(Two disabled students sing a song during a music therapy session at the Kahrizak nursing home, in southern Tehran June 25, 2011/Morteza Nikoubazl)

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.