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The rules of love, as told by an Iranian cleric

Cleric Hossein Dehnavi’s comparisons of lovemaking in marriage to jihad have ensured that religious bookshops sell out of their stock of the new DVD every afternoon.

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Iranians shop beneath a poster for an unlikely bestseller DVD of a speech called 'The Art of Making Love' by cleric Hossein Dehnavi, in a religious bookstore in Tehran, Iran, on June 3. The video has been a runaway hit in the Islamic Republic, where Mr. Dehnavi calls lovemaking a 'form of worship' like jihad.

Afshin Valinejad

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“Love” may be one of the most heavily used words in Persian literature. Famous poets Rumi, Hafez, and Sa’adi obsessed about “eshq” centuries ago, though their words most often referred to divine and spiritual emotions.

Discussion of physical love was another matter. As in many cultures, it was long a taboo subject, and the advent of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution did little to change that. The trend for decades has, in fact, been evident in annual police crackdowns that target women showing too much hair, or boy-girl handholding in the streets.

So it might be a surprise that one of the hottest-selling DVDs in Tehran – at least at souvenir stores that cater for Shiite religious pilgrims to the Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, south of the capital – is one that seems to encourage something of a sexual revolution, Shiite-style.

Advertising posters proclaim, “The Art of Making Love,” and show cleric Hossein Dehnavi looking like any other young seminary-trained holy man in Iran, bespectacled and bearded, wearing a turban and religious robes.

Yet Mr. Dehnavi’s comparisons of lovemaking to jihad have ensured that, since its release in late May, religious bookshops here run out of their new stock of DVDs every afternoon.

The video is of a theological speech that Dehnavi gave during a seminar, to a gathering of newlyweds and others, in the shrine city of Mashhad in northeast Iran. It is called: “Improving the Skill of Making Love: The Peace and Pleasure in Matrimonial Life.”

In a nation where sexual dissatisfaction ranks as one reason for a high rate of divorce, even guidance from a cleric appears welcome to some.

“According to our religion, eshqbazi [lovemaking] is a form of worship,” says Dehnavi in the video.

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