The Words of the Zahedi Family
Hearing my brother's report made me think about the situation more seriously, and I even prepared myself for death. It was a sad evening. I tried to pray, but even praying was not so easy. I tried to occupy myself looking through magazines, but reading was also impossible. I was drawn into the world of my imagination, thinking that my life might be a payment for our family's success and I would have to be ready. I thought of those who had lived and died for God and felt I was no better than them. What was life good for? Dying was easier than living, and if dying was what was necessary, dying for God would be the most valuable death.
Filled with such thoughts, I completely neglected the struggles of the other three members in the room with me, until my sister Mali came to me and brought me back to reality. Manige, she told me, was crying silently. I went over to my little sister and tried to calm her. I told her she shouldn't worry, because the government wouldn't do anything to her; they would release her soon. This only made her cry harder and she told me, "Do you think that I cry for my life? I am ready to give my life for Heavenly Father because I am young and am not so useful for our family. But you are the leader and very important for God's work. I am ready to be executed instead of you."
My heart was moved. I embraced her and tried to talk about Father's life. The four of us decided to pray deeply in order to receive more courage and confidence to face this course.
On the same day, one new member who had been working on the farm came back to the city, hearing that we had been arrested. He came to the Committeh center (one of various revolutionary guard headquarters throughout the city) where we were being held and told the guards, "I am with them. If you are going to execute them, I am also a member!" So they arrested him as well and put him in the cell with the other six. Now we were eleven.
The mother of two Jewish brothers who were arrested with us began to worry, after not hearing from her sons in two days, so she went to our center to inquire about them. She found the revolutionary guards there. They told her, "Seven of them will be executed tomorrow, your sons among them, because they are spies!" That was such a shock for her and she couldn't stop crying all the way to the prison, where she was told the same thing.
Everybody believed we would be shot soon. They let my mother visit us. She kept crying and saying, "I have three flowers and I want to give them for God." She trusted us and had strong faith in True Parents herself. She had gradually become a devoted member and served as the mother of our Iranian family. She cooked for our workshops, prepared everything for us, raised poultry, grew vegetables and tended the farm. She sacrificed and gave everything she could for God. And now, seeing us on the edge of death, she was ready to give her three children as well for God.
During those three days, somehow I was able to talk to the brothers in the other cell and told them that our only weapons were truth and love, that they should use the same weapons against their enemies, and that they should pray for the guards.
In those three days, our politeness, love and humble attitude towards the revolutionary guards bore witness that all the stories they fabricated about us were false, and that we were better Muslims than they pretended to be. Our brothers and sisters showed them such strong faith and good example of religious people that the Committeh men were very surprised. "What kind of group are they?" they asked each other. Though we were known as Satan's group, they were so attracted towards us that from the fourth day on, we received more freedom and were allowed to walk in the yard, talk among ourselves, and give strength and energy to each other. The members would sing holy songs and family songs which I had translated into Persian. "Let's join our hands, friends of the earth..."
During these days, they started questioning us one by one, starting with the youngest members. I advised them to give short answers and to be honest, so they wouldn't find any contradiction in our answers. Thus the guards learned about the missionaries, Father and our international activities. They looked through our books and materials, trying to find signs of heresy in Father's words. When I gave some explanation about the teachings based on Christian thought, they stopped emphasizing our beliefs so much.
When they questioned me, I gave a short testimony and background of our family and movement. Soon the questioner, who seemed to have a good Islamic consciousness, decided that the charges of spying were ridiculous.
Later, they trusted us more and were comfortable with us. We could walk on the yard and play volleyball with the guards. Soon our members began to witness to the other prisoners and guards.
No meals were provided, so we had to pay for our food. When our parents found out where we were, they brought food every day. Our unity and love towards each other and those who had treated us so badly was the key for conquering their hearts. From the fourth day on, the guards began to separate themselves from our accusers. However, we tried to love those who now felt ashamed to look at us because of the initial cruelty they had shown. But even they soon became our friends, as our brothers explained the Principle, the ideals of love, and God. They had brought all our books to the Committeh so they would sometimes sneak into the storage room and took our books to read.
At the same time, another miracle was happening behind the scenes. Some people in the central Committeh who knew about our situation began to support us. The man in charge of our case had broken the law by attacking us without giving us a warning or a chance to explain, and by detaining us for more than 24 hours in the Committeh center. So there was a kind of power struggle between our supporters and the boss who was trying his best to convince the others that we were spies.
The boss then changed the charges against us. He tried to prove that the relationship between girls and boys was not proper. So now we were asked, "If you are a religious group, according to Islam, why don't the girls cover their hair?" "Why did you have a guitar in your house?" "Why don't you pray in the Islamic way (five times a day, speaking Arabic)?" Of course they knew that none of what they were accusing us of was a crime.
