My first letter in Persian looked like this:

خانم عزیز
ما شنیده ایم كه شما مسافرت به مكه خواهید كرد
می فهمیم كه این حجّ برای شما خیلی مهم است
ما برای شما سفری خوش ارزو می كنیم
امیدور هستیم كه بازگشتِ شما به تهران بازگشتِ سالمی باشد
،خدا حافظ
دوستانِ شما

Its translation will give you some idea about how elementary excellent my Persian is:

Dear madam,

We have heard that you will make a journey to Mecca. We understand that this hajj is very important to you. We hope it will be a good journey and we hope that your return to Tehran will be a healthy return.

God bless,
Your friends

The mother of an Iranian friend of mine had decided on making the hajj. She was an elderly lady for whom such a journey would be no easy enterprise, but as a devout Muslim she still wanted to. We had met her once in Tehran, so we felt obliged to wish her all the best.

Little did I know that among Iranians such a journey is still perceived as it was in the Middle Ages: you may never return from it. Iranians have developed this custom whereby the hajji calls upon all his or her friends to ask for forgiveness for anything they may have done wrong and to promise them they will pray for their friends in Mecca. Having written her a letter qualified us as friends, so she was now under a religious obligation to contact us. My being the only one who could speak a little Persian volunteered me, so to say.

As this was a grave matter, my Iranian friend -who is also my teacher of Persian- had instructed her mom to only use short sentences and she had thoroughly prepared me about what the call was going to be about. Still, I was totally unprepared for the call that surprised me while I was on the train to work.

I picked up my mobile which was ringing and said ‘unknown number’, which was odd. When I gave my name I just heard someone at the other end saying ‘hello?’ a few times. Soon as I had acknowledged my paying attention the woman started talking incomprehensibly. It took me a while to realise this was Persian. I only understood the last few words ‘…maman-e dust-et.’

‘The mother of your friend’, right! This was the call I had been expecting, but it took my brain a seemingly endless period of time to get itself into Persian mode. At times like these you once again realise that the simplest form of communication is imitation. I could not generate any answer besides a near-copy of what I just heard: ‘Salaam, maman-e dust-am!‘ (Hello, mother of my friend!).

She then proceeded to tell me she was going to pray for me in Mecca, which I really did understand, and a few things more which I didn’t. The word I used most was nemifahmam (I don’t understand). But otherwise the call went well.

When I put my phone away I noticed some other passengers in the train looking strangely at me and I realised they had just seen a native speaking a totally foreign language, of which they could only understand ‘Salaam!‘, but which didn’t sound like Arabic at all. What must they have been thinking?

A few months later a present arrived for me: prayer beads from Mecca.


It’s a nice thought that even though you cannot go there yourself, at least someone thought of you while being there on hajj.


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