Female friendship and faith in today’s world

Female friendship despite obstacles.

When I was growing up, my best friend kept a secret from me for a long time. I grew up on the north side of Tehran, Iran, in a happy family. My father had a store that sold imported fabrics from Europe. Most of the people in Iran are Muslim, but I grew up around people of other faiths as well. Th ere were some Jewish people, some Zoroastrians and I am a fourth-generation Baha’i. In the 1950s—under the Shah, things were not easy for Baha’is—conditions were not as bad as they became later. We heard the Shah had a doctor who was Baha’i.

My best friend through these years was named Tahmineh, a Muslim girl whose family lived near mine in Tehran. She had a very good sense of humor, and I did, too. We became best friends and we often walked back and forth to school together, or sometimes took a bus. Tahmineh and I were selected by the producer of a national radio show who was looking for children to appear in weekly broadcasts from Tehran—so that was something else I shared with Tahmineh. This was a children’s program that aired every Friday, which is like Sunday in the U.S. It was a lot of fun. I had a great-aunt who lived far away from us, but she would say, “Every Friday, I can turn on the radio and know that you are doing well, because I hear your voice on the radio!”

Tahmineh and I spent a lot of time together. There was no way, just by looking at us, that one could tell that Tahmineh was Muslim and I was Baha’i. We wore the same kinds of clothes. During the Shah’s regime, women did not cover their hair as much.

We visited each other’s homes. At first, we played together. As we got older, we read books together or listened to the radio. We’d spend an hour or two together visiting like this in our homes. Eventually I began to notice that, when I visited Tahmineh’s house, her mother would give us things to eat, but I could not recall Tahmineh eating anything at my house.

The next day when Tahmineh and I were walking to school, I asked, “Why is it that you never eat our food? Don’t you like our food? When I asked about this yesterday at your
house, no one answered me.” Again, there was silence. We had never talked about this before. Finally, she said, “It’s a secret.”

“A secret?” I said, “Tell me! Tell me!”

Then she explained, “My parents say that Baha’is put things in their food and drink that will make other people become Baha’i.”

I didn’t cry, but this hurt me; we were just children, and this was painful. I told her: “Tahmineh! This is just a myth!”

She said to me, “I’ve always known it’s a myth. I know that, but I didn’t know what to do! My parents told me never to eat at your house. But, I love you. I love your parents. I don’t
want to hurt you.”

“This just doesn’t make sense!” I said. It seemed so unfair. I thought: Oh, her parents are so mean! Then, I said to my friend, “Tahmineh, you must not eat at our house. I won’t offer you food at my home anymore. You’ve got to do what your parents say.” That was a very important thing we were taught in Baha’i Sunday School—always follow what your parents tell you. There was no question about disobeying her parents.

We were best friends—now closer than ever. I hoped we would get around this somehow, and we did. I told my parents about it, but I never said a word to her parents. I kept Tahmineh’s secret with her family.

Then, do you know what we did? We started going to the neighborhood store together, because there we could buy things and eat them together on neutral ground. We enjoyed candies. We loved ice cream. Now, that was fun!

Read the stories from the Women of WISDOM:

This story about female friendship is part of a collection of personal stories from Friendship & Faith, a book that delves into the decisions and experiences about faith and friendship shared by a group of Detroit-area women. This particular story about female friendship and the obstacles faced is by Azar Alizadeh, a woman of WISDOM.

Want more? Read another story or check out Friendship & Faith.

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