Humans of Heumensoord: Meet Hojjat

*Photos by Mahmod Kharrat ©

Humans of Heumensoord: Meet Hojjat

This is our next in the series on Humans of Heumensoord. Inspired by Humans of New York and set up by a group of engaged photographers, journalists and activists in the Netherlands; this project seeks to put a human face on the country’s largest refugee camp, where over 3,000 refugees await the start of the asylum process under ‘emergency shelter’. During their stay they can’t work or study, because of that they have little access to the Dutch society. To tighten that gap; the project gives refugees a chance to tell their story and that way present themselves to the western society; reflecting on issues such as conflict, integration, assimilation, human rights and racism.

This piece meets Hojjat (26), and Iranian asylum seeker and martial arts expert. Interview by Sem van den Brink. Translated by Hamid Mohammadi.

“I’ve practiced martial arts since I was seven years old. I always had aggression in me. Through martial arts I could canalize that anger. After several disciplines like karate I got involved in kickboxing. In 2009 I got my first two titles. I have been middleweight champion of Iran four times in total. I have even more titles in the region I used to live.

hojjat2I’m very motivated to fully focus on kickboxing again. There is a kickboxing tournament in Nijmegen next month and I would like to join. To train I come to the universities’ sports centre about twice a week. I have to train more, but other refugees want to train too and there is a maximum of 30 a day. I also went to the gym of Perry Ubeda twice, but they said I had to pay if I wanted to train there. I have money. The only problem is that I can’t get to it due to the economical sanctions. They lifted the ban because of the nuclear deal but another one came right in place for it because Iran tested a ballistic missile. Therefore I’m looking for other ways to join the tournament. There are volunteers helping us, like the ones from Running for Freedom and kick boxer Nieky Holzken wants to sponsor me too.”

“About seven years ago, something came to my mind. Besides boxing I started to study the Quran thoroughly. It got in the way of my training. Politics and religion are totally intertwined in Iran. Islam is being used as a tool for the government. The way Islam is explained in Iran, it’s full of paradoxes. It is a cage in a way.

First I became an atheist. Later I converted to Christianity. I am a protestant now. It is forbidden to practice a different religion than Islam in Iran. There are no paradoxes in the Bible. It is not a cage; it gives the right to choose.

I was telling people about my views on Islam and Christianity. It is very dangerous to do that, but I wasn’t scared. I was a rich and famous athlete, people looked up to me so the authorities weren’t happy with me. One day I was standing beside my car. I was talking on the phone and I could see a bike riding down the pavement. The driver was unrecognizable; I knew they were in for trouble.”

hojjat3“They threw a bottle at me. Because I saw them in the mirror I could avoid it. It hit the dashboard and exploded. I felt a burning feeling on my leg. In a reflex, I grabbed the bottle and threw it out of the car. When I picked it up, the bottom let go and some of the stuff got on my arm. It turned out to be hydrochloric acid. It is what caused the big scars. They used some stupid acid because they knew they couldn’t win against me physically.

People don’t have to be scared of me. In some way people are right to be scared; they see a big Arab guy with scars and lots of muscles. But that doesn’t mean I am like the jihadists who fight for Da’esh. Because I am from Iran doesn’t mean I scream ‘Death to America’ all the time.

After what happened in Cologne I noticed that people avoid us or look anxious at us when we are in the city centre. It makes me really sad. It is truly scandalous what happened there and I condemn it. It is hard to change to way people judge others just by the colour of their skin. The only thing we can do is to say hi, talk and get to know each other.”

For more information on the Humans of Heumensoord project you can follow them on Facebook. Stay tuned to meet Mostafa and his seven year old son next week.

Humans of Heumensoord

Humans of Heumensoord, “Humans of Heumensoord: Meet Hojjat”, Independent Turkey, 6 February 2016, London: Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey). Original link: http://researchturkey.org/?p=10705

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