Not long ago, I got a call from a reporter asking for my thoughts on the Islamic New Year. I immediately broke out laughing. “I’m Iranian,” I told her, “We don’t celebrate the Islamic New Year much. Our real new year is the first day of spring. So if you call back in March, I’ll have something much more intelligent to say.”
The Iranian New Year, Nowrooz, is just one of many old Zoroastrian traditions that Iranians have kept, often adding their own twist of Shi’a Islam. In most Iranian homes, the standard Nowrooz place setting (sofreh) includes a Qur’an. Our celebration of Nowrooz is just one of many examples of mixing Islamic, Zoroastrian and culturally Persian traditions.
Thus, while the Iranian brand of Islam is a very Shi’a one, it is also a very Zoroastrian and Persian one. This unique strain of Islam is perhaps one of the greatest assets that the current Iranian opposition holds in its battle against an increasingly brutal Iranian regime. Thus, this opposition is not purely an Islamic one. Iranians of other faiths are also invested in its success. This includes Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, and Baha’is. All of us will benefit from the fall of the Islamic republic, but perhaps none more than Iranian Muslims.
The so-called Islamic Republic of Iran is a disgrace to the religion it claims to enforce. By persecuting minorities (religious or otherwise), the government has failed to follow the basic Islamic principles of diversity, justice and equality.
The “Islamic” Republic’s most un-Islamic policy by far has been its use of coercion with respect to religious practices. The greatest holy book of Islam, the Qur’an, clearly teaches that there should be no compulsion in religion, that forcing religion on anyone is a grave sin.
Not only has the government dishonored Islam in its practices, it has turned many Iranians, especially youth, away from Islam entirely by convincing them that the regime’s misrepresentations of the faith are accurate.
The growing drug and prostitution problems in Iran are no coincidence. Many have accepted that if the government’s twisted version of Islam is correct, then they want no part of it. And as a result distrust, disillusionment and dismay have followed.
There is a miracle behind the current uprising in Iran. The youth have finally recognized the biggest and most damaging lie that the allegedly Islamic Republic has been spreading over the past 30 years like a drug-resistant air-borne virus: that the mullahs and ayatollahs are necessarily speaking Islam, when they are often speaking nothing but power and politics.
The Iranian people are beginning to reclaim Islam for themselves. Not the kind of Islam that divides and discriminates, but the kind that unites and invites all of our brothers and sisters to join in the fight. Iranian-style Islam not only accepts other faiths, but it is also powerfully influenced by them. As an Iranian Shi’a Muslim, I cannot deny that my Islam is also a distinctly Zoroastrian, Jewish, Baha’i and Christian one by its very nature. These influences combine to create a unique flavor of Islam, full of saffron and honey, sprinkled with pistachios and drowning in rose water. Nothing tastes quite like it, and nothing smells quite as sweet.
This Islam belongs to the people, and the Iranian people have finally rescued it from the corrupt mullahs. We could be shouting anything off the rooftops to confirm that the movement is still alive and well. But, we have chosen the words “Allah-u Akbar,” God is Great. We are fighting a false idol here.
The only Supreme Leader for any Muslim is God.