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Iranian Rapper Faces Calls For His Execution Over Insulting Imam Naghi

(This piece is an amalgamation of information from articles originally published here: http://www.rferl.org/content/iran_rapper_/24578413.html / http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15944274,00.html / http://www.eurasiareview.com/11052012-germany-iranian-rapper-najafi-in-hiding-after-death-threats/  http://www.freemuse.org/sw47478.asp)

After the exiled Iranian rapper and rock guitarist Shahin Najafi released a controversial song entitled ‘Naghi’, an Iranian cleric issued a death sentence (fatwa) against him, and a news site in the country started a campaign calling for his assassination.  The song ‘Naghi’ is believed to be offensive to Imam Naqi, the tenth Imam in Shia Islam.
 
The news website Asr Iran, which is closely tied to the regime in Tehran, launched an online campaign calling for the hanging of 31-year-old Shahin Najafi. The website stated that the aim of the campaign was to have Najafi condemned for blasphemy, a crime that carries the death penalty in Iran.

The campaign organisers called on all Shi’ites and Muslims in general to find and kill Najafi and “send him to hell,” according to the website.  This happened after a Shia cleric based in the Iranian city of Qom, Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, issued a death sentence against Shahin Najafi for apostasy, the Persian-language Al Arabiya website reported on 9 May 2012. Al Arabiya dubbed Najafi as “Salman Rushdie of music”.

It’s not just religious hard-liners who are offended. Some members of the Iranian opposition believe Najafi has crossed a line.  “It is our right for our beliefs and sanctities not to be insulted,” a reformist activist based in Tehran wrote on Facebook.

The Song 

The song, "Naghi," contains the perfect ingredients for controversy. The lyrics include joking references to Naghi, the 10th imam of the Shi’ites; a penis; Viagra; and the breasts of an Iranian actress.  The image that accompanies the song on YouTube depicts the dome of what appears to be a religious shrine as a female breast, with a rainbow flag -- the symbol of the gay community -- flying over it:
 
Naghi, I swear on your sense of humor
On this exile that is far from [you]
On the great organ of life
That sits behind us in a threatening mode
Naghi, I invoke you on the length and width of sanctions
On the rising value of the dollar and the feeling of humiliation
Naghi, I swear on the cardboard imam
On the baby who was saying “Ali!” while stuck in his mother’s womb
The song has been condemned by some inside Iran as disrespectful and insulting to Imam Naghi, while others have praised it for breaking religious taboos.

 
Najafi, who moved to Germany in 2005, told media that his aim was not to insult religious sanctities.  “I had done something similar in the past. I have another song titled 'Mahdi' [and] there hasn’t been any such reaction to it," Najafi says. "Also, I thought many would like the song. It’s satirical. When I [create] something, I never think about its consequences.” The consequences this time include a $100,000 bounty on his head and calls for his execution. The hard-line website Shia-online is offering the reward and says the sum will be paid by an unnamed Arab country in the Persian Gulf.
 
The song touches on social problems in Iran, mentioning "prayers rugs made in China," "fossilized opposition in the diaspora," and the reported "3 percent of Iran's population that reads books." But it also mentions sensitive religious issues, including the return of the Hidden Imam.  In the song, Najafi calls on Naghi to appear and redeem the world instead of Imam Mahdi or the Hidden Imam, who Shi’ites believe will reappear and bring justice to the world.

O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi
Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi , O Naghi, O Naghi, O Naghi.

 
No Regrets

Religious Iranians consider their imams to be saints. For Najafi, who is an atheist, Naghi is merely a "historical figure.”  Najafi says the definition of what constitutes an insult should be reviewed.  “This is the problem of those who have dogmatic and ideological views on issues," he says. "That is why in Iran’s history, art has not been accepted as it should be. Whatever is not in praise and approval of the political and religious system is dismissed and declared as apostasy.”  Despite the threats, Najafi says has no regrets, however.  “If I regretted what I did for a second," he says, "I would say farewell to music."
 
Najafi has reportedly cancelled his concerts and gone underground. According to his manager, he is now receiving police protection.  German police are providing protection for him.