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  • Shelley Dark

#9 wearing a chādor

Today is Friday, the day of prayer like our Sunday. The weekend is Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being a normal working day.

We visited Shah Cheragh shrine or tomb and mosque, the sacred resting place of two brothers, sons of an imam who were murdered on this site in 835AD during the Abbasid persecution of Shia muslims. The Abbasid dynasty was an Arab caliphate which operated from Baghdad. Notice the canvas blinds on the outside? They're keeping the verandah cool. Outside curtains are often seen on buildings and monuments in Iran - it's more effective than internal curtains because it stops window glass heating up.

The Friday holiday meant it was crowded with both locals and tourists.The vast tomb building with two different entries segregating male and female, is a space for people to go to pray, meditate and interact socially.

The men had already gone off with their guide, while we girls had to put on visitor chādors, kept in a room near the front ticket office. They're made of one big piece of cloth which goes over the head and is pulled together at the front with the hand. I really wanted a black one, but we were given light-coloured small prints, maybe so they could identify us as tourists, because we had to stay with a woman guide wearing a sash marked International Relations.

When you see Iranian women wearing a chādor, it looks effortless. Not so for us.

It was almost Impossible to keep on, because we were putting it on over our hijab, trying to keep our camera hands free. There's a special way of grabbing the long bits and draping them over the elbows to keep the fabric from dragging on the ground. Instead, when we took a step, we walked on it. Laughing, I could see myself falling over. Everyone was having the same problem, with hijabs being pulled off by the weight of the chādor fabric.

While we were all laughing, a group of locals asked to have their photos with us. The little girl wanted to wear my hat.

At mosque entrances, there are trays of small terracotta disks or mohr. Each worshipper takes one, finds a place to face Mecca, places the disk on the ground and touches the head to it while praying, indicating humility.

There are also spare prayer beads to borrow. The guide explained that the light from very brightly coloured glass in mosques is good for the mind - different light in different seasons.

please click on the first photo of the gallery to bring up bigger photos of Shah Cheragh

The female side of the shrine itself was simply magnificent. Mind-blowing. Gasp-worthy. When I saw John's photos, I think the male side was even more jaw-dropping. Superlatives don't even really do it justice. In the first couple of rooms, we weren't allowed photographs. Then we went into a huge pillared room equally fabulous but with a much more casual atmosphere where women were sitting on the carpet with their children, talking quietly.

With our hands we rolled the round silver coloured spinning balls which form the screen above the tomb itself. There were many paper money bills inside the enclosure and the guide explained it’s to upkeep the buildings. Muslims believe that if you have a wish, you should ask an intermediary saint for it and he will intercede with god. And so people ask the brothers to intercede.

We were told that photos were permitted here and almost immediately women came up and asked to have their photos with us. This little poppet with a broken arm came up on her own, and Mum took the photo. It seems to be the thing to do on Friday, to come here to sit around on carpets in the air-conditioning with sumptuous soaring ceilings of mosaic glass.

John's photo of a worshipper.

To conclude the visit our guide ushered us into another huge modern high-ceilinged space inside the building where we met the men again.

Hoda arranged a chādor over one of the group for a photograph.

At every turn another beautifully carved marble picture.

Outside in the courtyard, the locals were happy to pose for photos. This dear woman was making a small statement with a fluoro scarf under her hijab. I think henna dyed hair is something you do when you've been to Mecca. Men often dye their beards as well. It's a pilgrimage Muslims should make at least once in their lives. What a thrill it must have been for her.

Others weren't so sure.

This boy had much better things to do.

Such a pleasant kindly face.

Although most shops were shut, this boy was having a haircut as we walked to lunch.

This grandfather showed off his new grandchild, an older one unsure about us and our cameras.

This fabric seller was quietly reading. It's obviously not obligatory to shut your shop on Friday.

This man was very proud of having his photo taken with so many women. Two of them don't think much of the idea.

A shopper is choosing her bread for lunch.

A taxi waits in the shade.

This woman was about to jack up a car with a flat tyre. Her husband was doing something else until we all started photographing her. Then he came to take over.