In November of 1976, after all kinds of intrigues to which I was no participant, The Washington Post gave me a $500 advance and sent me to Iran to do a series on that country. The editors gave me no guidance. I kept asking what I was to write about, and they would reply, “You’ll find something.” At that time, I was married to an Iranian woman who had never been to Iran. Her father was the Iranian Press Attaché in Washington, and I was very close to him, closer than to my real father. He taught me to love Iranian music, to learn passable Farsi, history and to love the Persian poets. My favorite was the poet Saadiq, from Shiraz.
So I went off to Iran. It was like sending a six year old to build an intricate computer.
I had learned from being in the first racial riot in Washington, D.C, that the way to get news is to go where no one wants you or expects you. In Iran, I planned to learn about Islam by going to the mosques. Everyone in America apparently saw the mosques as horrible and frightening. I suspected they had never visited one. But the mosques were the center of opposition to the Shah.
The night I arrived, I met my mother-in-law in Shemiran, a Tehran wealthy suburb close to the Shah’s palace. That Thursday evening was a holiday, and all over the city, the throats of sheep were being cut. I remember the gamey smell of the blood trickling in the joube or street drain. The next day, I went to south Tehran to go to the mosque there. It was a big mosque and was supposed to be a center for resistance to the Shah. Since the Shah had required that I become a Shia in order to marry, and I had done so and had my name inscribed in the rolls at Iranian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. As a result, I felt I really needed to try out my religion, which I had studied, in order to move beyond the mere academic and gain a genuine knowledge. I was accompanied down to the south Tehran mosque by a dark-skinned gentleman from the Iranian Ministry of Information. He was in his forties. Courteous, smooth, polite.