Thursday, July 26, 2012

Early Islamic History

Aryans were nomadic people in search of better land when they entered the Iranian plateau toward the end of the second millennium B.C. The reason for their migration may have been that they exhausted the natural resources, such as croplands and pastures, in their homeland. A group of these immigrants settled along the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains and set the foundation for an emerging empire known in the West as the Achaemenid Empire. Most of Iran’s present-day nomads, still living on the slopes of these rugged mountains, are descendants of the original Aryans.

The Achaemenid Empire, known also as the Persian Empire, became one of the greatest empires that the world had ever seen. It was established by Cyrus the Great, who defeated the powerful Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C. While in Babylon, Cyrus ordered the release of Jewish prisoners who had lived in captivity for many years. For this he became known as the “liberator of Jews,” as is revealed in Jewish history and as is documented in the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. The empire that Cyrus created reached its peak during the reign of Darius the Great (541–486 B.C.). Under Darius, the empire stretched from the western borders of modern India to the valley of the Nile River and included numerous satellite kingdoms.

Iran's traditional food

Iran's national food list is long. Rice is a staple served at most meals. Fresh Vegetables are used in either stews, salads, or soups served with the rice. Lamb is used as a primary meat with Chicken being second and then near the coastal regions Fish is the principal meat.

It is a complex, time consuming, and very flavorful cuisine that is very similar to all Mediterranean foods. Freshly baked breads are enjoyed by every family each morning with hot tea and jam, it is also used with other meals. Torshi is used as a standard side dish with most evening meals. Torshi is picked vegetables made similar to other vinegar based pickles. Tea is served hot most of the day and evening. It is enjoyed with sweets and also served as an offering to any guests arriving at one's home.
Street foods would be skewers of grilled meats served with fresh pita breads and other daily flat breads. Yogurt dressing and grilled tomatoes are served with these flat breads and meats.

Marriage in Iran

In Iran women control marriages for their children, and much intrigue in domestic life revolves around marital matters. A mother is typically on the lookout for good marriage prospects at all times. Even if a mother is diffident about marriage brokering, she is obliged to "clear the path" for a marriage proposal. She does this by letting her counterpart in the other family know that a proposal is forthcoming, or would be welcome. She then must confer with her husband, who makes the formal proposal in a social meeting between the two families. This kind of background work is essential, because once the children are married, the two families virtually merge, and have extensive rights and obligations vis-á-vis each other that are close to a sacred duty. It is therefore extremely important that the families be certain that they are compatible before the marriage takes place.
Marriage within the family is a common strategy, and a young man of marriageable age has an absolute right of first refusal for his father's brother's daughter—his patrilateral parallel cousin. The advantages for the families in this kind of marriage are great. They already know each other and are tied into the same social networks. Moreover, such a marriage serves to consolidate wealth from the grandparents' generation for the family. Matrilateral cross-cousin marriages are also common, and exceed parallel-cousin marriages in urban areas, due perhaps to the wife's stronger influence in family affairs in cities. 

A tray of multi-colored herbs and spices ( Sini-ye Aatel-O-Baatel) is also set out on the "Sofreh-ye Aghd" to guard the couple from evil. The seven herbs and spices are poppy seeds, wild rice, angelica, salt, nigella seeds, black tea and frankincense.

Although inbreeding would seem to be a potential problem, the historical preference for marriage within the family continues, waning somewhat in urban settings where other considerations such as profession and education play a role in the choice of a spouse. In 1968, 25 percent of urban marriages, 31 percent of rural marriages, and 51 percent of tribal marriages were reported as endogamous. These percentages appear to have increased somewhat following the Revolution.
In Iran today a love match with someone outside of the family is clearly not at all impossible, but even in such cases, except in the most westernized families, the family visitation and negotiation must be observed. Traditional marriages involve a formal contract drawn up by a cleric. In the contract a series of payments are specified. The bride brings a dowry to the marriage usually consisting of household goods and her own clothing. A specified amount is written into the contract as payment for the woman in the event of divorce. The wife after marriage belongs to her husband's household and may have difficulty visiting her relatives if her husband does not approve. Nevertheless, she retains her own name, and may hold property in her own right, separate from her husband.
The wedding celebration is held after the signing of the contract. It is really a prelude to the consummation of the marriage, which takes place typically at the end of the evening, or, in rural areas, at the end of several days' celebration. In many areas of Iran it is still important that the bride be virginal, and the bedsheets are carefully inspected to ensure this. A wise mother gives her daughter a vial of chicken blood "just in case." The new couple may live with their relatives for a time until they can set up their own household. This is more common in rural than in urban areas.
Iran is an Islamic nation, and polygyny is allowed. It is not widely practiced, however, because Iranian officials in this century have followed the Islamic prescription that a man taking two wives must treat them with absolute equality. Women in polygynous marriages hold their husbands to this and will seek legal relief if they feel they are disadvantaged. Statistics are difficult to ascertain, but one recent study claims that only 1 percent of all marriages are polygynous.
Divorce is less common in Iran than in the West. Families prefer to stay together even under difficult circumstances, since it is extremely difficult to disentangle the close network of interrelationships between the two extended families of the marriage pair. One recent study claims that the divorce rate is 10 percent in Iran. For Iranians moving to the United States the rate is 66 percent, suggesting that cultural forces tend to keep couples from separating.
Children of a marriage belong to the father. After a divorce, men assume custody of boys over three years and girls over seven. Women have been known to renounce their divorce payment in exchange for custody of their children. There is no impediment to remarriage with another partner for either men or women.

