Religion As Occupation: Women`s Maddah in Iran

Case study: Maddah woman in Tehran’s Hashemi Neighborhood

Elham Shahsavarzade


 Religious celebrations in memory of the holy character of shi`ism are most apparent and most popular in Iran. Two characters are considerable of these celebrations are rowzekhan and maddah. While women are absent among rowzekhan, the figure of the woman maddah is well known in Iran. Her task is to facilitate meetings of religious women in private homes. 

She is paid according to its fame, the quality of his work and the date of the ceremony. The study of Maddah, who has made religion as her profession, is the subject of this article.

Key world: Maddah, Rowzekhan, Shi'iet, Case study, Feminine rituals


One of the most common collective symbols of shi’iet is gathering to pay regard to the memory of the sacred characters of shi’iet.  These gatherings have been hold across Iran during the year, especially in religious months of Muharam, Safar and Ramadan, exclusively for women or men, and sometimes for both gender at the same time in one place (Bahar, 1381). Although in the most of these gatherings the suffers of Imam Hossein in Karbala’s event are mentioned, suffers of Fatemeh- Daughter of - Prophet Mohammad- after his father‘s death and the suffers of Ali- husband of Fatemeh- during the period that he was deprived from the power. Each gathering has its special form depends on the time of ceremony and the place of it in different parts of Iran. In a large city like Tehran, which there is different combination of population and migrants from all regions in Iran with different economic and cultural backgrounds, these are varieties of these ceremonies.  This article emphasizes on one of the poor neighborhood in south-west of Tehran, called Hashemi, which majority of its inhabitants are simple and unprofessional workers or people having retail business. In addition the level of education among middle age people in thisneighborhood is low. In such neighborhoods the network of neighborhood relations has been remained unchanged and the structure of religious gathering especially among women preserved its traditional forms.

Thefocus of the present article is exclusively on feminine gathering in Hashemi neighborhood. The methodology of this research is case study which helps to deep understanding a subject in a special limited time to describe a professional life of a Maddah woman (Bertaux, 1981). The main question is: how has Maddahi been established as a possible job for women? What kind of market guarantees its survival and instead of which services?



Several methods have been applied in parallel to reveal the context which Maddahi as a job has been established and to describe the professional life of a Maddah woman. In a way that a feminine researcher with wearing Chaddor, traditional clothes for Iranian women, participate in these gatherings to observe them, and after the meeting announce them her identity as a researcher to make agreement with the participants about sharing and using the acquired information. This method decrease the effect of direct presence of researcher on the participants; although it possible that the presence of a young and unfamiliar person is visible for them, because the news of holding such meetings often  spread via neighbors and relatives, and usually  strangers far from the neighborhood haven’t participate in the gathering. The researcher to analyze the observations about the essence of these kinds of meetings and the role of Maddah in them compared them with the other researcher's findings. Also we did a census to understand how many times Maddah’s services are demanded in the neighborhood and also to understand the level of their popularity among women. We asked inhabitants what kind of religious meetings they held in their home during one year. In addition, we interviewed with Maddah and the person who held such meetings.


The professional context of Maddah:

