Persian New Year Marked With Prayers For Peace In Iraq

Friday, March 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- People in parts of the Middle East and central Asia celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Friday, with some using the ancient holiday to pray for peace in Iraq.

"We pray that peace prevails and the world will be without people who wage wars and incite violence," Morad Hosseinpour told his family in Tehran as they celebrated the holiday.

Hosseinpour's family sat around a table decorated with seven items beginning with the Persian letter "S," representing health, freshness and prosperity in the new year. They placed copy of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, on the table.

Iranian student Hasan Feizabadi said he was marking the holiday while remembering "innocent Iraqis who are subject to war."

Nowruz predates Islam, dating back thousands of years to the time when Zoroastrianism -- with its central theme of the struggle between the good spirit Ahura Mazda and the evil Ahriman -- was the predominant religion of Persia.

Nowruz is one of a few national festivals that survived the advent of Islam and recent efforts by hard-line Iranian clerics to discourage pre-Islamic festivals.

In Kabul, the Afghan capital, more than 100,000 people turned out to celebrate the holiday, banned under the Taliban rulers who were vanquished by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.

"I have not seen so many people here in 10 years. This is a good omen," said Abdul Saboor, 35, a Kabul teacher, who attended the flag raising at a Kabul shrine at the Kart-e-Sakhi cemetery, the focus of official celebrations of Nowruz.

The shrine symbolizes the tomb of Hazrat Ali, a cousin of Islam's Prophet Mohammed. Ali was the first Imam of the Shiite branch of Islam.

"Once the Taliban beat my wife for coming to Kart-e-Sakhi for Nowruz," said a 40-year-old Azizullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

President Hamid Karzai issued a new year's message to the nation saying the day carries "hopes for rehabilitation."

The holiday also is celebrated in Turkey and some central Asian nations.

In Iran, hard-line clerics in Qom, the main center of Islamic teaching, urged Iranians to hold low-key celebrations this year because Nowruz coincided with the anniversary of the death of Hussein, grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad.

Iranians mourned the anniversary last week. But they have spent the past few days buying new clothes, flowers and sweets for Nowruz.

The Persian New Year always begins March 21, the first day of spring. Unlike other countries in the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan follow the Persian calendar.