Persian Graphic Arts

Persian miniature paintings illustrating Iranian epics and classic stories are among the world's great art treasures. These miniatures depicted both humans and animals. Another tradition, more religiously approved, is the artistic development of calligraphy. This is a highly developed Iranian art, as it is throughout the Middle East. Iran has its own styles of Arabic calligraphy, however, and has developed many modern artists who fashion common words into figurative art of great beauty. Iran's modern painters often use classic themes from miniatures combined with calligraphy for a uniquely Persian effect. Geometric design is also approved, and is seen in architectural detail and carpet design.
No discussion of Persian art would be complete without mention of carpet making. Carpets are Iran's most important export item after oil, and their creation is an art of the highest order. Carpets are hand-knotted. The finest take years to complete and have hundreds of knots per square inch. The designs are drawn from a traditional stock of motifs, but are continually elaborated upon by weavers. Each region of Iran has its own traditional designs. Carpets are not only beautiful works of art, they are investments. Older carpets are worth more than new carpets. Every Iranian family will try to own one, with the secure knowledge that if they take care in their purchase it will always increase in value.
Also of significance are the centuries-old traditions of silverwork, wood-block printing, enamel ware, inlay work, and filigree jewelry manufacture. These arts were revived during the Pahlavi era in government-sponsored workshops and training programs. This support has continued after the Revolution, and owning excellent examples of these artistic products has become a hallmark of good taste in Iranian homes.

American Literature

Huckleberry Finn
There have been many great works of American literature written over the years. One of these classics is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, penned by Mark Twain in 1884.
 What is American literature? It’s writing created by American authors writing in the English language. Much of this literature describes life in America or of Americans living elsewhere. Americans started writing soon after the first European settlers arrived in the 1600s. Ever since, American authors have asked questions: Who are Americans? What do they believe? How do they live, and what do they do?
After the American Revolution (1775-1783), the United States strived for its own identity, culture, and literature.
Americans wanted books by American authors. They sought homegrown, real-life heroes like Daniel Boone. Biography and history books were popular. People eagerly read about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and other Americans who explored the American West.
Literature also explored American problems. Slave narratives told about the evils of slavery. One of the best was the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. In New England, Henry David Thoreau wrote in favor of abolishing (outlawing) slavery.


Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson, one of America’s most famous writers, produced nearly 2,000 poems in her lifetime. She died in 1886.
Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are two of the greatest American poets. Both of them used simple, everyday language. Whitman celebrated freedom and American democracy. He wrote about laborers, immigrants, and others who led hard lives. Dickinson brilliantly expressed her thoughts and feelings, especially her fears about death.


The Kaʿbah surrounded by Muslim pilgrims, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

 Islam is the second largest religion in the world. Only Christianity has more followers. People who follow the religion of Islam are called Muslims. Today, almost 1 billion people call themselves Muslims. Most Muslims live in a string of countries that extends from Morocco in North Africa to Indonesia in Southeast Asia.
An Arab trader named Muhammad was the founding prophet of Islam. He lived in Mecca, a busy trading town in Arabia (now called Saudi Arabia). Mecca had temples built to honor various pagan gods. Pilgrims visited these temples to worship statues of the gods. One day, while fasting in a cave, Muhammad had a vision. He returned to Mecca to preach a new religious message. He said there is only one god, not many, and no one should worship idols (statues of gods). He called on the people of Mecca to surrender themselves to Allah, as he called God.
Muhammad’s message angered some Meccans. In the year 622, they forced him to flee to another city, now known as Medina. That journey—or Hegira, as Muslims call it—marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. In Medina, Muhammad became the head of the community. Soon, he led his Muslim followers back to Mecca. After a battle, the Meccans accepted Islam. Within a century, Muslims ruled an empire that stretched from India to Spain. Throughout this empire, Islam took root. The empire crumbled after a few centuries, but many people of these lands remained Muslims.


Animated films, such as Finding Nemo (2003), are a very popular form of entertainment. Animated films were once drawn entirely by hand, but today many are made on computers.
 Comics, or comic strips, are cartoons with several panels that tell a story. You can find comic strips in the funny papers, a section of the daily newspaper. In some comics, each daily strip tells its own story. In others, each strip is part of a continuing story. Popular comic-strip characters include Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy, and their friends in Peanuts, and the fussy cat in Garfield.
The first comic strips appeared in American newspapers in the 1890s. One of the earliest was Hogan’s Alley, by Richard Outcault. It featured a bald boy in a yellow nightshirt called the Yellow Kid. By the early 1900s, comic strips were a part of most American newspapers.


The first comic books were just collections of newspaper comic strips. Comic books with original material began to appear in the 1930s. They could tell longer and more detailed stories than newspaper strips. Comic books became widely popular beginning in 1938 with the first appearance of the superhero character Superman.
New superheroes soon appeared in other comic books, including the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel. Comic books in the 1960s introduced a whole new set of superheroes, such as X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. These newer superheroes all had special powers, but they had problems in life like everyone else.