Eid al-Adha

October 5-6 (+/- 1), 2014

The Muslim prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in Judeo-Christian tradition) is one of the most remarkable figures in religious history. He is the father of three great religions, the first to believe in one God, and his tales are recounted by all three faiths.

Eid al-Adha, the holiest feast of the Muslim calendar, marks the end of the annual pilgrimage (Hajj.) Eid Al-Adha begins on the tenth day of Dhu’l-Hijja and lasts four days.

It commemorates an event roughly three thousand years ago, when the prophet Ibrahim took his son Ishmael/Ismail to be sacrificed at the command of the Lord. But before Ibrahim could go through with the act God gave Ibrahim a ram to be sacrificed in the place of his son.

There are two major distinctions between the this and the Judeo-Christian version as written in Genesis.

First, in Genesis the son to be sacrificed is not Ishmael, but Isaac.

And second, in the Qur’an Ishmael is aware of his father’s intentions and agrees to be sacrificed. Thus, Eid al-Adha remembers not only Ibrahim’s sacrifice, but Ishmael’s as well.

Arguably the figure of Ibrahim is more prominent in the Islamic faith than in either Judaism or Christianity. Even though he lived twenty-five hundred years before the Prophet Muhammad, Ibrahim is said to have lived a life consistent with Muhammad’s teachings. In addition to nearly sacrificing Ishmael, Ibrahim also broke ties with his own father Azar, an idolator who refused to follow the teachings of the one true God.

Traditionally Eid al-Adha was been celebrated through the sacrifice of an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel or cow. (In recent years the practice has become more controversial. Animal sacrifice is not one of the five pillars of Islam and Muhammad himself did not eat much meat.) The meat of the animal was split into three parts. One part for themselves and family, one part for friends and neighbors, and one part for the poor.

Eid al-Adha also recalls the journey of Hajar, mother of Ishmael, and her search for water:

…Prophet Ibrahim brought Lady Hajar and their baby son Ismail, by the command of God, to the deserted uncultivable valley of Makkah where the sacred house, Ka’bah, is now located. Prophet Ibrahim left Lady Hajar and their son alone by the order of God, and Lady Hajar said, “never ever will God neglect us.” Eventually, she ran out of provisions. Shortly thereafter, she ran up and down two hills, Safa and Marwa, seven times looking for water. Finally, a spring of water gushed at her baby’s feet. God had not neglected them. That same water is still gushing (Zamzam Well).

The Big Feast Eid al-Adha – Ahmed Shoker

 animal market - kashgar

Norooz and the 7 Sin’s

March 20 or 21. Falls precisely on spring equinox.

Spring is here, friends. Let’s stay in the garden, and be guests to the strangers of the green…

— Rumi


Norooz is known by dozens of names across the many countries where it’s celebrated. Nowruz, Norouz, Noruz, Noroz, Nowroz, Nauryz, Navruz, Novroze, and more.

Now comes from the same root as “new”, and ruz means both “day” and “time”.

But however you spell it, the Persian New Year is one of the oldest holidays in the world. It dates back to the Zoroastrian religion, and the almost universal practice in the ancient world of welcoming the New Year with the beginning of spring. It’s celebrated on the spring equinox, usually March 21 in the Gregorian calendar, plus or minus a day.

During Esfand, the last month of the Persian calendar, houses are cleaned top to bottom. This original “spring cleaning” is called khane tekani, and stems from the Zoroastrian preoccupation for cleanliness, a virtue further emphasized in Islam and in Persian culture. [Note: You won’t find “cleanliness is next to godliness” in the Bible, but it’s imperative in the Qur’an.] Khane tekani includes house painting, washing the carpets and rugs, clearing out the attic, and cleaning the yard.

Family members are also measured for new clothes.

An essential feature of Nowruz is the “Sofreh-e Haft Sin”—Sofreh is a special table cloth which is spread out a few days prior to the New Year on the family table to hold the Haft Sin.

Haft means 7. But no, it’s not the Seven Sins (although one of the ‘Sin’s is an apple). In the Persian alphabet the letter S is called Sin, and the Haft Sin are items that begin with S and are placed on the table:

  • Sabzeh (sabza): wheat, barley or lentil sprouts grown in a dish, to symbolize rebirth
  • Seeb (sib): apples, for health and beauty
  • Seer (sir): garlic cloves, symbolizing medicine
  • Serkeh (serka): vinegar, representing both age and patience
  • Samanu: a sweet reddish pudding made from wheat germ,  specially prepared according to tradition by the women of the household, symbolizing affluence.
  • Senjed: dried fruit of the oleaster, or lotus tree, symbolizing love. Rumor has it that the fragrant blossoms of the lotus tree make people fall in love.
  • Somaq: sumac berries, symbolizing the color of sunrise, and the victory of good over evil
The Haft Sin Table
The Haft Sin Table © Hamed Saber

Sometimes additional S’s are added to the table, or used in place of one of the above.