Religious gathering in Iran is not restricted just to mosques; many people in their homes with their budget hold these ceremonies in different months of year. They usually invite their friends, relatives and neighbors. In addition, the person who is responsible of the ceremony put a flag with green religious slogan on it, in front of their house to show that they are holding a religious ceremony. The function of this symbol is that other persons know about it and can participate in the ceremony without pervious invitation. In high class areas of the city, people instead of flag, normally use designed banners, printed colored announcements or even online advertisements for public informing. These kind of religious gatherings are current in personal homes for women exclusively and both for women and men simultaneously. In the latter, usually the interior spaces of home are allocated to women, and entertaining men. Hospitality of the women sitting in the interior has been done by women or the boys who has not yet reached puberty (Bahar, 1382). These kinds of gatherings normally are held to mourn for Imam Hossein, Hazrate Fatemeh, Imam Ali, and Hazrat Mohammad. Or to say some special pray in the Friday's morning and night. Women in such gathering just hear to men because in Islam it is Harram that men hear the voice of women (Fayaz Rahnamasheh). Exclusively feminine gatherings have more diversity in the forms of Roozeh, Sofreh, reading Quran and singing for the birth day of sacred personality (Moolodi). If we can describe the household gathering, in fact we can describe the characteristics of all other forms of women gathering in mosques. In Hashemi neighborhood, there is just one gathering in the mosque for teaching Quran reading, the rest are held in homes in accordance with the suitable time for the housewife, i.e. near the time of lunch and supper that women should prepare food, we are not witness of any gathering. Or in holidays because of the presence of husband and children in home and need to spend quality time for them, such gatherings normally are not held. Also near Nourooz(Iranian New year), when women are expected clean the house, the occurrences of these gatherings are too rare.

Women may hold one gathering weekly, monthly or yearly regularly. We asked all the women who attended at their homes at the time we were interviewing what kind of gathering they held in their house in the past year. Among 213, 156 were responder that we can categorized their response in the below table:

Meetings which are held regularly evry year

Meetings just happened last year

Terminate reading Quran during Ramadan (8years)

Sofreh Of Imam Hassan

Roozeh every Wednesday morning )30 years)

Cooking Samano for birthday of Fatemeh Zahra

Roozeh for Hazrate Fatemeh martyrdom(3 years)

Cooking Ash Reshteh in the First night Of Moharam

Moolodi for Imam reza’s birthday)16 years)

Sofreh of Hazrat Abbas in Shaval

Cooking Ash Reshteh in the first day of every Mooney month)

Moolodi in the Half of Sha’ban


Roozeh in the last ten days of Safar

Terminate the Joshan Kabir in the Ramadan

Sofreh Of Hazrate Roghayeh

3 days Roozeh for Hazrate Fatemeh martyrdom

Moolodi for the selection of Mohammad as a prophet


Each of these gatherings has its ritual and practices. In the gathering called Nazri Pazan, women gather to help each other in distributing the ritual Food, the sacred verse of these kind of meeting is Salavat. After serving food, Participant say pray for the lord of the home. In these meeting there is no a person who centrally managed the session.

In other kind of gatherings, named Roozeh khani, usually the suffering of Imam Hossein and Hazrat Fatemeh And other Shi’et Imams are mentioned and women cry. In the past, the managers of this gathering always were a man, called Roozeh khan. The duty of Rozaeh khan was narrating the historical narrations about sacred personalities, so they should have knowledge about the Islam History, while Maddah has the role of stimulating the religious passion and feelings of audience (KahirzadehT 1388). So Roozeh khanan are among clergymen who have more scientific knowledge about the history of Islam. Of course it may that in a gathering which all audiences are women; women play the role of Roozeh khan. This phenomenon after Islamic revolution has become more current because of expansion of religious education.

In other meetings, named KHatm, Moolodi or Sofreh, manager is a woman, called Maddah. The duty of a Maddah is reading Quran and other parays loudly and accurately. Also inspired meeting by singing some poem from well known poets. Moolody’s poem usually makes people happy. In rich areas of city, music and dancing also are used in these meetings (Dastoori, 1384) but in old neighborhoods like Hashemi, women just by clapping support the Maddah and sometimes children dance with these poems.

The nature of poems in Roozeh or Khatm is sad in a way that it makes women cry, while in meeting called Sofreh, each of them may be read (sad or happy songs). In the end of session Maddah says some moral points and answers some questions about applied religious problems.


