Music shakes off taboo to heal disabled Iranians

Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:43am EDT
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By Ramin Mostafavi

TEHRAN (Reuters Life!) - As Sadeq Jafari switched on his electric piano, his students shunted their wheelchairs enthusiastically around him to rehearse new songs.

Music therapy, a common practice in large parts of the world, is extremely rare in Iran, where conservative clerics outlawed pop music after the country's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Jafari, 33, is one of a handful of therapists in the Islamic state who use music to help severely disabled people find their voices, risking the ire of his conservative family and censure from religious authorities.

Kahrizak Charity Foundation, in a leafy campus on the outskirts of the capital Tehran, is home to hundreds of physically handicapped people, young and old, who lack financial support.

Each Monday, dozens wait impatiently for Jafari to walk through the door.

"I haven't learned music in an academy, but through practice and experience," Jafari told Reuters in an interview. "My initial goal was to make them get out of bed."

Jafari grew up in a religious family which found all forms of music unacceptable. His relatives initially cut ties with him, but their stance softened when they saw the impact of his work on the lives of his patients.

Reza Bakhtiari was paralyzed at six and lost his sight at the age of 30. He used to do nothing but lie in bed, listening to the radio -- a static life that left him bored, listless and suffering from bed sores.   Continued...