  • Sekka: newly minted coins, for prosperity and wealth
  • Sepand: seeds of wild rue, which are burned in a small incense burner after the New Year to ward off evil spirits
  • Sonbol: a fragrant hyacinth or narcissus flower, symbolizing the coming of spring.

Other common sights on the Nowruz table are:

  • decorated eggs, symbolizing fertility. Easter eggs come from the Persian tradition, not the other way around.
  • rose water, representing purification
  • a bowl of water with an orange, symbolizing the earth floating in space
  • candlesticks, one for each child in the family
  • a mirror, to reflect creation, which is believed to have occurred on the first day of spring.
  • and goldfish—in a fishbowl, not the little crackers. The goldfish symbolize life, as well as the constellation of Pisces, which the sun leaves as it enters the new year.

Nowruz is a cultural celebration rather than a religious one, but many families include the Qur’an on their Haft Sin table.

The traditions associated with Nowruz are far too numerous to describe here, but you can read about some of them at Norwuz Traditions – http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri/Nowruz/NowRuz.html.

Chaharshanbe Suri (fire-jumping)
Chaharshanbe Suri (fire-jumping), from a Kurdish Newrooz celebration in Istanbul

♦    ♦    ♦

Come to the orchard in spring.
There is light and wine and sweethearts
in the pomegranate field.
If you do not come,
these do not matter.
If you do come,
these do not matter.


♦    ♦    ♦

This year President Obama made an unprecedented video message to people observing Nowruz in Iran and elsewhere:

“Today I want to extend my very best wishes to all who are celebrating Nowruz around the world. This holiday is both an ancient ritual and a moment of renewal, and I hope that you enjoy this special time of year with friends and family.”

What’s that? Not unprecedented? Nope, it turns out President Bush issued a similar greeting on March 20, 2003, though it was aimed at Iranians within the United States:

“During Nowruz, people of Iranian descent celebrate the arrival of spring, a season of rebirth. This joyous occasion provides an opportunity for Persians to cherish their rich heritage and enjoy the company of family and friends in anticipation of happiness and blessings in the year ahead.”

The March 20, 2003 announcement received far less play than Obama’s. A sign of bias in the liberal media? Perhaps. Or possibly because Bush’s Nowruz message fell on the exact same day as the invasion of Iraq.

Victory of Canakkale

March 18


The long and brutal battle for the Dardanelles is one of the most commemorated campaigns of the 20th century.

Australia and New Zealand remember the Battle of Gallipoli each year on April 25, the anniversary of the first engagement of ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) in World War I.

Turkey, meanwhile, remembers the nine-month campaign each year on March 18—the anniversary of the 1915 naval battle of Canakkale which, had the Allies succeeded, would have paved the way for the capture of Istanbul. Turkey calls March 18th the “Victory of Canakkale”, or the more sobering title Martyrs’ Day.

The Allies’ plan was to combine their naval strength to blast their way through the Dardanelles, a stretch of water connecting the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea. The Dardanelles are 60 km long and a maximum of 7 km wide. At its narrowest point (appropriately named “the Narrows”) overlooked by the city of Canakkale, the shores are separated by a mere 1600 feet.


By taking the Dardanelles, the Allies, led by France and Britain, would have a route from the Mediterranean to their Russian Allies, while cutting off the Germans from their ally the Ottomans (Turkey was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time), effectively removing the Ottoman Empire from the war.

However, on March 18, after a month of French and British naval bombardment, the Allied attempt to breach the Dardanelles met a disastrous failure. The fleet failed to clear the minefields strategically placed by the Ottomans and several key British and French warships were destroyed.

It became clear to the Allies that Turkish resistance was too strong for a purely naval victory. They sent in ground troops, including tens of thousands of eager Australian and New Zealand recruits.

Against the armed might of four nations, including two of the most powerful navies in the Western world, Turkish armed forces held their ground for a full nine months. The long campaign and victory in January 1916—like the initial victory on March 18, 1915—fueled national pride and cohesiveness across the land that would be Turkey.

Much of the success of the defense of Canakkale is attributed to the strategic foresight of a young commander by the name of Mustafa Kemal.

After World War I, Mustafa Kemal went on to lead forces in the Turkish War for Independence, and became the founder and leader of the new nation of Turkey. He is probably the most significant figure in the creation of of Turkey as we know it today, and because of the significance of Canakkale, many view 1915—not 1923—as the true birth year of the Turkish state.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at Gallipoli, 1915
Mustafa Kemal at Gallipoli, 1915

One side won, one side lost. But statistics tell another story.

The Turks and the Allies suffered nearly a quarter million casualties each—that’s over half of all men on both sides who fought in the nine-month battle.