Professional teachings:

There is a well-known and popular woman, named Kobra, in Hashemi neighborhood. She learns reading Quran to the middle age women who usually are illiterate, one day in a week in the mosque. She attends in the other days in the meetings holding in her neighborhood or other near neighborhoods. Kobra has 56 years old. She married a religious man when she had 16 years old. Because of marriage, she had to abandon her education at that time, but after Islamic revolution, while having 2 children, she started her education again and received Diploma. By initiating the war, the presences of women became more in mosque to prepare the needs of the fronts. Kobra Also took part in the mosque to help the fronts. Kobra’s husband was killed in the first years of the war and her son also was killed at the last year of the war when he was a young boy, then Kobra become the responsible of two her other children.

Kobra’s Mother held Roozeh session s for only women every year in her home, in addition Kobra took part in other religious gathering with her mother. Kobra learnt many poems which she now reads in her meetings, from that childhood gatherings. Kobra make a friendship with a woman who was Maddah during the years she went to the mosque to help the fronts. That woman was so active in organizing the programs for helping the fronts. This woman took Kobra to the different religious gathering and encourages her to perform the programs and sing in the sessions so she had done it several times. Her sonorant voice affects the audience and they encourage her to continue. After that Kobra become fame in their family and relative’s religious gatherings. From those years, Kobra wrote down the poems, historical narrations, moral stories and proverbs that professional Maddahs or clergymen used in their programs. Her source for Maddahi is this notebook in addition to Quran and Mafatih Al-janan, the most important sacred book of Shi'a.

Kobra's client have known her from such gatherings and introduced her to others. In fact knowing a Maddah and inviting her has been done via neighbors and relatives networks.  The price for these sessions normally depends on the financial capability of these neighbors and relatives. In rich areas of the city of course the famous Maddahs who with mystical music bands and audio technologies perform their programs, themselves define their price (Dastori, 1384).


Professional duties:

The majority of attendants in the religious gathering are formed from middle age women who have a little literacy. Some young women who have higher education in comparison with the previous generation, may attend in these gatherings accompany with their mothers or mother-in- law. A research done in 1387 claimed that because of the overusing of the religious symbols and concepts, the young generation doesn’t pay attention to these gatherings any more. But Kobra believes that the reason of the absence of young generation from these meetings is television. Because the presence of authoritative clergies in the national television, young people prefer to follow their programs, and just to visit their friends come to religious local gatherings. Of course based on the behavior of middle age women in these gatherings we can say that they also come there just to visit their friends and relatives. Because they are constantly speaking with each other and Maddah is constantly invite them to silence. In fact the function of leisure of collective life that acquired by cutting the daily activities is visible in these kind of gatherings especially for low class women that their gathering usually is based on religion. It was a point that Hashemi’s women, themselves mentioned to us. Another research (1382) claimed that the after Islamic revolution this kind of gathering little by little turn to a kind of pleasure and leisure , because of establishment of religious courses in schools and out of them, clergymen and Maddah have lost their functions in the society. With a glimpse on the religious questions that normally have been asked from Maddah, this point becomes clearer and acceptable. The religious commands related to Nejasat in the menstrual period and the commands related to intercourse; incidentally we should know that Kobra’s knowledge about Feqeh and Quran interpretation is not much more than the other women. Given a description of Kobra’s typical behavior in a session of religious gathering (Roozeh  and Moolodi) can determine the exact professional duties of a Maddah).

In every gathering (Majles) there is a special place for Maddah’s sitting. The houses in this neighborhood are so small that there is no need to complicated voice system. These special places are differentiated from other places for instance by a little table covered by a green piece of fabricates. In some houses put a chair for Maddah and audiences sit on the floor. Although Kobra wears a chador like other women, but her appearance obviously is different from other women, she wear Arabic scarf which in addition to hide her hair, hide a part of her face too. Kobra start to reading loudly without any greeting and by several fabricated coughing forbids others women from greeting each other. Then she says some pray for the health of host and like a media announcer define her program. Before the starting the major program, she says regard to sacred Imams specially Mohamad and Fatemeh, then she open her Mafatih Al-janan and gives some time to other women who also have the book to join her. There are some breaks between readings verses that host can hospitalize participants and they can talk freely with each other, this time management is the best skill of Kobra. She should not let women spend all the time to talk each other incidentally she shouldn’t annoy them by  interrupting  their talking, so she allow them speak freely and then she herself joins them and cut their talking politely. Roozeh and Moolodi are very flexible. Women can talk with each other and eat something when Kobra is narrating a moral story or something like this.

