Thought Archive

Friday, March 20, 2009

Curious Case of Novruz

Novruz is a holiday celebrating the arrival of sping. Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in Iranian (Muslim Solar) calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. It is believed to be Zoroastrian holiday of most significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians.

A Turkic purist, upset by such Iranian-centric interpretations will tell you that Ulugh-Kun (or "Great Day" in Old and Middle Turkic) was the spring festival of Turkic shamanism. It was celebrated on or about March 22, and marked the first day of the Turkic month of Oshlaq-ay. The name of the holiday appears in the medieval dictionary Divan-i Lughat-it-Turk by Mahmud Kashgari, written in the 1070s.

It is widely celebrated in Iran, Azerbaijan and Central Asia, who fight over its significance. I will not get into details of this great war of words between a Turk and Persian.

But the fact that Novruz transcends nationalities, cultures and religions is most remarkable. For, while in Iran, where the Zoroastrian heritage is well forgotten it is believed to be a Muslim holiday (and even educated folks belive firmly it while jumping through fires and dancing around green wheat). This is perhabs is not so remarkable coming from a rustic folk. But Novruz is so much wider than the village ritual, and it is a soul of every nation that celebrates it. The fact that Shia Islam had adopted, nurtured and saved this great day, with all its traditions intact is most amazing. While Christianity had changed pagan holidays and made them their own, like Christmas or Easter, Islam could not and would not do that. When Shia - eternally vilifed and forgotten by the Arab - made Iran their spiritual refuge the marriage of help and support was born. And now it is that despite Salafi shrill cries, one can proudly proclaim oneselef a pious - or even most radical - Muslim and celebrate most Novruz rites is a great achievement.


Riri said...

I must admit that the Shia are a lot more enlightened than Sunnis (generally speaking of course). I was raised as a Sunni, but the Shia / Sunni split has never been an issue until very recently and it is a direct result of Wahabi Islamism. The Saudi influence has diffused to almost all parts of the Muslim world (Petro Islam). In our local mosque, Shia bashing is a regular feature of the Friday sermon, can you believe that?. Our local Imam (somebody who failed his GCSE's and left school shortly afterwards to train later as an Imam) asserts that Shia are the greatest threat to Islam. Can you believe that?

Hazar Nesimi said...

Welcome back, little Riri!

Well - not sure about that. There are plenty crazy fanatics in Shia camp as well; think flagellations, and the like. It is just less obsessed with puritanism. Most of the current fight is all petro-wahhabi threat to Iran, fed by US that got out of control. Now it is chaotic, and is bringing countries like Pakistan to destruction. Sunni Islam (as opposed to Islamism) was generally very peaceful towards Shias despite occasional war here and there. In Iraq and Lebanon communities lived side by side for centuries.