of Islamic Relations of Astan Quds Razavi is responsible for establishing connection with non-Iranian pilgrims outside of the holy shrine and supporting culturally the activities of the Office of Non-Iranian Pilgrims’ Affairs.
All the products of this office are consistent with the policy of Assistance of Propagations and Relations of Astan Quds Razavi revolving around three axes of Qur’an, Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) (concentrated on Imam Reza ), and the Islamic revolution. It has over 120 titles of books written, compiled, or translated by this office in 25 live languages. In the media section, this office produces contents and contexts specific to non-Iranian pilgrims through engaging in the cyber space (site, chatroom, social networks), propagating of products in written media (book, periodical, brochure), and producing contents in visual and audio media. It also interacts with other media to exchange data. Office of Islamic Relations of Astan Quds Razavi is also responsible for monitoring the publications of other countries and home international publishers and purchasing them from the home and foreign publishers in the field of providing and producing books.
An all-inclusive relation
The Relations Unit is responsible for making connection with all enthusiasts and foreign pilgrims who want to connect with the holy shrine from outside the holy shrine. This office has permanent relation with 120 countries, about 200 institutions, and about 1500 figures and has temporary relation with over 7000 people across the world. It consists of three units called Expert of Pilgrims, Expert of Media Relation, and Expert of International Studies. Other performances of this unit include making connection with figures and websites, answering the questions, participating in cyber chatroom, translating and producing of cultural, software, and multimedia products related to Imam Reza (A.S.).
Continuation of relation…
In line with keeping connection with the audience, the pilgrims of the holy shrine are given forms to write down their postal address or their e-mails. After collecting all the addresses, the Office of Non-Iranian Pilgrims sends them to the Office of Islamic relations. This office sends the foreign pilgrims an e-mail with the content of “may God accept your pilgrimage” and an illustration of different services rendered by the organization. Pilgrims if willing can keep relation with this complex. Also on different occasions e-mails containing postal cards and congratulation or condolences messages along with Razavi and the Ahl al-Bayt’s narrations are sent perpetually to the users. Some 15000 active users are using the internet services. By giving their postal addresses, pilgrims can also receive beautiful cultural packages by the Office of Islamic Relations on different occasions.
Riding on the invisible waves
In the age of fast exchange of information and conversation, talk Razavi chatroom helps the foreign users exchange information in a healthy environment. They can watch live programs in Arabic, Persian, and English, listen to lectures delivered by experts, and chat around religious matters with other users across the world for four hours each night. The software “Calltalk”, under windows system, can be downloaded from the internet. After downloading and creating a user account, users can join the membership of this chatroom. This office has also penetrated to the cellphones and through creating spaces in the social networks, including Whatsup and Instagram has enabled the foreign users to use the selection of daily programs of this complex.
The Depth of Sunshine
The periodical “The Depth of Sunshine” is published in the shape of four periodical numbers and a one special issue for Dahe-ye Karamat in Persian, Arabic, Urdu, and English. After the content in produced in the Office of Islamic Relations, it undergoes the printing and publication procedures followed by distribution among non-Iranian pilgrims or delivery to users by means of post or internet.
Another activity of this complex is holding different contests in different languages that are daily distributed among the pilgrims. The contests include questions about beliefs, conducts, and religious matters. These contests are mainly held for Arab and Urdu speakers as well as the audience of the periodical “the Depth of Sunshine”. Internet contests are also organized for cyber space user on different religious occasions.