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3. Ismaili Festivals

Nowruz in Ismailism: Why Ismailis Celebrate Nowruz

Navroz 2016

Sometimes, too much is celebrated and too little is known about Navroz (or Nowruz) in Ismailism. We analyze this festival in the light of history and evidence available through Ismaili thought leaders as follows:

  1. About Nowruz
    1. Nowruz in Zoroastrianism
    2. Nowruz in Shia Islam
    3. Nowruz in Nizari Ismailism
  2. Exposing Nizari Ismaili Lies about Nowruz
    1. Nowruz Did Not Start at 10:20 EDT in 1994
    2. Ghadir-e-Khumm and Nowruz Did Not Coincide
    3. Does it make sense to celebrate the day when Prophet Adam (as) “thrown” from the heavens to the earth?
    4. Absence of any evidence that Prophet Noah (as) landed on the shore on Nowruz
    5. Similarity of Nowruz traditions in Zoroastrianism and Ismailism
    6. Hadith on Celebration of Festivals like Nowruz
    7. Quranic evidence on provision of Rozi

1. About Nowruz

The Persian festival of Nowruz (also spelled nauroz or navroz or navroze) with a history deeply rooted in Zoroastrianism, is celebrated by Nizari Ismailis on March 21. In the evening, packets filled with raw sugar and raw rice are distributed in Jamatkhana and families decorate boiled eggs to mark the occasion. The Baha’i Faith, a religion also with its origin in Iran, celebrates this day (spelling it “Naw Ruz”) as a religious holiday marking not only the new year according to the Baha’i calendar, but the end of their Nineteen Day Fast.

1.1 Nowruz in Zoroastrianism

Nowruz literally means “new day” and is the name of the Persian/Iranian new year, celebrated on March 21. It is a particularly holy day for Zoroastrians (commonly known as the Parsi community) who are one of the earliest known inhabitants of Persia. The word Parsi also literally means Persian signifying the roots of the Zoroastrians who migrated from Persia (now known as Iran) to South Asia.

Nowruz marks the first day of the spring and the beginning of the new year in the Persian calendar. Like many other celebrations like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, it is thought of as a secular celebration, but has religious roots in Zoroastrianism. Nowruz is said to have been invented by Zoroaster himself, though no evidence is available to substantiate this claim.

The Persian calendar (also called the Jalali calendar) is a solar calendar, as opposed to the Islamic lunar calendar. The Persian calendar was formalized by a panel convened by Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah I with significant contribution from the famous astronomer and philosopher, Omar Khayyam. The Persian calendar was formalized in the eleventh century, and the years in the Persian calendar are counted since the start of the first vernal equinox of the Islamic Hijri lunar calendar. The Persian calendar therefore started after the Islamic Hijri calendar.

1.2 Nowruz in Shi’a ʾIslām

Nowruz is also celebrated in Shia Islam. However, the Nizari Ismaili celebrations bear little or no similarity to the way Shia Muslims celebrate Nowruz. Shia Muslims are recommended to fast on the day of Nowruz and follow the daily salat with special adhkar. Nizari Muslims however, mark Nowruz with dance, music and dandia-raas as they mark most of their festivals. Here is a highlight from Nizari Ismaili Nowruz celebrations:


However, Nizari Ismailis continue to celebrate Nowruz as a part of pretending to be a part of the Shia Muslim community. Shia Muslims have the following remote narration from Bihar al-Anwar where Muhammad Bakir Majlisi reports a tradition related by Moalla bin Khunais that that Imam Jafar Sadik said:

“It was on Nowruz that Adam was created, that God made a covenant with the souls, that Abraham destroyed the pagan idols, that the Prophet of Islam received first revelation, that the Prophet took Ali on his shoulders to smash 360 idols in Mecca, and most important of all, that he declared Ali as his legitimate successor.”

There is no evidence from Quran or primary sources of Sunni or Shia hadith literature supporting Nowruz in Islam. Bihar al-Anwar is only considered as a secondary source of Shia hadith literature.

Ismailis are unable to quote the above narration from Bihar al-Anwar since they do not consider it an authentic text and most Ismāʿīlis have never heard of Bihar al-Anwar. If they would, their rejection of the remainder of Bihar al-Anwar would be exposed. It is a well-known fact that along with Quran, Ismailis reject all Sunni sources of hadith (Kutub Al-Sittah), Shia sources of Hadith (Al-Kutub Al-Arb’ah) as well as secondary Shia hadith sources, such as Allama Majlisi’s Bihar al-Anwar.

