۲۷ فروردین ۱۴۰۳ |۶ شوال ۱۴۴۵ | Apr 15, 2024
Koniko Yamamura

In Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery lies the graves of those who did not wait for death to greet them. Rather, they chose to meet death. They took their lives in the palm of their hand and sacrificed it for a great cause.

Hawzah News Agency - Imagine Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery. It is a vast plain with many trees in every corner that are casting their shadows on the graves. There’s a section in this cemetery that is different from the rest of it. Therein lies the graves of those who did not wait for death to greet them. Rather, they chose to meet death. They took their lives in the palm of their hand and sacrificed it for a great cause. This is the section of the cemetery that concerns us. Next to one of those black and white stones in this section, you see a woman whose face doesn’t look Iranian even from a distance. When you move closer, you can see her almond eyes and East Asian facial features. If you look at the gravestone she is sitting next to and weeping over, not only will you realize what her name is, but you will also understand why she is sitting there. She is Koniko Yamamura, the mother of the only Japanese martyr in Iran. She’s sitting there to pray and recite verses from the Qur’an for someone who is from her own flesh and blood, for her 19-year-old son, Martyr Mohammad Babaei.

This woman, just like many people around the world, was living in a country far away, very far away from Iran’s borders. She didn’t know how to speak Farsi, nor did she know anything about Islam. She never imagined in her wildest dreams that one day she’d be setting foot in a country where the customs, religion, and clothing of its people were completely different from that of her country. However, a fate full of ups and downs was awaiting her. Her fate was not like one of the songs that Japanese mothers sing to their daughters under the shade of cherry blossoms. Nor was it like the lullabies that Iranian mothers sing to their children before they go to sleep. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Koniko Yamamura has described her fate as follows, “I loved my name, my family, my homeland, and even my Japanese birth certificate, which had an ‘x’ stamped on its last page one day. This was a sign that symbolized death or leaving your homeland. Little did I know that destiny would take me away from the city of Ashiya, which was in one of the districts of Kobe, in Japan’s Hyogo Province, to an unknown land, where I would find a new name and identity. And I would end up with another identification certificate.”

In this article, we plan to take a look at this story about the Orient. In order to broaden our perspective so that we can see both Koniko Yamamura and Saba Babaei (whom we will meet a little later), we must first take a trip to Ashiya, to the fertile land and lush green mountains that watched Koniko’s childhood.

Koniko Yamamura was born on January 10, 1939. That is the exact year that marked the beginning of World War II. Like all the other people of her country, her life was tied to this war. During her childhood, she had learnt that she needed to pull her fabric-woven hat tightly over her head whenever she heard the sound of American missiles. As she described, “It was a hat that was made of fabric, and inside it had a cotton lining, so that in the event of an explosion, it would prevent stones, pieces of wood and other objects from striking her head and face.” However, this hat was no match for the 325 B9 bombers of the US Army, which razed Tokyo to the ground. When “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” – the two US atomic bombs – dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not even a steel helmet was able to withstand the atomic explosion that had the power of thousands of tons of TNT. It seemed as though the girl from the Land of the Sun, sadly saw the sun twice in her country’s sky on the day of the American attack using atomic bombs. The time then came to watch the US soldiers walking on Japanese soil, sweeping the ashes of those who had been killed by the explosions, and suggesting prostitution to Japanese girls.

When we view the story from here, we see that our little Japanese girl’s, Koniko’s, existence was filled with hatred toward war. So what happened that caused her to become a supporting force behind a different battle years later? What is it that caused her to allow her sons to fight in the front lines of another war?

Asadollah Babaei was a young, religious, Iranian businessman whom God placed in 21-year-old Koniko’s path. The first time Koniko saw Mr. Babaei, he was standing in prayer, performing salat. What Mrs. Koniko Yamamura herself said in describing this was that an attraction like love at first sight was created in her heart at that moment. But there was something else too in what she saw that absorbed young Koniko’s mind and heart. That which absorbed her thinking was the Muslim prayer. Bowing to a person, people and things was something common in the Japanese, Shinto culture. But that which had strongly grasped the attention of young Koniko’s heart and mind was that there was no person or object in front of this Muslim man, Mr. Babaei. Mrs. Yamamura spoke about this subject later, “I remember I asked Mr. Babaei about the philosophy of salat or Islamic daily prayer one day. In answering my question, he spoke about talking to God and how we can communicate with the Creator of the universe. This is what he said, ‘Prayer means God’s creature talking with the one and only Creator.’ For me who believed in many gods according to the Shintoism, this was something new. When we wanted to respect someone, we would bow to them. But the way Mr. Babaei explained it to me was that, ‘Bowing and prostrating before the Creator of the universe is a way of showing gratitude for the blessings the Creator has bestowed upon us in all affairs. All human beings have been created [by God], and it is not right to bow to people who have not bestowed these blessings on us and who are themselves God’s creatures. ’” This is what caused the young Koniko to start moving on a new spiritual path. In the Islamic literature, such movement is called hijrah, which literally means migration and movement.

