MYTH vs. FACT: Persians and Arabs — American Iranian Council
Over many centuries, it absorbed Arabic vocabulary and many Turkish Iranian culture is rich in cultural symbolism, much of which derives from . The inside, or andaruni, is the most private, intimate area of any architectural space. .. Zoroastrians date back to the Achaemenid Empire more than two thousand years ago. To date, Iran has given up nothing, while we've given its rulers time, the Arabs came from a nomad culture, zealots of a new faith cribbed from The odds are against Islamic State or successor fanatics building and. FACT: Persians and Arabs are two distinct ethnic groups – two peoples homogeneous population and little demographic or cultural diversity.
Over and above these elected bodies there is a supreme jurisprudent selected by an independent Assembly of Experts—a council of religious judges. The office of chief jursiprudent faqih was created for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the time of the Revolution. It was designed to implement a controversial philosophy unique to Khomeini's teachings—a "guardianship" to be implemented until the day of return of the twelfth Shi'a Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is in occultation being hidden from view.
Alongside the chief jurisprudent is a twelve-member Council of Guardians, six selected by the chief jurisprudent, and six by the Supreme Judicial Council ratified by the majles. The Council of Guardians rules on the Islamic suitability of both elected officials and the laws they pass.
They can disqualify candidates for election both before and after they are elected. Another council mediates between the Council of Guardians and the legislature. All members must be Shi'a Muslim jurisprudents.
Islamic Shari'a law is the foundation for the court's decisions. Freedom of the press and assembly are constitutionally guaranteed so long as such activities do not contradict Islamic law.
The units of governmental division are the province ostan"county" sharestanand township dehestan. Each governmental unit has a head appointed by the Ministry of the Interior.
Although there is a standing army, navy, and air force, the Revolutionary Guards Pasdaran-e Engelaborganized shortly after the Revolution, dominate military activities, often coming into conflict with the standard military forces. The Revolutionary Guards either accompany or lead all military activities, both internal and international.
A national police force oversees urban areas, and a gendarmerie attends to rural peacekeeping. It is incumbent upon all Muslims to devote a proportion of their excess income to the support of religious and charitable works. This contribution is voluntary, but the government collects this tithe and uses the income to support hospitals, orphanages, and religious schools.
The government is also committed to rural development projects. A movement called the "sacred development struggle" jihad-e sazandegi was launched early in the Islamic Republic and was successful in bringing important development projects—electrification, drinking water and roads—to remote rural areas.
There are many small private charitable organizations organized to help the poor, fatherless families, children, and other unfortunate citizens. The Iranian Red Crescent Society the local version of the Red Cross is active and important in the instance of national disaster.
Iran is a net exporter of charity to neighboring countries. Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations There are very few international nongovernmental organizations NGOs operating independent development or health programs in Iran at present, except in conjunction with Iranian governmental organizations. The current regime views independent NGOs with deep suspicion, and in its aim for self-sufficiency views the work of many international charities as unnecessary.
The United Nations UN is the one important exception. Iran has supported the UN since its inception, and a number of UN programs in health, development, population, and the preservation of cultural antiquities are active. The nation's Mostazafin "downtrodden people" Foundation and the Imam Khomeini Foundation have operated in the international sphere.
The question of gender roles is one of the most complex issues in contemporary Iranian society. Women have always had a strong role in Iranian life, but rarely a public role.
Their prominent participation in political movements has been especially noteworthy. Brave and often ruthlessly pragmatic, women are more than willing to take to the streets for a good public cause. Moreover, although the world focuses increasingly on the question of female dress as an indicator of progress for women in Iran and indeed, in the Islamic world altogetherthis is a superficial view.
In the years since the Revolution, women have made astonishing progress in nearly every area of life. Both the Pahlavi regime and the leaders of the Islamic Republic have gone out of their way to emphasize their willingness to have women operate as full participants in government and public affairs.
Women have served in the legislature and as government ministers since the s. The average marriage age for women has increased to twenty-one years. Iran's birthrate has fallen steadily since before the Revolution, now standing at an estimated 2. Education for women is obligatory and universal, and education for girls has increased steadily.
