Iranians face dilemma as New Year and Ramadan coincide
Tehran is emptying out ahead of the Persian New Year, as it is every year, but this time Iranians are forced to adapt as the festival coincides with Ramadan.
More than 300 million people in a dozen countries – including Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey – will wish each other “Nowruz mobarak” or Happy New Year on Tuesday, when Iranians mark the entry of the year 1402 in the Persian calendar .
The Nowruz new year festival has been celebrated for 3,000 years and begins on the first day of spring and celebrates the rebirth of nature, with almost two weeks of silence on the streets of Tehran as people abandon the city for the countryside.
“For 15 days, we try our best to forget the difficulties of everyday life by spending time, eating carefully prepared meals and offering gifts to family and friends,” said Laleh, a student who left Tehran from her home city of Tabriz in the northwest.
This year, however, Muslims who celebrate Nowruz, including nearly all of Iran’s 85 million population, will have to reconcile those traditions with the obligations of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
During Ramadan, which is due to start on March 22 or 23, Muslims are invited to abstain from eating and drinking from dusk to dawn.
That creates a dilemma for the final festival of Nowruz, 12 days after the start of the new year marked by Sizdeh Bedar, or “the day of nature”, when Iranians go on picnics during the green.
Last year, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri warned that those who fail to fast in public face punishment.
Even eating in your car, which is not “considered a private space”, punishable, he said.
Religious expert Mohsen Alviri advises those planning to have picnics to go without food until they break their fast.
“In Shiite jurisprudence, if the faithful travel a certain distance from their city of residence, they are considered travelers and may not tap,” he said.
– ‘A sad year’ –
Although considered a pagan festival, Nowruz was never challenged in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“There is no doubt that Nowruz was a national holiday before Islam. But it does not contradict any of the Muslim teachings,” said Mohsen Alviri, a Shiite cleric and religious historian in Tehran.
“Nowruz draws attention to the preservation of nature and emphasizes the elimination of resentment between people, respecting elders, visiting relatives … these are values strongly recommended by Islam,” he said .
As they await Nowruz, however, some Iranians say they are not in a festive mood after a difficult year marked by high inflation and tension on the street.
Iran has been a target for the easing of US economic sanctions since 2018, the year President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a landmark nuclear deal.
The Islamic Republic has also been rocked by a protest movement that flared after the death on September 16 in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who was arrested for allegedly violating the strict dress code for women.
The resulting violence claimed the lives of hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, and arrested thousands more, casting a shadow over this new year’s celebrations.
“This is a very sad year. I loved Nowruz but I am so unhappy that I didn’t even clean the house,” said Effat, a 75-year-old woman who was shopping at Tehran’s Tajrish bazaar.
“I didn’t even buy a goldfish and a jar of wheat sprouts,” she said, referring to symbolic objects used to commemorate the festival.
But Razieh, a housewife in her 50s, can only look at the stalls that are overflowing with colorful goods for the festival.
“I ask the prices, but not being able to buy much,” she said with a sigh.