Next week on Tuesday, Iranians will mark entry into a new year 1402 according to the Persian calendar.
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.
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.
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 Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.
During Ramadan, 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.
Religious expert Mohsen Alviri advises those planning to have picnics to go without food until breaking their fast.
“In Shiite jurisprudence, if the faithful travel a certain distance from their city of residence, they are considered travellers and may not fast,” he said.
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.
“Nowruz pays attention to the preservation of nature and emphasises eliminating resentment between people, respecting elders, visiting relatives… these are values that are strongly recommended by Islam,” he added.