Professor of Anthropology and a former director of the Women's Studies Program at Boston University (2001-2010), Shahla Haeri is one of the pioneers of Iranian Anthropology and has produced cutting-edge ethnographies of Iran, Pakistan, and the Muslim world. Her landmark books include her classic ethnography, Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage, Mut’a, in Iran (1989/2014) translated into Arabic and reprinted frequently, highlighting the tenacious but secretive custom of temporary marriage in Iran; No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women (2002/2004), widens the ethnographic scope to make visible lives of educated and professional Muslim women. Her latest book, The Unforgettable Queens of Islam: Succession, Authority, Gender (2020), is a pioneering book on the extraordinary lives and legacies of a few Muslim women sovereigns from across the Muslim world. Dr. Haeri’s academic and creative oeuvre includes her video documentary, Mrs. President: Women and Political Leadership in Iran (2002, 46 min.), focusing on six women's presidential contenders during the Iranian presidential election of 2001. She is the recipient of many fellowships, grants, and postdoctoral fellowships.
Dear Prof. Haeri, it is my great pleasure to interview you regarding women in the medieval world. One of the controversial subjects in Iranian studies is determining medieval times. Which period do you recognize medieval times in the history of Iran based on social history and anthropology?
I am not a historian, but the medieval period started with the Islamic period until the 15th century.
Can you please explain a little about the content of your remarkable book, Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage, Mut’a, in Iran (1989/2014)? How did you get interested in this subject?
Yes, thank you! As a historian, you might be interested in knowing that temporary marriage is a form of pre-Islamic tradition. It was not invented by Islam, though Islamic tradition improvised on it. Before Islam, there were variations of marriages. The most dominant form of marriage, which is more or less what we have presently, involved the exchange of gifts and money between families of the man and the woman. Under Islamic law, however, the man and the woman are ultimately responsible for giving their consent and agreeing to the marriage payment, mahr. The woman is legally the ultimate recipient of mahr.
But there was another form of marriage, called sadaq. Because the social structure was primarily tribal, in cases of newcomers to the tribe, he would be given a wife, a dagger, and a tent. The intention was to incorporate him as a member of the family and the society – and the dagger was for him to join in the defense of the tribal community, in case they were attached. Further, the objective of giving him a wife was to create some kind of kinship identity, tribal affiliation, and ethnic identity.
Interestingly, in this form of marriage, and unlike the “permanent marriage, nikah,” the man would give some money to his wife – not to her father. This money was known as sadaq, and not mahr, as it is in the case of nikah. And the children were born in this form of marriage belonged to the wife and the wife's family and her tribe, not to the man, the husband. So, it was more or less like a matrilineal relationship. Interestingly, if she did not like him or if for whatever reason they could not get along, she could simply close the entrance to the tent, and he knew he had to leave; that would be the end of a marriage. In other words, she had control over marriage and her children. As I said, children belonged to the mother's family and therefore, there was no such thing as an illegitimate child. These children were known as “child of the bed,” al-waladu lil firash. They belonged to the mother.
Another form of sexual relations was prostitution. There were prostitutes, and apparently, they had black flags hanging outside of their homes, so people knew the profession of women living in these houses. Also, both forms of polyandry, meaning a woman marrying several husbands, and polygyny, meaning a man marrying several wives, co-existed, but polygyny was more prevalent. So, there existed variations of marriages, and sexual unions in pre-Islamic Arabia, among the tribal societies of the time.
For some of these practices and traditions, we have data and documents. And for some others, not that much. The most important person who has written on the subject is Robertson Smith whose book Kinship and Marriagein Early Arabia (1885/2008) is very interesting. My discussion above is mostly based on his findings.
