Al Quds day: The Cultural Inspiration and Iranian Narrative

Madi Jahangir * – “Humanity knows no borders!” A little boy wearing keffiyah is holding the placard. His parents are some steps away walking with other people in the rally. They are there to participate in the annual rally of Al Quds day or more known to the world as Jerusalem day. A day which is to commemorate the Palestinian struggle against occupation. 

The children and the balons: 2013 Al Quds rally in Tehran. / Photo: Mojtaba Heydari

The children and the balons: 2013 Al Quds rally in Tehran. / Photo: Mojtaba Heydari

In August 1979, some months after revolution in Iran, the late founder of Islamic republic Ayatullah Khomeini declared the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan as International Quds day, drawing attention of the Muslims to mark an annual festival for Palestine by street marches and demonstrations. Since then every year many fasting Iranians gather in the streets on the last Friday of Ramadan and march with placards and posters, written on them slogans supporting Palestinian cause. The rallies in Iran are massive. People from various social classes, every walk of life and for different reasons participate in Al Quds day rallies. But Iranians are not the only nation that celebrates this day. Millions of other people from more than 80 other countries also hold rallies to commemorate the event.

2013 Al Quds rally in Imam Square, Isfahan / Photo: Abbas Poostindouz

2013 Al Quds rally in Imam Square, Isfahan / Photo: Abbas Poostindouz

During the First Intifada in January 1988, the Jerusalem Committee of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference decided that Quds Day should be commemorated in public events throughout the Arab world. Events are also held in Lebanon, Iraq, the Palestinian Gaza Strip, and Syria. Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine endorse Quds Day, and hold ceremonies. Outside of the Middle East and the wider Arab World, Quds Day protests have taken place in the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Sweden, France, the United States, and predominantly Muslim countries in east Asia. The day influenced  the Bahrain uprising as well, when dozens took part in the Al Quds day protests in 2012  which were dispersed by security forces’ tear gas.

However, holding rallies in Iran has a very long history. Since centuries, Iranians have been holding religious rallies in the month of Moharram to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hossein a.s, the third Shia Imam. At the time of uprisings, these rallies in Moharram carried out more political messages. For example during Pahlavi rule, these Moharram rallies led to huge and bloody protests and finally overthrew the Shah regime. By Dec. 11, 1978, somewhere between 6 million and 9 million — or roughly 10% of the entire population — had taken to the streets in the Muharram protests (named for the Islamic month in which they fell). In a victory for the people, the embattled leader agreed to step down later that month.

The teenager and the flags : 2013 Al Quds rally / Photo: Mohammad Hossein Velayati

The teenager and the flags : 2013 Al Quds rally / Photo: Mohammad Hossein Velayati

Even though most of the rallies in Iran these days are for political or religious reasons, they’ve brought a lot of creativity inspired by Iranian culture and art. There is Palestine square and Palestine street in almost every Iranian city. Each year the placards are modified to be more classy and up to date. I remember as a child when i was participating in Al Quds rallies with my mother in 80s and 90s, the rallies were as massive but much more simple in facilities. By time, they started using other means like balon, big and small flags, graffiti, cartoons, paper hats and even English slogans to promote their message. They choose different emblems for each year, targeting a special issue which is related to the news of the day. They also bring up the Iranian struggle, sanctions, anti US war campaigns and the nuclear issue. Moreover, there are photo or art exhibitions held in public places  like gardens and subway stations.

2013 Quds rally emblem in Tehran / Photo: Azin Haghighi

2013 Quds rally emblem in Tehran / Photo: Azin Haghighi

Many artists release artworks, graphic designs, cartoons, video and audio clips or even songs inspired by Palestinian conflict. Some of them like the graphic projects by Se-dar-Chahar (3×4) group which i found on Yanoon design are quite professional such as this comparison between Israeli and Palestinian life. They wrote: “Mainstream media usually covers events one-sided and with prejudice. While comparison is the best way to portray the depth of an event.” In comparison to the mainstream media’s coverage, Al Quds day in Iran is a different portrayal of the Palestinian conflict and from an Iranian narrative.

Comparison between daily life of Palestinians and Israelis / Yanon Design

Comparison between daily life of Palestinians and Israelis / Yanon Design

* Madi Jahangir is Editor in chief of Dream of Iran.

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