Taliban Oppose Nowruz Celebrations
On March 17, 2023, which coincided with the last Friday of the year, religious leaders across Afghanistan should have used the opportunity of the beginning of the new year to discuss the importance of education for boys and girls, as well as the view of Islam regarding girls, and to urge the Taliban to resume schools and universities for girls. Additionally, they should have addressed the economic challenges facing the people and asked government leaders to find reasonable solutions. It is important to note that a high percentage of Afghan people live in acute poverty and die of hunger, and thus the existing government should develop clear policies to eliminate such challenges. However, to the surprise of many, the religious leaders instead chose to address the issue of celebrating Nawroz and condemned it.
The Taliban’s Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs typically sends a context to the addresses of preachers across the country on a weekly basis, so that they can craft their sermons based on it. If they express anything contrary to the provided context, they will be reprimanded and may even be stripped of their duties. The contexts are focused on the current policy of the Taliban government, and address matters that validate the Taliban’s governing approach and reflect the Taliban’s ideology.
The Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs of the Taliban released a detailed statement this year condemning the celebration of Nawroz and the perceived blasphemous and heretical nature of the Nawroz ritual. The statement repeated old stereotypes that have been heard from the opponents of Nawroz for many years, claiming that Nawroz is one of the signs of infidelity and celebrating it is synonymous with disbelief, debauchery, and heresy. The most peculiar aspect of the statement was that the producers of the sermon text for the last Friday of the year even cited verses from the holy Quran to condemn Nawroz, demonstrating that they had employed every tool available to portray Nawroz as disruptive and contrary to Islamic belief in order to instill fear in the public.
The Controversy Surrounding Nawroz
Previously, the government of Afghanistan recognized the first day of the solar calender as a public holiday. However, with the return of the Taliban, the Nawroz holiday has been removed from the calendar, demonstrating the highest level of the Taliban’s opposition to national and local traditions and rituals. This opposition is not exclusive to the Taliban, as a large number of religious scholars have also opposed the celebration of this day in the past due to its perceived incompatibility with religious values. The current situation is distinguished by the presence of a coercive force behind the opposition to Nawroz, which can be used as an excuse to punish those who celebrate it.
At present, our nation is facing a variety of difficulties. If the government were to prioritize addressing these issues, it would not have the capacity to consider the matter of Nawroz and whether its observance is permissible or forbidden. The primary query is why the Taliban and their similarly-minded religious clerics are so sensitive to Nawroz and are attempting to eradicate it. What is the significance of Nawroz? What has caused the Taliban and their like-minded individuals to become so hostile that their Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs has even organized a team of preachers from across the nation to suppress those who celebrate it?
The motives and ethnic tendencies of the Taliban’s performance are clear as day. This is because they do not oppose picnics that are in accordance with Sharia law. However, when it comes to Nawroz, they are completely opposed to it and deem it forbidden. The Taliban believe that anything they are familiar with can be justified by Sharia, while anything new to them is rejected and deemed unacceptable, even if it carries a functional and civilized message. Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid stated that Mullah Omar and his colleagues “transferred the cultural characteristics of their environment, their experiences or inexperience to the whole country, trying to justify their policies through the Qur’an” (Ahmad Rashid, 2000). This approach to the cultural characteristics of the country has not changed and remains the same. In summary, it is clear that the Taliban’s and others’ opposition to Nawroz is more a result of ethnic and identity supremacy than it is rooted in religious teachings. The Taliban think that Nawroz is one of the customs and traditions celebrated in the cities or villages of non-Pashtun tribes, and thus the Pashtuns in the villages are unfamiliar with it. They consider themselves the standard of everything, and because they are unfamiliar with the Nawroz ritual, they have deemed it illegal.
The Defeat of Nawroz Opponents
Prior to the Taliban regaining power, some religious institutions and scholars opposed Nawroz, deeming it a sign of disbelief and polytheism. Conversely, since a platform was created for Nawroz supporters to discuss and debate, they also wrote in defense of celebrating Nawroz. In recent years, the situation had shifted such that many opponents of Nawroz had either come to accept the truth of the words of Nawroz lovers or chose to remain silent out of fear of protests, thus allowing Nawroz supporters to gradually alter the atmosphere in their favor. However, with the return of the Taliban, the situation has once again shifted in favor of opponents, as those opposed to the Taliban have no right to comment on the monotonous atmosphere created by the Taliban. Though the enemies of Nawroz were unable to compete in the realm of arguments, they now benefit from the support of the Taliban and feel a false sense of victory. Normally, they lack the strength to fight Nawroz, but now they are temporarily fighting with bayonets and swords.
