I was 8 years old when the turmoil that fueled the Iranian Revolution of 1979 first started. From that time until I was 16, the government killed eight of my brothers and sisters. I witnessed this. Even my sister-in-law, who was two months pregnant, was murdered, even though Islamic law expressly forbids killing a pregnant woman. My mother and another sister were imprisoned. From age 16 to 19, I was left as the sole caregiver to my father, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. During this time Iran and Iraq were at war (1980-1988), and I lost many friends as well.
Everyone I loved—every person I cared about—died or was killed or taken to prison. I could not understand this. And I became very angry. Forgiveness seemed out of the question.
I was born in Tehran, Iran, in the late 1960s, the youngest member of a large and well-known Muslim family. My father was a respected teacher and senior official in the government, serving in the Iranian senate under the shah and then as a leader in both houses of parliament for the transition government after the revolution.
Vision in the Valley
After the revolution ended in December 1979, I was invited to participate in many political activities because of my family name. But I didn't join them. Instead, I argued with all of them in my mind—the government, other people, my own cousins. I was too young to make sense of things, and I hated all of them. I hated without knowing. I was not aware of how much I hated; it was just the way I was. There were so many questions I could not answer.
I was filled with rage because I saw everyone as responsible for my family's death—the shah, the new leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolutionaries, those resisting revolution. It seemed everyone had hate in their hearts, that there was no one with clean hands. I wanted to take revenge upon so many people—especially the cousins and close friends who had turned on our family and aided in their deaths and imprisonment.
When I was 19, my father became increasingly ill, and I was less able to care for him, myself becoming ill when I needed to wash him. Now, even my father was going to die while I watched.
One day I took a car and went driving—very fast—in a remote, dangerous area in the hills outside Tehran. I was hoping to die. I ran into a wall that kept people from going into the valley below.
When I got out, unscathed, I went to the edge of the hill and saw a big valley. A valley full of people, a whole city. I pleaded out loud: Why did you take everything from me? I love my sister and she is killed. So I say to another friend, "You are like a sister to me," and she disappears. If I love someone, they disappear, and now my father, my teacher. Why? Why? Why?
As I looked down at the valley, a vision came over me. I saw thousands of people praying for their enemies instead of fighting. From that moment, the hate inside me began to weaken. The forgiveness started to heal me. From that moment, Somebody took me and helped me, though I was still very confused. I still had many questions, but for some reason, I was able to look at people and say, "I will forgive you."
I went on to find much success. I got married when I was 20 and started my business in finance and investments the same year. Since my business was popular, I bought cars and land and swimming pools, and eventually owned 13 companies. I was practicing Islam, but I still had many questions. And I had no peace.