The Memoirs of Zahrā Panāhī-Ravā

An Altar of Roses

As related to Behnāz Zarrābī-Zādeh

Translated and Annotated by Blake Archer Williams


An Altar of Roses is a prominent example of a literary work in this fascinating yet almost completely unknown genre that is known in Iran as the Sacred Defense (defā-e moqaddas).

An Altar Of Roses cover

About the Book

An Altar of Roses is a collection of the memoirs of a young lady’s marriage and life with a Commander and Martyr of the Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Commander Ali Chītsāzīān. This heart touching memoir is a reflection of true faith and true love in the path of the Almighty and a rare glimpse into the mindset and moral sanctum of a Revolutionary Guards’ family that is in stark contrast with the image that is commonly portrayed in the West.

My wedding ring had Ali Agha’s aura about it. I kissed it. All of a sudden, I saw him appear before me. He was standing in front of me and was smiling. The sight of him made me forget my pain. I couldn’t believe it! Ali Agha was there, right in front of me! I said to him, “Ali Agha, my love. Help me. Help me to be strong and not to yell out in pain. I don’t want anyone to hear my voice. Please help me!”


Blake Archer Williams

Blake Archer Williams is an American writer and translator who was born to an atheist/ Christian family, but entered into Islam after undergoing a profoundly transformative religious experience.

Mr. Williams’ work is mainly focused on the creedal beliefs of Shī‘a Islam, and especially on the rational and scriptural bases of the belief in the integrality of religion and state.


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We were passing by Bū-Alī Hospital and I said, “Ali, a few months from now, our child will be born here.”

“Here?” He asked, surprised.

“Well,” I said, “because this is a private hospital. It’s the best hospital in Hamedān.”

Ali slowed the car down and said, “No. We will be going to a hospital that is frequented by the poor; this is where rich people go. Not everyone can afford to come here.”


I was in my eighth month of pregnancy and I was not feeling at all well. It was a Thursday evening; December 24th, 1987. The pain would come and go and there was no telling when it would be back again. I had told everyone about Ali Agha’s situation. In those days, my mother-in-law’s house was full of guests and there was always someone coming or going. Mother was there too. As soon as I told her I was not feeling well, she called a cab and took me to the Fātemīeh Hospital, which was a public hospital. As soon as we stepped foot into the hospital, the news sounded everywhere as if a bomb had gone off: “Shahīd Chītsāzīān’s child is about to be born!”

The hospital workers were all excited, and suddenly I found myself surrounded by doctors and nurses. The news had spread in town like lightning. People would call the hospital and inquire about my health and that of the baby’s. Mother, who was always by my side, would have to go and respond to these inquiries every once in a while. And although the doctors had said there were no signs of birth pangs, the head of the hospital had given instructions that I be admitted anyway.

It was the February of 1986. I was looking at the dry and bare trees that lined the sidewalk, and at the soot-stained snow that was slowly melting, from behind the window of a bus. The sky was blue and cloudless, and occasionally a flock of birds could be seen flying overhead. The bus came to a halt and the driver looked in his back mirror and shouted the name of the stop: “Honarestān!”

A pale-complexioned girl with a round face and beautiful green eyes got off the bus. I thought that she was the most attractive girl on the bus. She always used to sit in the back of the bus and chatter away with her friends. I knew that, like me, she was in her second year at the college. Her name was Maryam. I had learned that from her friends; we were not classmates. The bus had stopped at the Martyrs of Dībāj community college bus stop. She arranged her chādor over her head, gathered it around her firmly and got off. She waved goodbye to her friends inside the bus for the nth time. Most of the commuters on the bus were students at Tahzīb Community College. The bus passed Mīrzādeh Eshqī Street, where our house is located. I used to get off the bus every day at the Imam Khomeini Hospital stop. At that time, the name of our street was Mehregān Street, which was opposite Qāzīān Street. I crossed the street. When I entered our own street, I saw that there was a truck parked outside our house. A few men entered the yard and a little later they came back out carrying a few large containers, which they placed in the back of a truck…


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