09:20 PM CST on Wednesday, March 24, 2004
By ESTHER WU / The Dallas Morning News
Sunday marked Navroz, the start of a new year for Ismaili Muslims around the world.
"The celebration usually coincides with the spring equinox," explained Salim Rahimi, an active volunteer in the Ismaili community in North Texas.
"Navroz literally means a new day, and it brings hope and joy at the onset of the new year."
As part of the traditional celebration, children paint and decorate eggs and pass them out to relatives.
"The eggs are used to symbolize rebirth," Mr. Rahimi explained. "The American Ismaili culture has become a blend of Eastern and Western traditions. At Navroz, many Ismailis like to make resolutions for the coming year. Ismaili Muslims around the world celebrate the new year with festivals and family gatherings."
Though all Muslims are united on the fundamental beliefs, there are two major groups - the Shiite and the Sunni. The Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims, and they follow the teachings of the Quran and the practices of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shiites follow the fundamental teachings of the Quran and incorporate the guidance of imams, or spiritual leaders.
Among the Shiites, who make up 15 percent of the total Muslim population today, many sects have developed, among them the Ismailis.
"What distinguishes the Ismailis from many other Muslim sects is that we are led by a hereditary or living imam," Mr. Rahimi explained. His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, who is a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, is the 49th imam of the Ismaili Muslims.
There are an estimated 15,000 Ismailis living in North Texas today. Most worship at one of four Jamatkhanas, in Colleyville, Carrollton, Euless and Farmers Branch. "The Jamatkhanas also serve as community centers or gathering places for our youth," Mr. Rahimi said.
"In general, the community is very active. Many of our young people work with Habitat for Humanity, others are committed to community service in observance of Quranic ethos - the basic belief of aiding those less fortunate than us."
The local community also organizes the annual Aga Khan Foundation Partnership Walk, which raises money for people in underdeveloped countries. Last year's event raised more than $740,000 in Dallas.
In conjunction with Navroz, for the last several months many Ismaili youths have been rehearsing a play called A Journey Along the Cradle of Muslim Civilizations, which will be performed before community members and a few invited guests Saturday in Grand Prairie.
"A few years ago the American Ismaili community decided to commemorate Navroz with a culture and arts program to broaden our knowledge of our history, culture and heritage while at the same time highlighting the talents of our Ismaili youth," Mr. Rahimi said. "Last year's play, A Journey Along The Silk Road, celebrated the culture and heritage of the people and countries along the ancient Silk Road."
This year's play, sponsored by the Ismaili Muslim Council for Northern Texas, is based on the travels of Nasir Khusraw, a renowned Muslim poet, philosopher and traveler, who was one of the most significant figures of 11th century Persia.
"This year's production will take us to Jerusalem, the birthplace of Christianity and Judaism, the other monotheistic Abrahamic traditions along with Islam," Mr. Rahimi said.
"This play provides an opportunity for all of us to better understand the historical interactions between communities, when people of all cultures, traditions and faiths interacted freely and in harmony, shared ideas and ideals, and developed what would today be termed a pluralistic society," Mr. Rahimi said.
"In these difficult times we want our community and the global community to begin understanding that we all come from the same one God and we must learn to embrace diversity and share this Earth as children of God."
For more information on the Ismaili Muslim community or the Aga Khan visit www.akdn.org/about.html.