Religious Arguments Against Nawroz
There are people in every tribe who oppose Nawroz and express their hatred for it. However, they often give their opposition a spiritual or religious form. The Taliban have adopted this same approach, citing religious reasons to insinuate that Nawroz is incompatible with their beliefs. Salaam Abed, one of the people who spoke out against Nawroz in Afghanistan, stated that the discussion of celebrating Nawroz is a religious issue and should only be addressed by religious scholars. This claim is false for two main reasons. Firstly, the topic of Nawroz can be addressed from different perspectives, meaning that everyone has the right to express their opinion based on their expertise. For example, historians should be the ones to investigate its past and history. Therefore, religious scholars should rely on historical researchers when considering Nawroz. Secondly, the claim that the Nawroz debate is purely religious can be logically refuted. Nawroz is a tradition that has been passed down through the ages and has many beautiful meanings. Those who celebrate this day do not regard it with any religious significance and simply treat it as a pleasant tradition. Therefore, it is unnecessary to view it as a religious matter or to try to prove its permissibility or impermissibility from a religious standpoint. The first Muslims left many pre-Islamic traditions intact and did not oppose them, so why should we?
The religious opponents of Nawroz have so few arguments that they have resorted to grasping at any small thing to support their claims. In the text prepared by the Taliban for the last Friday prayer of the year, the celebration of Nawroz was deemed haram due to its purported connection to the Majestic religion. However, it is difficult to prove this, and no one can speak with certainty on the matter. Many historical researchers have noted that Nawroz predates the Majestics, even though the Zoroastrians celebrated it as well. Furthermore, those who currently celebrate Nawroz in Afghanistan or other countries do not follow Zoroastrianism, nor do they have any desire to “resemble infidels.” If mere similarity is the basis for deeming something haram, then Muslims should be obligated to shave their beards, as followers of the Jewish religion and elders and theoreticians of the school of atheism also grow beards.
The other Mullahs are somewhat cautious and do not openly oppose the principle of Nawroz. However, they talk about the heresies and wrongdoings that occur in the name of celebrating Nawroz, and they attempt to question the Nawroz ritual under this pretext. The text written by the Mullahs of Taliban endowments also neglected this point. Muhammad Ayaz Niazi had the same approach while he was alive. Instead of dealing with Nawroz, he focused on its margins in order to weaken the position of Nawroz in the public mind. This approach demonstrates the helplessness and powerlessness of the opponents of Nawroz. Superstitions and actions against Sharia or customs may occur during any ritual. For example, in some Islamic countries, the nights of Ramadan are an occasion for gatherings of men and women in particular neighborhoods. Is it wise for us to declare the month of Ramadan improper due to the fact that during the nights of Ramadan in these countries, men and women come together, and suspicious relationships may form between the two sexes?
Nawroz Celebrations Resilience in Face of Hostilities
In the first century of Islamic history, there was no discussion of the haram celebration of Nawroz, but several rulers approved of this ritual. However, as Ajams (non-Arabs) competed with Arabs in politics and culture, some people fabricated narrations from the Prophet in order to attack non–Arabs or Persian speakers, attempting to negate and reject anything related to Ajams, including Nawroz. Despite these efforts, Nawroz was not forgotten. Even those who were enemies of the Ajam identity went so far as to quote stories from some of the companions or jurisprudential leaders, indicating their opposition to people speaking Persian and viewing Persian or non–Arabic as a sign of hypocrisy. A similar situation is occurring today in Afghanistan, where most of the motives for opposing Nawroz are political and ethnic.
Opponents have used religious texts as a means of concealing their true intentions. Fortunately, there is no valid reason to reject Nawroz in religious texts. Quoting phrases from Abu Khafs Kabir, Ali al–Qari, or the author of Fatwai Hindiyah to demonstrate that Hanafi jurists were hostile to Nawroz does not prove anything. It is certain that Abu Hanifa‘s approach is to rely on reason and judgment when deriving Sharia rulings. Therefore, reason would never allow us to sacrifice a ritual as beautiful and meaningful as Nawroz to the words of those who do not know the context in which they spoke. The Taliban may be able to temporarily suppress those celebrating Nawroz and Nawroz culture, but it will not last forever as Nawroz will endure for many years, and, as Ali Shariati said, “it will be proud celebration among all the festivals of the world.”