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Daily life and social customs of Iran

The narrative of martyrdom holds great significance in Shiʿi culture, originating from the tragic events of the Battle of Karbala in 680. During this battle, the third imam, al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, along with his close family and followers, were massacred by the troops of the Umayyad caliph, Yazīd. Al-Ḥusayn’s unsuccessful attempt to restore his family line to political power led to the persecution of the Shiʿah, who, according to their doctrine, have sacrificed many martyrs over the centuries due to their belief in the rightful rule and religious leadership of the line of ʿAlī.

Every year, the Shiʿah commemorate the tragedy of Karbala during the holiday of ʿĀshūrāʾ. This commemoration includes the performance of the taʿziyyah (passion play) and rituals of self-flagellation using bare hands, chains, and blades. The mourning rituals continue throughout the year with the practice of rawẕah khānī, where a storyteller, known as the rawẕah khān, moves the assembled crowd to tears through tales of al-Ḥusayn’s death.

The commemoration of Karbala has deeply influenced Persian culture, finding expression in poetry, music, and the solemn Shiʿi worldview. References to Karbala are an integral part of religious ceremonies, and every month includes at least one day of mourning. Despite efforts by the monarchy to promote art festivals and support musicians and native crafts, the fundamental attitude of mourning remains unchanged. In certain circles, public displays of laughter and joy are considered undesirable and even sinful.

While Iranians do celebrate various festive occasions, such as the two Eids (Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr) observed by both Sunnis and Shiʿis, the most significant holidays are Nōrūz, the Persian New Year, and the birthday of the 12th imam. The Shiʿah anticipate the second coming of the 12th imam in the end of days. The Nōrūz celebration begins on the last Wednesday of the old year, followed by a weeklong holiday that extends until the 13th day of the new year, which is dedicated to picnicking in the countryside. On the 12th imam’s birthday, cities are illuminated with lights, and the bazaars are adorned and bustling with shoppers.

Persian cuisine, while influenced by Arab and subcontinental culinary traditions, is primarily shaped by Iran’s geography and domestic food products. Rice is a staple in the Iranian diet, and meat, particularly lamb, is a common component of meals. Vegetables, especially onions, are essential in Iranian dishes. Herding has long been a traditional part of the economy, and dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are frequently used in Persian cuisine. Traditional Persian dishes often feature subtle flavors and relatively simple preparations, such as stews (khūresh) and kabobs. Saffron is the most distinctive spice used, but lime, mint, turmeric, rosewater, pomegranates, and walnuts are also commonly used for flavoring.

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