What happens after Islam is not entirely clear, but basically, these variations of marriages continued. What prophet Muhammad tried to regulate and unify various forms of marriages. And of course, there are the Quranic revelations in Sura of Nisa. The only form of marriage that was adopted and became legalized is the first kind of marriage, the nikah,
Ayah 24 of Sura of Nisa is the point of disagreement among various branches of Islam, including the Sunnis and the Shi’is. According to the Quranic revelations, and as interpreted by Shi’i scholars, a man can have up to four permanent wives, granted that he can treat them fairly and justly. As part of the marriage contract, he is obliged to give women their pride-price, mahr. It is further added that a man (married or unmarried) can arrange with a woman (unmarried, widowed, or divorced) for enjoyment, istamtatum, granted that he gives her a “reward,” ajr. Note the differences in terminology for the exchange of money in the cases of nikah and mut’a; whereas mahr is used for the former, ajr is specified for the latter. Such conceptual differences for the exchange of money and the creation of mutual rights and obligations among the spouses underline the legal structure of marriage as a contract. This distinction and the nature of exchange have been hotly debated by the Sunni and Shi’is throughout the ages. And of course, there were many slaves/concubines that men could own and have sexual relations with above and beyond marriage
So, the Prophet tried to regulate and restrict variations of marriages. The Prophet restricted variations of marriages and the number of wives a man can have. But in the Quran says that if you cannot do justice to your wives, then one is enough. The way that the male scholars have interpreted “justice” in this particular Āyah is basically economic justice; that is to say, in cases where a man has two wives, if he gets a necklace for one, for example, he should get a bracelet for the other. But it is not the intention of the revelation. The person who has to say what ‘edalat (justice) is, is the wife. On whom this kind of injustice has taken place, she has to say what is ‘edalat and what is not ‘edalat. The way marriages are formulated and function in Iran or other Muslim countries is that men just make decisions; they have historically monopolized the interpretation of the sacred scripture and have not allowed women to have anything to say regarding the sacred book’s intention marital justice.
Coming back to the temporary marriage, this Āyah leaves the status of temporary marriage ambiguous. Sunnis say that this form of marriage has been canceled, faskh, by later revelations. Further, they argue that the second Caliph, Umar, has specifically banned it. There are stories and anecdotes associated with why the Caliph issued this fatwa. But the gist of it is that the sadaq marriage was permissible before Islam, but it is forbidden after Islam, and if anybody does it, that person would be stoned. But the Shi’ites argue that the Prophet Muhammad himself did not specifically ban this form of marriage no other fatwa has legal or moral force. Nonetheless, the Sunnis and Shiites have argued ever since on these three bases, namely the Quran, the fatwa of Caliph Umar, and the absence of the Prophet’s action.
Thank you! Do the current Sunni Muslims refer to the ‘Umar’s Fatwa,” or is this marriage still controversial among the Sunnis?
The dispute between Shias and Sunnis is ongoing. I recently reviewed a book by Khaled Sindawi, Temporary Marriage in Sunni and Shiite Islam (2013). He has written about the variations of the temporary marriage in all Sunni countries, including Saudi Arabia, all the Persian Gulf states, Egypt, and others – but they don’t call it temporary marriage. He argues that the Sunnis do not call it mut’a, because the technical term for this form of marriage is mut’a, is associated with the Shi’is. Of course, they do not use the word sigheh, which is a Persian vernacular and is not used in the Arab world. But, the Arabs do it, though they call it by different names!
In this work, you explain the disputes between Shiites and Sunnis about temporary marriage. Could you find any example of temporary marriage in medieval Sunni and Shia Iran?
I think that is an excellent question. When I was doing my research, I looked at the primary sources, including Shi’is sources like Mohaqqeq-e Helli, Usul-e Kafi, Shaykh-e Tusi. There are references to temporary marriage in these sources, but I do not know whether it was practiced, or if it was, how prevalent it may have been in Muslim society. Having thought about your question, I can say that at times among the people, including the rich, the leaders, the warriors, the political and religious elites, concubinage was prevalent. These guys had many slave girls, kaniz, and concubines, so it would have been meaningless to have temporary marriages.
Nonetheless, the rules and regulations were/are in the Shi’i books. They did not need to have this vague formula of legal pronunciation to legitimate a sexual relationship with their slaves and concubines, be they Sunni or Shi’i. They could have four legal wives and have as many concubines, kaniz as they wanted, so they did not need to have a temporary marriage. I do not know whether or not it happened among other strata of Muslim societies, but I guess it did because it has continued to persist and function to the present time.
Your book is basically about modern Iran. Are women fighting against this kind of marriage, or has it been accepted as part of their culture? I have heard of some people making the temporary marriage happy with it because they want to have children. Or are there other reasons for making temporary marriage, like economic or social ones?
It is a highly complex question. It depends on which category or class of women we are talking about; whether educated or uneducated, urban, rural, or tribal; unmarried, divorced, or widowed. Temporary marriage is an urban phenomenon commonly practiced among the lower class divorced or widowed women, but it cuts across classes for men. I did not hear much about it in rural areas or not at all among the tribes, unless maybe on the very top among the Khans. Khans may have one or two wives, and some may practice temporary marriage.
