Shahin Najafi, an Iranian rap artist living in Germany, had put out four albums before he rose to fame overnight. “Naghi,” a sardonic song he wrote in the form of a prayer, shocked many people back in his home country. Today, he receives death threats
from those who view his song as blasphemous, and is even featured in an online video game
where the goal is to shoot him dead.
A screen grab from an online video game in which players have to shoot Najafi, who is called "the assaulter of the Prophet', before he shoots them.
When Najafi posted his song on YouTube on May 7, he had no idea it would have such a huge impact. His lyrics
take the form of a prayer addressing the tenth imam of Shia Islam, Ali al-Naghi, in a bid to denounce what he sees as hypocrisy in Iranian society. He gives many examples, such as the prevalence of plastic surgery in a country where women wear veils, and the importation of religious objects from China.
Just three days after being posted online, the video had already been watched 130,000 times. Though it wasn’t officially condemned by the Iranian regime, the song’s sarcastic, joking tone quickly sparked outrage among leading religious figures. Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, notably, accused the rapper of committing blasphemy by citing Naghi. The conservative Iranian website Asr Emrooz called for the rapper to be hanged; another radical website, shia-online.ir, offered a reward of 100,000 dollars (about 78,000 euros) to whoever would kill him.
"Having left my country to come live in Germany, I should be able to express myself freely"
Shahin Nafaji, 31, was born in a little town in southern Iran. In 2005, he fled to Germany. He has been living under police protection ever since he began receiving death threats earlier this month.
Having left my country to come live in Germany, I should be able to express myself freely. What I say in my songs doesn’t directly insult anyone. Putting aside for a moment those back in Iran who have condemned me, and who I see as messengers of the Iranian regime, no other religious experts have said that these lyrics directly insulted Islam. It’s true that they are provocative, but everything I do is provocative – there should be no limits to art. Social and political considerations should never put constraints on art.
When I was in Iran, there were limits to what I could say, but I had never been persecuted like I am now. Today, a Western nation is in charge of protecting me. This limits me in another way – for example, if I wanted to go down in the streets to protest, I would not be allowed to. Ever since I’ve been put under police protection, I spend my time reading, watching movies, playing guitar and reading poems.
Some people have accused me of writing this song just to become famous. That’s not true. The lyrics
are directed at Iranians; I never thought anyone else would listen to them and try to understand them. In fact, when people tried to translate the lyrics into German, I had to lengthily explain the meaning of each line!