Nowruz: Celebrating Spring and a New Year
by Susan Leem, associate producer
On this first day of spring, Persian families around the world are greeting each other with “Sal-e No Mobarak!” and “Happy New Year!” in celebration of the holiday of Nowruz, a day of beginnings. Translated as "new day," the solar-based holiday marks the first day of the first year of the Bahá’í calendar and the falls on the vernal equinox.
The holiday has wider cultural and national significance for modern Iranians who often celebrate with family and friends by sharing meals together, cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, and performing contemporary expressions of ancient customs. Rooted in Zoroastrianism (the prophet Zoroaster himself is credited with creating this festival) in pre-Islamic Persia, Nowruz is also celebrated in surrounding geographic regions influenced by the Persian empire in the countries of Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
"Everyone lines up, and, one by one, each person jumps over the piles and sings, 'zardi-ye-man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man,' the special song means ‘my yellowness is yours, your redness is mine.’ Iranians believe, people give pain and negativities to the fire, and receive the warmth, the health and strength from the fire.”
The traditional haft-seen table is an important part of Nowruz celebrations. Iranians prepare these settings in their homes by gathering seven items that start with the letter “s,” which have positive meanings: the spice sumac for sunrise, seeb (apples) for beauty, and sir (garlic) for health, among others.
Goldfish also make an appearance on the haft-seen table. They are symbols of new life and the end of the astral year associated with the zodiac sign Pisces. They are sold in markets along with other Nowruz accoutrements.
Sabzeh is sprouted wheat grass, symbolizing rebirth and renewal of nature. On the thirteenth day of the celebration, it is customary to throw these sprouts away into running water, as the sabzeh is thought to collect negativity and illness in the household while it grew there. This purging represents purification and new beginnings.
Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Istanbul
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Turkey is most definitely on our brains. As it turns out, we’ll be making a production trip in June (yay!) and so the extensive planning begins. What to do, what to do! No sooner did we find out than our old friend and former guest Omid Safi posted this magnificent photograph on his Facebook page along with this waxing caption:
"Inside sacred sites like this, I know it’s true that ‘God is beautiful, and loves beauty.’ The imaginative Muslim architects who designed it emulated Christian Byzantine masters, and strived to create a space that would stand free from columns. The "opening" that was created inside, the Christians and the Muslims agreed together, was to be filled by the very presence of God. By God, they succeeded."
If you have suggestions on stories we might cover that fit our mission or voices that you think we ought to expose to a North American audience, please offer your suggestions in the comments section. Enjoy the view!
Q:Have you experienced Joe Hutto's "My Life as a Turkey"? Currently watching a program on PBS Nature. Some fascinating insights into imprinting, presence, and being... Enjoy!
I had seen previews on PBS for this Nature special several times but never found the time to watch it. Your question was the catalyst. Thank you. What a gorgeous film and what a novel way of seeing the world!
I’m embedding it within this reply so that others may watch it in the days leading up to Thanksgiving in the States. In many ways, characters like Joe Hutto and Alan Rabinowitz, whom we interviewed for “A Voice for the Animals,” are windows for our species. They’re eccentric characters that teach us about ourselves as a species and as a sentient beings through their interactions with wildlife. They also prove that we have a lot to learn when it comes to our sweeping generalizations about other species.
Here are a few of Joe Hutto’s words of wisdom that strike at the core of who this man is and how we can learn from his observations:
"And I realized that my involvement in this experiment was going to be a very personal, very emotional ride for me — and not just a science experiment."
"Each day as I leave the confines of my language and culture, these creatures seem to become in every way my superiors. They are more alert, sensitive, and aware. They’re in many ways, in fact, more intelligent. They’re understanding of the forest is beyond my ability to comprehend."
"Emotions are certainly not peculiar to the human experience. In their observation of death, the death of another turkey that is a member of their group, it’s a very conscious behavior as if they are trying to understand what the meaning of this is."
And, boy, I’d regret not commenting on the ending scene with Turkey Boy. My Life as a Turkey is a brutal reminder that with all of the kindness, the tenderness, and the social interaction between man and bird, nature and creatures desire not only to survive but to dominate and establish dominion.
Thank you so much for the reminder,
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Dr. Oz’s Mystical Muslim Identity
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I’ve struggled a lot with my Muslim identity. … As a Turk growing up in America with one parent from one side of the religious wall and one from the other side, I found myself tugged more and more towards the spiritual side of the religion rather than the legal side of the religion."
The popular heart surgeon and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz is a spiritual man who is hard to classify, religiously speaking. We learned that back in 2004 when we interviewed him. He spoke with Krista at some length about his Muslim faith and about the value he finds in his wife’s Swedenborgian tradition.
But, this excerpt from the PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., digs deeper into Oz’s personal identity by asking about his family’s divergent approaches to Islam. Through Oz’s telling of his own family history, we learn some history about Turkey and its geography, and the immigrant experience in the United States.
Oz’s mother walks in the line of many proud, modern Turks who are secular Muslims, approaching faith as a private practice that is separated or divorced from public and political institutions. Whereas, for his father, religion and law were inseparable and, according to Oz, they were “obviously and beautifully and elegantly integrated.”