But before the establishment of the Islamic Republic people’s attitude was basically negative, and this form of marriage was marginalized and often kept secret. Middle-class families did not do it, and if they did, they mostly kept it hidden from their families. I have a long chapter in my book about the variations of temporary marriage and its use among the different groups, classes, and genders in Qom, Mashhad, Tehran, and others. Many people did not know much about its rules and regulations, the reciprocal rights and obligations of the spouses. When I started doing my research in 1978, it was interesting to hear people say, “Oh, this is passé, nobody does that these days.” But as it turned out, the news of temporary marriage’s demise was premature! It became even more prevalent in these cities and others due to the Islamic Republic’s active encouragement of this form of marriage.
In many more conservative cities, such as the one I mentioned above, women wanted to be married. The majority of women who married temporarily had married when they were very young, were divorced still very young, and their kids were taken away from them, and their families did not want them back. So they really did not have many choices. Unless they were married, they did not have any social capital and social standing within their families and communities. It was practiced among the lower classes and more or less in religious towns. In Tehran and big urban areas, many people thought of it as legalized prostitution or kolah-e shar’i, and they generally refrained from getting involved.
But then, you are right. Once I started talking to people, even people who had done that for a long time, I realized that some were happy with it. Not everybody had/has the same attitude. Some women did it because they had no other options. Some men married them because they wanted to have children. I interviewed many married men as well, who told me they did so primarily to have other sexual options. But ultimately, many women are abused in this form of marriage – unless they are well aware of the law or are financially independent.
Another interesting finding was that when you talk to the religious leaders, scholars, or lawyers as to why in a country where polygyny is permitted you still have a temporary marriage, they would say, “Because so many women are divorced or widowed, they need/must have a provider or a supervisor – a sarparast;” Or “women need to be supported financially.” Their assumption and rationale were that women do it because they need money; they need to be supported and have someone to supervise or take care of them.
To the question, why men do temporary marriage, they almost always said, “Because men have stronger sexual needs,” that they can't – or should not - control their sexual urges. If they happen to be away from their wives and “need somebody to mend their socks, for example,” the best thing to do is to get a temporary wife! “This is the best way to do it, without committing a sin.” So they argued that men do it because they need sex and woman do it because they need money.
But then when I talked with these women, particularly the younger ones, I found out that many of them were forced to have an early marriage when they were 13, 14 years old; that they did not like their husbands; or that their husbands divorced them and kicked them out. They could not go back to their own families – for financial or social reasons. Now, these women wanted to have a good relationship; they needed companionship; they were interested in some meaningful relationship, a sexually and emotionally satisfying relationship. So, it was not because these women only needed money. They also needed to have sex or companionship.
Your findings are fascinating! Let us go to your excellent recent book, The Unforgettable Queens of Islam: Succession, Authority, Gender (2020), you are focusing more on those women who could play a role in the political systems of their times. Can you please explain the book's content and the periods and countries you are covering in this work?
Political leadership in the Islamic countries, and even in most of the European countries, is primarily a masculine position and a male profession. Women did not – and still do not - have any major and substantive roles in the political domain. But if we look at it historically, we see that several Muslim women have come to power in various Muslim societies. Then, the question for me was, how did they get up there? How did they get to wear the crown, as it were? Sometime in the summer of 2001 and during Khatmai’s campaigning for his second term, I learned about 47 women who nominated themselves as presidential candidates. I interviewed six of them in Tehran during that summer. One of them was a very impressive woman. She was well aware of the discourse of the Islamic Republic. She knew the Hadith and the Quran; that is to say, she was familiar with Quranic Revelations and the Prophetic Tradition. She was a khatib (religious speaker) who would give speeches and lectures on religion. She also co-owned a private high school with her husband.
In our interview, I asked her, “Why do you think you have the legitimacy to become president in a country like the Islamic Republic of Iran?” She quickly said, “Why not? We have in the Quran the story of the Queen of Sheba who ruled her country…this is very important for us.” She quickly referred to the Quran, which is the ultimate source of authority for us as Muslims. In the Quran, the Queen of Sheba is a woman sovereign that not only God has not denied her any bounties and riches; she is even given a Mighty Throne, arsh-e azim, the same term that is used for God's celestial throne.
