The Treasures of Iran, with Excerpts on Hafiz by His Highness the Aga Khan III

By Muslim and Nevin Harji

Editor’s note: Muslim and Nevin Harji of Montreal, PQ, Canada, visited Iran for a period of four weeks in October 2011. A magnificent collection of photos portraying the people and foods of Iran appeared in the first installment, followed by a series of historical photos of the ruins of Alamut, the 13th century Ismaili stronghold. The Harjis summarized their unforgettable journey as follows:

“There are no words to describe the hospitality, kindness, love and gentleness of the Iranian people. So far we have ventured into over forty countries, but never have we experienced such generosity. Our bodies may be back in Montreal, but Iranian hospitality has stolen our hearts which are probably somewhere either in Esfahan or Shiraz.”

A statue of the Iranian poet Hafiz, who was born in Shiraz in 1315 and died there in 1390. He is a beloved figure of the Iranian people, who learn his verses by heart. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

In this third and final part,  “The Treasures of Iran,” we publish some of the remaining stunning photos provided to us by the Harjis. Among this set is a collection of three photos related to the great Iranian poet, Hafiz. The late Ismaili Imam, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan was a great admirer of Hafiz, and he spoke about the poet at length in his inaugural lecture made before the Iran Society on November 9, 1936 in London, United Kingdom. Appropriately, we publish below excerpts from his speech as they specifically relate to Hafiz.  The sub-titles are our own.


“I want to define clearly what I mean by spiritual forces – I do not use this term in any question-begging sense. I do not wish to limit it merely to religious or such ideas, or to give it any other worldly interpretation, but I do mean anything that deals with man’s life of the spirit here and now on this earth and in this life. Whatever may or may not be the soul’s future, there is one impregnable central fact in existence: that here and now, in this world, we have a soul which has a life of its own in its appreciation of truth, beauty, harmony and good against evil. Has modern Iran greatly contributed to the perfectioning of the soul of man thus understood? Modern Iran I define as the ancient race of that high plateau, influenced by the faith of Islam and the imaginative poetry and declamation of Arabia, welded into one by a process of slow intermarriage and movement of many races from north, west, east and south. What has this Iran done for the satisfaction of man’s highest aspirations?

“Whatever the cause, after Islam had for three or four centuries taken deep root in Iran the genius of the race blossomed out, and for all the centuries right down to our own times that garden, in spite of the terrible visitations that so often submerged it, has never ceased to bring forth roses of rare fragrance.

“Anwari, Nizami, Mawlana Rumi, Saadi, Qa‘ani and a host of others – each in his own way gave a message to mankind. But the fundamental point of each message if carefully studied is that man’s greatest of all treasures, the greatest of all his possessions, was the inherent, ineffaceable, everlasting nobility of his own soul. In it there was for ever a spark of true divinity which could conquer all the antagonistic and debasing elements in nature. And let me once more stress that this faith in the soul of man expressed in a great variety of ways – in prose and verse, in art and architecture – was not simply a religious or mystic faith but an all-embracing and immediate contact with a fact which, in every human being, is the central fact of existence.

Mausoleum of Hafiz in Shiraz, Iran. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.


“Then came Hafiz – by far the greatest singer of the soul of man. In him we can find all the strivings, all the sorrow, all the victories and joys, all the hopes and disappointments of each and every one of us. In him we find contact, direct and immediate, with the outer universe interpreted as an infinite reality of matter, as a mirror of an eternal spirit, or indeed (as Spinoza later said) an absolute existence of which matter and spirit alike are but two of infinite modes and facets. It is not for nothing that his “Divan” has become, throughout the East, the supreme fal nama (book of divination) of millions and millions far beyond the confines of Iran.

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in the darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being! – Hafiz 

“Any attempt at translation of Hafiz has always led to immense disappointment. The explanation is simple; he was not merely the Hafiz of the Qur’an, but well acquainted with the whole field of philosophy, history, poetry and literature, with the highest thought then known to his countrymen. In each verse, with the intense concentration of thought and wisdom so singularly his own, he has produced in amazing variety facets of truth and beauty, of meaning and wisdom. I have myself tried my hand at seeing in how many ways, and with how many totally different meanings, verses of his could be translated into either English or French. I think it is no figure of speech to say that far too many versions and explanations of each word could be given, and that each verse could be interpreted according to the intelligence that one wished to reach.