The literacy rate for women is close to that of men, and for women under 25 it is over 90 percent, even in rural areas. Female employment is the one area where women have suffered a decline since the Revolution. Even under the current Islamic regime, virtually all professions are theoretically open to women—with an important caveat. The difficulty for the leaders of the Islamic republic in allowing women complete equality in employment and public activity revolves around religious questions of female modesty that run head-to-head with the exigencies of public life.
Islam requires that both women and men adopt modest dress that does not inflame carnal desire. For men this means eschewing tight pants, shorts, short-sleeved shirts, and open collars. Iranians view women's hair as erotic, and so covering both the hair and the female form are the basic requirements of modesty. For many centuries women in Iran have done this by wearing the chador, a semicircular piece of dark cloth that is wrapped expertly around the body and head, and gathered at the chin.
This garment is both wonderfully convenient, since it affords a degree of privacy, and lets one wear virtually anything underneath; and restricting, since it must be held shut with one hand. Makeup of any kind is not allowed. In private, women dress as they please, and often exhibit fashionable, even daring, clothing for their female friends and spouses.
Any public activity that would require women to depart from this modest dress in mixed company is expressly forbidden. Professions requiring physical exertion outdoors are excluded, as are most public entertainment roles. Interestingly, film and television are open to women provided they observe modest dress standards.
This has created an odd separate-but-equal philosophy in Iranian life. Westernized Iranian women have long viewed obligatory modest dress in whatever forms as oppressive, and have worked to have standards relaxed. These standards certainly have been oppressive when forced on the female population in an obsessive manner. Revolutionary Guards have mutilated some women for showing too much hair or for wearing lipstick. But the majority of women in Iran have always adopted modest dress voluntarily, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future no matter what political decisions are made on this matter.
The emotional roles of Iranian men and women are different from those in the United States and many other Western countries. In particular, it is considered manly for men to be emotionally sensitive, artistically engaged, and aesthetically acute. Women, by contrast, can be emotionally distant and detached without seeming unfeminine.
Open weeping is not shameful for either sex. Both sexes can be excessively tender and doting toward their same-sex friends with no intention of eroticism. Kissing and hand-holding between members of the same sex is common. By contrast, physical contact between members of the opposite sex is assiduously avoided except between relatives.
Western men offering to shake a traditional Iranian woman's hand may see her struggling between a desire to be polite, and a desire not to breech standards of decency. The solution for many a woman is to cover her hand with part of her chador and shake hands that way.
Under no circumstances should a proper man or woman willingly find themselves alone in a closed room with a member of the opposite sex except for his or her spouse. Marriage, Family, and Kinship Marriage. In Iran women control marriages for their children, and much intrigue in domestic life revolves around marital matters.
A mother is typically on the lookout for good marriage prospects at all times. Even if a mother is diffident about marriage brokering, she is obliged to "clear the path" for a marriage proposal.
She does this by letting her counterpart in the other family know that a proposal is forthcoming, or would be welcome. She then must confer with her husband, who makes the formal proposal in a social meeting between the two families. It is therefore extremely important that the families be certain that they are compatible before the marriage takes place.
Culture of Iran
Marriage within the family is a common strategy, and a young man of marriageable age has an absolute right of first refusal for his father's brother's daughter—his patrilateral parallel cousin. The advantages for the families in this kind of marriage are great. They already know each other and are tied into the same social networks.
Moreover, such a marriage serves to consolidate wealth from the grandparents' generation for the family. Matrilateral cross-cousin marriages are also common, and exceed parallel-cousin marriages in urban areas, due perhaps to the wife's stronger influence in family affairs in cities.
Although inbreeding would seem to be a potential problem, the historical preference for marriage within the family continues, waning somewhat in urban settings where other considerations such as profession and education play a role in the choice of a spouse. In25 percent of urban marriages, 31 percent of rural marriages, and 51 percent of tribal marriages were reported as endogamous.
