The Surprising Presence of Jesus in Persian Poetry

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Editor’s note: Recently I read the best-selling book The Stationary Shop, by Marjan Kamali. Set in Tehran, the book centers on a shop selling not only pots of jewel-toned ink , but also volumes of poetry by the great Persian poets. Reading this gem opened my eyes to the wonder of Persian poetry, and a few days ago I spotted this golden quote from Hafiz on Instagram: “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”That Hafiz is quoted in this long-ago-planned article by Sylvie Charliekaram, an Iranian Canadian and Christian Reformed elder, is the icing on my Persian poetry cake. I hope you will be as touched and inspired as I am by Sylvie’s revelations.

As a Christian woman growing up in Iran, I was always fascinated that the name of Jesus Christ was mentioned in many poems by famous classical poets in Persia (Iran). At school, we used to study many of them as part of our Persian literature class and memorize the poems to be recited in front of the whole class. After so many years, I can still recite many of those poems from memory.

Iran is a land rich with culture and traditions which date back thousands of years, an ancient civilization with a long history of art, literature, and poetry rooted in the very existence of its being.

Many Persian poets are well known to the Western world. Famous Persian poets such as Rumi, Ferdowsi, Saadi Shirazi, Hafiz Shirazi, Attar Neishaboori, Nezami Ganjavi, Nasser Khosrow, and Omar Khayyam have been translated into English and other languages. Their influence on literature has traveled far and wide.

Jesus Christ in the Literary Works of Persian Poets is a book in Farsi, the Persian language, by Rev. Allahiar Mirzaei, one of my beloved pastors from my church in Iran. Mirzaei is now 103 and lives in Canada. His genuine love for Jesus Christ and for Persian poetry inspired him to spend many years gathering the poems in this book, which I hope and pray will one day be translated into English.

He gathers 280 poems by the best-loved Persian poets. Each poem reflects upon different aspects of Jesus’ life: the miracles of his birth, healing the sick, and bringing the dead back to life, his crucifixion, and, most significantly, his resurrection from the dead. The  love, compassion, humility, and simplicity of Jesus’ earthly life, and above all the life-giving breath and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, are woven throughout these poems.

How meaningful for me to describe how the love and ministry of Jesus Christ have profoundly influenced the work of many Persian poets in an Islamic country!  By the work of the Holy Spirit, these references to Jesus will continue to touch many more hearts in the future.

One poem by the world-renowned Persian poet Hafiz has always inspired me to live by the fruit of the Holy Spirit and seek his guidance even through the darkest and most discouraging experiences of my life. The verse says, “And if the grace of the Holy Spirit guides us once more, others would also perform what Jesus did.” 

To him be all the power and glory. Amen!

About the Author

Sylvie Charliekaram was born in Tehran, Iran. An elder at Willowdale CRC in Toronto, Sylvie is a senior manager at a non-profit called Working Women Community Centre, where she manages educational initiatives for newcomers to Canada. She is the co-founder of Spiritual Growth Ministry ministering to Farsi speakers in Toronto and beyond.

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