If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because he was he, and I was I. —Montaigne
A great sense of occasion is present when one has the opportunity to introduce a unique voice. Challenge is, Ali regards his own individuality as the least important thing about him. What makes him spring to life and purpose are the dear people of this world. Sure, I could tell you that he’s Iranian and a Persian mystic, that he’s a lover of Nietzsche and Thoreau and teaches English to students of all ages in Tehran. But that’s only my reflection of him — and I’m too much in the way…
Who are you?
The Friend’s mirror. We find ourselves in each other and give meaning to each other’s existence. Without my Friend, I do not come to existence. And without me, he is an undiscovered, hidden beauty.
What are you reading right now? What do you think about it?
Rumi’s Masnavi. I am speechless. The only thing that comes to mind is that I find it like a journey along the banks of a river whose headwaters are pure and clear but unreachable. That’s the source and destination: eternal perfection. It is the story of a never-ending journey toward an eternally unachievable perfection.
What’s the single most important lesson you’ve learned from reading?
The fact that the ways to God are as different and varied as the number of all the people that have lived and will live in the world, and that of all these ways, the best is to be helpful and useful to other people.
What book had the greatest foundational impact on you?
The Divan of Hafiz. Unfortunately, no translation gets even close to its absolute poetical and spiritual beauties and glories.
What is your favorite scene in literature? Explain.
I have many favorite scenes, but only one has captured my whole heart. It’s a scene from Saadi’s Gulistan. A young child, Saadi wakes up in the middle of
the night to say some prayers (say the Salat which is the Muslim way of regularly praying to God during the day). This is something that adults find difficult to do, being so busy and careless. He looks around and finds all the adults in the caravanserai sound asleep. He then says to his father, “Oh father, what would have happened if one or two people of all these who are fast asleep had woken up and said one or two prayers.” What makes the scene unforgettable for me is his father’s answer, which explains why Saadi became Saadi. His father says, “Oh my dearest son, it would have been much better for you to fall asleep too and not speak behind other people like this.” It’s not what I do for myself, my religion, and my country that gives me worth. It is what I do for others that gives me value. And it is in this sense that the word “other” looses its meaning and the whole world becomes one.
Favorite Persian poet, writer, or novelist?
Why do you read?
“Read” was the first word that God said to Muhammad. It is the word that started the whole of Islam. Time and place are our prisons. Through reading, we talk with people in distant lands and in times that are not our own. Remember this from Emily?There is no frigate like a book To take us lands away, Nor any coursers like a page Of prancing poetry. This traverse may the poorest take Without oppress of toll; How frugal is the chariot That bears a human soul!
But in another important respect, the question is unanswerable, because it is impossible to say how worse I would have been if it hadn’t been for reading.
Which has given me the world.