TEHRAN: Tehran is emptying ahead of the Persian New Year, as is the case annually, but this time around Iranians are being forced to adapt as the festival coincides with Ramazan.
Over 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 into the year 1402 on the Persian calendar.
Celebrated for some 3,000 years, the new year festival of Nowruz begins on the first day of spring and celebrates the rebirth of nature, ushering in almost two weeks of silence on the normally bustling streets of Tehran as people abandon the city for the countryside.
“For 15 days, we try to forget the difficulties of everyday life by having a good time, eating carefully prepared meals and offering gifts to family and friends,” said Laleh, a student leaving Tehran for her home city of Tabriz in the northwest.
This year however Muslims who celebrate Nowruz, including almost all of Iran’s 85 million population, will have to reconcile these traditions with the obligations of Ramazan, the holy Muslim month of fasting. During Ramazan, which is due to begin on March 22 or 23, Muslims are invited to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.
That poses a dilemma for the closing festivities of Nowruz, 12 days after the turn of the new year marked by Sizdeh Bedar, or “the day of nature”, during which Iranians go for picnics in greenery. Last year, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri warned those who fail to fast in public will liable to be punished. Even eating in your car, which “is not considered a private space”, is punishable, he added.
Although it is considered a pagan festival, Nowruz was never really challenged in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “There is no doubt that Nowruz is a national holiday that existed before Islam. But it does not contradict any of the Muslim teachings,” said Mohsen Alviri, a Shiite cleric and religious historian in Tehran. While waiting for Nowruz, however, some Iranians say they are not in a festive mood after a difficult year marked by high inflation and tensions on the street.