Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Regime's ideologues: Only idiots and miscreants celebrate ancient fire festival

It's that time of the year again.

Spring is almost upon us. The gray winter chill slowly gives way to chirping birds, budding trees, and gurgling streams.

And the regime's clerical ideologues pull their lightweight tan cloaks out of mothballs and begin their onslaught on ancient pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, foremost among them the chahar shanbeh souri fire festival and the now rouz new year celebration.

A certain brand of Islam has always frowned on Now rouz, which corresponds to the the spring equinox and falls on March 20 this year, and its accompanying rites, from the haft sin spread (seven objects beginning with Sin or the letter S in the Iranian alphabet) fraught with symbolism, to sizdah bedar, the thirteenth day of the year when Iranians close the holiday season by leaving their homes, having picnics, throwing the sabzeh (green sprouts) they grew for the haft sin into a river, and young women tie knots in sabzeh for good luck in love.

For years Ayatollah Abolghassem Khazali, staunch supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, has called for replacing now rouz with the Muslim festival of Ghadir as the Iranian new year celebration. 'Now rouz is for the trees,' Khazali, obviously in a poetic mood, said at Tehran Friday prayers last year. 'What honors they bestow on now rouz! Do they respect Eid Ghadir a quarter as much?' Ghadir is the place where the prophet Mohammad designated Ali as the first imam and the date of this event, 18 Zilhajj in the Arabic calendar, is Eid Ghadir. Two years ago, reformist cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi wrote on his blog, 'Placing now rouz and ghadir in confrontation with each other is both an injustice towards Ali and the history and greatness of the Iranian people.' Abtahi has been silent on the topic this year. Perhaps his recent stint in prison and being tortured and force-fed psychotropic drugs has made this once-eloquent and popular blogger less talkative.

But now rouz's disfavor among some clerics cannot hold a candle up to the ire provoked by the chahar shanbeh souri (literally 'red Wednesday') fire festival, which is celebrated on the evening before the last Wednesday of the year. Chahar shanbeh souri will be held this evening, March 16. Perhaps the sight of people jumping over bonfires while they recite, 'Take my sickly yellow, give me your vibrant red,' and generally engaging in unbecoming behavior such as having fun are too much to bear for some dour types with furrowed brows. Most likely, the festival's roots in pre-Islamic Iran and Zoroastrianism play a part.

The regime has shown particular sensitivity about chahar shanbeh souri this year. The country's leaders rightly consider that the combination of general unrest, firecrackers, and bonfires dispersed across cities once night falls is, well, explosive. Warnings have been issued almost daily for the past few weeks to would-be troublemakers. The News Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran Police posted a statement this morning entitled, 'The police's measures against dangerous behavior, trouble-making, damage to public property, and creating traffic jams on the last Wednesday of the year.' The Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and the police have joined forces to patrol the streets of the country this evening. The use of motorcycles has been banned from 2 PM on Tehran's main arteries.

The regime has also brought out its heavy theological arms against the year-end traditions. In response to a religious query, Leader Ali Khamenei took the rare step of denouncing chahar shanbeh souri as conducive to 'harm and corruption' and therefore something to be avoided. Khamenei added that the festival has no Islamic foundation.

On March 8, Mehr News Agency published an article relating the fatwas or religious edicts of 'seven grand ayatollahs' on the celebrations. It should be pointed out that all of the clerics mentioned in the article are grand ayatollahs, except Khamenei. However, the other clerics are simply referred to as ayatollahs, most notably Ali Sistani, considered by many to be the most senior Shiite cleric in the world, who is placed in fifth position:
His Excellency Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Chahar shanbeh souri has no meaning based on reason.
Makarem Shirazi: Purchasing and selling fireworks are religiously proscribed
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi stressed that chahar shanbeh souri is a superstitious celebration based on the false customs of the ancients and that it has no place in Islamic culture. He reminded, 'Traditions such as visiting relatives and friends, showing clemency, and aiding others must be encouraged but we must not surrender to the superstitious customs of the ancients. The purchase and sale and transport of fireworks, which can lead to accidents and injury, are not permissible and any profits from the aforementioned are religiously proscribed.
Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Taghi Behjat: Such actions have no legitimacy.
Ayatollah Sheikh Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani: It is wrong.
Ayatollah Seyed Ali Sistani: Actions which are detrimental to society and harm people, such as using fireworks or trading in them are not permissible.
Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani: Considering that it has dangers for life and limb and property, and harms others, and is against the laws and public order, it is not permissible.
Ayatollah Sheikh Mirza Javad Tabrizi: None of these acts have any religious basis and encouraging them is to encourage them to concentrate on worldly matters and not the ever-after. And their belief that this enjoins the people to preserve the nation and honor is a false belief. That which compels the people to find honor and preserve the nation is faith and nothing else.

