Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, turns out to be a master of the epigram.
As in this bit of dietary advice: "The sweat of a camel that eats unclean substances is unclean but, if other animals become unclean-eaters, avoidance of their sweat is not necessary."
Or this guide to single life: "When a man and a woman who are strangers to each other are alone in a quiet place that no one else can enter, they must get out of there if they fear that they may fall into an unlawful act."
Or this physiological speculation: "Those women who are descendants of Mohammed enter menopause after they finish sixty years of age . . . Others who are not of Mohammed's descent enter menopause when they finish the age of fifty."
These, and nearly 3,000 more "answers" to traditional questions of Shiite faith, determinations of what is pak (pure) and what is najes (tainted), are available now in the first unabridged English translation of "Resaleh Towzih al-Masael," or "A Clarification of Questions" translated from Farsi by a Cleveland neurologist who uses a pseudonym, J. Borujerdi, and published by Westview Press of Boulder, Colo.
"I left Iran while the shah was still in power," Borujerdi said. "I'm using a pseudonym because I am a member of the Bahai faith and, with lots of family still in Iran and Bahais being executed and shunned, I don't want to stir anything up." Borujerdi said he did not undertake the translation in behalf of any Bahai institution or for any political reason.
"I did the translation because it gives a very close understanding of the Shiite view of the world," he said. "The Bantam Press published a very slight version five years ago called 'The Little Green Book' -- just 6 percent of the original -- but that was really a joke book, to poke fun at Khomeini and debunk Islam at the beginning of the hostage crisis. In Iran, this book is mandatory for every literate person, a kind of guide to living."
Khomeini was first recognized as one of Iran's six highest religious authorities -- a grand ayatollah -- in 1962, the year he began his forced exile. He returned to Iran from Paris 17 years later to lead the Islamic revolution that deposed the shah. He has written more than 20 books, mostly on Islamic theology.
"A Clarification of Questions" is a "purity code" similar to other guides written by earlier ayatollahs; the first of its type appeared in the 1950s, written by Ayatollah Sayyed Hossein Borujerdi. Since then nearly every grand ayatollah has issued such a guide, all of which are nearly identical in form and content.
Topics range from bathing to banking, prayer to dining, divorce to fasting. As in: "If a fly gets into the throat of one who is fasting, it is not necessary to pull it out."
Like the Catholic catechism, "A Clarification" uses a question-and-answer form to convey its code of behavior. At its center is the Shiite concept of purity -- the idea, for example, that it is permitted to look at the hands or feet of a Christian or Jewish woman only if there is no "intention of pleasure." There are dozens of instructions on sexual life. As in: "A husband cannot abandon intercourse with his permanent wife for more than four months."
There are even instructions for barbers. A Shiite barber may not shave himself but only clip his beard. He may shave another Moslem for his livelihood only if he tithes one-fifth of his "tainted" income.
The translator said he tried "dozens and dozens" of commercial and university presses before Westview, which normally publishes academic titles, accepted the manuscript. The book has sold 687 copies, according to sales manager Alan Stark. When it was first issued a year ago, Westview representatives received death threats. Stark is not sure if the threats came from Shiites, anti-Iranian Americans or others.
Of special interest to Americans are such aphorisms as this:
"If as the result of a spread of the foreigners' political or economic and commercial influence there is fear of their domination of the cities of Moslems it is obligatory for all Moslems to defend by any means possible and to cut the hands of the foreigners, whether they are internal or external agents."