1.3 Nowruz in Ismailism

The significance of this festival in Nizari Ismailism is best explained by a speech (click to listen) of Abu Aly A. Aziz which he delivered on March 21, 1994 in Toronto. In this speech, which is one of the few sources where significance of Nowruz in Ismailism is explained, Abu Aly A. Aziz says:

Nowruz is growth, rebirth and rekindling of life and that’s why eggs are boiled and are coloured red, green or yellow or any of the seven colours. Seven types of cereals (اناج) are given in rozi (packets distributed in Jamatkhana on day of Nowruz). Seven types of things are distributed and people go to each others’ houses and celebrate just like Eid and take sweets as well and this is now Nowruz is celebrated.

He further goes on to add:

Ever since the time of Mowla Hasan Ali Shah (Aga Khan I), the mukhi and kamadia and the amaldaars of the Jamaat requested that “Ya khudavind, please give us rozi with your own hands today”. Then these seven types of rozi were kept, Jamaat used to form a queue and our spiritual father and mother Imam Hasan Ali Shah, then after him our spiritual mother and father Imam Ali Shah, then after him our spiritual father Sultan Mohammed Shah used to pour a fistful of rozi to the Jamaat in the handkerchiefs which the Jamaat carried to the Imam.

Abu Aly then instructs that the raw wheat should not be consumed for a year, but stored in a box with the wheat consumed in the house and the box should never get empty since this will give abundance in rizq throughout the year.

Abu Aly further adds that the significance of Nowruz is due to the following events:

1. Prophet Adam (as) was “thrown” from the heavens to the earth on this day
2. Event of Ghadir-e-Khumm took place on this day
3. The ark of Prophet Noah (as) landed on the shore after the Great Flood

He goes on to claim in the above speech that at 10:20 EDT in Toronto on that day, 21 March 1994, the new year had started and Ismailis in Toronto were now well into the new year at the time of his sermon. This was a blatant lie, just like all of the statements he made in his speech. Rebuttal to each and every one of them is provided below.

2. Exposing Nizari Ismaili Lies About Nowruz

With the historical significance of Nowruz explained along with the importance of Nowruz in Zoroastrianism and the huge difference in the way that Nowruz is celebrated in Shia Islam as compared to Nizari Ismailism, we will now look at how Ismailis have been deceived yet again by Abu Aly A. Aziz in his above-referenced speech.

2.1 Nowruz Did Not Start at 10:20 EDT in 1994

We will start with the lie of Abu Aly when he stated that Nowruz of March 1994 started at 10:20am in Toronto. This claim of Abu Aly was obviously a blatant lie as he had no idea about the March equinox time. In 1994, the March equinox occurred at 20:28 GMT on 20 March 1994 (Source: http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/longest-day/equinox-solstice-1992-1999.htm). Eastern Time is behind Greenwich Mean Time and therefore the time in Toronto, Canada for March equinox was 16:28 EDT on 20 March 1994, and not on 10:20 EDT as Abu Aly mentioned.

2.2 Ghadir-e-Khumm and Nowruz Did Not Coincide

While keeping in mind the above-explained important fact for the beginning of the Persian/Jalali calendar, let’s analyse see if the event of Ghadir-e-Khumm occurred on Nowruz.

Event of Hajj ul Wida (or the Hajj of Farewell) occurred in the year 10 AH. The Prophet (pbuh) started his journey on 24 Dhul Qada, and reached Mecca on 4 Dhul Hajjah, moved to Mina on 8 Dhul Hajjah and the next morning to Arafat where he gave the Sermon of the Farewall Hajj. In total he stayed in Mecca for 10 days and then headed for Medina, stopping at Ghadir Khumm en route to Medina where the hadith of the pond of Khumm is recorded on 18 Dhul Hajjah 10 AH corresponding to 16 March, 632 AD of the Gregorian calendar according to all Hijri-Gregorian calendar conversions.

As per the official Iranian calendar conversion, the lunar calendar date of 18 Dhul Hajjah 10 AH corresponds to 28 Esfand 10 AP or 19 March 632 AD which is two days before the official Ismaili celebration of Nowruz.

Therefore the calculations reveal that the event of Ghadir-e-Khumm was not exactly on Nowruz, but was 2-5 days before the Persian new year.

