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The rules of love, as told by an Iranian cleric

Cleric Hossein Dehnavi’s comparisons of lovemaking in marriage to jihad have ensured that religious bookshops sell out of their stock of the new DVD every afternoon.

By Afshin ValinejadContributor / June 29, 2012

Iranians shop beneath a poster for an unlikely bestseller DVD of a speech called 'The Art of Making Love' by cleric Hossein Dehnavi, in a religious bookstore in Tehran, Iran, on June 3. The video has been a runaway hit in the Islamic Republic, where Mr. Dehnavi calls lovemaking a 'form of worship' like jihad.

Afshin Valinejad

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Tehran

“Love” may be one of the most heavily used words in Persian literature. Famous poets Rumi, Hafez, and Sa’adi obsessed about “eshq” centuries ago, though their words most often referred to divine and spiritual emotions.

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Discussion of physical love was another matter. As in many cultures, it was long a taboo subject, and the advent of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution did little to change that. The trend for decades has, in fact, been evident in annual police crackdowns that target women showing too much hair, or boy-girl handholding in the streets.

So it might be a surprise that one of the hottest-selling DVDs in Tehran – at least at souvenir stores that cater for Shiite religious pilgrims to the Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, south of the capital – is one that seems to encourage something of a sexual revolution, Shiite-style.

Advertising posters proclaim, “The Art of Making Love,” and show cleric Hossein Dehnavi looking like any other young seminary-trained holy man in Iran, bespectacled and bearded, wearing a turban and religious robes.

Yet Mr. Dehnavi’s comparisons of lovemaking to jihad have ensured that, since its release in late May, religious bookshops here run out of their new stock of DVDs every afternoon.

The video is of a theological speech that Dehnavi gave during a seminar, to a gathering of newlyweds and others, in the shrine city of Mashhad in northeast Iran. It is called: “Improving the Skill of Making Love: The Peace and Pleasure in Matrimonial Life.”

In a nation where sexual dissatisfaction ranks as one reason for a high rate of divorce, even guidance from a cleric appears welcome to some.

“According to our religion, eshqbazi [lovemaking] is a form of worship,” says Dehnavi in the video.

“We have quotes from the 12 [Shiite] Imams saying that having sex with your wife is just like jihad, fighting for the sake of Allah,” says Dehnavi. “Unfortunately, some people believe sexual relationships are ugly. No, it is not an ugly behavior in Islam, it is a divine behavior and it is even a religious obligation to properly make love.”

During the video, the camera sometimes pans across the conservatively dressed listeners, where some lower their heads out of shyness at the subject matter. When there is a positive reaction from one member of the group to the linkage between lovemaking and religion, the cleric points him out and says he “gets the message.”

Alireza, a teenage shopkeeper in the bazaar near the shrine south of Tehran, has never seen such high demand. The $2 DVD seems out of place among his standard fare of mourning ceremonies, revolutionary videos, and religious dirges favored by Iran’s pious poor and ideologues.

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