If a JEHOVAH WITNESS wrote some fanatic articles on SCI, I do not think anybody would really care to respond. I think most people would not even read it. You know they do not allow their children to have Christmas gifts, or go Trick or Treating on Halloween, or have Birthday Parties, etc. I think evenstrict Muslims would think of such religious orders as abhorrent. But why not any Iranian would care? I think it is because we would say, these are private ideas of the Jehovah Witnesses, and it does not affect our life.


Even Baha'i Faith, when their theology was discussed on SCI, most people did not participate? Why? Because they do not rule Iran!  It is their private matter. They don't decide if you are to be executed if a homosexual, even if they believe you should be shot twenty million times.  I once heard about this professor who was one of the few believers in the religion of the Persian Prophet Mani.  For years, he was outspoken about his religion. He was surprised why nobody would even speak against him. Simply people did not care!!


You may respond that the issue is not just a private matter for Pakistanis and may ask why the Pakistanis don't react to you the same way [I have attached my post about details about the Pakestan comparison below but I will focus on Iran here.*]


I would say that the BIG difference with Pakestanis is that Iranians in their history have not lived this way. For Iranians, civil law has been pretty much there especially after the Constitutional Movement. Only Turkey, in that region, has had something close to the Iranian experience and still not exactly. Why?


Because Ottoman Empire was mostly a religious government similar to Omayid and Abbassids, but Iran's Safavids, although promoting Shi'a, their state ideology was national-based rather than religious-based. Even prior to them the Moghols accepted the Iranian national sentiments and people like Nezam-ol-Molk, in their court, draw a lot on Iranian ways (in contrast to Islamic ways) when discussing the running of the government in Siasat-nAmeh.


Just look at the holidays in Iran and compare them to holidays of Pakestan. In Iran, NOROOZ is the number one holiday.  In most Arab countries and Pakistan, the birth of Prophet Mohammad or Eid-e Ghorban, or Eid-e Fetr (or you tell me), is the major holiday. Iranians are the most excited about days like Shab-e Yalda, Charshambeh-Soori and Sizdeh-Bedar which HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEIR RELIGION.


I am not talking about the time of the Shah, I am talking about NOW. It is NOT nationalism. It is NATIONAL SENTIMENTS that are way more stronger than religious sentiments. Iranians subscribing to any religion, or being from any ethnic or national or gender minority, or being the citizen of any country, share these national SENTIMENTS. This is their strength.


In fact, even the most celebrated religious day in Iran is the birth of Imam Mehdi (12th Imam of Shia who Disappeared). That is when you see firecrackers, etc. and lot of joy in Iran.  I do not know what other Muslim country celebrates it.


Even Ayatollah Khomeini wrote poetry in the mystical tradition of Hafez. They have been published posthumously in Iran. The allegories in those poems are not Islamic. They are Iranian. Compare them with Khayyam, Hafez, or Molana (Rumi). Iranian Muslims and non-Muslims love Rumi. I have HEARD some non-Iranian Muslims think of Rumi's works as heretical (please correct me).


The traditional sport in Iran, ZOOR-KHANEH, which is popular among the everyday people and not the intellectuals, the verses of Shahnameh are recited. The pre-Islamic stories are read and chanted during the exercises. The frequently mentioned name during their practice is ALI. But what they relay about Ali is way different from what you would relay about Imam Ali Ebn-Abi Taleb.


Zoor-khAneh stories portray Ali as if he is an Iranian hero alongside the other pre-Islamic heroes. The same is true in NAGHALI in the tea-houses of Iran. The portrays on the walls have nothing to do with Islam and these are everyday people and not intellectuals.


There is no mention of Abu Bakr or Omar or Osman in good faith.  In fact, there is a prejudice against Arabs in Iran that many joke when mentioning Osman and say Osman-e Lang, when referring to someone who is not excelling in something. Or if something is messed up, they say it is Omar's intestine (roodeh-e Omar). I do not think these are really pointed at Sunnis. I think these are essentially part of Iranian national sentiments (these last ones are actually more of national prejudice and I hope that Iranians to get rid of them).


Even non-intellectual Muslims, like my mother, know that Imam Hossein married Bibi-Shahrbanou, who was the daughter of Yazdgerd (the Third), the last Sasanid King and they mention that with pride as another reason to respect Imam Hossein.  The Iranian women have a custom to go to a Mountain near Tehran (called Kuh-e Bibi-Shahrbanou) to pay respects to her.  They say if a man goes there, he will turn into a stone. So this is a woman space custom.


So many traditions of SOFREH among Iranian women are pre-Islamic, although they mostly have Islamic form now. They are not shared by Arabs. Arabs of Persian Gulf have a woman custom called ZAR which I THINK is also a Persian custom (See Mircia Eliade for details). The Sofrehs for Bibi-Shahrbanou, Hazrate-e Fatemeh, Hazrateh Roghieh, Hazarat-e Abolfazl, etc.


Iranians burn a doll, they call Omar, on a day called eid-e Omar, in defiance of the Omar's Invasion of Iran.  This custom is observed in most Shi'a areas of Iran. I saw it in Tehran as a kid and as an adult, although I wish it would go away. It is observed in the most traditional, everyday, neighborhoods of Tehran. There are many Sunni Iranians in Iran and it does not help the Shi'a and Sunni relation in Iran.


Thus as one can see, it is not just Iranian intellectuals, it is the Iranian people that have strong national sentiments. Iranian nationals who are citizens of US and other countries are famous for their national sentiments.  There are not that many Iranians in California, as compared to many other nationalities, but there are so many IRANIAN TVs.  And Iranians hardly cooperate in the MUSLIM TV and radio programs which are usually pioneered by Pakistanis and Arabs. It is not because Iranians are not Muslim, it is simply that Iranians see their identity as an Iranian national. Iranians have a lot on that side.


We Iranians are lucky to have such strong moral and ethical national sentiments. I am sure other people have other ways to define their social identity. But this is ours and we are pretty happy about it. Go to any Charshambeh-Soori gathering of Iranians, anywhere in the world, and look how people's eyes shine, and you can feel what I am talking about.


If these national sentiments are channeled into nationalism, isolationism, and chauvinism, it is self-defeating, but if they are sources of power for Iranian nationals no matter what ethnic grouping, what religion, and citizen of what country they are, then it is a source of strength when living in a global village. These Iranian national sentiments have nothing to do with kings or Zoroastrianism today. It does not matter where or how these traditions have been born, they are just the identityof every Iranian in the world.


Sam Ghandchi

May 19, 1994







* The above article was first posted on SCI (soc.culture.iranian) Usenet newsgroup on May 19, 1994


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