Questions and Answers
What is the cover photo?
The cover photo is from my special passport for visiting Mecca only, issued when I was fourteen years old. My somber visage reflects the ordeals of my youth when I never expected any future beyond my bleak existence.
Why did you choose that font?
The font chosen for chapter headings is called Mason. Many have asked why I chose a Christian looking font for a Muslim book. Few people are aware of the historical relationship between the two religions. The architecture of medieval 7th and 8th century European cathedrals, particularly the arches and latticework, was inspired by Islamic mosques. This font symbolizes the common ground of cultures and suggests to the reader that the story of the book is deeper than just my life. It goes deep down to a culture that has turned into a medieval cult.
What is the significance of the Yellow, Dark Gray and Red website color?
The color palette of the site was purposely chosen. Yellow is the color of hate and sickness in Persian culture. To convey their anger or hate toward someone, people give that individual yellow roses or flowers. Since it is impolite to refuse a gift, it is a message to the recipient to change his or her manner.
Also, there is a fire ceremony that, despite being banned by the Iranian government, Persians hold dear and still perform privately every year on the Persian New Year, the last Wednesday of winter. Bushes are set on fire and people jump on them, chanting, "My yellowness to you; your redness to me.
"In this ceremony, red represents health and yellow represents sickness. In Persian culture, red is the color of war, bloodshed and Hell.
Gray is the color of inmate's clothing in Iran's prisons. It is also the mandatory color of the long raincoat uniform that schoolgirls must wear. Black is the color of the chadors and headscarves the Iranian government forces women to wear in public. Also, it is the color of mourning in Islam and it is scripted for mourning in religious books.
What is the symbol used on the cover page and throughout the web site?
Currently, the Iranian flag carries the shield-like logo displayed on the cover page of Living in Hell book and through out the book and the site. It is a stylistic Arabic word that the government of Iran translates as God or Allah.
What are the myths behind Iran's flag colors? When did the first flag of Iran appear as a national symbol?
The current flag has had the same color palette of Green, White and Red since the 18th century. These have been the official colors for the Qajar, Pahlavi and current regime, each of which added its' logo to the flag. For Pahlavi, the logo was a lion (symbol of courage) holding a sword, standing before a setting sun as if he is crowned with a golden light. Currently, the same flag carries the shield-like logo displayed on the first page of my book, Living in Hell. It is a stylistic Arabic word that the government of Iran translates as God or Allah.
The Green, White and Yellow are mythical colors; Green for prosperity, White for peace and Red for war and courage. All together, it means, 'We stand united, in prosperity, peace and war as one nation.'
The word Persia, however, was deleted from Iranian culture not by the current regime but by the Pahlavi dynasty.
Cyrus the Great used the first Persian flag in 559 B.C. It featured a Golden Eagle, the symbol of the Persian Empire. A very famous flag from the Sassanid dynasty belonged to a national hero named Darafsh Kaviani, a simple metal worker who became a Persian hero fighting the evil 'Ahreeman' and a king who did not hesitate to kill indiscriminately to save his own life and kingdom. His flag is the loosely translate for the word 'Derafsh' The flag, of woven fabric, was predominately black on which was superimposed a Yellow, Purple, Red and White banner on a standard. It became the symbol of courage and was used from 224 A.D., to 651 A.D. by countless Persian kings and emperors, particularly in the battle against the Arab invasion of Persia.
Is it Persia or Iran?
Persia was the name present day Iran carried for over 2600 years. Iran is the name given to Persia by Reza Shah in 1935 as one of his moves to bring Persia into the twentieth century. He took many positive steps toward the future of Iran. He wanted education for the people, especially women.
That year he opened the first public schools and modern European-style universities. Education became mandatory for every individual and every child had to go to school. Previously, only those studying to become a cleric learned to read and write. He stressed equality for women and in 1936 ordered women to remove their veils and promised that they could walk the streets in European dress under his protection and without fear. He kept his promise.
Shaking hands is a Persian Greeting...
From the stone walls of the ruined city of Persepolis by Alexander the Great, it appears that Persians were the first nation to shake hands. Other societies at the time would hug, kiss or grasp each other's forearm.
Shaking hands became the signature and word of Persian gentlemen for centuries in business and other affairs. Today, however, shaking handshake business deals are few and far between.
When is Persian New Year and what are its roots?
The Persian New Year, called 'Norooz', is based on the solar system. Hakim Omar-e
Khayyam, the renowned fifth century poet and mathematician, measured the exact rotation of earth around the sun and calculated the time when Earth enters a new year.
However, the origins of Norooz started even earlier in the time of Jamshid, a famous emperor of ancient Persia. Legend has it that he built a glass carriage and was lifted by demons.
