Culture and Religion
Iran's religiosity is its most
striking cultural feature - it pervades all aspects of life. The essence of
Islam is the belief that there is only one God, and that it is the people's
duty to believe in and serve Him in the manner that is laid out in the Quran.
In Arabic, Islam means submission and a Muslim is one who submits to God's
will. The most visible daily expressions of Iran's brand of fundamentalist
Shi'ite Islam are the modest dress code and behaviors at mosques. The national
language of Iran is Persian, also known as Farsi, an Indo-European language.
The other main regional languages are Azari, Kurdish, Arabic and Lori (spoken
by the Lors); and there are dozens of other tongues throughout the 26
provinces, such as Gilaki, Baluchi and Turkmen. The Arabic script was adapted
to Persian after the introduction of Islam, but there is no standard method of
transliterating Persian into English.
In Iran, as in all Islamic societies, art favors the non-representational, the
derivative and the stylized. Many Iranian art forms predate the Arab conquest,
but since nearly all of them reached their peak within the Islamic era,
religious influences are rarely absent. Persian carpets are Iran's most famous
cultural export, dating back to the 5th century BC, and are still an integral
part of religious and cultural festivals (and the economy). The most appealing
and melodious traditional music is found among the ethnic minorities, such as
the Turkmen, Azaris, Kurds and Lors. Persian poetry first appeared in the 9th
century AD, and slowly developed into the enduring canon of epic poems and
non-rhyming couplet poems, which are part of its cultural treasury today.
Persian painting dates back to the Seljuq period, which then faded until the
16th century when it flourished along with calligraphy, especially in Shiraz.
Other notable Persian crafts include metalwork, glassware and woodwork, while,
more recently, Iranian films have been remarkably successful.
At its best, Iranian cuisine is very good. It's heavily based on rice, bread,
fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. Meat, usually lamb or mutton minced or cut
into small chunks, is used to add flavor but is rarely the dominant
ingredient, except in kebabs. Sadly for travelers, this usually translates
into the same two or three standard dishes of kebabs or chicken, with rice,
vegetables and bread - you need to be invited into homes or splurge on up
market hotels to eat the best Iranian food. The national drink of Iran is
undoubtedly chay (tea), always served scalding hot, black and strong. All
sorts of delicious fresh fruit juices, milkshakes and yogurt drinks are
available throughout Iran. Alcohol is strictly forbidden to Islamic Iranians,
though it is permitted for religious purposes, such as communion wine in
churches, and to non-Muslims with special permission.