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Fast Food in Qom's Hidden Half

Fast-food restaurants in Iran's religious city of Qom have become a space for younger and less conservative citizens to relax.
A cleric and a woman stand at an entrance to the shrine of Hazrat-e Massoumeh, granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad, in Qom, 120 km (75 miles) south of Tehran February 3, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz  (IRAN) - RTXB736

Many efforts have been and will be made to portray a permissible face of Qom on the national and international stage, and turn it into a model of the Islamic Iranian city, whether from the perspective of appearance and urban development or from a cultural and social perspective. From the speeches and focus of Qom’s sources of emulation and religious personalities such as Ayatollah Safi and the manager of the scholarly seminaries to the governmental personalities such as Qom's mayor and the former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they all try to show Qom’s shining features, even in following traffic rules. Indeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said on a trip to Qom that this holy city is the honor of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But Qom, like all religious cities, has another face which tries to stay hidden, and perhaps the best symbol of that can be found in its fast food.

Presenting a proper and religious appearance for Qom is so important that its religious figures are satisfied with nothing less than women wearing a chador, which is a loose black cloth covering the body from head to toe, with only the face visible. Sometimes, there are even objections to female pilgrims to Qom wearing a manteau, which is a long coat and is worn with a headscarf. Women wearing a manteau are kept away from the sanctuary of Fatema Mae’sume and other religious locations such as Jamkaran mosque. There is such sensitivity to Qom’s status and reputation that when in June 2004 the reformist Sharq newspaper published the statistics of sex crimes in Qom — which put the city at the top of Iranian cities — it was faced with vehement opposition by the city’s religious figures, and its numbers were called unreal and the result of prejudice.

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