There are some moments that everybody has been affected by Maddah. These moments usually accompanied by participant’s crying and mourning and demanding from God. Maddah's in Roozeh usually emphasis on the suffering of the Zeinab and her little daughter, Roghayeh. Zeinab is the sister of Imam Hossein. The event of Karbala is the current theme of Roozeh. The narration of Fatemeh’s passion after his Father, Mohammad death also affects people. The effect of these narrations is so high that Maddahs usually in all their gathering retell these events.


The influence of the audience in Madahi

There is another time Madah can affect her audience. At the end of each session, it’s common that the people pray for their routine problems all together and ask God and Shi'a Imams to help them. Madah names a holy person for each problem and by reading some poems or stories ask them to help their followers. This part is the most innovative part of Kobra’s responsibilities. In this part, she shows that she knows the problems of the audience very well and changes them proper to the changes of the society. She says she herself didn’t pray for the problems of addiction, unemployment, divorce and the young girls not caring about Hijab until resents years, but know that there are lots of this problems in the society, the audience ask her to ask God to solve these problems. Therefore, the main responsibility of Madah in these sessions is to attract the audience and make them feel sympathy so that at the end of the session they feel their beliefs have been renewed and have become stronger.



Up to now, nothing is said about money. Before the last words Kobra lists the needs of the charity of the mosque and then she takes out a packet from her bag in which there is some money and then says with a loud voice, “the women who want to help put money into this packet”. Some of the women come and put some notes into the packet, thank Kobra and say goodbye.  The host comes too but she doesn’t put the money into the packet. She gives it secretly to Kobra and thanks her. In the poor Hashemi neighborhood, this money is between 2000 and 10000 tomans(1-3$). This way Kobra gets heir wage but her and her clients think she doesn’t do Madahi for money and theses sessions are just for the sake of God. Having interviewed some of the organizers of religious sessions, we understood that they believe this money is spent to please God, because on one hand, Kobra herself is both the mother and the wife a martyr and on the other hand, she works for charities and spends this money on them.

That the clients and the Madah should be both pleased doesn’t mean that there isn’t a rule for prices. If someone pays Kobra less than what she expects, she refuses to accept her or her family’s invitation next time. Therefore, that person understands she should pay more from now on. This hidden request for more money scatters very fast among the neighbors and soon everyone knows about that. Therefore, without a word being said, the price of these services is defined.



Kobra, the Madah being studied in this paper is a woman who has been able to enhance her skills of handling a session, which she has learned from the religious sessions in childhood, in the time of war in which the women come to the mosques and religious places more. The responsibilities of earning money for the family’s needs after the war made her choose a job. A job, that didn’t need the academic, professional or even religious education, which she didn’t have but could flourish what she had from experiences. In addition, the possibility of being in the women’s religious society has been a kind of safety for a widow in the south neighborhoods of Tehran. She neither has invested any money nor has done any marketing but has used the family and neighbors’ net. This is what has helped her earn a living without paying any taxes like many other women in Iran, who are responsible for their families. In fact, this job even in the very professional cases of the north of the city isn’t considered in the official financial cycle of Iran. The customer of Kobra’s services is the religion of those women who protect their beliefs eagerly without paying attention to the advertisement of the official religion, the elite or the critics and strengthen them by Kobra’s help. This religious market is flexible and changes according to the changes of the context of society, and continues to live. Therefore, it causes a flourishing market for Kobra.

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