The Culture of Iran
General Overview of Country
- Iran is a country located in the Middle East, bordered to the north by Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea, to the east by Pakistan and Afghanistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the [[Gulf of Oman], and to the west by Iraq and Turkey. The approximate size of the country is 1.6 million square kilometers. The population of Iran is currently around 65.4 million people with a population density of 39.7 people per square kilometer. Tehran (with a population of 7.2 million people) has been run by the Islamic Republic since 1979. Currently Iran’s President is Mahmud Ahmadinejad (since 2005) and Ayatollah Ali Khemani is the Supreme Leader (Head of State).
History of Iran
- The present country of Iran was referred to as Persia up until 1935, when Reza Shah Pahlavi decided to ask the country to call the state: Iran (It’s native name). The first people to occupy Iran were among a race of people that had been living in western Asia. However, another group of people, known as the Aryan race, soon arrived and started to become part of the community that existed in this region of western Asia. Today, the Aryans are known as “Indo-Europeans” who are assumed to be the ancestors of the people of present day India, Iran, and much of Western Europe.
- The first empire that thrived in present day Iran was run by early Achaemenids, founded by Cyrus the Great. He is known as the first person to create a charter of human rights. Under the rule of Cyrus the Great, the empire grew from the Aegean coast of Asia Minor to Afghanistan, and stretched to the south to Egypt. However, in 330 BC, Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenid Empire and maintained rule in the area under the Seleucid Greek Dynasty. After more dynasty replacements, Arabs conquered Iran in 641 and created a new era for the land. Persian— originally followers of Zoroaster—eventually converted to Islam, which became the official religion of Iran (specifically Shiite Islam) during the Safavid Era.
- During the Qajar dynasty, and later on, the lack of competent leaders caused Iran to decline in size and eventually led to a revolution in 1905-1906. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini was the leader of Iran, during which another revolution occurred, thus leading to the formation of the Islamic Republic (still in charge today). Some would argue that throughout Iran’s long history of government changes, the country has maintained a national identity and overall solidarity as a nation since the first inhabitants lived there.
Language of Iran
- Persian (Farsi), and related dialects comprise the majority of spoken languages in Iran. Around 58% of the country’s population speaks some form of Farsi. In addition, Turkic, as well as related dialects, and Kurdish also seem to be pretty widely used by inhabitants of Iran—although definitely not in the majority. In the southwest region of Khuzestan, Arabic is spoken by 1% of people; in the northwest region of Tabriz, Turkish seems to be the commonly spoken language. In addition, businesspeople and officials know how to speak English, French, and German in order to handle international affairs.
Religion of Iran
- Of the 98% of Muslims living in Iran, around 89% are Shi’a and only around 9% are Sunni. This is quite the opposite trend of the percentage distribution of Shi’a to Sunni Islam followers in the rest of the Muslim population from state to state (primarily in the Middle East) and throughout the rest of the world.
In addition to Muslim, followers of the Bahai faith comprise the largest non-Muslim minority in Iran. Followers of the Bahai faith are scattered throughout small communities in Iran, although there seems to be a large population of people who follow the Bahai faith in Tehran. Most of the Bahai are of Persian descent, although there seem to be many among the Azerbaijani and Kurdish people. Followers of the Christian faith comprise around 250,000 Armenians, around 32,000 Assyrians, and a small number of Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant Iranians that had been converted by missionaries in earlier centuries. Thus, Christians that live in Iran are primarily descendants of indigenous Christians that were converted during the 19th and 20th centuries. Although Judaism is an officially recognized faith in Iran, Jews living in Iran have been widely persecuted with intense hostility because of the Israel-Palestine dispute. In addition to Christianity and Judaism, Zoroastrianism is another officially recognized religion in Iran, although followers of this faith do not hold a large population in Iran. In addition, although there have been isolated incidences of prejudice against Zoroastrians, most followers of this faith have not been persecuted for being followers of this faith.
Holidays in Iran
- The Persian year begins n the vernal equinox: if the astronomical vernal equinox comes before noon, then the present day is the first day of the Persian year. If the equinox falls after noon, then the next day is the official first day of the Persian year. The Persian Calendar, which is the official calendar of Iran, is a solar calendar with a starting point that is the same as the Islamic calendar. According to the Iran Labor Code, Friday is the weekly day of rest. Government official working hours are from Saturday to Wednesday (from 8 am to 4 pm).
- Although the exact date of certain holidays in Iran are not exact (due to the calendar system they use, most of these holidays are around the same time. Some of the major public holidays in Iran include Oil Nationalization Day (March 21), Nowrooz—which is the Iranian equivalent of New Years (March 31), the Prophet’s Birthday and Imam Sadeq (June 4), and the Death of Imam Khomeini (June 5). Additional holidays include The Anniversary of the Uprising Against the Shah (January 30), Ashoura (February 11), Victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution (April 2), Sizdah-Bedar—Public Outing Day to end Nowrooz (April 1), and Islamic Republic Day (January 20). In addition to the specific public holidays in Iran, the nation additionally celebrates general Muslim holidays (being that the majority of the population is Muslim), including The Hijrah New Year, Ramadan, Eid al Fitr, Eid al Adha, as well as many other religious holidays celebrated throughout the year.