These percentages appear to have increased somewhat following the Revolution. In Iran today a love match with someone outside of the family is clearly not at all impossible, but even in such cases, except in the most westernized families, the family visitation and negotiation must be observed. Traditional marriages involve a formal contract drawn up by a cleric.
In the contract a series of payments are specified. The bride brings a dowry to the marriage usually consisting of household goods and her own clothing. A specified amount is written into the contract as payment for the woman in the event of divorce. The wife after marriage belongs to her husband's household and may have difficulty visiting her relatives if her husband does not approve. Nevertheless, she retains her own name, and may hold property in her own right, separate from her husband.
The wedding celebration is held after the signing of the contract. It is really a prelude to the consummation of the marriage, which takes place typically at the end of the evening, or, in rural areas, at the end of several days' celebration. In many areas of Iran it is still important that the bride be virginal, and the bedsheets are carefully inspected to ensure this. A wise mother gives her daughter a vial of chicken blood "just in case.
This is more common in rural than in urban areas. Iran is an Islamic nation, and polygyny is allowed. It is not widely practiced, however, because Iranian officials in this century have followed the Islamic prescription that a man taking two wives must treat them with absolute equality. Women in polygynous marriages hold their husbands to this and will seek legal relief if they feel they are disadvantaged. Statistics are difficult to ascertain, but one recent study claims that only 1 percent of all marriages are polygynous.
Divorce is less common in Iran than in the West. Families prefer to stay together even under difficult circumstances, since it is extremely difficult to disentangle the close network of interrelationships between the two extended families of the marriage pair. One recent study claims that the divorce rate is 10 percent in Iran. For Iranians moving to the United States the rate is 66 percent, suggesting that cultural forces tend to keep couples from separating.
Children of a marriage belong to the father. After a divorce, men assume custody of boys over three years and girls over seven. Women have been known to renounce their divorce payment in exchange for custody of their children. There is no impediment to remarriage with another partner for either men or women. In traditional Iranian rural society the "dinner cloth" often defines the minimal family. Many branches of an extended family may live in rooms in the same compound.
However, they may not all eat together on a daily basis. Sons and their wives and children are often working for their parents in anticipation of a birthright in the form of land or animals. When they receive this, they will leave and form their own separate household.
In the meantime they live in their parents' compound, but have separate eating and sleeping arrangements.
Even after they leave their parents' home, members of extended families have widespread rights to hospitality in the homes of even their most distant relations. Indeed, family members generally carry out most of their socializing with each other. Inheritance generally follows rules prescribed by Islamic law.
Male children inherit full shares of their father's estate, wives and daughters half-shares.
An individual may make a religious bequest of specific goods or property that are then administered by the ministry of waqfs. The patriarch is the oldest male of the family.
He demands respect from other family members and often has a strong role in the future of young relatives. In particular it is common for members of an extended family to spread themselves out in terms of professions and influence.
Some will go into government, others into the military, perhaps others join the clergy, and some may even become anti-government oppositionists. Families will attempt to marry their children into powerful families as much for their own sake as for the son or daughter. The general aim for the family is to extend its influence into as many spheres as possible.
As younger members mature, older members of the family are expected to help them with jobs, introductions, and financial support. This is not considered corrupt or nepotistic, but is seen rather as one of the benefits of family membership. The role of the mother is extremely important in Iran. Mothers are expected to breast-feed their babies for fear the babies will become "remorseless.
Mothers and children are expected to be mutually supportive. A mother will protect her children's reputation under all circumstances. Small children are indulged, and not just by their parents. They are magnets for attention from everyone in the society.
Some parents worry about their children becoming vain and spoiled, but have a difficult time denying their wishes. Older children often raise younger children, especially in rural settings. It is very common to see an older child with full responsibility for care of a toddler. Children are usually more than up to this task, and develop strong bonds with their siblings. There is some rivalry between children in a family, but the rule of primogeniture is strong, and older children have the right to discipline younger children.
The father is the disciplinarian of the family. Whereas most fathers dote on their small children, they can become fierce and stern as children approach puberty. It is the father's responsibility to protect the honor of the family, and this means keeping close watch on the women and their activities.
