An Iranian rapper has become ‘the Salman Rushdie of music’ after clerics in the Islamic republic issued fatwas calling him an apostate, which is considered punishable by death under the country’s sharia law.
Shahin Najafi, a Germany-based Iranian singer, recently released a song with references to Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, the 10th of the 12 Shiite Muslim imams, a religious figure highly respected by millions in Iran.
The controversial clip posted on YouTube has divided opinions in the country, with many finding it offensive and insulting to their beliefs and others defending the song, saying it breaks taboos, especially in regards to expressing views about religious personalities.
When asked for a religious ruling on the fate of Najafi and his “blasphemous music”, clerics unanimously declared that such a person must be considered an apostate.
Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a pro-Iranian regime cleric based in the holy city of Qom, was the latest person to issue a fatwa in regards to Najafi.
“Any outrage against the infallible imams … and obvious insult against them would make a Muslim an apostate,”he said.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has in the past issued other controversial rulings, including those against women attending football matches, keeping pets and the Holocaust.
Najafi’s song, called Naqi, is a chronology of events in the past year. Najafi has rejected claims that he meant to insult people’s religious beliefs, though the song criticises Iranian society.
“I thought there would be some ramifications. But I didn’t think I would upset the regime that much. Now, they are taking advantage of the situation and making it look like I was trying to criticise religion and put down believers,” he said.
Meanwhile, an Iranian religion website which runs on the regime-controlled .ir domain, Shia-Online.ir, has offered a USD 100,000 (Rs 55 lakh) reward for anyone who kills Najafi.
“A (website) founder who lives in one of the Gulf Arab states has promised to pay the (USD 100,000) bounty on behalf of Shia-Online.ir to the killer of this abusive singer,” the site said.
The fury surrounding Najafi is reminiscent of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie whose novel, The Satanic Verses, brought him a death sentence by the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran.
Religion vs arts
In the past, an Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr had been sentenced to 90 lashes and a year in jail for working in a film that highlighted the limits imposed on artists in the Islamic republic. Vafamehr was arrested in July, 2011 after appearing in My Tehran for Sale, which came under harsh criticism in conservative circles.
The film, produced in collaboration with Australia, tells the story of a young actress in Tehran whose theatre work is banned by the authorities. Golshifteh Farahani, a model, was banished from Iran — because she posed nude in a French magazine. Farahani was contacted by the government, telling her that she was no longer welcome in the country and advising her not to return home.