In my previous post, I wrote about our visit to Nasir al Mulk Mosque in Shiraz. We were thrilled to see the morning light streamed through the stained-glass windows of the mosque, resulting in rich and vibrant colours of red, pink, blue, green & yellow splashed on the deep red Persian carpets laid on the light green marble floor.
While the experience at Nasir al Mulk Mosque was certainly delightful, the visit to another mosque in the afternoon was more exciting because I had read earlier that the entire walls and ceilings of the mosque are adorned with intricate coloured glass and mirrors. It is the Shah-e-Cheragh Shrine, a mausoleum and mosque wherein lies the tombs of important figures of Shia Islam – the brothers Amir Ahmad and Amir Mohammad, brothers of Imam Ali Reza, the eighth Imam of Shia.
Shah-e-Cheragh means “King of Light” and the shrine is one of the most important pilgrimage centre of Shiraz. The shrine became a pilgrimage site in the 14th century when Queen Tashi Khatun erected a mosque and theological schools by the shrine. Queen Tashi commissioned for the tombs, walls and ceilings inside the shrine to be covered with millions pieces of coloured glass and mirrors so that the shrine would glitter and its light magnified a thousand times.
Tour Guide: Foreigners cannot just walk in but must be led by a guide of the mosque’s International Affairs office. Our tour guide in Shiraz, Nargis, was not allowed to give us the tour, however, she was welcomed to join us and other foreign tourists in a group as the mosque’s guide led us inside the shrine.
Dress Code: Although we were properly attired with our headscarf, long-sleeved shirts and pants, we were not allowed to enter without wearing a chador. A chador is like a cloak worn as an outer garment over the woman’s head and is held closed by her hands or tucked under her arms because the fabric does not have any buttons or clasps.
The International Affairs office has chadors made available for foreign female tourists and the they are washed, cleaned and packed in a plastic bag. However, they are not black in colour like the majority of Iranian women wear in public. Instead it’s a print chador.
I wanted to wear the black one to be inconspicuous but they insisted that we wore the printed ones. Oh well, I’m an Asian tourist in Iran, I could hardly be inconspicuous! In the end, sorry to say this but I looked like a walking curtain, and this is the only picture of me in the chador (my readers would be disappointed but am happy to show the back only!)
No Photos Allowed: That’s right, no photos allowed inside the shrine but it’s permissible to take photos of the mosque and the courtyard. It’s such a shame because the highlight of the visit, especially for foreign tourists, is to see the glitter and bling of glass and mirrors inside the shrine.
Footwear: Everyone must remove their footwear upon entering the shrine. But for the ladies, I have to share this with you as you would wish for more than 2 hands.
Imagine this. It was such a windy day. I had to remove my shoes while standing up and put them in a plastic bag but the bag almost got blown away by the strong wind.
Then my day backpack kept falling off my shoulder, so I had to adjust the strap underneath the chador with one hand while the other hand to hold on to the plastic bag…and probably a few fingers to hold the chador together.
My chador had a clasp to close it tightly around my neck but the fabric was quite flimsy. It was flapping in the wind like a billowing tent.
I felt rather tired juggling all of that before we stepped into the shrine!
We walked inside the shrine (men and women are separated into different entrances) and immediately I was blinded by the dazzling light. The interior walls were covered with hundreds and thousands of cut glasses and mirrors, the large windows were made of stained glass which reflected the mosaic of mirrors on the walls, and large crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling above.
They are very strict about not taking photos inside the shrine though I believe some tourists have secretly taken photos, much to the chagrin of the locals.
I sensed the hushed stillness inside the shrine – women were solemnly engrossed in prayer rituals or quietly reading the Quran. No one was talking, even if some did, they spoke in hushed tones. I wasn’t really listening to the International Affairs guide – firstly, she spoke too fast, and secondly, there were two French ladies in my group who kept giggling about their chadors so much so that the guide reprimanded them for being rude. Literally! Wow, she didn’t mince words and that shut the French ladies up for a while.
The tour was really short and I felt a little disappointed. Nargis sensed that I didn’t look too happy, so she asked if I wanted to go inside the shrine again. I said yes, and we went back, sat down on plush, red Persian carpets and admired the glitter of the shrine.
I have been to a few mosques during my travels, but have never sat down inside a mosque (or a Islamic shrine). It was such an incredible experience: As I sat there, no one made me feel awkward for being a non-Muslim amongst their presence. These women smiled at me, some greeted Salaam quietly to me while others continued performing their prayers. I wondered, if only the world could be like this – we respect each other though we are different in cultures, customs and religions.
After some time, we left the shrine and walked out to the courtyard to take some photos.
The visit to Shah-e-Cheragh shrine was surreal. The bling and dazzling mosaic pieces of glass and mirrors inside the shrine were unbelievable. Also, wearing a chador for the first time especially learning the art of holding it together is something for me to reflect with much amusement. Cheers to Shiraz for those special moments, it was an eye-opener and certainly an experience to remember for a lifetime 🙂