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Is Norouz Un-Islamic?

Some religious leaders in Afghanistan and Tajikistan have said that Norouz celebrations should be banned as an "un-Islamic tradition." (Watch RFE/RL's Norouz coverage here.)

Norouz has been celebrated as the beginning of the new year in Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia for over 3,000 years.

But Afghan clerics sought to put an end to the ancient tradition at a meeting in Kabul this week, trying to persuade officials and people not to mark an event that "originates from pre-Islamic beliefs."

The clerics recommended Muslims observe only two important days in the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Fitr, a holiday that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice.

Likewise, a group of Tajik clerics have recently suggested that celebrating Norouz is not "appropriate" for Tajikistan as Norouz comes from the Zoroastrian faith, practiced by Tajiks before the arrival of Islam.

The clerics' calls to ban Norouz celebrations, however, were swiftly dismissed both in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Afghan officials, including Azizullah Rahmanyar, head of the information and culture department in the northern Jowzjan Province, said Norouz is a "historic and traditional festival" of the Afghan people.

And in Tajikistan it was actually the country's Islamic Council and Islamic Renaissance Party that disputed calls for banning Norouz as "un-Islamic."

"Norouz is a spring festival, when day and night become equal in length," said Marufullah Rahimov of the Islamic Council. "Why drag Islam into this?"

Rahimov, however, called on Tajik Muslims not to abuse alcohol and stay clear of other "inappropriate behavior" during Norouz parties.

In the meantime, preparations are under way for Norouz celebrations across the region. Celebrations include concerts, sports events, food festivals, picnics, and family gatherings.

Shamsullah, a young Kabul resident said, "we have so many problems in our everyday lives in Afghanistan and we look forward to Norouz parties to at least temporarily forget about our troubles."

"So I don’t want anyone to take it away from us."

-- Farangis Najibullah

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