“Those heroes that shed their blood, and lost their lives …
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries…
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, they have
Become our sons as well.”

— Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 1934

Atatürk Memorial – Turkey

November 10


“November 10 should never be a day of mourning. Let’s not forget that important people are remembered for their ideas, works, sacrifices and endeavors; not through mourning.” — Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, November 10, 2009

At precisely 9:05 on the morning of November 10th each year, life comes to a halt in Turkey. In cities across the country, Turks observe a moment of silence to remember the moment Mustafa Kemal Atatürk passed away in 1938 in Istanbul.

Atatürk—literally “Father of the Turks”, a title officially bestowed upon him in 1934—was Turkey’s George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR all rolled into one. He commanded troops under the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Following the war, when it appeared foreign powers had usurped the Sultanate in all but name, Atatürk led the fight against Western invaders and created a new Turkish state, free of foreign influence. He stabilized the new nation of Turkey as its first President and introduced sweeping social and economic reforms during his 15 year presidency.

Memorials for Atatürk adorn not only Turkey, but even places as far-flung as Australia and New Zealand.

Kemal Atatürk Memorial, Canberra
Kemal Atatürk Memorial, Canberra ©2007 Peter Ellis

“Mankind is a single body and each nation a part of that body. We must never say ‘What does it matter to me if some part of the world is ailing?’ If there is such an illness, we must concern ourselves with it as though we were having that illness.”

— Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

A brief biography of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and a tour of the Mausoleum

Republic Day – Turkey

October 29

If the earth were a single state, Constantinople would be its capital.

–Napoleon Bonaparte

In the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Transylvania to Ethiopia, from Algiers to the Caspian Sea.

By the end of the 19th century, France had chipped away at much of North Africa, the Ottoman Empire’s ‘ally’ Britain had assumed protective control of Egypt, Balkin republics were declaring their independence in Europe, while Arab groups to the East were fighting for the same. In addition, the Empire was crippled by a mountain of debt to European creditors brought on by the Crimean War and the numerous wars that followed.

During World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers (Austro-Hungary) against the Allied Powers (Britain, France, and Russia). The Empire met with initial successes, but weakened during the War’s progress, partially by internal conflicts such as the Great Arab Revolt and independence movements encouraged by the Allies.

A young military commander by the name of Ataturk, who rose to fame at the Battle of Gallipoli, was enraged at the Allied partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and the occupation of Constantinople. Between 1919 and 1923 he led the resistance in the Turkish War of Independence, fought mainly against Greece, France, and Armenia.

In 1923, after 8 months of negotiations, representatives of the warring states signed the Treaty of Lausanne. The treaty negated Ottoman claims in Iraq, Syria, and Cyprus, and acknowledged the Republic of Turkey as the successor to the Ottoman Empire. The Republic was officially proclaimed on October 29, 1923, and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became its first president.

Ataturk and the Republic of Turkey

Victory Day – Turkey – Zafer Bayrami

August 30


Today (August 30) Turkey celebrates Victory Day. The day honors those who have served in Turkey’s military and who fought heroically in the nation’s battles. Throughout the past two millennia, some of history’s greatest battles have been fought on what is now Turkish soil, but of all these, the Battle of Dumlipinar, fought in August 1922, was singled out to serve as the country’s Victory Day.

The Battle of Dumlipinar was the last major battle of the Greek campaign of the Turkish War for Independence (1919-1923).

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire found itself, along with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the losing end of an Armistice. The Treaty of Mudros didn’t reflect the reality of a war that in many ways was a stalemate. Western powers seized Ottoman towns and territory in the coming years…

“Greece, in a wild imperial venture supported by Britain, had invaded western Anatolia, hoping to make itself an Aegean ‘great power’ and to construct a ‘greater Greece’ out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. But the invasion ended not simply in Greece’s defeat at the battle of Dumlupinar in 1922, but in a calamitous rout and slaughter which drove not only the Greek armies but much of the Greek civilian population of Anatolia into the sea.”

— Neal Ascherson, Black Sea

As part of the treaty following the Greco-Turkish War, Turks and Greeks engaged in a population exchange, whereby Greek Muslims moved to Turkey and Turkish Christians moved to Greece. (Population Exchange Commission, 1923)

During these same years, Turkish revolutionaries under Mustafa Kemal simultaneously defeated the French and the Armenians in separate campaigns, forcing the Allies to revisit earlier treaties. The Turks dissolved the Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire, and a new Turkish Republic was established, with Mustafa Kemal as its leader.

The Turkish Nation consists of the valiant descendants of a people that has lived independently and has considered independence the sole condition of existence. This nation has never lived without freedom, cannot and never will.

— Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Turkey – Youth and Sports Day

May 19

Four of Turkey’s national holidays stem from the Turkish War for Independence (1919-1923). Youth and Sports Day commemorates the beginning of the Turkish War for Independence on May 19, 1919.

*  *  *

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire found itself under the influence of Western powers. Sultan Mehmed VI appointed Mustafa Kemal, a general and hero of WWI, to oversee demobilization of army divisions. However, concerned about foreign dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal took a ferry from Istanbul to Samsun on the main Turkish peninsula on May 19, 1919 to rally support for a unified, independent Turkey. His landing is considered the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence.

In Ankara the following year, Mustafa Kemal convened the first Turkish Grand National Assembly. In 1921 and 1922 he defeated the Greek army at the battles of Sakarya and Dumlupinar, and he refused to sign any treaty that undermined Turkish sovereignty. The Treaty of Lausanne recognized Turkey’s independence in 1923 and Mustafa Kemal became the country’s first president in October of that year. He remained in power until his death in 1938.

Mustafa Kemal established Youth and Sports Day during his presidency; however, since his death, Turks have observed it more as “Commemoration of Ataturk.”

Ataturk is Mustafa Kemal’s honorary title. It means “Father of the Turks.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924

Day of Hıdırellez

May 6


The Day of Hıdırellez (Ruz-ı Hızır) tip-toes across national borders, stretches its limbs across feuding religions, and dances from one culture to another borrowing steps from each it passes.

The ancient spring festival is celebrated from Turkey to the Balkans. The word Hıdırellez itself is a mixed-up amalgamation of the names of the two well-traveled yet elusive prophets it recalls: Hızır and Ilyas (Elijah).

Hızır (Al-Khidr) means, literally, “the green one.” No, he’s not green, but he represents the spring and summertime. Or more accurately, the season lasting from May 6 to November 8 known as Hızır günleri, or “days of Hızır.” Hızır watches over and protect his followers, and is responsible for the growth of crops. Pictured with a long white beard and large white turban…

Hızır walks the earth with more men than any other Moslem immortal…Hızır is the last-minute rescuer from disaster, a deus ex machina, when all other assistance, natural and supernatural, has failed.

Walker & Uysal, An Ancient God in Modern Turkey

Hizir kicks it with Alexander the Great

The other season of the Turkish folk calendar lasts from November 8 to May 6. It’s called Kasım günleri, roughly “Days of November”. On May 6 Hızır reaches out his hand to grasp that of his colleague Ilyas, aka Elijah, a prophet from the Qur’an, the New Testament, and the Old Testament.

If you make a wish on Hıdırellez night…

“…it will come true if one just remains alert enough to glimpse the embrace of the star-Lords Hizir and Ilyas in the sky.

— G.W.Trompf

Before Islam, Christianity, and maybe even the Greeks, Hızır was an ancient pagan spring deity, symbolizing water and growth. He gained immortality by drinking of the Spring of Life.

In the Qur’an, Hızır guides the prophet Moses on his journey. He tells Moses he can come along, as long as Moses promises not to talk. After the duo make a safe passage on a friendly ship, Hizir damages the ship, making it unseaworthy. Moses breaks his promise and chastises Hizir for doing such a thing. Later, Hizir and Moses are denied shelter in a town. Leaving, Hizir pauses to mend a crack in the city wall. Again Moses breaks his promise, this time to chide Hizir for rewarding an enemy. Hizir explains his actions. Soon, he explains, there will be a war, and the king will conscript all seaworthy ships, which is why he temporarily damaged the good captain’s ship. As for the wall, he explains a good man hid his money in the wall before he died. Hizir mended the wall keep the treasure protected for the man’s orphan children.

Hızır is the patron saint of travelers, which is why the Roma (Gypsies) revere him. It is they who helped to spread this spring festival from Anatolia to the Balkans (or vice-versa) and beyond. Today Hıdırellez is celebrated with plenty of live music, dancing, picnics and outdoor entertainment into the night.

“Jumping over a bonfire, something that is also seen during Nevruz celebrations, is significant in that fire is seen as a cleansing force, and so leaping over flames on Hıdırellez is also believed to be one way to wash away bad spirits and enter into the new season with a cleansed being.

— Julia Konmaz

Other traditions include the making of yogurt. And the “play of the wish.”

Everybody throws a sign into the pot holding water…sweet basil, mint, ‘mantuvar’ flower in addition to usually ring, earring, etc. The pot is covered with a cloth on the eve of Hıdırellez and placed under a rosewood.

The next day, girls stand by as one-by-one their items are drawn from the pot. Whichever song is sung when each girl’s item is removed, dictates what the year has in store for her. Song themes range anywhere from ‘love’ to ‘living abroad.’

So this Hıdırellez make a wish! And watch the skies…

Hızır Arrives with Drops from Heaven

Ahirkapi Hidirellez Festival