Unveiling the City of Qom

I was born and raised in the Western world and have fond childhood memories of traveling back to Iran to visit family. Through traveling back and forth, I have been able to see things the way they are, not the way western media portrays them. With roots in both worlds, I’m lucky enough to be able to switch between two perspectives.

Downtown Bazar in Qom

Downtown Bazar in Qom

“Where in Iran do you visit?”


Cue wide eyes and uncomfortable smiles; perhaps, even a…

“You’re not one of those mullahs, are you?” (it’s happened before).  Some Iranians are desperately trying to demolish the image of akhoonds and black chadors (trans: muslim clerics and black cloak-like veils), and the last thing they want is for an unassuming Iranian-American girl to blab to all of her American friends about one of the holiest cities for Shiite pilgrimage, which has a lot of both.

A store in Qom, with dresses on display and tape on the glass to hide the boobs, haha.

A store in Qom, with dresses on display and tape on the glass to hide the boobs, haha.

I’ve heard numerous times that…

“Qom isn’t even considered to be Iran,”

(due to its conservatism) The cultural gap widens upon entering the most conservative city in Iran. In the universities of Qom, chadors are ejbari (required) upon entrance. All over the internet, articles about the secret lives of Iranians center in on colorful, barely-there hijabs and underground bashes; but the secret life of Qomis’ is kept buried.

True, Qom is not as vibrant or exciting as Tehran or Isfahan, but there is something calming about walking through these proclaimed holy streets as the sun shines brightly during the day, and the lights of restaurants and shops flash alluringly, as the calming sounds of rosaries echo through the night (I, myself, am not even religious).

Arg Restaurant

Arg Restaurant

Though a large percentage are, in fact, wearers of the chador (even in their private lives), for many, it is out of devotion to God, rather than means of a political alliance. But many, including Iranians, don’t fully understand.

People from Qom get discriminated against, a lot.

“At first, the girls [from other cities] in my class at university wouldn’t talk to me,” my cousin, Farzaneh said. “They later said, ‘wow, we didn’t think you’d be that open-minded, being from Qom.'”

Like all other cities in Iran, Qom has something unique to offer to the country’s culture. There’s something oddly precious about akhoonds walking in the streets, old and young, riding motorcycles, pushing their kids in a shopping cart, or talking on the phone (some of them, barely in their twenties, talking on the phone to their brothers about what to tell Mommy joon).

Plenty of tourists visit the holy city every year; mostly Iraqis, Saudi Arabians, Lebanese, and even Chinese. The Haram is dubbed one of the holiest mosques, and it sparkles at night. One can visit plenty of graves of famous figures ranging from politics to royalty, as well as the tomb of Fatemeh Masume. The Arg restaurant and hookah lounge (see photo above) is an outdoor restaurant that is open year-round. With Tahitian-styled tents set up side by side, the restaurant imitates a tropical paradise with waterfalls, a decorated pool, and bridges. Not to mention, awesome food! Jamkaran Monsque: on Tuesday nights, people crowd the beautiful mosque to pray and toss their hand-written letters down the holy well, in hopes of Imam Mahdi hearing their prayers and helping them in a difficult time.

Jamkaran Mosque

Jamkaran Mosque

At the Bazaar (see photo earlier in the post), they’ve got just about everything from boots to Barbies. There’s also an entire building dedicated to jewelry (whatcha know about gold?!).

Over the past few years, the holy city of Qom has become one of the bigger cities, due to the construction of more universities. There has been fashionable progress in recent years; what used to be chaador-only outwear has now transformed into black manteaus, with well-groomed eyebrows and makeup. Males and females struggle to be discrete as they snuggle together in the corner of a dim-lit restaurant, softly reciting poems of Hafiz, as they stare lovingly at each other. Inside the universities, young people flirt between classes.

I had no idea they were posing for me!

I had no idea they were posing for me!

Surviving in a sub-culture of a closed-off society, the youth of Qom struggle not only against the labels given to them by the rest of the world, but across Iran, as well, but

They also have a story to tell.





SARAH سارا

Your Mind Too Narrow, You Can’t Be Talking To Me

Hey joonams,

It’s been on a long week- but TANK YOU GOD that tomorrow is Friday.

Did you see how I used “God?” I MUST be an extremist… just kidding …

I grew up in a very different generation than my parents.

My father is an Atheist, my mom blames everything wrong with the world on religion – regardless of whether it’s Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.

But they were born into a Muslim family.  My family is Islamic historically.

My great-grandmother fasts, she covers her hair at all times, she doesn’t eat pork – she was also married off at age nine… but if you think that is what being Muslim means then you’re f#cking cray.

The only God I’ve ever prayed to is a God who would keep the nightmares about vampires away (Buffy the Vampire Slayer scarred me for life).