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky – Hafiz

“This, perhaps, will explain why Hafiz has always been (as no other great poet can claim to be) the national poet, the national hero, of Iran. Pushkin, Goethe and Shakespeare in the West; Al Mutannabi, Abu Nawas and Firdawsi in the East – all of them great, indeed supreme, kings in the realm of poetry – could never reach their humblest subjects. The uncultured peasants of the West, or the equally humble intelligences of the East, could never absorb their full meaning or beauty. Hafiz is different. Not only in his own Persia but in India, in Afghanistan, in Central Asia and even amongst Turkish and Arabic-speaking peoples, the moment his verses are understood you will always find an interpretation of most of them that could appeal to the humblest as well as the highest of intelligences. No wonder the muleteers call him their friend and companion! No wonder the cobbler and the water-carrier find in him – as do the keenest intellects of Asia – solace and satisfaction!

The Canopy with intricate design and verses of Qur'an over Hafiz's Tomb.
Shiraz, Iran. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.


“One of the greatest living Hindu statesmen, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, once told me that in all difficult moments of his life he turns to Hafiz. I think there is no one of Iranian race alive today who has not at some time or other – in difficulty, sorrow and misery, or in joy and triumph – turned to his national hero for comfort or further elation.

I have learned so much from God
That I can no longer call myself
a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself with me
That I can no longer call myself
a man, a woman, an angel, or even a pure soul.
Love has befriended Hafiz.
It has turned to ash and freed me
Of every concept and image my mind has ever known – Hafiz

“Soon after the death of Hafiz the worst periods of political and social anarchy, of invasion and disruption, broke up the high civilisation already reached in Iran. Bismarck and other statesmen and historians have said that Germany as the battle-ground of Europe could never bring about – except at a terrible sacrifice – the peace, civilisation and unity characteristic of England and France. Persia was the battleground of Asia. But the genius of Hafiz was never submerged. Whenever peace came, in howsoever limited a form, the eternal tree bore fruit. Hafiz taught the appreciation of beauty, love, gentleness and kindliness; the value of all human beings; the constant glory and splendour and joy of the universe in which we live; the wonder of communion with nature.

“Surely now there is room for us to turn to the spirit of Hafiz’s teaching. For if ever there was a time when we needed the universality of Hafiz as a guiding light it is today when there are forces that threaten the roots of humanity.”

Link to text of full speech of His Highness the Aga Khan III follows photos below.

* * * * *

Darvaze-Qur'an or the Qur'an gate , in Shiraz, Iran, is an ark shaped monument near Qur'an Square. It used to be on Shiraz-Esfahan road at the far northeast of the city. A hand written Qur'an was placed at the top chamber of the arc, so that the passengers who were leaving the city or entering, would pass under the Qur'an for good luck, blessings and safety on their travels. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

Nasr al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

The interior pf the Nasr al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. The mosque extensively uses colored glass in its facade, and displays other traditional elements such as panj k seh-i (five concaves) in its design. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

"Roads from nowhere to nowhere." Dasht-e-Kavir desert. Eastern Iran. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

Kharanaq is an ancient mud-brick village, continuously inhabited for over 4000 years. It is in the middle of two deserts and surrounded by beautiful mountains. Parts of the village are over 1000 years old. Only a few families live there now –as most of them have moved to the more comfortable and modern parts of the village. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

The Music Room at Alighapoo Palace. Situated on the sixth floor, there are deep curvy niches cut on the walls in form of shelves which account for the pleasing sound effects in the room. This room is also tastefully decorated, but the acoustic quality of the room is its main attraction. All carvings are done in forms of various musical instruments of the time. Carvings in the Roof of the music room at the Alighapoo Palace was designed in a way that two musicians created enough echo for impression of a full orchestra. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

