Music therapists shake off Islamic clerics’ taboo to heal disabled Iranians
As Sadeq Jafari switched on his electric piano, his students shunted their wheelchairs enthusiastically around him to rehearse new songs. Music therapy, a common practice in large parts of the world, is extremely rare in Iran, where conservative clerics outlawed pop music after the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Jafari, 33, is one of a handful of therapists in the Islamic state who use music to help severely disabled people find their voices, risking the ire of his conservative family and censure from religious authorities.
Kahrizak Charity Foundation, in a leafy campus on the outskirts of the capital Tehran, is home to hundreds of physically handicapped people, young and old, who lack financial support. Each Monday, dozens wait impatiently for Jafari to walk through the door.
“I haven’t learned music in an academy, but through practice and experience,” Jafari told Reuters in an interview. “My initial goal was to make them get out of bed.”
Jafari grew up in a religious family which found all forms of music unacceptable. His relatives initially cut ties with him, but their stance softened when they saw the impact of his work on the lives of his patients.
Iran’s musical restrictions have eased over the past decade and pop music has become increasingly common in some parts of society. But the idea of female artists singing or dancing in front of male audiences is still completely taboo.
“We have been told that music is haram (not religiously acceptable) … I used to be so depressed, but now I have high morale,” said 35-year old Masoumeh Salim Sediqi.