Fundamentalist Calls To Ignore Norouz Go Unheard In Iran, Afghanistan
By Abbas Djavadi,
Maryam had invited her two
daughters and their husbands and grandchildren for Norouz, the New Year's feast,
to her home in western Tehran when I called her on Saturday. It was after 9:02
p.m. when "tahvil," the change from the old to the new year, 1389 after Iranian
calendar, was celebrated at Maryam's apartment, as it was in hundreds of
thousands of other households in Iran and other countries. She had prepared a
beautiful Haft Seen, the Norouz table, and cooked delicious Iranian food. The
television was on to follow the announcement of the "tahvil," after which
everyone congratulated each other and the children received their New Year's
presents. Then they put on CDs to hear good, entertaining music -- something
happier than what they always hear from local radio and television.
Norouz celebrations included trips to holy shrines, like that of this Afghan
woman and her son in Kabul.
Every year on the eve of the first day of spring, millions of people in Iran,
Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and parts of Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan,
and India celebrate the beginning of a New Year, rendered as Nowruz, in Persian:
"New Day." Others call it Navruz, Nevroz, Nevruz, or Norouz (which is also RFE/RL's
style for the holiday). It is a time of new beginning, peace, joy, and family --
very similar to Christmas and New Year's in much of the Western world.
Celebrated since the sixth century BC, it has become an integral part of
numerous peoples' culture and tradition. Last February, the United Nations'
General Assembly recognized the "International Day of Nowruz, a spring festival
of Persian origin."
For Maryam, this year's Norouz ritual started as it did every year -- with a
spring clean-up of the apartment two weeks before Norouz. Later, on the last
Wednesday of the old year, her sons-in-law and grandchildren went out for "Chaharshanbeh
Suri," the fire festival in which people light small fires and spring over them,
singing their wishes for the next year.
This year, as so often in the last 20 years, Iran's
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had issued a fatwa, or religious
advisory. The fire festival "has no religious basis and will create a lot of
damage and [moral] corruption," the Khamenei's fatwa noted, asking people not to
attend it. Still, tens of thousands of Iranians went out into the streets or
suburbs to mark the fire festival.
An Iranian girl joins in
celebrations of the ancient Festival of Fire ahead of the new year.
In an e-mail to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, an unnamed Iranian said: "Khamenei has
again made clear that he is hostile to our traditions. But the fatwa also shows
that he [Khamenei] is ready to sacrifice political wisdom to what he thinks is
Using the occasion, Iran's opposition Green Movement had called on people to
mark the fire festival and raise democratic demands for change. Iran's police
chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, later reported that "around 50 people were arrested in
connection with the ritual."
Maryam's sons-in-law and their children hadn't used the Festival of Fire to
shout any politically loaded slogans. Asked if she knew about Khamenei's fatwa,
Maryam said: "To be honest, I didn't. And even if I had, so what? This is about
our culture and tradition, and we don't want to give it away just because it is
older than our religion or because the [supreme] leader asks us to ignore it."
"Not only the Chaharshanbeh Suri [the fire festival but]...Norouz itself is
pre-Islamic," added Ahmad, Maryam's husband. "I remember [the founder of the
Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini himself tried right after
the revolution to ban Norouz by saying it is un-Islamic. But people didn't even
want to hear it. So they had no way but to swim with the stream. Since then,
Khamenei himself congratulates the people every year on the occasion of Norouz.
But they would ban it, if they could."
A similar attempt was made last week in Afghanistan
to ban Norouz. Seventy-five Islamic clerics and lawmakers, headed by former
Kabul Governor Mullah Taj Muhammad Mujahid, issued a statement calling Norouz
"un-Islamic and a tradition of fire worshippers [Zoroastrians]" and asking
Afghans not to celebrate it. Those calls also went unheard, and Afghanistan
celebrated Norouz as always. A Kabul-based listener of RFE/RL's Radio Free
Afghanistan said: "This is a very strange call. We have done so in the past and
we still want to start a new year with joy and hope."
Norouz celebrations in Kabul on March 21
This year's Norouz strangely united fundamentalist Iranian Shi'a and Afghan
Sunnis in rejecting century-old national traditions. And it thus naturally
united Iranians and Afghans -- regardless of their Islamic beliefs -- in defying
Abbas Djavadi is an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views
expressed in this commentary are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those
Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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