Another legend has it that he rode away on a large bed covered with Persian rugs and carried by eagles, above which he held meat to keep them flying. He flew from Damavand to Babylon. When he returned to the ground, he called the day 'Norooz', a New Day, and it has been so called ever since.
Stories of Persian poetry tell us that Jamshid was a good king until his one day flying excursion. He taught his people to weave and to mine, created a strong army and divided people to four classes. After his lift off from earth, he seemed different and later paid with his life. After returning to the earth, he called himself not a king or an emperor but a God. He died shortly thereafter by a mosquito entering his nasal passages. It is scripted in Islamic books that he would have not been killed had he not placed himself in God's position.
To prepare for Norooz, people often start spring-cleaning about a month before the New Year. On the last Wednesday of the year, in an ancient ceremony passed down from Jamshid, we all jump on the burning bush fire, chanting "My yellowness to you and your redness to me." Meaning, I give you my sickness and difficulty and receive your vivacious red, healthy color.
Variations of this ritual are also practiced among other tribes. Some jump on the fire, some use the smoke for religious proposes and some even walk on it to cleanse their body and soul.
Persians were originally Zoroastrians before converting to Islam. Zoroaster was a prophet sent by God. For them, fire was the symbol of God All Mighty, who, in Persian, is called 'Ahoramazda.'
Norooz starts by planting greenery and flowers everywhere. A powdery of 'Sabzeh', or green grains, such as beans or flower seeds is displayed in almost every Persian household.
For the New Year, everyone goes to the hairdresser, freshens up and, preferably, dons new clothing, if they have it. If not, clean clothing is a must.
There would be a table decorated with seven edible ingredients that starts with 'S'. In Persian literature, it is called Haft Seen (or Seven S's.) Prayers, greetings and good wishes are chanted around the table at the moment of New Year.
The symbolic dishes consist of:
'Sabzeh' is (greenery) or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil, representing rebirth.
'Samanu' is a dish in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding and represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking.
'Seeb' are apples and represent health and beauty.
'Senjed' the sweet, dry fruit of the Lotus tree, represents love. It has been said that when a lotus tree is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else.
'Seer', or garlic in Persian, represents medicine.
'Serkeh', or vinegar, represents age and patience
'Somaq' sumac berries represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun, Good conquers Evil.
'Sonbol' the hyacinth flower with its strong fragrance heralding the coming of spring.
Other elements presented are 'Sekkeh', or coins (gold, silver, or regular coins), representing prosperity and wealth.
Other elements and symbols are also on the table.
A basket of painted eggs represents fertility. (This is much too similar to Easter bunny eggs.)
A Seville orange floating in a bowl of water represents the earth floating in space.
A goldfish in a bowl represents life and the end of astral year-picas.
A mirror, which represents the images and reflections of Creation as we celebrate anew the ancient Persian traditions and beliefs that creation took place on the first day of spring.
On either side of the mirror are two candlesticks holding a flickering candle for each child in the family. The candles represent enlightenment and happiness.
Most Persian families have fish and rice as the New Year's dinner. Fish was one of the first foods on the Jesus' table. It is a symbol of Prosperity for the year.
The number seven has been sacred in Iran since ancient times. The seven dishes stand for the seven angelic heralds of life-rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty.
It is customary for the family to gather around the Haft Seen spread a few hours before the New Year and recite verses from the Holy Koran and poems from Hafez famous poetry book.
At the exact moment of the New Year, the oldest person in the family continues the traditions by hugging and wishing each member well and offering sweets, pastries, and coins. Of course, that varies from family to family and people of different religions.
After the New Year minute, everyone in the family hugs and kisses each other. Many make friends with people who didn't call them friend in the past year. Starting a New Year with a New Behavior is highly encouraged in Persian culture. During the 12 days of New Year holiday, elders spend time with the younger generations.
The gift basket depends on the wealth of the family. Money is often given as a gift for kids. For the adults, Persian Sweets, fruit or flowers are among the common gifts exchanged. Some give gold coin jewelry and Persian carpets for the newly married couples. Parents give their children money or what they have wanted all year long. New Year is for children; adults don't exchange gifts as often.
The Norooz celebration lasts 12 days. It starts the minute earth finishes a turn around the Sun, which happens to be around March 21 of each year, with the exception of leap year. On the 13th day, Persians go on a picnic to take the ghosts of the past year outside their homes and leave them there. They take their greenery pods along to leave it where they had their picnic. It is all a continuation of a highly regarded, mystical, cultural ceremony inherited from the Jamshid and highly cherished in the hearts of millions of Persians.
After the 13th day, everything goes back to normal till the early following February.
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