Iran, Gulf nations sidestep millennium celebrations

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The Independent Online

While the rest of the world brought out the bubbly, Iranians and some of their Persian Gulf neighbors largely ignored the dawning of the new millennium, which fell during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time for prayer and reflection.

While the rest of the world brought out the bubbly, Iranians and some of their Persian Gulf neighbors largely ignored the dawning of the new millennium, which fell during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time for prayer and reflection.

In addition to Ramadan and Islam's prohibition against alcoholic beverages, Iranians began a five-day mourning period Thursday to mark the death of Imam Ali, one of the holiest figures for Iran's majority Shiite Muslim population. Friday also was the Muslim Sabbath.

Restaurants, shops and bakeries remained shut. The capital, Tehran, was still, except for mourning ceremonies held in mosques.

"We Iranians are usually looking for any excuse to party and get together with our friends and relatives, but there is no reason at all for us to celebrate," said Mehrnoosh Javadi, a 35-year-old teacher. "We respect all in the world who celebrate and are so excited tonight and we congratulate them, but we are proud that we have our own calendar."

Iran follows the Persian calendar, which counts this year as 1378. The Iranian new year, Nowruz, is celebrated March 21.

Still, in Tehran, many Iranians turned to international TV stations broadcasting live coverage of celebrations across the globe.

"Over the past three weeks, demand for satellite dishes has been extraordinary. I sold in those three weeks what I usually sell in five months. People want to see the world celebrating," a technician who sells and installs satellite dishes said, declining to give his name. Satellite dishes are illegal in Iran, though the law is not strictly enforced.

In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, five-star restaurants and nightclubs scaled back their programs to only dinner to adhere to local laws prohibiting dancing and live entertainment during Ramadanate parties.

Saudi Arabia also banned New Year's celebrations, saying the holiday was not mentioned in the Koran. One of Kuwait's more extreme Islamic groups, Salaf, urged Muslims not to celebrate the "alleged millennium."

According to the Islamic lunar calendar, this year is 1420.

"Celebrating the holidays of the infidels is not allowed, even if it's out of courtesy," said Sheik Abdullah bin Jabrain, a member of the Saudi Ifta, or Islamic legal committee.

But not every Muslim land was so subdued.

In Istanbul, Turkey, red and blue fireworks exploded over the Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque landmarks. Tens of thousands of Turks gathered in Taksim Square to celebrate with a popular Turkish rock group, Athena. Similar gatherings took place elsewhere in Turkey.

Security was tight at the Turkish celebrations. Authorities feared attacks by radical Islamic groups against places selling alcohol. Though banned by Islam, drinking is widespread in predominantly Muslim but secular Turkey.

It was generally a quiet day in Israel, where the Christian-era year 2000 had no emotional impact for Jews. But in Palestinian-governed Bethlehem, Christ's birthplace, tens of thousands of Palestinians cheered the new year in, and 2,000 doves of peace were released to the stirring sounds of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

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