Wedding Ceremonies in Iran
- There are two stages in a typical wedding ritual in Iran. Usually both phases take place in one day. The first stage is known as “Aghd”, which is basically the legal component of marriage in Iran. In this process, the Bride and Groom as well as their respective guardians sign a marriage contract. This phase usually takes place in the bride’s home. After this legal process is over, the second phase, "Jashn-e Aroosi” takes place. In this step, which is basically the wedding reception, where actual feasts and celebrations are held, typically lasts from about 3-7 days. The ceremony takes place in a decorated room with flowers and a beautifully decorated spread on the floor. This spread is typically passed down from mother to daughter and is composed of very nice fabric such as “Termeh” (cashmere), “Atlas” (gold embroidered satin), or “Abrisham” (silk). Specific items are placed on this spread: a Mirror (of fate), two Candelabras (representing the bride and groom and their bright future), a tray of seven multi-colored herbs and spices (including poppy seeds, wild rice, angelica, salt, nigella seeds, black tea, and frankincense). These herbs and spices play specific roles ranging from breaking spells and witchcraft, to blinding the evil eye, to burning evil spirits. In addition to these herbs/spices, a special baked and decorated flatbread, a basket of decorated eggs, decorated almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts (in their shell to represent fertility), a basket of pomegranates/apples (for a joyous future as these fruits are considered divine), a cup of rose water (from special Persian roses)—which helps perfume the air, a bowl made out of sugar (apparently to sweeten life for the newlywed couple), and a brazier holding burning coals and sprinkled with wild rue (as a way to keep the evil eye away and to purify the wedding ritual) are placed on the spread as well. Finally, there are additional items that must be placed on the spread, including a bowl of gold coins (to represent wealth and prosperity), a scarf/shawl made of silk/fine fabric (to be held over the bride and groom’s head at certain points in the ceremony), two sugar cones—which are grinded above the bride and groom’s head, thus symbolizing sweetness/happiness, a cup of honey (to sweeten life), a needle and seven strands of colored thread (the shawl that is held above the bride and groom’s head is sewn together with the string throughout the ceremony), and a copy of the couple’s Holy Book (other religions require different texts; but all of these books symbolize God’s blessing for the couple.
- An early age in marriage—especially for brides—is a long documented feature of marriage in Iran. While the people of Iran have been trying to legally change this practice by implementing a higher minimum in marriage, there have been countless blocks to such an attempt. Although the average age of women being married has increased by about five years in the past couple decades, young girls being married is still common feature of marriage in Iran—even though there is a article in the Iranian Civil Code that forbid the marriage of women younger than 15 years of age and males younger than 18 years of age.
- Because of the long history of rug weaving in Iran, Persian rugs are some of the most beautiful, intricately designed rugs made of the finest silk around the world—and this is recognized internationally by people of varying geographic location. Around various places in Iran, rugs seem to be some of the most prized possessions of the local people. It is no wonder that Iran currently produces more rugs/carpets than any other country in the world put together.
- Cuisine in Iran is considered to be one of the most ancient forms of cuisine around the word. Bread is arguably the most important food in Iran, with a large variety of different bread, some of the most popular of which include: Nan and hamir, which are baked in large clay ovens (also called “tenurs”). In Iranian cuisine, there are many dishes that are made form dairy products. One of the most popular of which includes yoghurt (“Mast”)—which has a specific fermentation process that is widely put to use amongst most Iranians. In addition, Mast is used to make both soup and is vital in the production of oil. In addition to these dairy products, Iranian cuisine involves a lot of dishes cooked from rice. Iranians believe that rice grain contains the inscription “it is the god”. By eating rice grains, Iranians feel as though they are getting closer to their creator. Some popular rice dishes include boiled rice with a variety of ingredients such as meats, vegetables, and seasonings (“plov”) including dishes like chelo-horesh, shish kebab with rice, chelo-kebab, rice with lamb, meatballs with rice, and kofte (plain boiled rice). In addition, Iranian cuisine is famous for its sweets. One of the most famous of which includes “Bahlava” with almonds, cardamom, and egg yolks. Iranian sweets typically involve the use of honey, cinnamon, limejuice, and sprouted wheat grain. One very popular dessert drink in Iran, “sherbet sharbat-portagal”, is made from a mixture of orange peel and orange juice boiled in thin sugar syrup and diluted with rose water. Just like the people of many Eastern countries, the most preferred drink of the people of Iran is tea (without milk) or “kakhve-khana”.
Women in Iran
- In Iran, religion has been a major source of power that has governed the way that women have been able to live their lives. There is a common theme of subordination that comes from the fact that religion has placed strict rules on the actions of women in Iran. While Sharia dictates the way that women are able to act in different Muslim countries, the people if Iran—especially the women—have a negative attitude toward veiling, dating, women’s dress code, and the general view on women Islam holds.
- More recently, however, women have been taking more and more control of their lives. In modern Iran—post-revolutionary Iran—while it to still illegal for women to break dress code, there is a trend of young women that boldly walk around in public wearing makeup, tight coats (mãntos), brightly covered headscarves—with a lot of hair showing—and not get arrested. By disobeying dress code flagrantly, women in Iran are making a statement—one that is so powerful that one can almost see a “sexual revolution” sweeping over Iran. This revolution is supported by many parents of young women in Iran because of their being against the ideologies of the Islamic Republic. In this sense, it would seem as though not only are the young women of Iran taking control of their lives, but so too is the older generation of Iranians that have been oppressed by the Islamic Republic and Islamic law.
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