A girl is literally a treasure for the family. If she remains chaste, virginal, modest, and has other attributes such as beauty and education she has an excellent chance of making a marriage that will benefit everyone. If she falls short of this ideal, she can ruin not only her own life, but also the reputation of her family. Boys are far more indulged than girls. Their father teaches them very early, however, that the protection of family honor also resides with them.
It is not unusual to see a small boy upbraiding his own mother for some act that shows a lack of modesty. This is the beginning of a life long enculturation that emphasizes self-denial, collectivism, and interdependence with regard to the family. Families place a very strong emphasis on education for both boys and girls. For girls this is a more modern attitude, but it was always true for boys. The education system relies a great deal on rote memorization, patterned as it is on the French education system.
Children are also strongly encouraged in the arts. They write poetry and learn music, painting, and calligraphy, often pursuing these skills privately. All Iranians would like their children to pursue higher education, and competition for university entrance is fierce.
The most desired professions for children are medicine and engineering. These fields attract the best and the brightest, and graduates receive an academic social title for both professions doktor and mohandess. The social rewards are so great for success in these professions that families will push their children into them even if their interests lie elsewhere.
Many young people receive an engineering or medical degree and then pursue a completely different career. Etiquette The social lubricant of Iranian life is a system known as ta'arofliterally "meeting together. The system marks the differences between andaruni and biruni situations, and also marks differences in relative social status.
In general, higher status persons are older and have important jobs, or command respect because of their learning, artistic accomplishments, or erudition. Linguistically, ta'arof involves a series of lexical substitutions for pronouns and verbs whereby persons of lower status address persons of higher status with elevated forms. By contrast, they refer to themselves with humble forms. Both partners in an interaction may simultaneously use other-raising and self-lowering forms toward each other.
Ritual An Iranian family eating a meal in Shiraj. Even after they leave home, members of extended families have hospitality rights in the homes of their most distant relatives. In social situations, this linguistic gesture is replicated in behavioral routines. It is good form to offer a portion of what one is about to eat to anyone nearby, even if they show no interest. One sees this behavior even in very small children.
It is polite to refuse such an offer, but the one making the offer will be sensitive to the slightest hint of interest and will continue to press the offer if it is indicated. Guests bring honor to a household, and are eagerly sought. When invited as a guest a small present is appreciated, but often received with a show of embarrassment.
It will usually not be unwrapped in front of the giver. It is always expected that a person returning from a trip will bring presents for family and friends. An honored guest is always placed at the head of a room or a table. The highest status person also goes first when food is served. It is proper form to refuse these honors, and press them on another. One must be very careful about praising any possession of another. The owner will likely offer it immediately as a present.
Greater danger still lies in praising a child. Such praise bespeaks envy, which is the essence of the "evil eye. The correct formula for praising anything is ma sha' Allahliterally, "What God wills.
Physical contact is expected and is not erotic. In restaurants and on buses and other public conveyances people are seated much closer than in the West. On the other hand, even the slightest physical contact with non-family members of the opposite sex, unless they are very young children, is taboo. A downward gaze in Iran is a sign of respect. Foreigners addressing Iranians often think them disinterested or rude when they answer a question without looking at the questioner.
This is a cross-cultural mistake. For men, downcast eyes are a defense measure, since staring at a woman is usually taken as a sign of interest, and can cause difficulties. On the other hand, staring directly into the eyes of a friend is a sign of affection and intimacy. In Iran the lower status person issues the first greeting. In the reverse logic of ta'arof this means that a person who wants to be polite will make a point of this, using the universal Islamic salaam or the extended salaam aleikum.
The universal phrase for leave-taking is khoda hafez —"God protect. The state religion in Iran is Ithnaashara or Twelver Shi'ism, established by the Safavid Dynasty in the seventeenth century. This branch of Islam has many distinctive practices and beliefs that differ from the Sunni Islam practiced in most of the Muslim world. Shi'a Muslims revere the descendants of Fatimah, daughter of the prophet Muhammad, and her husband, Ali, Muhammad's cousin. There are twelve Imams recognized by this branch of Shi'ism.