As I started reading about the Queen of Sheba, and doing research on women and political leadership in the Muslim world, I kept coming across a saying allegedly attributed to the prophet Muhammad, which goes something like, “Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler.” Here, on the one hand, we have the Quranic revelations, the highest source of authority for Muslims that legitimates the Queen’s sovereignty, but on the other hand, we also have the tradition of the Prophet Mohammad, the alleged prohibiting hadith, warning of women and political leadership. This hadith, despite being “singleton,” was authenticated by the 9th-century scholar Bukhari in his book, Sahih, and so it became a prohibitive principle in much of the Muslim world. What is significant to note – and is often overlooked – is that Qur’anic revelations supersede the Hadith for Muslims. So, in my book, I juxtapose the relationship between the revelation and tradition, the Quran, and the alleged Prophetic hadith.
Now, the question was, in the face of the dominance of the Prophetic hadith in the religious and political books, what other structural principle enabled women to gain power and become leaders of their country, in medieval or modern times. That’s to say, if we look at Muslim societies historically, what stands out is the authority of the patriarch – the king or the caliph, i.e., a father or a husband who is the autocrat in power. In situations where the patriarch supports his daughter, the chances are great that she might be able to get into the position of power, regardless of what the Hadiths say. On her part, however, she must be charismatic, talented, and ambitious to compete with her brothers and thus get the attention of her father. In such situations, the authority of the patriarch, the king, the Sultan, or the caliph, trumps religious power or influence. For example, in the case of Razia Sultan, the thirteenth-century Indian Queen, her father wanted her to become a queen. There was no single opposing word from the religious elite, not institutional nor individual; nobody said she could or could not succeed her father to the throne and become the Queen. So, the power of the patriarch and the significance of the father-daughter relationship make it possible for a daughter to wear the crown, as it were.
Do we see more women in political leadership as we get closer to modern times? Also, do we have more cases of women leaders in certain countries?
I think we should look at it historically and pay attention to more significant changes that have come about politically. When we talk about medieval Islam, we're talking about a political system that is primarily based on the absolute authority of autocratic kings, patriarchs, Sultans, and Caliphs. The religious elite often functioned under their patronage, and because of that the former could overcome possible religious objections to their daughters or their wives - to the throne. In medieval times, we should note, a woman ruler generally posed no serious threat to the male political elite and the establishment – because there are not that many of them, and also because there was not a woman’s movement, as it were, supporting them. But when we come to modern times, we are faced with women’s awakening, mobilizing and becoming highly visible, demanding to have their voices heard, and wanting to have a seat at the political table, shall we say. The women's collective agency poses a threat to patriarchal power structure and privileges. There is a backlash to women’s movement in many Muslim countries, which seems to have necessitated the political and religious elite closing ranks, becoming more puritanical, ideological, and rigid in their approach to women’s demands – particularly political power.
But the march of progress is on. Women are demanding to have a seat at the political table. Unless they get that, they cannot achieve much – and we see that in America and much of the western world. In two years in the US, we see that many more women have gotten admitted to Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. That is what women are trying to do in the Muslim world. But the pushback is fierce.
To sum up, there is a difference between medieval times and modern times in terms of their political structures and legal systems. In modern times, women's actions are being more organized and coordinated. In medieval times, the power and authority of an autocrat father/king and the charismatic ambition of women enabled them to climb the ladder of power.
In this book, you focus on Muslim women who have engaged the existing structures of power and authority to become political leaders? Could you find any example of Iranian women in medieval times? Were there more restrictions and obstacles for Iranian women?
There are several parts to your questions. I did want to include a woman from Iran - of course. In the chapter on Ayesha, the “beloved” wife of the prophet Muhammad, I start with the Sassanid queen, Pourandokht, because the whole genesis of that alleged hadith goes back to Pourandokht. Presumably, when the Prophet Muhammad heard that in Iran the ruler is an empress, a sovereign queen, he is allegedly said, a country that a woman rules is doomed. Of course, this was in the aftermath of the Battle of the Camel, and Āyesha’s defeat by Caliph Ali. So this was a way of displacing the blame onto an outsider and giving women a lesson in obedience, i.e., stay behind their closed doors, not appear in the public domain, and above all, not meddle in politics.