After six days, those in charge of that Committeh center learned that our members were influencing the revolutionary guards, who were now our close friends. Some of them even took our members out to the movies! Not knowing what to do, the Committeh heads they decided to get rid of the newer or less-involved members by releasing them. They called their parents and asked them to guarantee that their children would break contact with this movement. So they did and six members were released.
The following day, those six returned to visit the rest of us, bringing food for us and gifts for our new friends. They spent the day playing volleyball with the guards!
One tall and somewhat heavyset brother went over to see the boss, who exclaimed, "What are you doing here! You signed a paper saying you would not see them any more?"
With much sincerity, the brother replied, "I didn't come to see them; I came back to see you because I missed you so much." He approached the boss and tried to give him a hug (a usual form of greeting in Iran), but the boss kept backing up, saying "No! No! Get back! I don't want your love. I don't want you to love me!" The other guards were watching with amusement the boss's reaction to our brother's extraordinary expression of love and humility.
During all this time, our center was under their "occupation." We had no idea what had happened to our house since our arrest; we had been taken away that night without even our shoes. As we were given more freedom, we began to see the guards using our glasses and dishes, our Ginseng tea and sugar. Then I noticed my shoes and shirt on a guard! We slowly realized that our house had been completely robbed. When my sisters and the other brothers were finally released after 12 days, they returned to a bare house. My mother couldn't even find a tea pot to make tea. All our clothes, all our personal belongings, and kitchen items had been taken. Only what had been "officially" confiscated the night of our arrest was returned to us.
Now only one Jewish brother, an older member, and I were still being detained. We had time to talk and discuss with the Mullah (an Islamic clergyman) and some others who were interested in our ideas. We were gradually given considerable freedom to move around, and some of the guards took us out to lunch, saying, "You are not prisoners, you are our brothers."
By now, our cell was no longer locked, and in effect, we were no longer prisoners. One night two drunks were arrested and put in our room. When told the guards that we couldn't sleep because of the smell of alcohol, they moved us upstairs to another room... right next to the room where their guns were stored; they didn't lock the door or post a guard.
Long ago, the revered Ali, son- in-law of the Prophet Mohammad, had written this advice: "Treat your enemy in such a way that if you ever become friends, you will not be ashamed to look him in the eyes." These guards had not applied this rule, even though they believed so much in Ali; so we had to demonstrate that we had erased all our bad memories, although they could scarcely believe that we could forgive those who had stripped our house, called us Satan's group, fabricated many terrible stories about us, even still wore our clothes. By forgiving them, being humble to them, and showing them our love, we could touch their hearts. Finally, they told us we were their guests and not their prisoners.
Actually, continuing to keep the Jewish brother and me in prison was meaningless and everyone knew it. But it seemed that like Moses in Egypt, we, too, had a Pharaoh whose heart was hardened against all pleas on our behalf. The boss finally succeeded in having us transferred to the central Committeh headquarters, in the hope that they would condemn us as spies; he was worried that he might lose his position because of his involvement in our arrest -- which later actually happened.
The day of our transfer, the boss noticed a key-chain with the English inscription, "God Bless Iran." This finally gave me an opportunity to witness to him. I explained that loving the country, loving the world, and loving other people was our ideology. He kept silent, but I felt that he was very uncomfortable. When he turned us over to the new guards, I shook his hands warmly and tried to demonstrate that I held no resentment against him.
In our new prison I made some indemnity conditions in order to get the best possible victory for Heavenly Father and True Parents. I was determined not to deny my beliefs. For the other members, I had encouraged them to sign papers swearing to break connection with the family, knowing it would make their release easier. But I was hoping for victory in receiving recognition of our movement from the government officials. Thus I prayed to God, trying to strengthen my resolve never to deny Him or True Parents. "Please show me how I can get the complete victory for You," I asked.
After about a week, I was called for questioning. The questioner was a Mullah, and he seemed logical and righteous. I tried to be very polite and respectful, knowing that I was a representative of True Father and our ideology. So I responded warmly to him and answered his questions honestly. Although he tried not to show any sign of positive reaction, I felt victorious, because I made a very good relationship with him.
I knew my Jewish brother was supporting me by prayer during my questioning. Before our imprisonment, I had had no chance to know the measure of his faith. But while in prison, he showed a strong and solid faith beyond my expectation. He is physically older, and his case was more serious, since he was Jewish; still, he told me that he was ready to accept whatever Heavenly Father allowed to happen.
Three days later, I was called again. After asking some different questions, the questioner asked me, "What would be your answer if we asked you to stop preaching unless you register your movement and become legal?" Also he wanted me to prove that our movement and activities had no connection with the American CIA. He mentioned that he had read our books and admired me for being a good writer. "Couldn't you work for Islam and not for Rev. Moon?" he asked. I explained that there was no contradiction between Rev. Moon's teaching and that of Islam.
