My community, family and I celebrate Nowruz (or Navroz as we call it) along with Iranians around the world. Growing up in Canada, where our religious community’s holidays were not marked in mainstream society, I struggled to navigate the two disparate worlds I lived in. It was often difficult for our family to adequately celebrate our special days when we didn’t have public holidays to facilitate us coming together. So we began to take advantage of the public holidays we do have to celebrate together.
Navroz, however, always felt particularly meaningful to me. It just made sense to me to mark the beginning of a new year on the first day of Spring, a time of rebirth and renewal. It made sense that the word ‘Navroz’ meant ‘new day’. It always felt like a time of renewed hope and endless possibilities. I loved celebrating that with my family and community, and with my Iranian friends and colleagues.
Since Sarah, Shane and Josh were captured and detained, it has been impossible for me to feel the joy of the new day that Navroz brings. It has been increasingly difficult for me to hold onto hope as the nightmare of Shane and Josh’s imprisonment continues to almost two years. I feel a dark cloud hovering over me, rather than the rays of sunshine I used to feel at this time of year.
This year, I did mark Navroz with my community, but Shane and Josh were ever-present in our minds and hearts. I went to the celebration with my cousin who has just moved back to Canada from working in the Middle East for many years. So we talked about Shane and Josh on the way to the celebration. She asked me how I manage to maintain the fight for their freedom. The only answer I have is “They just have to be free. And I just have to keep doing whatever is in my power until they are.” At the celebration, I ran into a couple of old friends. One of them said “I just got back from Ukraine last night. I saw the news about Muhammad Ali’s plea for Shane and Josh’s freedom in Kiev!” Soon afterwards, I ran into a colleague, and the first thing he said, even before “Navroz Mubarak,” was “What’s the latest news about Shane and Josh?” When I told him that there was no new news, he shook his head, remarking on his memory of our Navroz hope last year.
It seems appropriate that it is snowing today in Ottawa. The new day won’t really be here until Shane and Josh are free. In the meantime I take solace in the support and solidarity I have from my family and community.
My cousin Salina has been an especially invaluable support to me and to our campaign as a whole. I asked her to share her Navroz reflections along with mine:
Salina Abji: Navroz has always been a special time of year for me. I remember how, as a young child, I would look forward to egg painting and scavenger hunts, receiving gifts from my mom and dad, and getting dressed up and going to community celebrations where there would be prayers followed by food and dancing. As I grew older, I learned about the deeper significance of Navroz. This was not only a time for celebration, but also a time for reflection. This was not only a time for sharing joy with family and friends, but also a time for forgiveness and compassion.
Last year for Navroz, I prayed that Iran would release Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on compassionate grounds. In August last year, I was moved to tears when Sarah Shourd was released, and I continue to be moved every time she speaks out for Josh and Shane. In fact, Sarah's continued work to free Josh and Shane embodies all of the qualities we revere during Navroz: a willingness to forgive, an inextinguishable sense of hope, and a deep appreciation for all of the things that unite us rather than divide us. It is my deepest, deepest wish that the Iranian authorities will mark this Navroz by extending the same compassion to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer that they did for Sarah Shourd, by releasing them on humanitarian grounds.