Published on 21 Mar 2012 at 10:06
With the arrival of spring and the start of the new solar year (1391) in Afghanistan, the government is taking extensive measures to prevent any security threats against Nowruz [first day of solar calendar] ceremonies taking place across the country.
Nowruz – widely known as the Persian New Year – is celebrated as a national holiday every year. It is an official, state recognized holiday and people celebrate it differently in each province. Nowruz is met with the most fanfare in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, where the famous Red Flower Celebration attracts hundreds of thousands of people from across the country every year.
People outdo themselves to celebrate this special occasion. They clean their houses, make or buy new clothes and young girls prepare traditional Afghan foods such as Samanak [sweet paste made of raw wheat] and Haft-mewa [literally meaning “seven fruits” which are soaked in water]. Traditionally, engaged young men buy special sweets and fish along with clothes and jewelry for their fiancées.
Not to be outdone, however, the Taliban make every effort to target Nowruz ceremonies across the country. The Taliban recently released a statement calling Nowruz an unlawful celebration and had declared ceremonies would be targeted for attack. Reportedly, Afghan police forces arrested 20 suspicious Taliban insurgents deployed to disrupt Nowruz ceremonies across the country, particularly in Mazar-e-Sharif.
After its 3,000 year history, Nowruz was only prohibited in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. After taking the control in Kabul in 1996, the Taliban stopped Nowruz ceremonies within the areas under their control.
Nowruz is a national celebration for the people of Afghanistan, but the Taliban have deemed it as unlawful. They also prohibited use of the solar calendar to adopt a strict adherence of the lunar calendar during their rule in Afghanistan, which removed Nowruz from the equation altogether. (Nawruz is determined by the solar calendar, not the lunar calendar).
Faizullah Fayaiz, member of the deputy educational office at the Ministry of Education offers some clarification about Nowruz celebrations. “There is no reason to mark Nowruz as an unlawful act in Islam,” he said.
Fayaiz also explains that there is no reason to argue that changing Afghanistan’s official calendar from solar to lunar calendar is un-Islamic. “The verse Al-Ibrahim in the Holy Quran explains that prophet Ibrahim preferred the solar calendar over the lunar calendar which was used by star-worshippers of his time,” he said. “We have no Islamic or non-Islamic calendar and the solar calendar is the most organized and accurate calendar. Taliban’s opposition to Nowruz has a political basis, not an Islamic one.”
Ahmad Zia Rafat, a university lecturer and cultural activist believes that Taliban opposition to Nowruz and the solar calendar stems from their misunderstanding and misinterpretation of certain elements of Islam. “They often misinterpret Islam,” he says.
“The Taliban understanding of Islam and their understanding of public and social issues is an extremist and backward understanding,” he said. “They also have an incorrect perspective about Nowruz. They think that because Nowruz was a pre-Islamic ceremony, it should no longer be celebrated. But, during more than 1,000 years of Islam in Afghanistan, no other government has ever prevented Nowruz ceremonies.”
Abdul Ghafor Lewal, the head of the Regional Studies Center and a Pashtu poet and writer says that in addition to the Taliban’s extremist interpretations, their objections to Nowruz are also politically motivated. According to Lewal, the Taliban’s opposition to Nowruz is influenced by the political agendas of countries and extremist groups who support the Taliban and who aim to control their activities in Afghanistan. Lewal argues that the objective of such groups is to destroy Afghanistan’s cultural traditions as a means of widening their sphere of influence in the country.
“The extremists groups, which are supported by neighboring countries, were against our cultural heritage even before the Taliban. But, destruction of the country’s cultural heritage truly began after the Taliban took control in Afghanistan,” he said. “Destruction of the Buddha statues and banning Nowruz celebrations was the will of Afghanistan’s enemies and the Taliban implemented their will.”
Faizullah Jalal, a university lecturer agrees that the Taliban’s opposition to Nowruz has no legitimacy from an Islamic perspective. “They oppose this politically,” he believes.
“The Taliban’s opposition to Nowruz is based on two issues,” he said. “First, the Taliban have strong ethnic biases against many cultural traditions and oppose any cultural tradition which seems to have no relation with their tribe. But, we should recognize that Nowruz belongs to all the people of Afghanistan. Second, the Taliban follow the ideologies of Wahabi groups in Saudi Arabia and extremist Islamic groups in Pakistan. They oppose this cultural value of non-Arab countries in the region including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and parts of Turkey. Therefore, the Taliban oppose Nowruz to satisfy the will of the countries which support them.”
According to cultural and historical analysts, Nowruz celebrates the sense of revival and joy which comes with spring after a long winter season; grass reappears, trees bloom and land becomes ready for the growing season. It is a time to appreciate all the good things and blessings Allah has provided.
Followers of different religions in countries across the globe celebrate Nowruz in one way or another. This beginning of spring is ubiquitously celebrated to remember the joys of life and forget the winter hardships.
In addition to Nowruz, Muslims celebrate two Eid holidays [Eid-ul-Fitr and Edi-ul-Odah]. Nowruz celebrations do not forsake Islam’s sacred Eid ceremonies nor do they contradict the sacred tenets of Islam. Nowruz is neither an ethnic nor an Islamic celebration, despite any ethnic or religious objections that the Taliban may attribute to it.
“Afghan people and surrounding countries shared many cultural traditions and celebrations even before the emergence of Islam in the region,” said Rafat. “Some of these ceremonies had religious roots and some of them were unreligious ceremonies. Nowruz was a non-religious ceremony. This ceremony slowly took an Islamic identity after Islam emerged in Afghanistan. For instance, people now place the Holy Quran in a basket along with other foods prepared for this day. Nowruz was not an Islamic ceremony.”
Nowruz, which has long remained a prominent and closely held tradition in the region, has gone global.
The United Nations (UN) marked March 21 as Nowruz International Day in its calendar on February 23, 2010. The UN recognizes Nowruz as an opportunity to strengthen global peace and cross-cultural unity. Also, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially registered Nowruz on its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In response to these initiatives, the European Union Parliament also adopted March 21 as Nowruz International Day in its main office in Brussels.
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