All were martyred except the twelfth, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who disappeared, but will return at the end of time with Jesus to judge mankind.
Culture of Iran - history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family
A common symbol seen throughout Iran is an open hand. This is a complex symbol with a number of interpretations, but one is that the five fingers represent the "five bodies" central to Shi'ism—Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, and the two sons of Fatimah and Ali, Husayn and Hassain.
It is Hassain, however, who is the true central figure in Iranian symbolic life. Hassain was martyred in a struggle for power between rival sects, later concretized as Shi'a and Sunni. This martyrdom is ritually observed throughout the year on every possible occasion.
Pious individuals endow recitation of the story by professional panegyrists on a regular basis. The Islamic months of Muharram and Safar are months of ritual mourning for Hassain, with processions, self-flagellation, and ten-day dramatic depictions of the events of the martyrdom. Just as Hassain is a central figure, everyone associated with him and his descendants who lived in Iran are equally revered—in particular Imam Reza, the eighth leader of Shi'a Muslims.
His astonishingly lavish shrine is one of the major pilgrimage destinations for Shi'a Muslims. Although the vast majority of Iranians are Twelver Shi'a Muslims, important religious minorities have always played an important role in Iranian life. Zoroastrians date back to the Achaemenid Empire more than two thousand years ago. Iranian Jews claim to be the oldest continuous Jewish community in the world, dating back to the removal to Babylon.
Armenians, an ancient Christian people, were imported by Iranian rulers for their artisanry, and Assyrian Christians, who follow a non-Trinitarian Local Iranian families tour the mud city of Bam to learn of its history. Sunni Muslims are represented by Arab and Baluchi populations in the south and Turkish populations in the north and west. One religious group is homegrown. The Baha'i movement, a semi-mystical nineteenth-century departure from Shi'ia Islam, won converts not only from Islam, but also from Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity.
Considered a heresy by many Shi'a Muslims, Baha'i has spread from Iran to virtually every nation on earth. There is no formal certification for Islamic clergy. Technically, all sincere Muslims can establish themselves as religious practitioners. Women cannot preach to men, but female clerics ministering to women are not uncommon. In the normal course of training a young man attends a religious school. He takes classes from revered scholars who give him a certificate when he has completed a course of study to their satisfaction.
After some time he may receive a call to take up residence in a community needing a cleric. In time, he may acquire a reputation as a mujtahed or "jurisprudent," capable of interpreting Islamic law.
Since there is no fixed theological doctrine in Shi'ism beyond the Koran and the Hadith traditions of the prophet Muhammadbelievers are free to follow the religious leader of their choice, and his interpretation of Islamic law.
In time, as a mujtahed gains respect and followers, he may rise to become an ayatollah literally, Reflection of God". Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who in the s had the largest number of followers of all religious leaders, led the Iranian Revolution. Mysticism plays an important role in Iranian religion. Religious orders of Sufi mystics have been active in Iran for many centuries.
Sufis focus on an inward meditative path for the pursuit of religious truth that may include group chanting and dance. Because they believe religion to be a personal spiritual journey, they eschew the outward trappings of social and economic life, and are highly revered.
Rituals and Holy Places. Therefore, the center of the artistic tradition lay in abstract geometrical designs, in calligraphy, and in floral forms. Figures 3 and 4 are examples for the calligraphic and for the floral-inspired designs, respectively. In calligraphy, words, as the medium of divine revelation, were written or carved in the walls or around the domes using geometrical rules. In floral-based forms, one spiral-shape branch with some leaves and flowers, without beginning or end, grows out of another, and with the application of mathematical symmetries, it may have numerous variations.
A calligraphy design with two written lines. The top line is in the Persian Language Farsi. Using geometrical shapes, it is written that "the key of the treasure is in the hand of the scientist-philosopher. A floral design from a part of the dome interior of the Marble Palace in Tehran.
The Art of the Miniature. In Persia, a highly refined art of miniatures developed. Iran was connected to China through the commercial exchanges and trading routes commonly referred to as the Silk Road.
