Volume 8, Issue 34 (2020)                   CFL 2020, 8(34): 31-63 | Back to browse issues page

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imanian H. Ashab Al-Samajeh in old Arabic texts. CFL. 2020; 8 (34) :31-63
URL: http://cfl.modares.ac.ir/article-11-41927-en.html
Kashan , imanian@kashanu.ac.ir
Abstract:   (249 Views)
Nowruz has been the most prestigious and celebrated custom of the Iranian holiday since the ancient times, for which Iranians have always done preparation before the beginning of the New Year, and have spent days holding rituals as a sign indicating their eagerness and enthusiasm. The advent of Islam, which entailed the conversion of many Iranians to Islam and their adherence to its rituals, never diminished the prosperity of this holiday, but added a touch of Islamic glamour to the event, encouraging a more glorious celebration. Arabic texts of the first centuries (AH) highlight the name of an itinerant group called “As’hab al-Samajah”, who staged comic and entertaining performances in Baghdad, Syria, and Egypt. We believe that these are the very Mirs of Nowruz. Many of the rituals performed during the Mir Nowruzi ceremonies in Baghdad and Cairo may have been forgotten, and therefore, we would have a clearer picture of this Iranian celebration if we investigate these rituals. In this article, we went through a brief background of the Mir Nowruzi, and then dealt with the etymology of the word “Samajah”, which we think has its roots in the Persian word “Simache”, meaning ‘a mask’, which has also been used in the Arabic texts in this sense. Then, we have mentioned the reports of the Arabic texts about this category and have studied the rituals that had taken place in this carnival atmosphere. It is ascertained from these reports that the masked people had their public performance on stage in the first three days of Nowruz, where the caliphs and the other key figures had occasionally supported them and at times imposed sanctions on them.
Research background
There are more or less scattered pieces of writing about the Mir Nowruz ritual in Persian among which are Hashem Razi’s books, Mohammad Ghazvini’s article entitled “The another example for Mir Nowruzi”, and Hassan Zolfaghari’s article entitled “Mir Nowruzi”, which attest to this ritual in contemporary Iran. Almost none of these pieces of writing has referred to the “As’hab al-Samajah”. Adam Mez has also cited only one of several Al-Maqrizi reports in his “The Renaissance of Islam”. It can be said that neither the etymology of the word “Samajah” nor the similarity between “As’hab al-Samajah” and “Mir Nowruzi” have been extensively studied so far.
Aims, questions, and assumptions
The present study, first, aims to etymologize the word “Samajah” and to see whether it is a Persian or Arabic word. Second, it aims to check whether the itinerant group of “As’hab al-Samajah”, whose name has been mentioned in the Arabic texts and have performed in Muslim countries, particularly in Iraq and Egypt, is the same as Mir Nowruzi in the Iranian culture. Finally, we refer to the common Nowruz rituals and customs in this group, according to what has been taken from Arabic texts.
Nowruz is one of the ancient Iranian celebrations which is still celebrated with some of its past rituals and at times some new customs. It is said that during the Abbasid period and after it, the Iranian culture, politics, and thought prevailed those customs. Not only were Iranians, who lived in the Arab and Islamic lands, committed to holding these ancient Iranian rituals, but also Arabs and Muslims showed tremendous enthusiasm towards them. During the Abbasid period, particularly in Baghdad during the 2nd to 4th centuries (AH) and the Buyid dynasty, the establishment of the Persian rituals flourished again and these traditions were held even in strictly Islamic lands such as Baghdad, Syria, and Egypt.
Arabic texts of the first centuries (AH) attest to the existence of a group, namely “As’hab al-Samajah”, who staged comic and entertaining performances in the streets and bazaars during Nowruz, from its very first day, in particular. The authors of this paper believe that these people are the very Mirs of Nowruz in the Iranian culture. Although most researchers believe that the Mirs of Nowruz were regarded to be the forerunners who heralded the beginning of the New Year, our reports make it clear that these performances were held exactly from the very first day of Nowruz and apparently in the three following days. All in all, this ritual has been one of the carnival and theatrical celebrations. During the Abbasid and the Fatimid eras, As’hab al-Samaja wore masks, painted their faces, and held street and market performances to entertain people and make them happy.
From a mythological perspective, this ritual has nothing to do with this paper; however, according to the historical reports, we will refer to the ways this ritual was held and to the details of the performances.  We will also deal with the etymology of the words “Samajah” and “Simache” in the Arabic texts of the first centuries (AH). “Samajah” literally means “ugliness”; yet, it has been used in most Arabic poems and texts with the meaning of “the masked”. Thus, it can be said that this word has been Arabized.  “Simache”, on the other hand, is a Persian word which means ‘a mask’.
Although the Arabic and Persian lexicographers have considered “Samajah” as an Arabic word meaning ugliness, there is evidence which proves that the term is of Persian origin and seems to be derived from “Simache”. The celebration of Mir of Nowruz in Iraq and Egypt, particularly in the two cities of Baghdad and Cairo, corroborates the attractiveness and the spread of Iranian culture among Muslims in other parts of the Islamic world until the Middle Centuries. Although the As’hab al-Samajah group, who have been repeatedly mentioned by Arabic poets and writers, have similarities with the Kuse-Bar-Neshin band, they are, in effect, the very Mirs of Nowruz in the Iranian culture.
It is axiomatic that the Masked of Nowruz were among the masses; however, the monopoly of their performances to the higher echelons caused such performing arts to survive in the face of religious opposition.
  •  Al-Maqrizi. (n.d.). Sermons and advices mentioning past events. Beirut: Dar Sadir.
  •  Biruni, A. R. (1983). About understanding astronomy (edited by Jalal Al-din Homai). Tehran: Babak.
  •  Beizai, B. (2017). A study on Iranian theatre (in Farsi). Tehran:  Rowshangaran.
  •  Frazer, J. G. (2007). The golden bough: A study in magic and religion. (translated into Farsi by Kazem Firoozmand). Tehran: Agah.
  •  Ghazvini, M. (1945). The another example for Mir Nowruzi. Yadegar, 10, 57-66.
  •  Mez, A. (n.d.). The renaissance of Islam (translated into Arabic by M. A. A.  Abu Raydah). Beirut: Dar-Al-Ketab.
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Article Type: پژوهشی اصیل | Subject: Public display literature
Received: 2020/04/8 | Accepted: 2020/06/28 | Published: 2020/10/1

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