When God Sleeps


Institute History


Two years ago Iranian singer Shahin Najafi, 34, released a controversial rap song that triggered thousands to rally in a campaign for his assassination. Hardline clerics had issued a death fatwa against him, incensed by his song “Naghi.” The song makes irreverent remarks about Ali al-Naghi, one of twelve imams revered by Shia Muslims. From The New York Times, to the Guardian to SPIEGEL, Najafi’s case drew international attention. "I’m still in disbelief," he says today. Yet he insists: "I will never apologize for my art." In response to the song, which focuses on political oppression, sexism and human rights abuses, a $100,000 bounty was put on his head. German undercover journalist Günter Wallraff, who already gave refuge to Salman Rushdie after his death fatwa, offers the young musician shelter. But soon after, too many people know about the hideout. The German government puts him under 24-hour police protection. Germany, fearful of an assassination, offers Najafi the financial means to “go away for a few years.” He declines. Refusing to go the way of Rushdie who spent nine years in hiding, Najafi says, “Rushdie could sit at home and write. I’m a musician. I have to perform.” What follows is a frantic escape across several continents and sharp religious lines. Najafi’s getaway turns into a modern-day ‘Romeo and Juliet’ romance when he falls in love with Leily Bazargan. Leily’s grandfather, Mehdi Bazargan, was handpicked by Ayatollah Khomeini to be the first Prime Minister of the newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran. Beyond the issues of religion and freedom of speech, Najafi now faces a personal dilemma: how does someone who’s threatened by execution establish a life with a woman whose family history represents the very regime that’s calling for his death? When God Sleeps is a rap-punk-rock documentary wrapped around a love story. The film uses the death fatwa as an inciting incident to embark on Najafi’s journey: from his youth in Iran, where he was once a talented Koran reciter and the hope of the local clergy, to his current living condition as an outlaw-artist where each concert presents a risk to his life.

Screening Details


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