Shiraz, Iran: Pushing the Boundaries of Islamic Law

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Shiraz is one of the most famous cities in all of Iran. Before the Revolution of 1979, people here sipped on fine Shiraz wines, recited poetry from the famous poet, Hafiz, explored the arts freely and enjoyed a more western way of life. Nowadays, the vineyards growing the famous Shiraz grapes have been destroyed. Hafiz poetry is restricted to private settings and drawing, music and dancing are practically non-existent…

street art shiraz
Colourful Streetart – The arts are somewhat alive in Shiraz

All of this is what you’re meant to think of Shiraz. However, we went there and had a totally different experience! We somehow managed to enjoy this previously liberal city the way it’s supposed to be experienced – freely, openly and relaxed.

We checked into the nicest hotel we’ve ever stayed at, Hotel Niayesh. The different styled rooms in this traditional home, turned hotel, are set around a huge, beautiful courtyard. Our room was awesome. It had a king sized bed, lots of traditional furniture, clean bathroom, fridge and tv. The best part was the 3 double, stained glass doors that opened up to the courtyard. It was stunning.

niayesh hotel shiraz
Our awesome room for 6 nights at Niayesh Hotel

We had just come from Yazd where we spent 5 nights and figured we’d continue with the theme of slow travel. We ended up staying in Shiraz for 6 nights and loved every minute of it. We wandered around the old town, stopping in at various mosques and mausoleums. We strolled through the ancient bazaar with its fabulous vaulted ceilings and peered into the many shops.

carpet salesman shiraz
Afternoon nap

The best sight of all in Shiraz was the massive Ali Ibn Hamza Shrine with its interior of glistening mirrored walls and ceilings. (no photos were allowed inside)

Ali Ibn Hamza Shrine shiraz
The outside of the Ali Ibn Hamza Shrine

After seeing many of the main sights in Shiraz, Nick and I decided to head to one of the Unesco Gardens for a day of relaxation, which turned out to be one of the most memorable days in Iran so far. As we were sitting there reading our guidebook, a timid woman and her boyfriend came by. They looked at us, whispered to each other, then looked back at us again and said “Hello”. That’s all it took. The four of us hung out for the rest of the day and into the early evening.

***Note: I’ve chosen to protect the identities of our new friends, by changing their names and not adding any photos.*** 

unesco gardens shiraz
the Unesco listed Gardens in Shiraz

Our new friends, Paris and Sam, became our companions and tour guides for the day. Paris’s English was flawless and she even had a North American accent. Sam was well spoken also. They first took us to the tomb of Hafiz. Usually there would be joyful music playing in celebration of the great poet, but because of Ashura, the months of mourning for Muslims, it was silent. Our new friends weren’t happy about this.

 “We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light!”


tomb of hafiz shiraz
The Tomb of Hafiz

Even though it’s the law for women to wear a headscarf in Iran, Paris’s headscarf was slipping further and further back on her head throughout the day. Sometimes, it was completely off of her head. She didn’t care though. She’s not Muslim, why should she? Boundaries were being pushed.

We went to the park later that day and there was a young man playing the guitar with a group of people standing around enjoying the music. “Wow, he’s brave playing music during Ashura. He could get arrested for that if anyone complained” said our new friends. Again, the boundaries were being pushed in this Islamic world.

From there, they took us out for a delicious lunch, we wandered around some more, ate ice cream and then they invited us back to their house.

masjid e nasir al molk mosque shiraz
Inside the stunning Masjid-e Nasir-al-Molk Mosque

The most amazing thing to me was that as soon as we entered into their home, the headscarves came off, hair was let down and the clothing worn at home was the same as we would wear in the west. Tight jeans, sleeveless shirts and fashionable sweaters replaced long, loose coats and shirts. The four of us (plus the spunky younger sister who came barreling down the stairs to meet the Canadians) enjoyed an evening of how I imagined it used to be back in the good ‘ol days. We spoke freely about politics, religion, literature, art, movies and travel. The couple recited poetry from a book of Hafiz poems. (debatably more people in Iran have this book than the Quran)

“Time is a factory where everyone slaves away earning enough love to break their own chains.”

– Hafiz

One of the other laws in Iran is that drinking alcohol is forbidden for Muslims. Christians and people from other religions must drink in the privacy of their home and not sell any wine or alcohol that they have made. Lucky for us, our friends had some Shiraz wine. Drinking Shiraz in Shiraz was something we really hoped to do.

bottles of red wine
Back in the good ol’ days when we were able to drink wine!

We learned that our new friends are not religious and they shared their views on what living in an Islamic State is like for them. We chatted about how they have to deal with the call to prayer, how they have to be covered up, how music and joy ceases to exist for 2 months during Ashura and how their grandmother would encourage them to wear a piece of colourful clothing each day – never all black like many of the Muslims choose to wear in Iran. It was eye-opening and fascinating.

“I wasn’t against religion until I got arrested for holding hands with my boyfriend at the age of 19”

– Spunky Sister

Except for being invited in for tea, this was our first real interaction with the people of Iran. We had a wonderful day and evening with our three new friends. We said our goodbye’s around 9:00pm and made our way back to our hotel.