Then he started preaching about Islam and the importance of praying in the traditional Islamic way. He told me that our case was a result of misunderstanding, and although he didn't directly apologize, he was kind and sympathetic to me. Finally he asked me what my idea was about exporting the Islamic revolution to other countries!
The answers I gave him must have been inspired from heaven. In the end he smiled, shook my hand and left, without another word.
The next evening, the Jewish brother was called for questioning. I prayed that God could support him in his answers. When he returned after half an hour, he was smiling. They had told him to collect his things in preparation for release. I was so happy. But Heavenly Father had more good news in store for me: they called my name, too, and instructed me to collect my things to go home!
The man who signed our release told us, "To tell the truth, we investigated and checked everything, but found nothing to charge you with; so we have to let you go."
During our stay in prison, the members became stronger in faith and worked harder. One interesting story stems from the fear the guards had of our prayer room. That mysterious and holy room frightened them so much that they wouldn't dare enter it. Feeling that someone, maybe some spirits, were there in the room, they were afraid to sleep in the house -- even though they were responsible to guard it. So they put a heavy wardrobe against the door to prevent any spirit from leaving the room!
Following our release, we had to start anew and reorganize everything, working more seriously and more carefully than before. We did not fear the government, but the leftist groups were still a danger. We translated the VOC book and sold copies throughout the capital and in some other cities. Five times our members were arrested and placed in prison, but miraculously, they were set free. Our family continued to grow, in spite of great difficulties.
About a year after our release, our house was invaded by armed men for the third time. It was midnight, during Ramadan, the month during which faithful Muslims fast each day from sunrise to sunset. That evening, I was in the center with my sisters and brother, along with two other brothers and their sister. So we had the appearance of a normal family situation. After checking the entire house for weapons -- of which there were none -- and seeing us preparing for the fast, the attackers calmed down and left with apologies.
Thinking the danger was over, two nights later, the last day of Ramadan, I asked some other brothers to stay overnight in the center, so we could hold Sunday morning pledge service together. Again, after midnight, eight armed men rushed into the house. When they asked where our weapons were hidden, one brother showed them a Divine Principle book, telling him, "This is our weapon." In reply to their suspicions about the number of people in the house, I explained we were holding a special prayer meeting, on the last day of the Ramadan fast. They seemed convinced and left the house. Ten minutes later, however, they returned and took another brother and me to their Committeh center.
Later I found out that the father of that brother had registered a complaint against me for brainwashing his son. Charged with misguiding people and teaching them blasphemy, I was imprisoned in a room with about 20 other men detained for charges varying from political activities to immorality. We were treated quite badly.
However, the member who was taken with me told his father that if I were imprisoned, he wanted to be in jail with me! So his father withdrew his complaint. The Mullah who interviewed me wanted to release me, but the Committeh again sent people to search our house, where they found a guitar, two photo albums of brothers and sisters, and a Divine Principle book. They arrested four members and brought them to jail, charging that the guitar, pictures and book were evidence of our crimes. They supposed that we played the guitar and made people dance -- a charge difficult to contest, since we were unable to prove that none of us could ever play an instrument!
After three days we were transferred to another prison. Along the way, our drivers arrested four couples they found in the park. In the prison, these couples were asked whether they were brother and sister; since they were not, they ere sentenced to be whipped 60 times. I was able to convince the Committeh that having a guitar or taking pictures with our sisters were not crimes, and they were about to release us. However, at the front desk, we saw the official who had originated so much negativity against us in the Committeh. He sent us back to prison, calling us communists and accusing us of planting bombs and killing people!
Now charged with political crimes, we could only put our faith in God and prepare for whatever might happen. In those days, there were a lot of terrorist activities, and such a charge against us was serious. However, at 10:00 p.m. that same man called us in, gave us a short speech about Islam justifying his actions, apologized -- and let us go. That was a miracle.
The political and social situations were becoming more serious; we heard about a new government decision to eliminate all groups by executing their leaders. There was also a fear of the center being attacked again, but moving out of the house seemed so difficult. Moreover, I knew that if I were involved in any further charges, my release would not be easily obtained. Therefore, it seemed wise to change my situation. Around this time, I was asked to attend a 120-day workshop, and feeling that the Blessing might come up soon, I decided to attempt to leave the country.
Although my passport was valid, I still needed an exit visa from the government, but hardly any were being issued at that time. The only feasible way of leaving the country was to sneak out by land. I decided to try to cross the southeast border.
Two brothers and I traveled by bus, along with two Afghani friends, to a town about two hours from the border. Because this was a center for border traffic, there were revolutionary guards observing everyone who came and went. From the way we were dressed, it was obvious that we were not from that part of Iran, and the guards immediately became suspicious and took us to the local Committeh. When they found my passport, they suspected me of intending to cross the border, so they sent us to the central prison. Although there were no reasonable charges against us, our situation was quite serious, and they threatened to send us to Tehran to be investigated.
