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Rapper Faces Death Threats in Iran

From The New York Times

By THOMAS ERDBRINK

TEHRAN — With lyrics that tread on ultrasensitive topics and an album cover that shows the dome of a mosque in the shape of a woman’s breast, Shahin Najafi is an international rapper who elicits an intense reaction here.

Schahryar Ahadi/dapd

But Mr. Najafi’s latest song, “Naghi,” named after a Shiite saint, has prompted a particular uproar. Opponents of Mr. Najafi are using a recent fatwa by a leading cleric, Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani, which labels all those insulting the 10th Shiite imam, Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, also known as Imam Naghi, as apostates. An Islamist Web site then offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills Mr. Najafi, who was born in Iran, raps in Persian but lives in Germany.

In his song, Mr. Najafi asks for Imam Naghi to return instead of the 12th imam, the Shiite messiah. He cynically raps that Iranians are ready to sacrifice themselves with the imam’s help to solve problems like “shallow slogans” and “Chinese-made prayer rugs.” The song is laden with rough street language.

Shia-Online.ir, an Iranian Web site, said that Mr. Najafi had gone too far in insulting the imam, who is revered by Shiite Muslims. The site’s manager, Fouad Ebadi, said the $100,000 bounty was offered by someone from an Arab state on the Persian Gulf. “We do not want to reveal his identity, in order to protect him,” he said.

Mr. Najafi, 31, said he did not intend to criticize Islam. “I thought there would be some ramification,” he told Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster, according to Reuters. “But I didn’t think it would upset the regime that much. Now they are taking advantage of the situation and making it look like I was trying to criticize religion and put down believers.”

On Facebook, which millions of young Iranians use for heated debates on subjects that state television will never discuss, several pages attacking and defending Mr. Najafi have popped up.

One page, liked by nearly 1,000 people, showed a picture of the rapper with the text, “We will kill you, you animal.” Mr. Najafi’s supporters called for the page to be closed and said his song was an example of free speech.

Being labeled an apostate could be punishable by death under Islamic laws in Iran. Still, the fatwa is different from the religious death verdict issued in 1989 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against the British writer Salman Rushdie over his book “The Satanic Verses” because it was made by a religious leader who has no political role.

“Just as Florida pastor Terry Jones, who last month burned Korans, does not represent the United States government, this fatwa does not represent the government of Iran,” said Sadollah Zarei, a columnist for the hard-line state Kayhan newspaper. “This is done by a religious group in our society.”

Ramtin Rastin contributed reporting.

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