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The Persian New Year marks the beginning of spring

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

I woke up yesterday morning. It was 26 degrees in Washington, D.C. But then by the afternoon, it was in the 50s and felt like spring because it is spring. And people around the world are celebrating what's called the Persian new year, Nowruz, which dates back thousands of years and is a holiday to mark the start of spring. Today, it is observed by people of multiple faiths and ethnicities.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And this morning we'll spend a moment with people from one of those faiths. It's a group that celebrates despite persecution in Iran. For those of the Baha'i faith, like Iraj Kamalabadi, the holiday ends 19 days of fasting from dawn to dusk.

IRAJ KAMALABADI: Families are not always together. They're separated. Some are back home in Iran, and some are here.

INSKEEP: Kamalabadi should know because he came to the United States from Iran in 1977. We spoke with another man who practices the Baha'i faith and hopes to return to Iran, which is why he asked us to withhold his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: In Iran, there is always that fear of being recognized or being identified as a Baha'i in the public.

FADEL: About 300,000 people are of the Baha'i faith in Iran, but they're not allowed to practice their religion in public.

INSKEEP: In fact, Mr. Kamalabadi says his father was jailed and mistreated in Iran. His younger sister was imprisoned four times and is currently serving a 10-year sentence on spying charges, all of which makes his Nowruz experience in the United States hard.

KAMALABADI: It gives you a feeling of loneliness.

FADEL: Elham Abbassi says she was barred from higher education in Iran because of her Baha'i faith.

ELHAM ABBASSI: I had friends that - I saw them going to the university, getting their education. But I didn't have that privilege.

FADEL: She fled to Lahore, Pakistan, with her family and was finally able to celebrate openly with the Iranian community in her refugee camp.

ABBASSI: Baha'is have freedom in Pakistan. They had their celebrations, their feasts, their gatherings with no problems.

INSKEEP: And we should note again people of multiple faiths in multiple countries do celebrate Nowruz. I was at a Nowruz celebration once in Iraq. A typical Nowruz feast might feature dishes of rice with nuts or raisins, barbecued lamb and beef kebab and lots of fresh herbs and yogurt. I'm hungry now.

FADEL: Me too. That sounds so delicious. It's also a time for prayer and reflection.

KAMALABADI: I am always hopeful. We don't hold any animosity towards our persecutors. We love all humanity equally.

FADEL: A spiritual journey that Kamalabadi says helps him see a future free of repression.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.