Iran - Giving something back


Giving something back

From talking to people in Iran and asking them about ‘travelling positively’, the reaction is always the same: tell your friends and family how much you enjoyed your visit to Iran.

The concept of ‘charity’ differs in each culture, and both Iranian officials and individuals will be affronted by any action they see as patronising and interventionist. On all streets, there are metal charity-box stands, often decorated with a rose or tulip symbol, placed by the kerb. If you wish, you can contribute money. These boxes are usually for the Emdad organisation for orphans and the poor; its administrators are responsible to the Supreme Leader. An important series of charitable trusts is Bonyad (one of which is the Organisation for the Oppressed and Disabled of the Islamic Revolution), which administers most of the Iranian property and holdings of the late Shah’s Pahlavi Foundation charity, and of former high-ranking courtiers. (Thus a number of tourist hotels are run by Bonyads.) Said to be the franchise holder of Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen and Toyota, the full scale and financial value of the Bonyad assets is not known as there is no legal requirement to make its annual accounts public; its head answers only to the Supreme Leader and over 40,000 people are in its direct employment.

There is also the vaqf, or religious endowment, for mosques and other religious buildings. Since early Islamic times, individuals and businesses have assigned property and/or rents over to a building to pay for its upkeep, repairs and equipment. Thus a popular monument might be awash with funds but another falling into terminal decline. For instance, the person heading the vaqf administration for the Shrine of Imam Reza, Mashhad, is responsible for donations and also for investment in all associated economic activities such as manufacturing, farming, housing projects and food-processing plants. It is one of the most influential and wealthy institutions and, as with the Bonyad, its head reports to the Supreme Leader and there is no legal requirement for the publication of annual accounts.

From talking to people in Iran and asking them about ‘travelling positively’, the reaction is always the same: tell your friends and family how much you enjoyed your visit to Iran. So the greatest gift to them will be in disseminating accurate information rather than hyperbole about the current situation in Iran, arguing for and promoting a better understanding. And, of course, redistributing some of your hard-earned money in the bazaars of Iran will improve the lot of everyone.

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