How does an American man visit Iran with a Muslim Iranian woman?
July 15, 2010 3:21 PM Subscribe
I'm a non-religious American man planning on visiting Iran with a Muslim Iranian woman. What precautions should we take?
posted by dkh to travel & transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am planning to visit Iran with a female friend who is a U.S. citizen, but who was born in Iran and is therefore also an Iranian citizen. She is Shia; I am not religious at all. There are two major issues I'm aware of:
1. How do I present the nature of my visit?
To get a visa, I need to book a tour or find a person in Iran to sponsor my visit. Are there tour operators who will take my money and then let me loose for a week? Finding an Iranian to sponsor my trip may be impossible, but in case my friend could arrange it, what are the risks and responsibilities for an Iranian sponsoring an American tourist?
Should I volunteer the fact that I'm traveling with my friend, or should I keep it to myself? Should we drive to a large international airport instead of flying out of our local non-international airport, in order to obscure the connection between us?
2. How should a man and a woman travel together inside Iran?
As for our relationship, we are friends and are considering being more to each other. (If things go well, I promise to come back and ask for advice about the hazards of such a cross-cultural and inter-(lack of) faith relationship, so please save it until then.) However, she is devout, so there is and will be no sexual relationship between us. (Sad face, roll eyes, etc.)
We're both pretty restrained (some would say repressed; well, just about everybody says I'm repressed) and expect to have no difficulty complying with laws about physical contact between members of the opposite sex. We aren't going to forget where we are and start holding hands.
Is it inherently illegal or dangerous for us to travel together? Is it illegal for her, an unmarried Iranian Muslim woman, to take trains, buses, or taxis with a non-Muslim man? What about walking and hiking? Is it illegal for us to stay in hotels together (in separate rooms, of course?) Are there any precautions we should take, such as arriving at hotels separately or even staying in separate hotels? Even when we comply with the law, will we be in any danger, official or unofficial?
In general, any tips on how to behave in public and how to handle travel logistics to avoid giving offense or attracting unwanted attention would be much appreciated. I believe that whenever we are outside a major city, we will be in a place frequented by tourists. We plan to visit mostly touristy places, such as historic sites, mosques, shrines, and beautiful natural places. She will visit some family members, but to avoid awkward issues that she has not yet decided how to address, I will probably not join her.
I'm sure there are questions I should be asking but have failed to ask. Any tips on how to handle this as safely as possible will be much appreciated. My friend has visited Iran regularly since moving to the United States, so she is very familiar with local mores with respect to Muslim men and women, but she doesn't know anything about the complications attached to my being American and irreligious. She may also be imperfectly aware of shifting standards within the last year or two.
Oh, and one final question: I assume we will be safer if I say (if confronted and asked) I am Christian instead of a nonbeliever -- is that true? I could not credibly claim to be Muslim, but I went to Christian schools when I was little, so I could pass as Christian as easily as most actual American Christians could.
Many thanks for your help!