The Scent of God
At age 32, I journeyed to India to see if Buddhism might help. On a trip to Calcutta, I asked a fellow bus passenger if he knew of any good places to sightsee. He told me about Mother Teresa's ministry.
I got to the church very early, and a leader took us to a large shelter where there were many poor people who were very sick and in very bad condition. The leader pointed me to one man and said, "Take care of him." I couldn't believe it. He was just like my father. He bit my fingers when I tried to feed him. He had terrible accidents that I had to clean. He had Alzheimer's. Here I was, a businessman, helping someone for nothing.
Later, one of the leaders invited me to a baptism ceremony. It was all candles, many candles, and singing and clapping. I could see it was something about washing the head but I could not understand. I wondered, Why are they so happy? I couldn't understand this place, but I loved being there. For many years it lingered with me.
When I returned to Iran, I took more spiritual classes and decided to take a journey every year to try and get answers to my questions. In 2008, I took the hajj, the traditional Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and that was a time of insight and forgiveness, even though there was still much I did not know. I could even forgive my uncle, who executed one of my brothers when he was in prison.
After the hajj, I decided I would do anything to find peace. I sold all of my businesses and gave all of the money and assets to my wife and family members. I decided I would follow any sign God gave me.
In 2009, a friend invited me to Sweden. While I was there, my one surviving sister called. After her torture and imprisonment, she had gone to the United States, and she now asked if I would come to visit her. But I had no money and needed to return home, and relations between Iran and the United States seemed to preclude a visit. But through a miracle, my friend helped me to get a visitor visa for six months, and my niece got me a plane ticket. I arrived in Washington, D.C., in February 2010, intending to stay for two weeks.
During that time, my mother was also in town to visit my sister as she did every three years. She took me to an English class at a local church, because she knows I like to learn. I went with her and thought, This smells of God. I smell the smell of Calcutta. I kept going to the class.
Then one Sunday I went to the church service at 11 a.m. I could not find my teacher from the class, so I stood in the back. I did not understand very much of the service, but I saw many people singing songs, joyfully. Then the pastor knelt in front and began to pray. I recognized one word: Iran. I realized that the 1,000 people gathered there with their heads bowed, on their knees—they were praying for Iran.
This is the Iran that teaches "death to America," the Iran that wants to kill your citizens and neighbors with weapons. And you pray for them? Is this heaven? Are these angels? Thousands of people praying for their enemies, showing love instead of hate. Since I was a young man, this had been my vision.
Standing in the back of that church, immediately I started crying, laughing, and dancing. I didn't care if someone I knew saw me. I was so happy. This was peace. This was heaven. I finally understood this was a place where I could know God, where I could know peace.