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).
You know you’re in trouble when your last best hope for justice are lawyers.
But thousands of lawyers and judges in Pakistan put their careers, their reputations, and possibly their lives on the line in the nearly two-year struggle to pressure the government to reinstate a judge.
That judge was Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whom then-President Pervez Musharraf removed from office in 2007.
As the head of the Pakistan Army, Musharraf came to power in 1999 after a coup against the sitting Prime Minister. He became President of the country in 2001, and held a referendum the following year in which he was officially elected to a five-year term.
Despite his military dictatorship, Musharraf received U.S. support for his commitment against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks. In 2007, as Musharraf’s term came to an end, he declared martial law and suspended dozens of prominent judges whom he feared would oppose the Constitutionality of his running for re-election, as both President and Army Chief.
Among the judges sacked and placed under house arrest was Chaudhry, the nation’s most powerful judge.
Thousands of lawyers across the country have boycotted court proceedings, staged hunger strikes and organized protests.
Former Prime Minister Benezir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007, after a self-imposed exile, to run against Musharraf, partly on the platform of reinstating the Chief Justice to his post. She was assassinated while campaigning in Rawalpindi in December of 2007.
Musharraf was re-elected, according to the election commission he helped put in power. However, unrelenting protests from judges and lawyers regarding the legality of Musharraf’s actions contributed to his forced resignation in August 2008.
Benezir Bhutto’s widow, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected President the following month. Even so, lawyers and judges had to fight for another six months to pressure the new government to reinstate Chaudhry.
Chaundry was officially reinstated as Chief Justice in a ceremony on March 22, 2009, the day before Pakistan’s national holiday, Pakistan Day.
Pakistan Day celebrates the anniversary of the 1940 Lahore Resolution, in which the Muslim League declared the necessity for a Muslim state in what was then British India. After eight-years of struggle and determination, the resolution became reality on August 14, 1948 when the state of Pakistan was established. (August 14 is Pakistan’s Independence Day.)
Pakistan Day also celebrates March 23, 1956, the day Pakistan became the first modern Islamic Republic.
“When our founding fathers resolved to carve out an independent state, they had in mind a state where constitutionalism and rule of law would reign supreme. For a long time and at intervals the rule of law and constitutionalism has been trampled by dictators, sometimes under the doctrine of necessity and sometimes under the theory of successful revolution. This cycle must come to an end. It will…
“…On this day, let us all resolve that we shall endeavour to uphold the constitution, rule of law and work for the emancipation of the people. I hope that towards this end all institutions of the state will work in harmony.”
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…
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
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.
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.
It’s the day that puts the ‘holi’ in holiday. Holi literally translates to “burning”, but fire isn’t the most prominent image of the festival. Holi is all about color. Colored powders, colored waters fly through the air as celebrants young and old ‘colorize’ the world around them—by flinging powders and streams at their friends, neighbors, and any passersby.
Holi is a joyous celebration, though somehow the editor of the piece below has spliced it into a Bollywood horror film. (Are there Bollywood horror films?) I can hear the Hollywood producers pitching it now… Slumdog Millionaire meets 28 Days Later.
Do NOT wear your best clothes on Holi as the video below demonstrates.
Other Holi festivities are more ceremonial, but the words “muted” and “tame” don’t fit into any of them.
Holi is a Spring celebration. One legend corelates the holiday with an evil king named Hiranyakashipu. The king forbade his son Prahlad from worshipping the god Vishnu. Prahlad refused to do so, so the king challenged Prahlad to sit with Prahlad’s wicked aunt Holika—who was believed to be impervious to fire—on a burning pyre. To everyone’s surprise, it was Holika that burned and not Prahlad, who remained unharmed.
During Holi, the rules that govern Hindu society throughout the year are somewhat relaxed. Class, caste, status and gender become secondary distinctions to the bright magenta, orange, red, green and every-other-color-of-the-rainbow powders covering everyone’s skin and clothes.
Holi falls on the full moon of the month of Phalguna.
Today is Mother’s Day in Georgia — the country, not the state.
Perhaps the most famous of all Georgian mothers was Katerina Geladze Djugashvili.
The daughter of serfs, Katerina married at age 17. She had two children—Mikhail and Georgi—who died as babies, before her third, Josef (nickname Soso), was born. A devout Christian, Katerina made a vow to God. If this boy would survive, he would become a servant of the Lord.
Soso did live, but was often ill. Katerina nursed him to health through small pox, endless colds and coughs, and a case of blood poisoning that left one of his arms permanently injured.
Soso’s father was a drunk who habitually abused his wife and son. He walked out on them to work at a shoe factory in the city, where he eventually drank himself to death.<
Katerina worked as a laundress and servant to raise money for her son to attend the Gori Parochial School. Though other boys picked on him for his ragged clothes, pockmarked face and hick accent, the boy graduated at the top of his class, and was accepted to the prestigious Tiflis Theological Seminary.