On November 19th, we celebrated Nick’s birthday! He’s had many birthdays on the road (Thailand, India, Nepal and China) all of which have been special for different reasons. I tried my best to make this one fun for him and in the end, it turned out pretty good. We met some tourists from Australia, Spain and Bahrain that day at the hotel and 6 of us enjoyed an evening of hookah pipe, chocolate milkshakes and I was able to rustle up a chocolate cake with candles for Nick as well. He was even given some flowers from the awesome staff members at the hotel.

travel to shiraz
Happy Birthday to Nick!

Just as we thought the evening couldn’t have been better, the Aussie whispered that he’d like to share a drink with us in celebration of Nick’s day of birth. We thought, ok, we’ll go and order some more tea if you want. But that’s definitely not what he meant! The three of us went back into his room, closed the door and he pulled out a clear, 1.5L plastic bottle filled with a red liquid. This could only be one thing: Shiraz Wine! He had purchased it from the black market at the bazaar that day.

backpackers in shiraz
Us with our new friends from Australia, Spain and Bahrain

The three of us sat discreetly in the room, whispering and swigging from the plastic bottle. It’s so funny. The way we were acting, you would have thought we were doing hard drugs or something! If we were caught it would have been a big problem for us and our new-found Aussie friend.

That’s the thing about Iran. Even though it’s an Islamic State, everyone’s pushing the boundaries here.

What do you think about the laws in Iran? Share your views with us below!

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Shiraz- Pushing the Boundaries of Islamic Law

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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29 thoughts on “Shiraz, Iran: Pushing the Boundaries of Islamic Law”

  1. I’m so happy to hear about your positive experiences in Iran. I feel more confident to head up there in 2014. I hope I’ll bump into really nice and welcoming people, just like you did.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, thank you for sharing your experience in Iran. Paris, Sam, and Spunky Sis sound so interesting. How amazing for them to approach you, spend the day with you, AND invite you back to their place at the end. What a unique experience!

  3. This is so interesting. I can’t really imagine how awful having to live like that must if you’re not a Muslim yourself; I think I’d get seriously cheesed off with the religion (not that there aren’t plenty of other reasons to be angry at religion in general) – the quote from the spunky sister is very telling!

  4. Very interesting post! How do most locals respond to the two of you? (were Paris and Sam the exception or was everyone welcoming?). What is the availability of internet/wifi in Iran? Have met a lot of Iranians in other places (including here in Montreal), the majority being very warm, educated people. Funny how things change, hard to imagine a town in the Arab World named after a grape used for making wine!
    Frank (bbqboy)

  5. Paris and Sam were the norm actually. I can’t count how many times we were offered to come over for dinner, stay at someone’s house or just have a tea. The people in Iran were super hospitable!

    Everyone we spoke to in Iran said they had an uncle, cousin, brother or someone in Montreal! That’s too funny.

    Thanks for the comment Frank 🙂

  6. Really interesting to get a non-Muslim view of Iran! I don’t think I would be able to live there there though without getting constantly annoyed by all the laws. Good to see some people like to push the envelope a bit though!

  7. It was really great to read this. We head to Iran in March for 9 days and we are really excited.

    It’s nice to see other positive reviews of a place that so many people are afraid of.

  8. So true. I think I would get very annoyed as well. The non-Muslims have lived there before all of these rules and laws came to be. So they don’t want to leave because they still love their country, it’s their home.

    Thanks for the comment Beth.

  9. That’s so exciting that you’re going to Iran! We were there for 32 days and could’ve spent longer. It was a great country. A bit annoying to have to cover up every day, but that wouldn’t make me not go there.

    Have a great time. Let us know if you have any questions.

  10. Really great post! Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight into Iran. I’d love to go, but as an American I am hesitant (albeit I know chances are it would be fine). Some day though!

    We were recently in Malaysia for 3 weeks, which is a moderate Muslim country. We really enjoyed the diversity and how friendly people were. We almost went to Brunei, which is an Islamic State, but ultimately the plans fell through unfortunately.

  11. Thanks guys!
    Unfortunately, as Americans, you have to go on a tour to Iran 🙁 You can’t travel independently there. On the bright side though, it could be just you two and a guide, which would give you a great insight into the country without having lots of people around.

    Isn’t Malaysia great?! We also found that the people were awesome and very friendly. Brunei is also a cool country, very expensive though!

    Thanks a lot for the comment, Happy Holidays!

  12. Thanks and Happy New Year! That makes sense that Americans need to be guided around Iran, given that they are wary of Americans spying (with good reason). I very briefly spoke to a friendly Iranian guide at World Travel Market in London in November just out of curiosity. Also had a chat with Iraq and I loved their huge exhibit because they had delicious dates stuffed with walnuts 🙂

    I have a European passport too and Bell is Australian so technically we can go to Iran and backpack around like you guys did. But I’m still American and pretending not to be and somehow getting caught would probably not sit well in Iran. Did a lot of people think you two were American?

    Yeah Malaysia was indeed great, aside from some horrible food poisoning. And the expense of Brunei was ultimately why we decided to leave it for some day in the future. Cheers!

