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s i m i n  b e h b a h a n i


On Thursday evening, July 8, 1999, soldiers and vigilantes invaded a dormitory at the University of Tehran. This had been the first day of student protests against the new censorship laws and the forced closing of the newspaper Salam. The invaders attacked the students, beating many and throwing some out of the windows. The poem “Banu, Our Lady” is an expression of outrage by Simin Behbahani, author of over a dozen books of poetry in Persian and recipient of the Human Rights Watch/Hellman-Hammet grant, for her struggle for freedom of expression in Iran. It focuses on a scene of this rampage: an attacker invoking the name of Fatemeh Zahra, the beloved daughter of the Prophet, while pushing a student to his death.

[F.M. and K.S.]


Banu, Our Lady,

this is my gift to you. Accept it.

This said, he raised his offering

and threw it down the stairs.

On the ground, the sacrificial victim

twisted with pain.

A stream of blood followed his fall.

Silence followed his screams.

A demon had made an offering,

and a person had ceased to exist.

Oh . . . for the child lost so young!

A hundred times Oh . . . for the old mother.


Banu, Our Lady, I dreamt I saw you

in the halo of the moon,

your face pale, your eyes red with sorrow.

In your arms you held two sons,

one perfect like the full moon,

the other radiant like the sun.

You sat beside the corpse,

with the road-dust still on your face,

your soul scalded by sorrow,

your heart tired of arrows.

You complained: O Justice! O Faith!

O, the shamelessness of the brute –

offering me a corpse

and asking me to accept it!


Banu, Our Lady, you shed a deluge of tears

over the man murdered by such ignorance.

You turned your silken coat to a shroud

to cover his body.


O, Banu, our guide! O, Banu, our savior,

O, Banu, unblemished! O, Banu, full of light!



Banu is a term of respectful address for women, here applied to one of the most beloved and respected women in Islam: Fatemeh, the Radiant, embodiment of many virtues, including selflessness, purity of heart and compassion. She is the daughter of the Prophet, wife of Ali, mother of the martyred Imams Hossein and Hassan (the children in her arms in the poem), and maternal ancestor of the other Shi’a Imams. [Trs.]




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