The Digital Journalist
Sacred Food/Blessed Food
August 2007

by Nasim Goli

I would like to describe a ceremony that takes place in Iran during the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet, and his 72 companions during the month of Moharram [roughly during the western months of February-March].

Tehran, Iran – The women of an Iranian family are preparing meat for the charity food. They chop and mince the Halal meat--the animals are slaughtered so that they are ceremonially clean. Then the women make meat balls and let the men do the frying of them. Frying the meat and cooking rice is the men's job.
During this observance, particularly on the 9th and 10th days of the month called Tasooa and Ashura, the dates of the battle and martyrdom, many families cook special food called "Nazri," which means vowed or charity food to be given away. [For an extended description of Ashura see "The Soil Dance".

The food itself may vary and the quantity and manner of distribution differ among people but all foods are cooked with the same underlying principles: deep faith, health and the desire to help needy people.

All family members are involved and contribute either manually or with monetary donations. The different ways that food is distributed are: going to some known places where the needy people live, or those who do not know where the poor live may hang out a flag with the saying "O Hossein or O Abolfazl" (he is the brother of Imam Hossein and one of the bravest soldiers in his Islamic army). Thus, the people in need can discover the houses where food is available. The poor people, those who have sick people at home or are in difficulty wait in front until they are served. They believe that this food has a force that heals the illnesses and sends away their difficulties. Those who have received food may do so every year until a time that they are able to help the family prepare "Nazri" for the commemoration of Iman Hossain's death.

Tehran, Iran – While the food is being cooked and before it is distributed among the people, women read the Koran, pray and request God and the Imams to accept their work and give them the energy to serve people throughout the coming year as well. The image on the wall is that of Hazrate Mohammad, The Prophet.
Everyone dresses in black because they mourn for Imam Hossein and his companions. All members of the family (young and old) help make the food and don't expect a reward of any kind. Families pray in the course of preparing the food to keep the meals free from sin and allow it to be infused with spiritual goodness. These families see themselves as servers of the Saints. These meals have helped many people to fulfill their wishes, overcome their difficulties and problems.

My cousin Tara, who lives in Berlin, Germany, prompted this dispatch. She contacted me some time ago and asked me to send her pictures that I had taken during the ceremonies. She told me that her friends don't believe this story of generosity because they think all Moslem ceremonies are harsh, like the brutal images of 'Ghameh Zani' (an extremist act of self-inflicted knife wounds to the head done by very, very few people) and images of the wounded faces of men.

I decided that I wanted to let more people know about the humanitarian tradition after I sent her my images. It has nothing to do with pain and brutality. The harsh images that some remember document a small group's misunderstanding of the ceremonies. Those who go to such extremes devalue their own traditions.

As a photojournalist, I want to clarify good, humanitarian beliefs and values of not only my own country but those all over the world. Let us respect each other's cultures and beliefs and live peacefully together.

© Nasim Goli

Iranian photographer Nasim Goli, 21, born in Tehran, is an alumna of the House of Photographers of Iran in the art of photography. She has two years of solid experience in social documentary photography. She intends to add work on an international level to her current work on Iranian national themes.

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