My mother taught me to hate Islam and I did.

For a long time, I believed that everything wrong with Iran is a result of Islam including (but not limited to), the ridiculous notions that a woman should cover her hair, marry at a young age, and be stoned to death.

The Islamic Revolution of Iran

But Islam isn’t the reason that “Islamic” countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia are so backwards… to the point where Saudi Arabia wont allow it’s women to drive/vote/wear what they want.

If you really believe that the “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamanei was chosen by a higher power, then you might as well believe that I, Farrah am a Virgin. [Read more…]

Islamophobia Can Suck It.


The way I feel about religion is the way I feel about myself during Puberty. Hate it, but can’t pretend it never happened.

I was raised Muslim. I have issues with the religion, I’m not practicing but there is no doubt that my blood is as Islamic as it gets… you can take a look at my family tree, if you know what I mean.

And for years now, I’ve been observing Islamophobia— passively. I’m not a hijabi,  I can conceal my religious heritage.  And while I’ve never denied being a Muslim, I sure have conveniently left it out of conversations.

Villifying ‘Muslims’, as you know, condemns all Muslims regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of extremism to laissez faire. These past few days, have just been a little too much for me. The movie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s article, the protests…

is it an Islamic Awakening, or is the AntiChrist coming?

Either way, many of us kids who grew up with a pretty significant amount of Islamic influence know that

Islam is a religion, but religion is culture. [Read more…]

I Just Want to Be Touched.

Salaam JOOOnies.

This weekend is a blur, and like all weekends it passes by too quickly. My actual Sunday is more like watching BEHIND THE MUSIC: NAS re-runs, trashy reality TV, and mourning over the responsibilities I procrastinate. Hello, Xanax.  But if I ruled the world…

My ideal Sunday would include reflecting on my life with some wine, a beach view and maybe, a guy…maybe. Kinda over the male species right now.

SO I don’t know how many of you Joonies are religious, but you all know where I stand on the issue (if not CLICK HERE). But you know what the most frustrating aspect of religion is?

Hot, religious guys.

Guys who actually prioritze God over their… know impulses

and I actually commend them for that, because if you don’t have principles in life, you probably don’t have much. BUT it does kill me when I happen to like one of you…

You see, I can respect a guy’s choice to be religious, if he can accept my lack of religion.

If I walk around in a miniskirt or shorts, I don’t want to see that look of judgment– that ‘ok, she’s a slut‘ label being branded on me. And I know the thought crosses their minds, and I know even if  a religious guy and I have great conversation, I will never be ‘girlfriend’ material for him.

Now, is that principle or discrimination?   [Read more…]

I’m DTF, Am I Going to Hell?

Hey joonies,

We got a white girl on the blog.

We know Saaghi really hates on them, but today we have a special guest post from  SiennaWe thought it was time to show Iranian girls everywhere: White girls struggle with some of the same issues that we do and Sienna is a true testament to that.  So read on and be enlightened:

When it comes to sex, Catholics and Muslims are NOT THAT DIFFERENT.  Surprised? Both religions place virginity on a pedestal.

Both religions teach women that if you lose it: 

(1). you’ve committed a seriously immoral act (meaning you’re now a WHORE).

(2).  you HAVE to marry him or your life will be over.

Trust me– I’ve seen it.  My Catholic friend entered college convinced she’d save it  for her wedding night… and two years later drunkenly had sex with her boyfriend.  Now she’s forcing herself to stay in a horrible, unhealthy relationship because she’s convinced she HAS to marry him.

I understand the reasoning behind this religious pressure — who wants to teach their kids its okay to bang every piece of ass that walks by?  But shame will not (and never has) deterred people from shacking up… all the religious pressure just makes sex LESS HEALTHY and MORE DANGEROUS. 

Case in point:

My Catholic university did not hand out a single condom in the health center, never breached the topic of sex in our mandatory health classes freshman year, and anyone caught having sex would be kicked off campus. But do you think that the threat of being thrown out of school ever deterred COLLEGE KIDS from having sex? NO F*CKING WAY. We just didn’t talk about it and judged everyone who did it (even if we were doing it, or were just jealous). And that is NOT HEALTHY.

Here’s why —

First reason should be a no-brainer really: condoms prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancy- and no one really wants to get screwed in THAT way… just sayin’.

And the second reason pisses me off even more: making sex such a TABOO topic, such forbidden act, teaches people to be ashamed. 

For too long I lived with this GUILT stemming from everything sexual… making out with my high school boyfriend in the backseat, going to second base with the cute guy from that dorm party, and heaven forbid… MASTURBATING.  If you’re reading this and laughing, thinking how prude I am… well you might be right.  That’s what sucks the most.  Along with the guilt of being sexual, comes the JUDGEMENT from others.

