Barred from attending post-secondary, a much younger Sohail Mahbobi needed a hobby. And when a friend offered to teach Persian rug-making, Mahbobi found one that would stay with him for three decades.
Iran, 1981: Members of the Baha’i faith are disallowed from high school and post-secondary studies. Adult Baha’is were laid off from their jobs.
So when the friend returned from the city to the rural area where Mahbobi lived and offered to teach a group of young people to weave rugs, Mahbobi began studying.
“He learned in a shop, then taught young people who weren’t doing much at the time,” Mahbobi, 48, said from his Burnside-area house.
In about two years, he had completed his first rug using cream, light blue and navy yarn.
“At that time, life was getting tougher by the day for Baha’is and my parents didn’t want me to stay (in Iran),” he said.
In 1984, Mahbobi immigrated to Canada. He’s lived in Victoria since 1989.
Now, half a world a way from home and 20 years later, his second rug is complete.
Using yarn made of sheep’s and camel’s wool, imported from Iran where his parents still live and coloured with natural dies found in leaves and roots, Mahbobi worked off a loom set up in his dining room. The product is the same size as the first rug, at one metre by 1.5 metres, but the new rug is a vibrant red with blue and yellow accents.
“There were years that I didn’t touch it,” he admits. But now that it’s complete, “it’s really something that pleases the eye. It’s really something to look at.”
For Mahbobi, the rug – which now lies next to the one he made in Iran – is a reminder of the times when Baha’is’ rights were stripped away, he said, and that the situation continues in his native Iran.
“In a nutshell, that’s what got me going with making this rug and it’s really beautiful. Now that it’s finished, it makes me think back to how things are back in Iran when I got started.
“Hopefully something changes. It’s been a really long time, like 30 years” since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which ramped up the persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Hundreds of dollars and 20 years went into the rug, which will hang in the Mahbobi family dining room. Eventually, he said, he’ll give the rugs to each of his two daughters.
The latest rug “is a picture that knows a lot about our lives. After 20 years, it’s something our family is very attached to.”
Did you know?
• There are about 120 Baha’is in Victoria, plus 15 in Esquimalt.
• There is a Baha’i community for each of the Capital Region’s 13 municipalities.
• The Baha’i calendar has 19 months of 19 days each. The extra four or five days of the year are called Ayyami-Ha (end of February) begin a 19 day fast before the Baha’i New • Year (Naw Ruz in Farsi) on March 21.