Also, there is a section in my book about women who were/are not ruling queens but wielded power behind the throne; there were/are tons of them. Throughout history in general and Iran in particular, many influential women tried to influence their royal fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. For example, during the Safavid dynasty, there was a sister of Ismail II, Pari Khan Khanom, who was loved by her father and involved in running the palace during her father’s regin – he, infact encouraged it. But eventually, she was killed through the connivance of her brother, Mohammad Khodabande, and his wife, who did not tolerate Pari’s presence in the royal palace.
So, there were many powerful women behind the throne. But not many of them were able to ascend the throne. There is the case of a ruling queen in the thirteenth century Iran during the Ilkhanids dynasty. Her name is Abesh Khatun, and she was of Mongolian descent. Her mother was also mighty and arranged for her to marry one of the grandsons of Hulagu, Menku Khan when she was ten or eleven years old. He ruled on her behalf. So, nominally she was the ruler, but basically, her husband was the ruler. Her husband died when she was 16, and so she continued as a ruling queen for a short period. She got involved in anti-state activities against the Ilkhanids and was subsequently jailed in Tabriz. She was executed three years later when she was only twenty-six years old. I would have liked to find more sources to write about her, but I could not find much in the US. I did not have time to go to Iran. I am sure there must be a lot more about her, but I could not get hold of them – next time, inshallah!
The second part of your question is about ruling women’s ethnicity and their geographical connection. As far as ethnicity is concerned, Turco-Mongolian ethnicity seems to be dominant. I would also say that the further away one gets from the Islamic center in Arabia, the more chances to see women rulers. This becomes particularly true when you get to South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia. For example, in the nineteenth century, in Bopal, in central India, four generations of ruling mothers and daughters were notable. At the start of the nineteenth century, there was a 19-year-old woman called Qodsiya. Her husband got killed accidentally, and she was able to quickly grab power by designating her infant daughter as her husband’s successor, with herself as the regent. The daughter followed in her mother's footsteps to become the ruler, and thus leadership continued from mothers and daughters until 1926, the last of whom was Sultan Jahan Begum. She abdicated on behalf of her son. They are known as Begum of the Bopal.
What is interesting in this case is that when Qodsiya, though pious and religious, took the reins of power, she took off her veil. Confronted by her family – primarily her in-laws – she was smart enough to remind them of Ayesha, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife. First of all, she argued, modesty and purity have nothing to do with veiling. Second, she reminded her family that Āyesha, the prophet Muhammad's wife, participated in a military expedition.
In the preface, you argue that we do not see a central place for women in written history, unlike the oral history and folklore that give a prominent place to its womenfolk and their ingenuity. In your view, what is the reason for the scarcity of information and documents about women in written history?
You are right. I mean, if we look at history books, we quickly learn that history is written by men and for men. The subjects are often about the success and victories of men of power. Women are forgotten. Men did not care to write about women. Not much is written about women and ordinary people – the so-called commoners. But that does not mean that people forgot about the notable and remarkable women in their midst, their “unforgettable queens.” They knew the stories of the kings, queens, and religious leaders and their families. People learn about their culture. They learn about their history through these popular narratives.
But there are exceptions. You have also mentioned a powerful woman such as Tarkan Khatun, wife and mother of two of the Kharazmshani kings, in your book. Her story is written about in the Tabaqat-e Naseri. But even then, there are hardly two paragraphs about her. In Tabaqat-e Naseri, Juzjani, a 13th-century court historian, has hardly written more than a few pages about Razia Sultan, who ruled northern India from 1236 to 1240 and in whose court Jozjani served. He has not written much or given any details about Razia beyond that.
Interestingly, he has written about her brothers, even panegyric about them, but he hasn't written much about Razia – the most notable Mamluk Sultan of 13th India, after her father, Iltutmish. By the time you get to the fourteenth century, there are a set of stories about her, embellished with oral and local heresy and gossip. But in modern times, there are many more books written about her, a few movies made, and there is an ongoing TV melodrama on Indian television – you can get it through Netflex. In the public culture or in the oral history domain, you see her presence becoming pronounced because people were not unaware that there was a princess in the royal family who was popular and well-liked and became a queen. It is tough to say how various accurate representations of these oral narratives are. Still, it is essential to pay attention to them because these sources are all we have about the most notable medieval elite women. There is very little that is written about them.
When we come to the second part of the twentieth century, after 1950 or 1960, women start writing about themselves and other women, keeping their own autobiographies, writing biographies, and talking about the historical and social events remarkable women personalities are different now. But before that, oral history was significant.
Thank you! You have done many remarkable works in Women Studies. What subjects do you think we need to start working on to learn further about the role and status of women in medieval Iran?
