Afghans have opposed a Facebook campaign calling for boycotting Norouz celebrations because they are un-Islamic.
Every year hundreds of millions of people in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and Caucuses mark March 20 or 21 as the beginning of the new year.
Across Afghanistan Norouz or new day is marked by family gatherings, concerts, flag raising ceremonies in important shrines and festivals.
Many Afghan Facebooks users were alarmed when new accounts on the popular social media platform began to send out coordinated messages calling on Afghans to refrain from celebrating Norouz because it a celebration of the “fire worshippers and Zoroastrians”.
But the campaign attracted sharp rebukes.
“This opposition to Norouz is not only an opposition to a celebration, its resistance to new thinking,” Afghan poet Samay Hamid told Radio Free Afghanistan. “It is an opposition to every symbol of our antiquity and civilization, which still regenerates our identity.”
Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban regime discouraged the celebration in the 1990s and has opposed the celebration in recent years. Some conservative clerics are also opposed to Norouz arguing that the predominantly Muslim country should only celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The first marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan while the later is a festival of sacrifice.
“The increasing influence of extremist groups such as the Taliban and Daesh is now resulting in opposition to such national celebrations,” says Ali Amiri, a Kabul-based academic.
He says that the war in Afghanistan has affected its once tolerant traditional society. “Now our government and people celebrate Norouz, if we don’t prevent people from opposing this celebration, our other traditions and customs will be in danger,” he noted.
Norouz or the spring equinox and has marked as the new year in Afghanistan and the surrounding region form more than 3,000 years.
In an effort to counter the anti-Norouz messages, Facebook users in Afghanistan are sharing a meme in which a person called Abdul Rahim calls on Afghans to “spend time on studying different cultures and refrain from fanning cultural and religious differences.”