Get this: I’m a virgin (no shame either– ladies give it up when you want to, no sooner and no later).  And yet, I’ve been called a whore and a slut (stories for a different time). 

It took me way too long to realize that I have nothing to be ashamed of.  I’m 22 and just becoming comfortable with my sexuality, and that sucks.  I wish I would’ve realized sooner because all of that shame and religious pressure made me really INSECURE.  Its inevitable really: When your parents, your priest, your friends are teaching you to keep it in your pants till you’re married, to reject what is NATURAL and HEALTHY and FUN… well you’ll end up not knowing up from down.

Religion has always been a part of my life, not through force or pressure, but because I think it is important.  And I used to think that sex was something special — something to be saved for marriage.  My boyfriend thought the same thing, so it was never an issue.  But as the years passed, I met people who exposed me to a new, radical idea: sex isn’t always sacred.

Yes it certainly can be.  And at times, it should be.  But I’ve come to realize that sex doesn’t mean everything, and neither does my virginity.  So I no longer plan on waiting for marriage, but I also don’t plan on losing my virginity to a guy I meet at 3 am in a seedy bar.  I’ll never be the type to sleep around, and I know that. But I also know that my first time, while not meaning everything, doesn’t mean nothing. So until I find someone I want to share that moment with, I’ll wait.  And that’s MY choice.  

Here’s the bottom line: SEX and RELIGION are NOT incompatible.  

You can be religious, you can believe in God and be a good person, you can go to Heaven and still be sexually active.  Whether you think you were created by an act of God, Allah, or your parents and a bottle of wine, you shouldn’t be ashamed of your body and how you were created.  NO religion should make you feel bad about yourself and your sexuality.  



Sienna سیعنا

Zahra, You have a Hole.

Zahra Noorbakhsh: Writer. Comedian. Satirist. Filmmaker.

Our Favorite Unconventional & Funny Female.

Why? Because she’s decided to tell the world the challenges she faced growing up in a Persian family by publishing her dating experiences as a Muslim Iranian-American in “Love, InshAlla: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.”

Huffington Post and NY Times (CLICK FOR LAUGHS) recently published an excerpt of her story on the awkward parent-child sex talk she received in her teenage years on their website: Her mother not-so-delicately reveals that 14 year-old Zahra has a hole, and she must guard it from the hole-hunters (men).

The S&F Team caught up with Zahra to get the low-down on what happened after she discovered her ‘hole’, and how she came to a compromise between her American-ness and certain Iranian traditions.

– Growing up, how did you feel about being Iranian?

I hated it. I didn’t get to love my Persian-ness until I was in college and developed a penchant for sarcasm, which helped me combat the stupid questions. Up until then, “Iranian” was the label I was born with that left me constantly having to defend my heritage, where I felt forced to patiently answer questions, like “What’s a Persian?

I remember when I was in 5th grade, my teacher was telling the class how Iranians were “not-good people” ruled by a “a very-bad man,” Khomeini, and what a hard job George Bush Senior had, trying to stay out of the Iran-Iraq war. I could feel my classmates glaring at me. I should’ve told my parents what she’d said, but instead I just came home screaming: “WHY DO WE HAVE TO BE IRANIAN?!” I threw my backpack on the couch and ran into my room crying. My parents were so confused. They were like, “What do you mean? Everybody else sucks, we’re the best ones!”

“Everybody else” of course, refers to EVERYBODY ELSE. An ego I’ve come to love about my Persian-self!

My parents were also very adamant about holding onto their culture and religion and this was frustrating for me as a kid. I so badly wanted them to assimilate. My mom wore hijab at the time, which ALIENATED us from Iranians who didn’t practice and the rest of the non-Iranian, non-hijab wearing population.

“Now, in retrospect, I realize my parents held on so tightly because the culture was threatened at every angle, and I’m glad they did.”

immigrant parents…they try.

– How About now? How do you deal with the cultural conflict?

I get frustrated with the idea of cultural conflict as a ‘bad’ thing. We have to have conflict in order to reflect and develop; people need conflict in their relationships in order to grow the hell up, cultures need to be challenged by their younger generations and by opposing ways of life, because that’s how we develop into healthier societies. Personally, I’m glad America IS a melting pot and got that going early on, because I’m really not into scarlet-letter “A” iron-ons. Maybe another culture will help us get passed the religious right in this country so they’ll get their stranglehold off my Planned Parenthood.

EVERY country needs its immigrants, because at the very least, we learn from conflict– as individuals and countries.  My whitey-white boyfriend needs me, because without me he walks out into public wearing his button-down shirt with basketball shorts, tube socks and hiking boots (I’m not even going to scare you with the color clashing happening here, I’ll just orange is in the mix). 

