Today, Ismaili Muslims around the world observe Navroz – a festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year and the first day of spring. More importantly, it symbolises a time of spiritual renewal and physical rejuvenation, bringing with it a deep sense of gratitude and an outlook of hope and optimism for the future ahead.

Around the world, Navroz is generally observed on March 21 and finds its roots in an agrarian tradition that began some 3000 years ago. The occasion is honoured by many Muslim communities and cultures worldwide, particularly those belonging to the Shia faith. In many parts of the Middle East and Central and South Asia, communities commemorate the festival, especially those influenced by Persian and Turkic civilisations. In countries such as Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, Navroz is respected as a public holiday.

The occasion of Navroz marks a time for festivities, which take place with much fervour. Among Ismaili Muslims, Navroz is celebrated by reciting sacred poetry in the form of ginans, qasidas, and maqabas. Members of the Jamat pray for prosperity and seek forgiveness of their sins, while sharing dried fruits, nuts and grains as a symbol of abundance and nourishment. Within families, many decorate their homes and hold gatherings held over celebratory meals to strengthen bonds with their loved ones.

This year’s Navroz is unlike any other Navroz that has been experienced. Indeed, in the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions on public gatherings are in place and social distancing is being practiced – measures that are important in order to slow down the spread of the virus. Experts advise that since COVID-19 is spread from person to person through physically close social contact, the best approach to prevention is to keep people from being in close contact as much as possible. Our utmost priority is to keep our Jamats and the wider community safe and healthy.

As such, this year’s Navroz celebrations were marked by the Ismaili community in the Australia New Zealand region and around the world coming together virtually as One Jamat by participating in an online webinar. Rather than physically being in one place, the focus was to celebrate with immediate family in people’s own homes and take time to pray together. Indeed, while we may not be physically united, the collective power of our prayers still keeps us spiritually connected.

Nevertheless, the story of Navroz 2020 remains one of light, love, and hope. The physical separation is only temporary, and we look forward to celebrating together in the near future and returning to normality. For now, when we miss the fun of socialising with our friends in Jamatkhana, we encourage everyone to pick up the phone or video call friends and family, and use social media to connect with loved ones around the world.

As we work to prioritise health and safety during this challenging time, we encourage all members of the community to adhere to the safety precautions being advised to help combat COVID-19 – the regular washing of hands, social distancing, and in some cases, self-isolation. We pray for the safety, security, good health and tranquillity of the Jamat and those all around the world.

On the auspicious occasion of Navroz, we wish our readers and our Ismaili Jamats worldwide Navroz Mubarak. Keep healthy, stay safe, and look after each other.