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Iran’s Islamic authorities slowly embrace ancient Festival of Fire

As Iranians uphold both religious values and national traditions, the Islamic Republic is beginning to recognize the once-rebuffed ancient Festival of Fire.
A woman dances with men during the "Chaharshanbeh Soori" festival in Tehran March 18, 2008. People jump over fire during the festival to burn away the year's sins on the last Tuesday night before the new year. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi (IRAN) - GM1E43J07KQ01

"[Chaharshanbeh Soori] not only lacks a religious basis, it also brings about harm and misdeed. It is advised that [the rituals] be refrained from." That's the text of a fatwa published by the official website of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in response to a religious query about Chaharshanbeh Soori, the ancient Iranian Festival of Fire held on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz, the start of the Iranian New Year. The festival is largely marked with bonfires set up in alleyways and streets nationwide with people gathering around to jump over the flames and celebrate the arrival of spring.

The Iranian supreme leader's statement is not the sole opinion expressed by clerics and political figures within the Islamic Republic in rejection of Chaharshanbeh Soori. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a number of religious figures have repeatedly dismissed the ceremony on the grounds that it runs counter to Islamic principles. They consider the celebrations to be a series of "superstitions" characterized by "religiously forbidden" customs. For instance, Morteza Motahari — a key ideologue of the Islamic Revolution — considered the popular epigram shouted when jumping over fires on the annual occasion as a manifestation of blasphemy and polytheism. "Jumping over the fire … bears signs of blasphemy. … Such slogans are descriptive of fire worshippers. Islam was introduced to battle these very rituals," Motahari wrote in one of his religious essays.

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