Our foreign policy, foodie culture, trade, educational system, and the mining of our own resources are equally in dire need of a Persian girlfriend. 

When I hear anti-immigrant sentiment, demanding everyone to “go home,” it makes me laugh.  You know what happens to a country whose immigrants don’t stick around and really are just tourists? It’s called, Greece!  Love your immigrants so they don’t leave you.

[Knowledge  = power.  Learn from the unfamiliar.]

Zahra Noorbakhsh

– How do you believe your friends influenced you?

I went to a different elementary school for almost every year of grade school. I didn’t have a sense of identity that was actually “me” and not just “me conforming to yet another new school-culture.”

I didn’t have a lot of Persian friends growing up, aside from a Farsi school that my dad used to drive us to every Saturday, a two-hour drive from Sunnyvale to Sacramento, so that my younger sister and I could be around other Muslim Iranians and learn to speak Farsi. My parents were really dedicated to giving us some experience they’d had of “home” and “community” as they’d known it in Iran. No matter where we moved to in the Bay Area (Fremont, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, San Francisco, Danville)–Farsi school was a constant.

And apart from the consistency, it was nice, because all the girls at the school wore hijab and girls and guys were expected to dress modestly, so it was an escape from the social pressures of middle school—where some girls wouldn’t talk to me if I wasn’t wearing Stussy shirts and Guess jeans. (sad to learn recently that after 9-11—and the Islamophobia that came with it—their school was shut down) I didn’t connect as much with my non-practicing Persian friends as a kid. In my teen years, I felt from them the same pressure to conform to Western standards of beauty, which always left me feeling too fat, too tall, too loud and just not “hip.”

It wasn’t until college, again, that I started to get more comfortable with my own femininity and culture that I stepped out into society—as the French would say—and came into my own.

For me, my religion had been a security blanket from all the social pressures coming at me, demanding that I conform. As a Muslim girl, my answer was always simple: “I can’t, it’s against my religion (smile and then proceed to educate).”

This of course was my experience of a select group of 3 people I came into contact with and does not mean that you now go to your Persian co-worker or Persian neighbor and blather on about how you heard from your Persian “token” friend, Zahra, that Persian girls were “all” too into their Stussy shirts and Guess jeans to play with Mervyn’s-brands Zahra (that’s what they called me) and look at me and all my cultural insight—NO, you’re not allowed to keep reading this interview if you’re going to do that! However, if you want to facebook me so that you can facebook them and make them feel really, really bad about the nickname… I will make it easy for you to make that happen.

– So what happened after you discovered your hole and let a hole hunter in?

Well, I definitely wanted to be able to relax and have fun, but it was so much more complicated than I’d imagined. Guys seemed to look at themselves as the “conquerors” no matter how I approached it – which just kept me from trying to sleep with them at all. It’s definitely guys that can’t just have fun without confusing it with a bunch of bullshit.

My mother in the story I wrote for Love Inshallah was right: most guys really are after “your hole,” or at the very least, they’re not very good at seeing past “holes” well enough to think like a human being!

As much as I hated admitting it, I realized, sex for me couldn’t be casual – it was so much more of a mind game than dating actually was.

I had to bite the bullet and date, get to know the guy, and make sure he was the type that would be able to have fun, equally, and not make assumptions about me just because I was having fun too.

I found that guy and haven’t let go of him since. It’s too damn crazy out there, man!

– So what piece of advice would you give younger girls just discovering their hole and hole-hunters?

There is a huge misconception that guys don’t carry the relationship drama that girls have. Guys are idiots where emotions are involved, especially guys in college! They won’t admit that they get attached or that they fall in love. They project it all and then make like Bill Clinton, and deny the intent to gratify. Always listen to your heart, and if it tells you that you’re confused, they’re probably being confusing!

When you think its you, its probably them.


– How many Persian guys have you dated and which do you prefer?

Not a one. I can’t date a man better dressed than me. It’s just too much pressure. I like men that I don’t have to perform for – men that don’t need me to be a princess so they can feel like a prince. I have to perform all day! When I come home to a guy, I like to know that I can be myself: crack dirty jokes, watch Bones on Netflix (yes, Bones, it’s embarrassing), and just be an idiot in Target pajamas. Not that Persian men don’t love their girls in Target PJ’s!

– On One Night stands?

For straight women, one night stands are a ‘look as sexy as possible’ event. If you’re into that, go for it. I can’t enjoy myself with that kind of distraction. I think it’s always better to get to know a guy. Then when something embarrassing happens during the deed – like it always does – you can laugh about it!

– How do you like your fessenjoon?


Buy the book because we guarantee you’ll enjoy it as much as we did: Love, InshAllah available January 24th and check her out at:



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