Tehran’s chief of police, Hossein Sajednia, boasted on Sunday that the rule breakers had been identified and would be punished for actions that both “opposed Islamic values” and disrupted “social order”.
Far from a return to the protests that followed 2009 disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sajednia was referring to a massive water fight that took place in Tehran’s appropriately named Water & Fire Park.
The estimated 3,000 people in attendance – both men and women, many dressed in drenched chadors - arrived with plastic water bottles, balloons and semi-sophisticated water pistols. They splashed around from 10.00 until 14.00, when the water supply in the centre of the park was abruptly shut off.
“We cut the water to avoid overconsumption, not because anyone was breaking hijab [modesty] rules,” said Behnam Atabaki, managing director of the district where the park is located. Parliament sang a different tune though, where it sparked a great debate this week. Hardline cleric and parliamentarian Mohammad Taghi Rahbar stated, “We don’t know who organised this but it was clearly a plot to hurt Islamic values”.
Another lawmaker, Musa Ghazanfarabadi, echoed those sentiments, saying, “There is no doubt that the popularity of water fights among the youth is an issue planned by certain people to distance the youth from Islamic values and the culture of the Islamic Republic”.
Despite several arrests being made – with no details released of who was arrested or on what grounds – participants seem undeterred and keen on repeat performances throughout the rest of the summer. “After Ramadan it will still be hot, so we’re going to keep doing it,” said Babak, 18.
Shohleh, a 19-year-old first-year university student, planned to attend again this Friday, saying, “My friends and I are very excited for the water fight, but we’re certain that the police will be there, especially because it’s the first Friday of Ramadan. I’m sure anyone who is wet will be arrested”.
Despite the arrests, the water fights represent a slight easing up of the enforcement of strict Islamic law in Iran, with many Tehranis increasingly keen on enjoying a bit of innocuous fun, albeit sticking within firm parameters. Facebook invitations circulating in relation to Friday’s water fight stress the importance of adhering to modesty laws, encouraging women to observe proper hijab.
No mention of water fights appears in the Islamic Republic’s constitution, but on the subject of mirth the system’s founding father was quite clear when he said, “There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humour in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious”.