The constant declarations made by security authorities concerning chahar shanbeh souri reached such a fever pitch that a satirist on state television took note. Jalal Samii, 27, who presents a daily piece on channel 1's popular 'Good Morning Iran' (NB Sobh Bekheir Iran) made the following tongue-in-cheek presentation (translation after the video):

Jalal Samii:
The fire department has issued a warning to watch over your children in the end-of-the-year period. You have to watch over your children in general anyway, but the fire department has said that children buy fireworks and crackers at the end of the year, so you should keep a closer eye on them. The fire department has cautioned that you should make sure that children don't have firecrackers and such things.

From now on, children don't have the right to keep their hands in their pockets or under their shirts or whatever, because you can hide firecrackers anywhere. Interrogate your children's bags -- I mean, conduct a search of your children's bags. Conduct an interrogation of the child as well. Whenever you feel the child may be lying, conduct an interrogation. Interrogations take place in many places, and they're very effective too. I mean, they sometimes even tell you things that you didn't expect when they're interrogated.

Whatever the child's age, it makes no difference. He is not permitted to go out to play. He should sit in front of you and play in the dirt or play at doctors. Make sure he doesn't play with matches. The child is no longer allowed to spend too much time in the lavatory, he may make something explode in there, a firecracker or something. He shouldn't touch the heater.

If any sound emanates from the child, interrogate him with regard to firecrackers. Whatever the sound. This is a very important point so close to the last Wednesday of the year. Don't allow the child to watch just any movie. Only let the child watch family-oriented shows and if he falls in love, so be it, as long as he doesn't explode any firecrackers.

If necessary, the mothers should keep an eye on the fathers. The father may take the child's firecracker away and then go and explode it with his buddies. Unfortunately the fire department hasn't mentioned this. Shouldn't the authorities release information about firecrackers? The child may blow up a plastic bag and then you beat him, thinking it was a firecracker. He blows up some bubble gum and then you hit him.

Is any noise a part of the this firecracker issue? Or should other noises be inspected by other official bodies? Why is everyone asking the fire department to make these declarations? With all these noises that may emanate from a child... well, the fire department is only supposed to show up after there's been an explosion. The fire department can't handle all noises. I think you should make a general declaration about all possible sounds.

Regardless of all the bellicose statements made by the regime in recent weeks, it is worth remembering that the 'original sin' of rejecting ancient Iranian traditions in order to impose an Islamic system was committed from the start of the revolution and no one embodies it better than Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, who was assassinated in 1979. Motahari, father-in-law of current Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and father of Principlist, yet anti-Ahmadinejad, Majlis representative Ali Motahari, was considered a moderate and enlightened cleric in the years leading up to the revolution. Yet, his comments in the following video tell a different story. The footage is from an episode of Voice of America's Newstalk program almost exactly a year ago. Motahari's voice is from a recording reportedly made in the months before his death. I have included the reaction of Nasser Mohammadi, editor of the London edition of Keyhan, not to be confused with the arch-conservative Tehran Keyhan, run by Hossein Shariatmadari  (translation follows the video):

Host Jamshid Chalangi: 
First we have a tape of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, who before the revolution was a member of the Royal Philosophical Society, led by Dr. Hossein Nasr at the time. After the revolution, Ayatollah Motahari was a member of the Council of the Revolution. [Islamic Republic founder] Ayatollah Khomeini said in his regard, 'He is a part of my heart.' [Motahari] was subsequently assassinated. He made comments rejecting Iranian customs -- chahar shanbeh souri and nowrouz -- which became guidelines for supporters of the Islamic Revolution. Let's listen to Ayatollah Motahari's comments and then we'll get to my question...

Ayatollah Morteza Motahari's recorded voice:
'In the past they did this and we'll do the same.' That's the last Wednesday of the year, the last Wednesday of the month of Esfand. Many families -- which we must call families of idiots -- many families of idiots light fires, set logs on fire, and then grownups with their big statures jump over fire. 'Oh fire, my sickly yellow to you, your vibrant red to me.' How ignorant this is. Why do you do this? 'Sir, this is a tradition of us people. From ancient times, our fathers did this.' The Quran says, (recites line from the Quran). Even if your fathers and ancestors acted in this way, when you see that it is a foolish act and a sign of the stupidity of your forefathers, then cover it up. Why do you keep repeating this evidence of ignorance every year? This is just evidence of ignorance. You strive to keep this evidence of ignorance alive. We had such idiots for fathers and mothers.