  13. Hey guys,

    That’s great that you have dual citizenship, I didn’t realize that. I think that if everyday, ordinary people asked where you’re from, you could say that you’re American but you have “X” passport because ________. Which would bring up some interesting conversation.

    However, if the people at immigration ask you, it may be a different story 🙂 Definitely say you’re from Oz/Europe if asked. I wouldn’t even have my US Passport on you if I were you.

    The people of Iran don’t hate Americans, they just don’t agree with the govermment and its policies. In fact, most wouldn’t even know that Americans need to travel to their country with a guide. We weren’t assumed we were from the US, they always asked “Where are you from”?

    I’m sure you guys would have a very positive experience there.

    Happy Travels 🙂

  14. That’s great advice if we make it to Iran! Thanks guys!

    I’m pretty used to not travelling with the US passport these days. In Europe I used to travel with my American passport so I could get stamps but that almost got me in trouble a couple years ago on the train going from Croatia to Slovenia. I had left my European passport in Croatia and luckily I was able to avoid being fined for “overstaying my European tourist visa.”

    I learned my lesson and within Europe I just take the European one and forgo some stamp opportunities as I learned it’s not worth it 🙂

    Thanks again and cheers guys! 🙂

  15. Close call! Ya, I think that’s the best plan. You know, when we were in Greece and Spain, we just politely asked immigration if they could give us a stamp anyways…and they did!

    Happy travels 🙂

  16. I am an Iranian from thks lovely city shiraz.
    Now I m studying in Germany..
    I can’t understand it, why so many persons, dont search about the facts, and then they believe everything they see in News and western medias..??
    The humanright and something aganst the gov, are something to be used to pressure on us, as a country with money oil strategic map and …
    Before thjs gov, was shah, but the west countries were against him in last years of hjs ruling also… u can read even the memories of the Shah,whjch is now published.
    There is long history about the cruely thing that England. And USA have done with my country…
    Maybe we have some problems like all c ountries
    Are christians and we are muslim,more than 90% in my country are muslim and according to democracy we have Islamic rules
    Thank u….
    Dont believe the lies aby my country
    Big problem in Human right u can find now in Saudi arabia- Israel-Bahrain…
    Somewehr u dont hear in the news enough abt that

    They want

  17. Hey Goats,

    Your stories are inspiring. I’m British born & raised with a British passport, but my dad is Iranian.

    I went to visit family when I was 9 years old on an Iranian passport… I so desperately want to go back and explore more of the beautiful country that is my heritage, but given my surname I’m unable to travel on a British Passport and if I go in on an Iranian one I lose the right to assistance from the British consulate should anything go awry during my trip.

    I work in the tourism industry and i truly hope that one day Iran will be slightly easy to access for me.

    I am in awe reading your experiences there and seeing the photographs.

    Tash 🙂

  18. “Nowadays, the vineyards growing the famous Shiraz grapes have been destroyed. Hafiz poetry is restricted to private settings and drawing, music and dancing are practically non-existent.”

    I hope my sincere comment doesn’t particularly bother you, but there was something I felt may help saying. I’ve seen how foreign tourists who travel to Iran frankly abhor whatever propaganda Western media had hitherto fed them about Iran, all shatter the very moment they set foot in Iran. I’ve read lots of those first-hand experiences. I’ve very much adored them. but till, there’s at points this little thingie… I feel like people are just leaving stereotypes behind about Iran, for just some new stereotypes!

    Long take here, and I don’t mean anything bad, but I’m just curious, how could you just find out that “Hafez poetry is restricted to private settings” in a way that you could reliably relate and introduce as-is? Music and drawing are practically non-existent!? The only truth to the above sentences is probably where it says dancing is supposedly banned in ‘publlic’, though with its own exceptions at some traditional setting, but only that. Even the famous Shiraz vineyards to best of my knowledge have not been destroyed, but changed application.

    Then I also read other things. This other day guys at Uncornered Market heard a certain Stevie Wonder singing in the background in a setting as probable as Tehran, and they went crazy like this: “Playing music — and Western music for certain — in public is not allowed in Iran.” !!!! GOD, but says who?! If not the same abhorable media or let’s say western common sense.

    I must even go as far as saying you had baseless fear you might’ve lost control of your veil while asleep on a night bus trip in Iran (or day, for that matter), because everyone else would perfectly understand; or your otherwise good take on Ashura where you took a certain unbeliever in Islam as to represent the whole community, whatever percentage non-believers make of a diverse 80 million strong population. Even huge parts of the not-believing-in-God party respect and often mourn the ritual in Muharram, let alone Christians or Jews or Zoroastrians, something that already transcends Iranian religious and political borders. That’s interestingly probably an answer to Imam Hussain’s own call, “if you don’t believe in religion or the Day of Judgment, at least live as free men in this world.” From tyranny and arrogance.

    Again, I don’t mean to sound like mean, but I’m just curious, how could you just find out that “Hafez poetry is restricted to private settings” in a way that you could reliably relate to wannabe tourists? Not that they are many.

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