This past week, Iranian filmaker, writer and dissident Mohammad Nourizad visited the home of a 4-year-old Baha’i boy named Artin and posted a photo of himself kissing the boy’s feet on his blog. Artin lives with his grandmother; his parents are in prison and his grandfather was executed long ago.

Nourizad — who previously made headlines when he wrote a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticizing the regime for its violent 2009 crackdown on protests after the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  – says he was inspired by the pope, who was photographed washing and kissing the feet of Muslim women held in a juvenile detention center near Rome. He wrote on his blog:

“Today I went to see a small Bahai family: small in the sense that only the grandmother and her four-year-old grandson remain. I seated Artin, the four-year-old, on a chair and, on behalf of all the arrogant Shiah [sic], I asked his forgiveness, and I kissed his little feet. … Today, I am not fasting [for Ramadan], because I am ill. Artin brought me water, and I drank, he brought me fruit, and I ate.

“I told Artin: ‘My little boy, I apologize to you on behalf of all of those who, in these Islamic years, have made you and your [Baha'i] fellows face injustice.’

“Little Artin meets [his parents] every Sunday. He goes to Karaj [prison] to meet his father and uncle and to Evin prison to meet his mother. Artin’s parents have not committed any crime, except that they’re Baha’i.

“When the pope, the leader of the world’s Catholics, bends, washes, and kisses the feet of a Muslim criminal, why shouldn’t I kiss your feet as a representative of the office of [Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and the [many] Shi’ite sources of emulation?”

Nourizad used to write a column for Kayhan Daily, an ultraconservative newspaper overseen by the office of Ali Khamenei. He left the position and joined the opposition after the June 2009 elections and the protests that followed. When the regime cracked down on protesters, Nourizad penned a letter publicly shaming Khamenei and the regime. He was arrested and sentenced to three and half years in prison, from where he continued writing protest letters.

Sen Mcglinn of Sen’s Daily praised Nourizad’s exhbition of sympathy as a worthy “rejection of anti-Bahaism”:

Mr. Nourizad’s act, and posting the photograph on his blog, is a demonstrative rejection of both the ideology of the Islamic Republic, which has made anti-Bahaism a feature of its version of Iranian identity, and of the Othering of Bahais in Iranian culture, which is much older than the Islamic Republic. Bahais are popularly regarded as unclean, and this has been confirmed by religious authorities in numerous fatwas since the Revolution. Bahais are therefore not allowed to work in food industries in Iran. To visit a Bahai home and accept food and drink creates a potent symbolic image, showing an alternative Iranian identity which would be free of bigotry and discrimination. It is also a gesture of reconciliation, and for a man living in Iran, an act of courage.