Held in a cell with others who had attempted to leave the country, we learned that people who offered their services as border guides often led unsuspecting people right into the hands of the revolutionary guards. We had been given blankets and prepared to sleep there, but late that night they changed their minds and released us. I was grateful to Heavenly Father for giving me a warning about the hazards along the way; maybe that was His purpose in sending us to that place!
One of the brothers returned home, but the other remained with me, and together we searched for our Afghani friends. any chances of getting out of the country seemed very slim, and trustworthy guides were scarce; even if we could find one, he would certainly ask us for much more money than we could afford. We finally located our Afghani friends, and they inquired about a cheap and trustworthy guide. After about five days, they came to get us one noon and pressed us to accept arrangements that they had made with a guide. Reluctantly, knowing it was a risky attempt, the other brother and I got into the car, paid the driver, and headed for a village close to the border. It was dark when we arrived. There we learned that ten people had been arrested several hours earlier, while trying to cross the border.
Our guide asked us to walk some distance, while he drove the car through the guard station. Later, we had to get out and walk through a dry river bed in the dark. On the other side, we were surrounded by guards who began firing shots. In the darkness, I looked for some means of escape. Behind us was a cliff, and at the bottom a small cave which flood waters had washed out. I crawled into the cave and asked the brother to hide somewhere else. But when he saw I was safely hidden, he called out, "I'm here, don't shoot," in order to draw attention to himself and away from me. They turned on their lights and asked him about his friend. "I have no friend; I'm alone," he insisted. In disbelief, they checked all the bushes and almost found me. Miraculously, they didn't notice me. After a while, they took the brother and left.
At the price of that brother's sacrifice, I was now free, but alone -- without a guide, food or water -- in the darkness. I decided to depend on God's guidance.
Climbing a cliff, I set out in what seemed to be the proper direction and walked all night. I didn't dare take an easy way, because I knew they would continue searching for me when it became light, so I climbed the rocky hills and took dangerous paths in the darkness. The next morning, I could hear cars and sounds of people searching for me, but I was high up the hill. I had been sweating a lot and was very thirsty, but there was no water in that wilderness. A desert lay before me and the sun was hot. Still, I had to cross it. Setting my sights on distant hills, I walked all day, finding some trees but no water. Although a camel caravan passed nearby, I couldn't trust them and headed in the opposite direction.
After two hours, I saw a man gathering firewood with his family, and somehow felt I could trust him. I approached him and asked for water. He was surprised and asked what I was doing there. With much sincerity, I told him my story. First, he recommended that I return and give myself up. However, I was determined to finish my trip. Next he offered to help me for a certain amount of money. However, I had very little money, so I just asked if he would give me water and point me in the right direction.
He invited me into his tent and offered me water; about an hour later, he changed his mind and decided to help me, even without much pay. For two hours, he drove me through the desert hills and valleys; then he stopped the car and told me we had already crossed the border and were in Pakistan. He pointed out a narrow pass and told me that after about an hour's walk I would be able to see the lights of several houses, where people would help me. He was right; the mayor of the village welcomed me.
That first night in Pakistan, I slept in the small village mosque. Without an entry visa or much money it is not easy to travel in Pakistan. The nearest town with train connections to the capital is about an 18-hour drive from the border, and the route is dotted with frequent security checkpoints. To go by bus would have been too risky, and I had no way of knowing how to find a trustworthy person to drive me. The kind mayor introduced me to a man who had happened to stop in the village for a cup of tea, en-route to my destination. God must have guided him to that place at that time. He offered me a free ride in his van to the town with the train station. As he was well-known locally, the police would not stop him to check his van, and I would be safe. Arriving at the train station, I observed that a soldier was checking the papers of every foreigner who bought a ticket; just as it was my turn at the window, however, he was called away, and I was able to pass through without incident.
After a tiring 40-hour train ride, I arrived in Rawalpindi at night without the address of anyone there, but with just enough money for a three-minute telephone call to my fiancée Katie in New York. Hearing her voice, I was finally able to relax.
When I look back on the past and what I went through, I cannot stop thanking Heavenly Father, because, during every step along the way, whenever I felt unable to continue and decided to give up, the strong invisible hand of God lifted me up and pushed me to go on. Later, I found out that the brother who sacrificed his own freedom in order that I could escape was released after three weeks.
Although I am out of the country, I cannot stop worrying about all those who are there, trying so sincerely to do the will of God and keeping their faith in True Parents. I have much desire to be with them in their difficulties, because I don't want them to feel that I left them behind out of concern only for my security. However, in the present situation, it does not seem possible to return. When I read their letters, I cannot cease admiring them. I know Heavenly Father is proud of them. They may seem to be isolated, but from my experience, I know that Heavenly Father never leaves His children alone.