“To the Most Reverend Archemandrite Seraphim, Rector and Father,” wrote the boy…
Having completed my studies at the Gori Church School as the best student… I was fortunate to be successful in this examination and was admitted among the students of the Theological Seminary. However, since my parents are unable to provide for me in Tiflis I am appealing with great humility to Your Reverence to admit me among those students who have half their tuition fees paid for them.
Soso sang in the school choir, read voraciously, and began writing poetry:
“To the Moon”
Move on, O tireless one–
Never bowing your head,
Scatter the misty clouds,
Great is the providence of the Almighty
Smile tenderly upon the earth
Which lies outspread beneath you…
And know that he who fell like ashes to the earth,
Who long ago became enslaved,
Will rise again higher than the holy mountain…
O beauty, you shone among the heavens
So now let your rays play in splendor
In the blue sky
I shall rip open my shirt
And bare my breast to the moon,
And with outstretched hands
Worship her who showers her light on the world.
It was Soso’s appetite for reading that got him expelled just before graduation. He was caught with banned literature, including works by Darwin and Victor Hugo. His mother’s dreams were dashed to pieces.
Decades later, after Josef changed his last name to Stalin (much easier to pronounce than Djugashvili) and became the leader of the Soviet Union, he tried to explain to his mother what he did for a living—leaving out all that paranoid, mass-murdering, genocidal dictator stuff.
Unencumbered by pesky checks and balances like U.S. Presidents, Stalin was the single most powerful person in the world.
Katerina simply told him, like any good mother, she was disappointed he wasn’t a priest.
For some reason the excitement surrounding this occasion is not quite as intense as other more important holidays, such as Talk Like a Pirate Day. This may be because our national linguistic experience differs from most countries. As one joke goes:
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
What do you call someone who speaks one language?
Even our neighbors to the north have had a very different outlook on language. In Canada there are laws monitoring the use of the French and English languages, down to the size of words on cereal boxes.
Conflicts between dueling languages (like the Quebecois woman who complained to a pet store owner that her parrot didn’t speak French) are not always trite. As Quebec’s Jean-Charles Harvey wrote:
In the middle of an ocean of English-speaking men and women, the only chance of survival for the French is if it becomes synonymous with audacity, culture, civilization and freedom.
Jean-Charles Harvey, La peur, 1945
+ + +
The origin of International Mother Tongue Day lies in the aftermath of the bloody partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The nation now known as Bangladesh was East Pakistan after the partition. Even though over half of Pakistan’s 69 million inhabitants lived in East Pakistan, the country was largely ruled from West Pakistan’s central government. In 1948 the central government declared Urdu as the nation’s only official language. This meant Bengali, the native language of over 90% of the people of East Pakistan (and thus one of the most spoken languages in the world) could not be taught in school or used in government affairs. The change also threatened to make the majority of educated people of East Pakistan essentially ‘illiterate’ and unable to participate in government or hold national posts.
This understandably outraged the East Pakistanis, and a Bengali Language Movement formed. Pakistani Governor-General Muhammed Ali Jinnah proclaimed that the Bengali language movement was a “fifth column” movement attempting to sabotage true Pakistani unity.
In February Dhaka University planned mass protest demonstrations, but the central government imposed a ban on all public assemblies in the city of Dhaka. On February 21 students held the protest anyway.
Police attacked the students with batons. Students fought back, throwing bricks at the police, who responded with tear gas and gunfire. Several students were killed. The outcry over the police attacks led to more demonstrations and violence over the following days. On February 22 police attacked a mourning rally, presumably for violating the ban on assemblies.
The government-censored news reports purported that the demonstrations were instigated by communists and Hindu foreign influences. After two more years of protest Pakistan passed a resolution accepting Bengali as a national language of Pakistan along with Urdu, and the anniversary of the first martyrs was adopted by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day in 1999.
The story of Bengali has been repeated, and preceded, by countless stories of language repression
In the twentieth century Spanish dictator Franco banned the Basque language—one of the oldest languages in the world—for thirty years, nearly destroying it. (Basque has no known linguistic relations, and as such is one of the four language families in Europe: the others being Indo-European, Uralic, and Turkic.)
Of the over 6,000 recorded languages in the world today, less than 300 are spoken by populations of 1 million or more. Much like how McDonald’s and Barnes & Noble have driven out local restaurants and book stores, so the larger languages are replacing indigenous ones. According to the U.N. thousands of languages are in danger of extinction.
South America had an estimated 1,500 languages before European contact. Today it has 350. Strangemaps displays a map of the world (from Limits of Language by M. Parkvall) distorting the size of nations and continents by their linguistic diversity:
The lingual giant Papua New Guinea boasts some 850 languages. Countries in red speak over 200 languages.