This road was instrumental, not only in the expansion of trade, but also the exchange of ideas and thoughts in the arts. After the invasion of China and then Iran by the Mongol dynasty, the relationship between Chinese and Persian artists expanded. The cooperation of artists improved the art of ceramics and miniatures.
The art of the miniature became popular for the decoration of books and creating pictures of mythological figures and royal families and scenes of their hunting, fights, and celebrations figure 5a. Miniature artists also represented the imagery world of the Persian poems figure 5b: In China, porcelain designs were inspired by Persian verses of poetry and by maxims demonstrating perfection in the art of calligraphy.
In Persia, Chinese paintings were mentioned in Persian books and manuscripts and influenced the Persian miniature. In buildings built by the side of the Silk Road used by caravans, there are wall paintings by Chinese artists depicting Persian faces of the Sasanian period. In return, most faces and dresses in the traditional Persian miniature had oriental origins. In the traditional Persian miniature, the principles of perspective are not applied. The miniature artist believes that perspective is an optical illusion and in order for him to reach the divine milieu, he tries to refrain from observing the principles of perspective.
Another characteristic of this art is that the artist uses dots to create shades, as in some of the Impressionists' works, and in the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein and others in the s and s. Persian miniatures, however, never found a place in the architecture and decoration of religious buildings. The traditional Persian visual artist avoids emptiness in his art. Each part of the art carries details that have their own symmetries independent from the entire work. Inside a flower or a star design, there are other self-similar smaller designs that have their own identities.
This is also true in the imagery world of a poem. The most sophisticated part of Persian poetry is deeply involved with the ambiguity in which the reader is oscillating between the worldly and the divine.
The Ghazal was considered the most appropriate genre form for this type of poetry. The Persian poet Hafez, undoubtedly, is the most recognized among all other poets in this style. This book was the first aesthetic appreciation of Persian poetry in Europe, and was done by one of the highest European literary intellectuals of the century. Lovers of wine, all hail! For wine is proclaimed to a world athirst.
Like a rock your repentance seemed to you; Behold the marvel! Hafez Classical Persian poetry often mentions knights and kings from Iran's history alongside those from Arabic heroic tales. The cup of wine offered by the "old man of the Magis Zoroastrian sage " is comparable to the miraculous cup owned by the Iranian mythical king Jamshid or to Alexander's mirror, which showed the marvels of the world; the nightingale may sing "Zoroastrian tunes" when it contemplates the "fire temple of the rose.
The versatile writer was expected to introduce elegant allusions to classical Arabic and Persian literature and to folklore and to know enough about astrology, alchemy, and medicine to use the relevant technical terms accurately. The writer was also expected to use puns and to play with words of two or more meanings. Unlike the Persians, who built their own civilization, the Arabs came from a nomad culture, zealots of a new faith cribbed from muddled Christian and Jewish teachings.
Learning and arts relied on Greek-speaking bureaucrats and scholars, on Jewish doctors and philosophers, on Persian artists and architects. The Arab caliphate was a pastiche glued together by force of arms. When its military authority collapsed, there was nothing left but a retreat into stern religion and cultural indolence.
Cold War-era efforts to achieve unity through pan-Arab nationalism foundered on the differences. Islam is something else. Far more powerful even than a shared language, the Sunni extremist call to revive the caliphate strikes deep chords. The odds are against Islamic State or successor fanatics building and sustaining a sprawling caliphate. Extremists create a valley of death, not a Silicon Valley. The effort to revive the caliphate has ruptured the Arab world — while renewing the old collision of empires between Arabs and Persians.
Tsar of all the Russias AP In the euphoria of the s, some of us who studied Russia tried to make Washington understand that, while governments might change, Russians would remain Russians as Persians remain Persians and Arabs remain Arabs. No one wanted to hear it. In the Clinton years, Russia was the great arctic-white hope. Getty Images Welcome to reality. Ivan started the Russian Empire on its way by grabbing Siberia and conquering Muslim khanates. Putin sees himself as heir to those mighty czars.