An Instagram account is out to dispel stereotypes of the Islamic Imams of Iran by drawing attention to the varied and modern activities they perform as part of their daily clergy work.
Perceptions of the holy men of Iran, particularly in the West, tend to paint these Imams as either extreme fundamentalists or at best, solemn clerics living an outdated acestic lifestyle. But now, thanks to the Instagram account Talabe Today, that notion is being overturned as followers are given an insight into what the urbane daily lives of these modern religious men are really like.
“Showing Muslim clerics lifestyle was the goal of this page,” explains curator Masoud Zareian, who takes many of the photos himself as well as repositing and crediting those taken by others along the same theme.
The documentary and film maker is also a seminary student (which is the translation of his handle) and as he explains to SBS, “I have made many movies and taken many pictures, so I thought I can show their real life better than anyone else.”
It’s clearly a compelling concept as Zareian has built up nearly 15,000 followers on Instagram for these intriguing snapshots into the clergymen’s day-to-day lifestyle.
Far from being locked up in a mosque all day long, Zareian’s photos show these clerics out on the streets, playing basketball, snapping selfies and hitting the shops – just like anyone else.
Zareian explains: “While Muslim clerics' presence in people's life starts with their life and ends with death (based on Islamic traditions, it is recommended to recite azan on newborn and to perform a prayers upon his death), both inside Iran and outside, people don't have a clear understanding of Muslim clerics' life”.
“I have tried to pave the way for good and real judgment by taking and collecting photos showing Muslim clerics' lifestyle.”
Of course it’s not all just listening to iPods and snapping selfies. Charitable work and congregational visits play a large role in the Imam’s daily life and Zareian has captured these often moving moments too in his striking pictures.
“All the good qualities Islam preaches can be found in great Islamic scholars (ulama),” explains Zareian. “So showing the real life of Muslim clerics can be inspiring for all seekers of truth around the world.”
It’s not the first time an Instagram account has drawn interest for challenging Western notions about what life is like in Iran.
At a completely different end of the cultural spectrum is the “Rich Kids of Tehran” account which drew headlines last year for its depiction of the extravagant lifestyles of the Iranian capital’s wealthiest and most glamorous young residents.
The page was created as a nod to another opulence-porn page, the Rich Kids of Instagram, which catalogued the most brazen displays of wealth on the social media platform, from private jets, yachts and rolexes, to donuts made of 24 karat gold.
The Iranian youths of the RKoT account offer a similar parade of excess but controversially they also eschew the requisite attire of the religious state, favouring bikinis over burkas as they flaunt their lavish lifestyles.
It’s a risky move given that a group of six Iranians were arrested in 2014 for filming this viral video tribute to the Pharrell Williams song 'Happy'.
Police said at the time that the arrests had been made over a "vulgar clip" that had "hurt public chastity".
Still if the Rich Kids of Tehran page teaches us anything, it’s that thanks to the internet, the excesses of aspirational youth culture will survive and thrive regardless of restrictions.
Masoud Zareian’s Talabe Today account meanwhile, has a more benevolent goal. He explains, “I hope this page can create a dialogue between religions around the world, prevent prejudices and [promote] good understanding of Islam for free spirited people around the world.”