The U.S. gets a bad rap for how few languages we speak, but as you can see, as a whole its inhabitants speak nearly as many as the entire European continent.<
Yesterday I drove through a stretch of Westminster, California that, I kid you not, was entirely in Vietnamese.
The most popular* languages in the world are:
and the one that started today’s holiday: Bengali.
(*popular as in how many people speak them, not as in votes on Americal Idol)
Today’s language question: Name three words in English that end in “gry”
Give it up to Shiva today. The new moon of Phalgun (that’s today) is known as Maha Shivaratri in the Hindu religion. To the adherents of Shaivism, who worship Shiva as their primary god, today is the holiest day of the year.
Shiva gets a misleading rap as The Destroyer. It sounds cool and daunting, but is only half accurate. Being the Destroyer, Shiva is also the agent of transformation and dissolution that makes recreation possible.
Shiva’s often pictured as blue. One time Indra was trying to regain his wealth and prosperity—taken by an angry sage. Brahma suggested churning the Ocean of Milk to create the “Nectar of Immortality.” But during the churning of the Ocean, a great poison called Halahala was released, deadly to all living things upon the earth. Shiva was summoned to save the world by drinking the Halahala. He wasn’t killed, but his throat became permanently blue.
Shiva is one part of the Hindu triumvirate. The other two parts are Brahma, the creator of the universe, and Vishnu, the preserver of it.
Today is considered by many to be the day Shiva married Parvati.
Shiva is at times ascetic, at others hedonistic. When Shiva was in one of his ascetic moods, Parvati tried seducing him but with little luck. The god of desire, Kama, was sent in on Parvati’s behalf to lure Shiva from his asceticism and ignite his more lustful side. Kama used the sounds and scents of spring at her disposal. It worked, but Shiva repaid Kama by burning him to ashes with his middle eye. [Caveat Matchmaker!] Shiva and Parvati were later married in a grand celebration. Kama was resurrected when Shiva embraced Parvati, and the sweat from her body mixed with Kama’s ashes.
According to legend, “their lovemaking is so intense that it shakes the cosmos, and the gods become frightened. They are frightened at the prospect of what a child will be like from the union of two such potent deities.”
The couple have a child named Ganesha, pictured with the trunk of an elephant. The three are often pictured together. Shiva and Parvati reflect the perfect balance of the universe. Parvati represents harmony in nature and the power to create and nourish.
Turkmenistan’s Flag Day was established in 1997 to coincide with the birthday of then-President Saparmurat Niyazov (1940-2006).
Niyazov ruled the country for over twenty years. He became Secretary of the Turkmen Communist Party (ie. Head Honcho) in 1985 and remained in power after Turkmenistan declared its independence in October 1991.
Turkmenistan prefers stability to change. One of the last of the Soviet Republics to formerly break from Russia, the country remained a one-party Communist state with party leader Niyazov as its President. In 1994 his term was extended to ten years by a vote of the Mejlis, the parliament which he controlled. Before the term was set to expire, a newly ‘elected’ Mejlis, consisting of members groomed by Niyazov, benevolently heaped a new title on their leader: “President for Life.”
Highlights of the Niyazov administration include:
Bestowed title upon himself: “Serdar Turkmenbashi.” (Great Leader of all Turkmen.)
Renamed the month of April after his mother.
Renamed January after himself: Turkmenbashi
Wrote the “Ruhnama,” a guide of his views on spiritual living–required reading for all schoolchildren.
Named airports, streets and landmarks after himself.
During his reign posters and statues of him were put up on almost every block in the country.
According to a segment from 60 Minutes (aired January 2004):
“He’s not only a brutal dictator, but a dictator who runs his country like it’s his own private Disney World…His face is everywhere, and you can’t walk a block without seeing either a statue or photo of him.”
Said the humble Great Leader in response:
“I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets—but it’s what the people want.”
And as for renaming months after himself and his family, he explained:
“You can’t have a great country without great ancestors—and we had none before. We’re starting new, with a new society, and this new culture will be followed for centuries.”
In defense of his authoritative rule, he explained it from the Turkmenistan perspective:
“You Americans, you should understand one thing—for 74 years under the Soviets we were prohibited from thinking about political opposition parties. Look at America—you had a civil war, you didn’t have instant democracy. Yet now you demand we create democracy in Turkmenistan overnight.
Niyazov died in 2006 without an apparent successor.
International Crisis Group noted, “His two decades in power bequeathed ruined education and public health sectors, a record of human rights abuses, thousands of political prisoners and an economy under strain despite rich energy exports.”
“For his 63rd birthday,  Niyazov’s ministers proclaimed him God’s prophet on Earth. This year,  according to a law passed last week, Flag Day – a holiday typically observed in conjunction with Niyazov’s birthday – will be celebrated exclusively.”
Though his legacy has begun to fade, Turkmenistan still celebrates Flag Day today, February 19, on what would have been the Turkmenbashi’s 69th birthday.