Koniko and her small family left a country that worshipped Buddha in its Shinto temple and moved to Iran. She learned how to pray, how to understand God’s words in His book, the Qur’an, and how to apply these words to her life. Koniko became familiar with these concepts at an important, breathtaking time in Iran. It was the time of Imam Khomeini’s uprising against the existing monarchy. He was backed by the people who were tired of the torture, poverty, discrimination, murders, corruption and oppression of the Shah’s family. They wanted an Islamic government that was with the people and was based on justice, morality and humanity.

From 1964 to 1979, Koniko’s small family worked alongside Imam Khomeini’s popular movement. They fought, shouted slogans and stood by the rest of the Iranian population until their dream of achieving an Islamic Revolution in Iran turned into reality. This is how she used to talk with her family about the ups and downs that she had experienced, “For my husband and children, I made comparisons between the political situation in Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the situation in Iran. I told them that the American advisors are watching over the Shah’s army today and ordering them around in the same way that they’ve been ordering our people around since World War II.” These experiences and sympathies among the people finally resulted in the joyous victory of the Revolution. This is how Koniko describes this joy, “I was not Iranian. I had come from the Far East, from the Land of the Shining Sun. However, it was here that I regained the pride that had been broken in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thousands of kilometers away from my homeland.” Koniko Yamamura had an Iranian identity in Iran now, Saba Babaei.

Saba met with Imam Khomeini alongside the rest of the people. This is what she says about that meeting, “Our race was such that, unlike Iranians, we didn’t get emotional when narrating something. But that day, I had tears in my eyes as I told my husband about Imam Khomeini. I said I wanted to be one of the guards who stood in front of the Imam, so that if the Savakis started to shoot, their bullets would hit me!”

The Iranian people were still celebrating the victory of their Revolution – their great dream – when a bigger enemy arrived. The Iraqi Baath regime, led by Saddam Hussein, attacked Iran with the direct support of the United States. Once again, Saba saw the American bombs in the sky above her head. This time though, she remembered her previous experience and knew that surrendering would not solve anything. So, she decided to take action. Along with other courageous Iranian women, she supported the fronts. She participated in defending the country with her drawings and posters and by joining the activities in the local mosque to help the soldiers. She even gave the white bedsheets in her home for bandaging the wounds of the injured.

So she instilled a passion to fight on the path for justice, the truth and defending their country and nation. Saba’s teenage son, Mohammad Babaei, wanted to go fight in the war like his brother, Salman. Mohammad was very bright and full of motivation. His brother had a small laboratory on the roof of their house, where he studied Chemistry. Mohammad’s exemplary talent, promised him a bright future in the sciences. However, the Iraqi Baath regime’s invasion took this opportunity away from him.

For years, his father, Asadollah, had read the verses of the Qur’an to him, describing the believers who sacrificed their lives to defend the truth and justice. Standing up to oppression and defending those who were oppressed and the innocent were Mohammad’s aspirations. He wanted to use his education in the path of religion.

Without a doubt, sending one’s son to the war fronts is among the most difficult things for a mother and definitely that had been the case for Mrs. Saba Babaei. However, one could perhaps imagine that due to Mrs. Babaei’s successfully proceeding on the path of getting beyond the many things she loved, such difficult and impossible task before her had already turned possible. So she gave her son a haircut herself, she prayed for him and she sent him off to the war to deactivate the landmines that the Ba’athists had planted in Iran like cowards. It was during one of these operations that a bullet struck his young skull and took his heroic spirit to the heavens.

Let’s come back to Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery. Use your imagination to come closer. Watch this woman from Japan carefully. She didn’t stop moving after the war. She didn’t stop, because whenever she remembered the victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she’d see those who were left injured by the chemical bombings in the city of Sardasht in Iran. Innocent Iranian men and women were injured by the chemical bombs Iraqi Baath regime used. Koniko, or Saba, the only Japanese mother whose son was martyred in Iran, stood at the meeting point of two lands, a common but bitter point shared by the two countries. Until the last day of her life, she spoke, wrote, translated, and drew pictures to explain the injustices that were imposed upon these two countries. She never stopped fighting.

The late Saba Babaei, mother of martyr Mohammad Babaei, died in a hospital in Tehran on Friday, July 1, 2022, due to respiratory failure. Her grave is located in section 45 of the Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery, a place that’s reserved for the parents of martyrs.

Hamid Hessam, a distinguished Iranian author, went to her. For seven years, he listened closely to her memories and followed her memories every step of the way until he was able to write a biography about her life. The book Immigrant from the Land of the Sun, published by Soor-e Mehr, is an excerpt from Saba Babaei’s life. The quotations referred to in this article were all taken from this book. Ayatollah Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, in praising this book has stated, “It was truly interesting to read and learn from the adventurous, enthralling story of this brave woman, which was written with Hamid Hessam’s fluent, articulate style. I had visited this esteemed woman and her honorable husband many years ago in their home. My memory of that visit will remain with me forever. I did not know the greatness of this husband and wife who were filled with faith, truthfulness and generosity at that time as I do now after reading this book. It was only their dear martyr who was like a brilliant jewel that had attracted me. May God send His mercy and blessings upon the deceased and those who are still with us from this family.”

Source: Khamenei.ir


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