Listening to his story, I wonder whether he might be classified as part of the demographic that’s been polled and reported on so much lately: the spiritual but not religious generation.
(photo: Jim Gillooly/PEI/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
Rumi’s Continuing Emergence in Our Culture
by Krista Tippett, host
A young man from Islamabad, Pakistan expresses himself through photography and the poetry of Rumi. (photo: "Spirit" by Esâm Khattak)
We’ve created a memorable hour of listening that’s fresh and lush with the sounds and the texture of the great Sufi poet, Rumi.
There is no formula for our shows, no template. Each begins with the raw material of a conversation, and we shape its pace and sound and elements around that. I think great productions emerge when the whole feel of the experience seems at one with the words being spoken, taking the listener more deeply into the passion and intent of the voice being heard. Creating this show around the life and words of Rumi has felt a little like having magic to work with.
I take away many gems of idea and image from my conversation with one of Rumi’s delightful 21st-century interpreters and successors, Fatemeh Keshavarz. Rumi saw human life and love as the closest we come to tasting and touching transcendence, and he approached all experience with his whole mind, heart, and body.
Keshavarz describes Rumi’s “whirling” around a column as he recited poetry — a habit that inspired the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Sufi Order — as a way to “stay centered while moving.” He believed that, as searching and restlessness propel us to keep learning, plowing the ground beneath our feet, they are themselves a form of arrival. In Rumi’s way of seeing life, perplexity is a blessed state, sometimes a necessary state. This idea has special resonance, perhaps, in the 21st century when so many basic definitions and institutions of previous generations seem to be up for grabs.
But Rumi’s recent “discovery” in the West also holds no little irony. I found this best expressed in my research by a British journalist, William Dalrymple. “It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations,” he wrote, “but the best-selling poet in the U.S. in the 1990s was not Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, nor Shakespeare or Dante. … Instead, remarkably it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught Sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey.” Yet as Rumi has been translated and popularized in the modern West, the religious sensibility behind his beautiful, best-selling words has often been lost.
Fatemah Keshavarz is adamant on this point: Rumi was steeped in Islam. He represents and speaks to “an adventurous and cosmopolitan Islam.” The generous, cross-cultural appeal of his words reflects ideas at the core of Islam that are muted by the extremists and headlines of our time. But to the extent that Rumi would deny or subvert those, he does so through his grounding in Islamic tradition, and his profound love for it.
Keshavarz, who was born in Iran — the center of the vast civilization that spawned Rumi and where he remains to this day a household name — takes special solace in Rumi’s insistence that we can create worlds and possibilities by way of language itself.
Where that part of the world is now concerned, Keshavarz says, U.S. political culture has adopted a language of fear. Rumi champions and models a language of hope. This is not tepid and naive but full-blooded view of human reality, fully aware of the double-edged sword of the passions and pulls of real human experience. In this, Rumi speaks to those of us on both sides of a real or imagined “clash of civilizations.”
As we conclude this show, I hear Rumi as a perfect voice for the spiritual longing and energy of our time. With his vigorous and challenging language of the heart, he reminds us that we need poetry as much as we need science, alongside our politics and within our diplomacy. We need passionate searching words, not just logical decisive words, to tell the whole truth about what it means to be human, and about the past, present, and future of our world.
Here is one passage of many I’ve seen quoted of Rumi, which I’ll now hear with new layers of relevance:
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
There are many English translations of Rumi’s poetry available today. But, the craft of translating is a delicate art, one that calls for sensitivity and understanding of the Sufi master and his culture. The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski, serves as a good introduction that includes translations by Coleman Barks and Robert Bly, as well as Helminski himself — a Shaikh, or master, of the Mevlevi Order — and others.
We’ve also provided a page of translations by Fatemeh Keshavarz on our website. Not only can you read the text of each poem, but you can listen to it in Persian or English too.
Day 7 - Adnan Onart: “Ramadan in Dunkin Donuts”
Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 2:46]
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Today, we round out the first week of Ramadan with a personal account of a Turkish Muslim living in Boston, Massachusetts. Adnan Onart and his wife are active members of a Unitarian-Universalist congregation where, he says, they can best live out their Muslim faith. He recites his poem "Ramadan in Dunkin Donuts" on this seventh day of Islam’s holiest month.
Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!
One Man Standing
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
On the social matrix of the Web, one meets all types of interesting people and finds interesting stories through these happenstance relationships. Take, for instance, Sinan İpek. In a random checkup on the status of SOF videos, I found this Turkish filmmaker had commented on two SOF videos with themes of women’s rights: one about Kenyan women striving for a more verdant future and another about Diana Matar’s exploration of women and the veil in Egypt.
This documentary is too long for me to consider it a video snack, but it’s a compelling 25 minutes of narrative that grips you from a tender, darkly lit opening scene. İpek could have told the story of a paralyzed son and his mother’s love in an exotic land and made it feel foreign to this Midwestern American’s eyes. Instead I felt united in their fight for decency — as a journalist, as a father, as a compassionate bystander, as a citizen of the world, as a kid who used to throw snowballs at my neighbors never noticing the person behind the glass watching with eagerness.
Watch it over your lunch break, in the wee hours of the morning or in the still of night. You won’t regret it.