(Another recording) Our first day of the month of Farvardin (NB First day of the Iranian calendar) is also cursed. What's the difference between the 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 13th or 14th or 15th of Farvardin? What must we do to escape this cursed state? You go out and tie knots in stalks of grass instead of going to the mosque. [inaudible] This is a day that symbolizes our superstition and ignorance. It's a holiday? [inaudible] These things are against Islam.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Well, Mr. Mohammadi, those were the words of one of the revolution's leaders in the first year after the revolution. Opposition to traditions. Insults to millions of Iranians and Iranian families. Ayatollah Motahari called them idiots. The revolutionaries supported his comments, or at least were silent. How do you explain this rejection? Iranians have respected Islamic traditions and still do, but they have also respected their historical, national, ancient traditions. What are the roots of this opposition to Iranian traditions by the revolutionary clergy?

Nasser Mohammadi:
Mr. Chalangi, before getting to the reasons for this opposition, which has been present throughout history... It is truly regretful. When we were young, we considered Dr. Motahari as one of the enlightened clerics. In those days, he used to write articles in Zaneh Rouz (NB Today's Woman magazine), he was a member of the Royal Philosophical Society, he worked with the government, he was a university professor... It is truly amazing to hear such words from the mouth of a university professor, a cleric at that. 'They're donkeys (NB stupid), idiots, it is stupidity, it is ignorance, our forefathers were idiots.' It is regretful that a cleric, a person who calls himself an Iranian, so boldly insults millions of Iranians and calls everyone an idiot. When this man, with the fame that he had, with the top position that he held in the Council of the Revolution, says such things, what can we expect of Basijis and Hezbollahis, how can we expect such people to not insult those in front of them or assault them?

But the question is, Why are they against [such traditions]? All tribes and peoples who invaded Iran throughout its history first directed their attacks against Iranian culture and traditions. It is now rouz and chahar shanbeh souri and other festivals which have helped the Iranian nation weather vicissitudes and extremely hard times. The Iranian nation has been able to bring all invaders to their knees and has endured and has preserved its civilization by holding firm to such traditions, beliefs, and festivals, at the zenith of which is now rouz, the symbol of the nation's unity and solidarity. That [Motahari] presents such an interpretation, well, it's his own interpretation. From the day the Islamic Republic came into being, it showed opposition and enmity towards anything which had a national hue, anything that represented the nation. The Agha [NB Ayatollah Khomeini] used to say that national identity represents opposition to Islam.

Any ideological regime which sees itself as extra-territorial -- and the Islamic Republic and its leaders say that it is... These regimes, which want to transform the nation into an umma or the masses, have to destroy national identity and replace them with ideological values and identity.


I don't know.. when you say such things, people accuse you of being insulting... Is it stupidity and ignorance to
celebrate the last Wednesday of the year, or to take a 6-year-old child and cut open his scalp and repeat this every year? (NB Referring to the dubious act of making one's head bleed at Islamic mourning ceremonies such as Ashura.) That's not ignorance, but this is? How is it that the members of a government get together and write a petition that they then throw into a well outside a mosque in order to form a pact with the Imam Zaman? (NB Referring to the 12th Imam, the Shiite messiah) That's wise and rational, but if someone celebrates, then it's called stupidity.


All of the ancient Iranian festivals -- now rouz, sadeh, mehregan... -- are celebrations, without any weeping or chest-beating, and are based on natural cycles like the beginning of spring or harvest time. These gentlemen -- and this is not Islamic -- want to impose a culture of mourning. It is natural that they have opposed such celebrations from the first day they came to power. Mr. Chalangi, you and I remember -- young people don't remember this  -- in 1980, we thought that now that their revolution has been victorious they will celebrate now rouz. They said, No, we want to mourn. Let's go to Behesht Zahra cemetery and mourn our martyrs.

The chahar shanbeh souri celebrations will be beginning in Iran in a few hours.

It's that time of the year again.


  1. the old game again, since the green movement failed you've started to divide the islamic iran and the national iran, But come on VOA??
    .....poor anti-revolutionary talking.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ali Hosseini. This blog defends freedom of expression.

    Could you please point out any factual problems with this article?

    Did the numerous clerics mentioned in this post make those comments or not?

    Thank you in advance.