Even if the event of Ghadir-e-Khumm occured on Nowruz, the question which Nizari Ismailis should ask themselves is that what’s the point of celebrating Eid-e-Ghadeer separately and Nowruz separately? Since Eid-e-Ghadeer is already a separate occasion for the Ismailis, it is clear that the core reason for celebrating Nowruz is not because of the event of Ghadeer-e-Khum.

2.3 Does it make sense to celebrate the day when Prophet Adam (as) exited the heavens to come to Earth?

For the educated mind, the above claim of Abu Aly A. Aziz does not require any explanation. Prophet Adam (as) was sent from the heavens to earth not as a reward, but as a punishment and it is senseless to mark that day as a day of celebration. Only the devil can be expected to celebrate that day since it was a day of joy and victory for him rather than anyone else.

2.4 Absence of any evidence that Prophet Noah (as) landed on the shore on Nowruz

There is absolutely no evidence in Quran, Hadith or history (which could not have been written at that time), that the day when Prophet Noah (as) landed on the shore was the day of vernal equinox or “Nowruz”. The Quran is loaded with examples of Prophets and many of their life events occurring on various days – none of them is however required to be celebrated or bears any significance to the followers of the Nizari Ismaili faith.

What about the day when Moses (as) spoke with Allah on Mount Sinai? What about the day when Jesus (as) was born? What about the day when Ayub (as) was cured of his decades-long illness? What about the day when Yunus (as) came out alive from the belly of the whale? What about the day when the dream of Yusuf (as) came true and his brothers who betrayed him were finally put to justice? What about the numerous victorious conquests of Islam when Prophet (pbuh) was victorious? What about the conquest of Mecca? What is the reason that the day when the ark of Prophet Noah (as) landed the shores is marked as Nowruz and celebrated? No Ismaili book has any answer to this question.

2.5 Similarity of Nowruz traditions in Zoroastrianism and Ismailism

The Zoroastrians traditionally spread a table called the Haft Sheen (seven primary items beginning with the Persian alphabet Sheen, and some ancillary items) table decorated with raw sugar, raw wheat, betel nut, flowers, the Zoroastrian holy book, the Khordeh Avesta, and a basket of decorated eggs to indicate new life.

The prevalent Ismaili practice of distributing packets in Jamatkhana filled with raw sugar and raw rice and decorating boiled eggs, similar to Easter eggs, bears striking resemblance to present-day and centuries-old Zoroastrian traditions.

2.6 Hadith on Celebration of Festivals like Nowruz

Even if any major religious historical event is proven to occur on Nowruz, the following instruction of our beloved Prophet (pbuh) overrules all excuses for celebration of Nowruz when the Prophet (pbuh) said:

Uqbah bin Amir narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “The Day of Arafah, the Day of Nahr, and the Days of Tashriq are Eid for us. The people of Islam, and they are days of eating and drinking”

This hadith has been reported in Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2, Book 3, Hadith 773. Also reported in Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 13, Hadith 2413 and in Sunan an-Nasa’i, Vol. 3, Book 24, Hadith 3007.

The purpose of this instruction from Prophet (pbuh) was to encourage Muslims to unsubscribe from the pagan traditions and festivals that they had been following. Considering the careful instruction of the Prophet (pbuh) towards prevalent pagan festivals, it is illogical to believe that the Prophet (pbuh) would encourage any Muslim to subscribe to religious festivals of Zoroastrians.

2.7 Quranic evidence on provision of Rozi

This is with reference to the story quoted by Abu Aly in the speech referenced above, the Ismāʿīli leaders asked Aga Khan for giving them provisions (rozi) with his “blessed” hands. On contrary to this proof-less incident preached by Abu Aly A. Aziz, Allah (swt) mentions in Surah Ar-Rūm (The Romans):

وَلَمْ يَرَوْا أَنَّ اللَّـهَ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَقْدِرُ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ

Translation:

Do they not see that Allah extends provision for whom He wills and restricts [it]? Indeed, in that are signs for a people who believe. (30:37)

Conclusion

Navroz is a celebration which pre-dates ʾIslām and has significance only in the Bahai and Zoroastrianism. Just like other matters, Ismāʿīlis have been taught that Navroz is an important religious festival without explaining the actual roots thereof. We hope and pray that the above facts prove as a source of light to many Ismāʿīli readers and can guide them towards the light of ʾIslām.

About Akbar Khoja

Giving out free #LessonsInIsmailism.

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