Multicultural Nowruz celebration welcomes new beginnings at Islamic Society of Frederick

Mar. 18—For many people of Middle Eastern or Central Asian descent, Monday marks more than the first day of spring — it's Nowruz, the millennia-old Persian New Year and a day of new beginnings.

In Frederick, the border and religion-defying nature of Nowruz was represented by the various cultural backgrounds of those who gathered at the Islamic Society of Frederick to celebrate on Saturday, at an event hosted in partnership with the Asian American Center of Frederick.

"It is a tradition that has no religious connotation," said Dr. Wais Insaaf, a member of Islamic Society's board of directors. "It's welcoming the entire Frederick community, people of faith or non-faith."

Though individual nations like Afghanistan or Kyrgyzstan celebrate the holiday with unique dishes and clothing, Insaaf said, the overall meaning of Nowruz is defined by the unity of gathering families and people of different cultures.

Under the bright blue sky outside of the Islamic Society's mosque on Saturday, parents chatted with one another while keeping an eye on their children, who were off bouncing on an inflatable castle, getting their faces painted or riding ponies.

Inside the mosque was a bazaar lined with tables, where attendees sold hot food, crafts and a variety of colorful dresses and other clothes.

Sitting at one of those tables was Zamira Sydykova, former ambassador of Kyrgyztan to the United States and Canada and a prominent Kyrgyz journalist, who currently assists the Americorps Senior Volunteer Program in Frederick.

Sydykova pitched the idea to celebrate Norwuz to the Asian American Center's Executive Director, Elizabeth Chung, and Insaaf of the Islamic Society.

At her table in the bazaar on Saturday, Sydykova was selling small terracotta pots with wheat grass in them, which she said signifies the fertility and new growth that Nowruz encompasses.

As she enjoyed this year's celebration, Sydykova recounted one of the first times she and her family were able to celebrate Nowruz when they lived in Kyrgyztan.

It was around 32 years ago, following the Soviet Union's withdraw from the country. Up until then, Sydykova said, the Soviet Union didn't allow Kyrgyz people to celebrate the holiday.

That Nowruz, however, people flocked to the center square of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek to celebrate, representing an assortment of nationalities in one of the largest public gatherings since the end of Soviet occupation.

She said her then-5-year-old son, TJ, looked up at her and said, "Oh mom, I never saw this many Kyrgyz people together in one place."

TJ Sydykov, who now works at the Asian American Center, described the significance of his organization and the Islamic Society bringing a large Nowruz celebration to Frederick for the first time.

"The Persian Empire used to spread across many different ethnicities and nations," TJ said. "The holiday kind of brought everybody together to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness back then. Now, AACF and ISF are trying to achieve the same by opening the Islamic Society's doors."

Nowruz marks one of many festivities occurring at the Islamic Society over the next few weeks. On April 21, the Islamic Society will again open its doors for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Khalil Elshazty, president of the Islamic Society, said Eid al-Fitr will be another opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims to gather for a cultural exchange.