Lonely Planet Writer

Imams on Instagram: Iranian clerics as never seen before!

An amazing new Instagram account has been documenting Iranian imams doing everyday things in an effort to show the lighter side of  the Muslim clergy.

A cleric reads a book on the metro
A cleric reads a book on the metro Image by Talabe Today/Instagram

The account is called Talabe Today.” ‘Talabe’ means seeker of knowledge and the page reflects images of Muslim clerics in Iran,” it says on its profile on Instagram.

The unusual account shares an array of vastly differing photos depciting clerics doing all sorts of things, from playing basketball, to using a ski-lift, to reading on the metro, and goofing around before a TV appearance. The account was started by Iranian seminary student Masoud Zareian, who wanted to give a different image to the Iranian clergy, focusing on how they fit into contemporary everyday life.

Cleric blesses himself in front of beautiful tile design in mosque
Cleric blesses himself in front of beautiful tile design in mosque Image by Talabe Today/Instagram

Iranian preachers are often portrayed as anger-inciting men with furrowed brows and long beards, inclined to fiery speeches and pronouncements denouncing the ills and influence of the ‘West’. Even in Iran the perception of clerics is often that they are too extreme and out of touch with the reality of liberal Iranians today.

But according to Zareian this is not fair nor true. Speaking to a local newspaer, he commented that the account served to “reflect a true and real picture of the social life of the clergymen of today’s Iran”. He went on to say, “many people have a wrong perception about us. I believe if we try to portray the spiritual leaders as innocent like angels, it will look a bit unreal to people. A cleric is just an ordinary person”.

A cleric smiles at a baby
A cleric smiles at a baby Image by Talabe Today/Instagram

The account has been a success, with over 12,000 followers to date, and a growing following. The images are sourced from the followers as well as from Zareian himself, who is a filmmaker and photographer as well as a seminary student.

While Instagram may seem like an unusual vehicle for such a cause, it is not in Iran. Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in Iran, but Instagram isn’t, making it extremely popular in the country. It’s used by young people and older more conservative people as well.

Two clerics take a ski-lift after a mountain walk
Two clerics take a ski-lift after a mountain walk Image by Talabe Today/Instagram

The account has received mixed support, so that while it has many fans, it has also spurred debate. Some commenters objected to the fact that women are for the most part absent from this collection of clergy life, even though they play a big part in religious life in Iran. Others commented on the fact that the clerics shouldn’t be engaging in such frivolous activities.

Cleric goes on a missionary mission with his wife and takes a selfie
Cleric goes on a missionary mission with his wife and takes a selfie Image by TableToday/Instagram

However, all in all the account is a huge hit among Iranians and is sure to help educate people better about the nature and life of muslim clerics.