Traditional Persian recording of Rabana (Our Lord) has not been broadcast since artist spoke out against government in 2010
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Guardian
It is called Rabana (Our Lord), a breathtaking performance by Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, Iran's most celebrated singer and grand maestro, who has selected sections of four different Arabic verses of the Qur'an, each beginning with the phrase "Our Lord" and sung it as one combined prayer, based on traditional Persian melodies.
Many Iranian faithfuls regard it as the perfect way to express thanks to God and to ask for his mercy and forgiveness at the end of their day-long religious duty. For thousands of non-believers, too, Rabana is compulsory listening as Ramadan is as much an opportunity for big family gatherings as it is a religious festival.
"Our Lord, grant us mercy from thine own presence for thou art the grantor of bounties without measure," Shajarian sings in Rabana. "Our Lord, we believe; then do thou forgive us and have mercy upon us for thou art the best those who show mercy." A version of Shajarian's Rabana with English subtitles is posted on Youtube.
But at sunset on Wednesday, the first day of Ramadan in Iran, the thirsty and hungry faithful waiting for Iftar were disappointed not to hear Rabana from the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). In fact, the IRIB stopped airing the prayer three years ago when Shajarian made clear he was siding with the opposition Green Movement and gave an interview to BBC Persian criticising the Islamic republic for its crackdown on music and dissent.
"Ramadan without Rabana is like Christmas without Christmas carol," said one Iranian from Tehran via Facebook chat. "I don't observe fasting but yet every Ramadan I listened out for it."
This year, calls are mounting on the IRIB to once again broadcast Rabana as it did for more than 30 years after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Earlier in the week, Kamalodin Pirmoazen, a member of the Iranian parliament, asked the IRIB to resume airing the prayer. Iran's newly-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, who is due to be sworn in next month, is also an admirer of Shajarian, having described him as a great musician during a live debate broadcast on national television.
However, Ali Darabi, deputy head of the IRIB, indicated on Tuesday that Rabana would remain on the network's blacklist. "Sometime artists sophisticate [sic] issues and this would only harm themselves and create controversies," he told the Isna news agency.
Shajarian is an outspoken critic of the IRIB, believing that the network distorts reality and has previously written a letter to its director, Ezzatollah Zarghami, banning the network from broadcasting his works except for Rabana. Shajarian's believes that his enormous popularity among Iranians has given him a certain immunity from state reprisals.