On Good Friday, the holiest day in the Christian calendar, when Christ was crucified with two criminals, one on each side of his cross, a moving story of forgiveness caught my eye in one of the daily papers.
The dictum of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life, was I’m glad to say cast aside in favour of the ultimate sacrifice – i.e. to pardon a killer on his way to the gallows.
And this took place in a country where such a noble act of reprieve is hardly contemplated or practised.
Blindfolded and screaming for his life, a convicted killer, as is the custom in Iran, was at the mercy of his victim’s family. As they prepared to kick the chair from under him and let the noose do its deadly work, it seemed the culprit would become the latest person to suffer a public execution. That was the case until his life was dramatically spared in an act of forgiveness by the mother of the man he stabbed to death.
Instead of kicking the scaffold chair away, she walked up to him and slapped him across the face before her husband removed the rope from around his neck.
The killer’s own mother then ran over to her and wept tears of gratitude as the two women embraced.
Police and guards who surrounded him in the makeshift scaffold cage could not believe their eyes and looked in total amazement as the compelling drama unfolded. This awe-curling scene was captured by a photographer from the Iranian Ishna News Agency, who recorded the moments before and after what should have been the country’s two hundredth execution this year.
A multitude of people including children have gathered to witness this kind of primitive justice still employed in some Muslim countries.
The twenty-four-year-old killer, named Balal, had been on death row for several years after stabbing Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, eighteen, during a street fight in the town of Royan in the northern Mazandaran province.
Under Sharia law, the victim’s family take part in the execution by kicking away the scaffold chair so the rope tightens. They can also, if they wish, spare the killer’s life.
The victim’s father said: ‘Three days ago, my wife saw my elder son in a dream telling her that they are in a good place and for her not to retaliate. This calmed my wife and we decided to think more until the day of the execution.’
Her actions were even more remarkable because the couple had already lost a son in a motorbike crash at the tender age of eleven.
Recalling the day of the stabbing Mr Hosseinzadeh said: ‘My son Abdollah was taking a stroll in the bazaar with his friends when Balal shoved him. Abdollah was offended and kicked him but at this time the murderer took a kitchen knife out of his socks.’
Mr Hosseinzadeh, who believes Balal did not kill their son deliberately, added: ‘He did not know how to handle a knife…he was naive.’
Balal fled the bazaar but was later arrested and sentenced to death. But the Hosseinzadeh family repeatedly deferred the date of the execution.
Although public figures in Iran had already called for a reprieve, what happened was extremely unusual. It is now likely that Balal will be given a jail sentence instead. Mr and Mrs Hosseinzadeh, who also have a daughter, have no say in this.
It goes to prove there remains a few people in this world whose goodness and ability to forgive and forget are a lesson to us all. The nobility of their spirit, despite their grievous loss, is a shining light where revenge and tit-for-tat are replaced by a rare serenity which will give their life a new meaning and a peaceful glow.
Their place in heaven is thus assured.