Once I started writing and reading about these women rulers – and other powerful women - I found tons of stories about these remarkable women in other domains of activities, such as in poetry, architectural patronage, and others. We really need to know more about the medieval period in Iran - or other parts of the world. I personally have become a lot more interested in medieval Iran and generally medieval Muslim countries - particularly gender relations at that time. It will be the subject of my next project if I ever pick another project!
As one of the pioneers of Iranian Anthropology, what do you expect from the science of history? In other words, how the science of history can help you find better answers to your questions?
Well, thank you! I think anthropology is a very young field. Initially, it seems that anthropologists were history averse – shall we say, did not pay much attention to history. But we know that everything has a history; every individual, institution, society, history is critical in putting events in perspective. When I started writing about my first book, I had to look at history and find out the history of temporary marriage before and after Islam in Iran and other Islamic countries. I personally like history very much; I love reading historical stories, but I also want to have that to be a reflection of what is going on in our society.
One thing that I think happens, maybe more among Iranians, is that we tend to generalize from some events or practices or traditions to the entire society. But what anthropology teaches us is that you need to have empirical evidence. The basis of anthropologists’ knowledge of the “other” is obtained through sustained observation, learning the language, and participating in the daily lives of people whom we want to know. You need to look at the day-to-day life of people; pay attention not just to what people say, but what they do and how they do it. When we talk about divorce or marriage among Iranians or modernity and its influence on our culture, we need evidence. We need to have support for our assertions. Of course, historically, we can find other sources, including written and visual, to make certain assumptions, to make certain generalizations. But it is essential to back up historical observations and knowledge with anthropological findings, which, as I said, try to be specific. If we want to know how temporary marriage has survived in Iran for so many centuries and how – and why – it is practiced, we need to go to Iran and get to know women – and men - who made temporary marriage. I made an effort to learn who these women were, who the men, where they lived, and why they chose to marry temporarily. For example, when I was doing my research in Qom, I clearly remember a mullah who told me about the temporary marriage's great savab (religious merits). He told me that he was making a temporary marriage contract every week, without his wife's knowledge. But when I asked him to introduce me to some of these women to interview, he said, “Why do you want to talk to them? I am telling you all you need to know!” He thought that because he was telling me the rules, then that’s all I needed to know. Knowing rules is essential but is not enough. He never introduced me to any of those women, though of course, I managed to find many women through other connections I was able to make and interviewed them at length. So, when we talk about temporary marriage, we have to be aware of the women’s social community, class, family relations, and the like. In short, history and anthropology go hand in hand, and I have tried to use that in my work, particularly in my last book, The Unforgettable Queens of Islam: Succession, Authority, Gender.
You mentioned that some anthropologists have resistance to history; why is that resistance?
They did so earlier on. I am not quite sure why, but I think earlier on, the whole idea was that anthropology is an empirical “science.” You needed to have enough empirical evidence, which is true. But it is not enough. But as an anthropologist, one does not want to rely only on historical sources. You need to do the fieldwork, go too far out and strange paces, learn the local language, observe and participate in the community you want to study, learn from, and then introduce them to the public.
Thank you! You talked very briefly about the possible project that you will work on in the future. Are there any specific upcoming projects you are working on, or have you started?
I have several projects in mind. For now, I am excited about getting my new book out. It took me about six years to complete it. I would like to do something more creative with the stories of these queens. But I have not formulated anything specific project yet. As I mentioned to you, I am also interested in learning more about medieval times. Because the political and social situations are so different from what we have today. The whole formation of sensibilities, practices, and activities in medieval times was quite different from now, which intrigues me. So, I like to read more about medieval Muslim societies. Maybe this time, I will focus more on Iran.
I find it quite enriching being comparative in my work, bridging certain cultures, and not being exclusive to Iranian studies. Of course, I like to know more about Iran and work on various aspects of Iranian culture because that forms the most significant part of my identity. My roots are there. But I found it also enlightening to go East, go to Pakistan, and look at that society. It has a very different political structure and political economy, a caste system - more or less -, a feudal structure which, as you know, was broken down a long time ago in Iranian society. So now I like again to look more at Iranian culture and history. As much as I found it interesting to go outside of Iran and look at other cultures, I now think I like to go back to Iran and look at things in Iran. But I do not have anything specific in mind yet.
Interviewed by: Maryam Kamali