In a rare and powerful act of forgiveness, an Iranian mother and her husband forgave the man who killed their 18-year-old son during a street brawl seven years ago, then spared his life just moments before he was to be publicly executed for his crime.
Photographs taken by Arash Khamooshi of the Iranian Students' News Agency captured the emotional moments when the parents of Abdollah Hosseinzadeh forgave Balal Abdullah, who is now in his 20s according to The Guardian.
The victim's parents were supposed to push a chair on which Balal stood with a noose hanging around his neck to effect qisas, the sharia law of retribution.
The grieving parents, however, applied something different – grace.
Hosseinzadeh's mother, who also lost another son to a motorcycle accident, walked up to Balal, slapped him in the face, then forgave him for killing her son. The father removed the noose from the convict's neck, sparing his life.
"My 18-year-old son Abdollah was taking a stroll in the bazaar with his friends when Balal shoved him," the victim's father, Abdolghani Hosseinzadeh, told ISNA. "Abdollah was offended and kicked him but at this time the murderer took an ordinary kitchen knife out of his socks."
Hosseinzadeh Sr. believes Balal did not intend to kill his son. "Balal was inexperienced and didn't know how to handle a knife. He was naïve," he said.
He said the decision to forgive Balal came to his wife in a dream.
"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," he said.
Iran is second only to China in the number of people put to death annually. Many Iranian public figures, including the popular TV sport presenter Adel Ferdosipour, had called on the couple, who have a daughter, to forgive the killer. Although his life was spared by the couple, Balal may have to remain in jail under Iranian law as the family only has a say in whether he lives or dies.
Iran has come under fire in recent years for its high rate of executions and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the authorities there to do something to improve the situation. According to Amnesty International, Iran was responsible for two-thirds of the world's executions, excluding China.