Built during the Safavid period in the 17th century, this mosque represents the finest in Islamic Architecture of Iran. The Shah Mosque of Esfahan, named as the Imam Mosque once Ayatollah Khomeini became Iran's Supreme Leader following the disposal of the Shah in 1979, is registered along with the Naghsh-i Jahan Square (below) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its construction began in 1611, and its splendor lies in the beauty of its seven-colour mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

Naghsh-i Jahan Square with calligraphy at its finest, which include the Names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and Hazrat Ali as well as Qur'anic Ayats. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque; see details next photo. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

* * * *

The magnificent dome of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, which is referred by different names such as 'the mosque with the great dome' and 'the mosque of great purity and beauty'. The pale tiles of the dome change color, from cream through to pink, depending on the light conditions. It is one of the architectural masterpieces of Safavid Iranian architecture, standing on the eastern side of Naghsh-i Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran. Construction of the mosque started in 1603 and was finished in 1618. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.


Date posted: Friday, April 27, 2012.
Date updated: Saturday, April 28, 2012

© Copyright: Muslim/Nevin Harji, April 2012.

Please see previous installments:
Iran Through a Canadian Lens
The Ruins of Alamut


About the writers: Nevin and Muslim Harji live happily in Montreal, where, over the last 35 years, they have raised two children and run a successful business. Upon retirement in 2004, Muslim and Nevin truly started to explore the world. All told, together and individually, they have visited more than 40 countries around the globe, experiencing the beauty of the Middle East, the exoticism of Asia and the wonders of South America. Kayaking the Magellan Straights, exploring Palmyra by camel, hiking up to Alamut Fort in Iran or travelling by overnight train in India, Nevin and Muslim have always favoured unique ways of experiencing the countries they visit and plan to continue fostering their love for travelling the world.


The full text of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speech can be read at the website of the Institute of Ismaili Studies. Please click Hafiz.

Enchanting poetry by Hafiz – please clik  Astrodreamadvisor – Hafiz, and visit other internet sites by entering “Hafiz” in search engines.

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21 thoughts on “The Treasures of Iran, with Excerpts on Hafiz by His Highness the Aga Khan III

  1. Absolutely charming and fascinating account of your travels dear Muslim and Nevin. So proud to have met you both.
    Moin and Agnes Kermani

  2. Muslim & Nevin,
    What a wonderful experience this must have been! Thanks for shaing some of it with us.
    Omer & Tehzib Morad

  3. Nevin and Muslim bhai – Thank you for sharing your amazing experience with us. What a treat! I love it, love it, love it.

  4. Thanks Muslim and Nevin Harji for sharing your experiences in Iran through Simerg; beautiful pictures and few verses of Hafiz’s poetry, very inspiring and catchy, one feels dropping everything and engage with his poetry. Soon will be attempting to do so.

  5. Wonderful and educational – for the time and interest you devote to share this with your Ismaili brothers and sisters, may mawla give you strengh to continue.

  6. A poet is someone
    Who can pour light into a cup,
    Then raise it to nourish
    Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.

    As the words of Hafiz, your photos do this, too. Many thanks!

  7. Wonderful, thank you so much for sharing such an unique and rare as well as amazing knowledge, great ideas and positive, constructive history of our past cultures and civilizations, not only to learn more and more but to see the pictures and gauge the interests in architectural design’s concept approaches of our past history.

  8. Simply breathtaking. Beautiful, awesome and frankly very inspiring and informative. There is so much history and beauty in Iran. However, all is over shadowed by the politics between East & West.

  9. As with all your other pictures, Muslim and Nevin, these pictures are a treat for the eyes, and a joy to behold. A wonderful way to travel the world for us armchair travellers! I enjoyed the commentary as well. Thank you for allowing us to share your experiences.

  10. This is a great collection. Spiritually elevating. Great job! Inspires to visit Shiraz, and get hands on experience.
    Roshi Khaki

  11. Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures; and Simerg your devotion to these great articles is so fantastic. May you receive barkat, ameen !

  12. Nevin and Muslim Harji – Beautiful, Brilliant and Breath taking … thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures and your account of the trip. Where to next?

    And Simerg, kudos to your continuing dedication to bring amazing contributions from around the world and enlightening us.

    Mashallah, Alhamdulillah.

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