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

Hajj: the fifth pillar of Islam

November 4-7, 2011

Today begins the Hajj to Mecca in which millions of Muslims around the world will leave their homes to embark on the journey that every financially and physically able Muslim must take once in their lifetime.

Destination: Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia.

The Hajj to Mecca has been called the most diverse gathering of human beings ever assembled. Participants come from all countries, all races, and all walks of life.

Mecca is the city toward which, the rest of the year, Muslims pray five times a day. During Hajj millions converge on the Masjid al Haram, the holiest mosque in all Islam. The Holy Mosque’s open court can accommodate hundreds of thousands of worshipers, who circumambulate (I don’t get to use that word very often) around the centerpiece of the court: the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a stoic black cube which holds a sacred stone believed to have fallen from heavens in the days of Adam.

Kaaba in the middle of the Holy Mosque, circa 1880

It was here, thousands of years ago that Abraham and his son Ishmael introduced the world to monotheism, by building a small temple in the middle of the desert, as commanded by God. Abraham shouted out to the empty desert a welcome to anyone who would join him in prayer at the Kaaba. Each year during Hajj, millions answer his call.

Though the people of the Arabian peninsula have revered the site long before the days of Mohammad, it was the Prophet who set the stone in its final place. Muslims don’t worship the stone itself–Islam allows no idols of any kind. Rather, the place is revered for its connection to the Prophet Muhammad and to God.

This holy meteor has never been carbon-dated, but it was stolen once. According to

In 317/930 the Qarmatians raided Mecca; they captured the stone, and carried it off to al-Hasa or Bahrayn, where it was kept. Ransom was offered for it, which was ignored. Then in 340/951 it was thrown, the historian Juwayni relates, into the Friday Mosque of Kufah with a note: “By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back.”


During Hajj, pilgrims enter a state of Ihram. During Ihram one may not intentionally harm any living creature, and men must wear two pieces of unstitched cloth, one around their waist and one over their shoulders. As Kamran Pasha, author of Mother of Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam, explains:

In this way, all pilgrims are dressed exactly the same, eliminating differences of race, culture and economic status. Whether we are kings or paupers, whether we wear suits and ties or dashikis in the world we left behind, we are all the same now – human beings standing equally before our Creator, devoid of manmade distinctions.

Hajj is a spiritual journey, but it is also one of visas and vaccinations. passports and paperwork. The more one prepares, the better. Saudi Arabia does its best to accommodate over a million foreigners crossing its borders for the pilgrimage, but travel prices can be jacked up four-fold during, and sadly, “A number of pilgrims have reported being unable to reach Mecca due to fraudulent travel agencies eager to cash in on the world’s largest religious pilgrimage.”

Circling the Kabah seven times is the most important part of Hajj, but not all of it. Pilgrims also follow the footsteps of Hagar and her son Ishmael as they searched for water in the desert millennia ago. It is said Ishmael struck his foot on the ground and water sprang forth from the sand.

One couple’s unforgettable first Haj

A Journey of Hajj: Recreating Genesis at the House of God

Millions of Muslims Prepare For Hajj 2009

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


15th of Tishri (October 12-19, 2011)

In the month of Tishri, Jewish holidays go from one extreme to the other. The month begins with the spirited Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the most solemn fasting day in the Hebrew calendar. But on the 15th of the Tishri, celebrants are encouraged to eat, drink and be merry for Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Sukkah means ‘booth’ or ‘hut’. It refers to a temporary shelter like the kind the ancient Hebrews built during their 40 years wandering the desert. The festival of Sukkot lasts for seven days.

“Beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days…On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the Lord your God…This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come…Live in booths for seven days…so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.”

Leviticus 23

There are all sorts of rules describing how to make one. For instance, you need to be able to see the stars from inside. We tried finding a Sukkah on Shopzilla, but all we got was this.

One of the main traditions of Sukkot is the waving of the ‘Four Species’; two branches (myrtle and willow), a palm frond, and an etrog (a type of lemon). The four elements of nature are bundled together and waved as shown here.

According to Judaism 101:

Many Americans, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark on how much the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving. This may not be entirely coincidental…The pilgrims were deeply religious people. When they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, they looked to the Bible for an appropriate way of celebrating and found Sukkot.

Rosh Hashanah

September 29, 2011
September 17, 2012
September 5, 2013

Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s in the Jewish calendar, but you won’t hear Jews counting down to midnight, or dropping a big sparkly ball from the Western Wall.

For one, the Jewish day—and thus all Jewish holidays—begin at sundown the night before. Second, Rosh Hashanah is not so much a time of celebration as a time of reflection and repentance.

Despite its name, “Head of the Year”, Rosh Hashanah actually marks the beginning of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. The first month is known as Nisan, which falls in the spring.

The Hebrew Calendar actually has four “New Year’s”:

1. In Winter, Tu B’Shevat is the New Year of Trees, originally the day farmers took inventory of trees for tax purposes.

2. In Spring, Jews welcome Nisan as the “first” month of the year, as God commanded Moses in the Jewish holy book, the Torah.

This month hall be considered by you as the First of the Months; it is the First for you of the months of the year.” — Exodus 12:2

3. In Summer, Rosh Chodesh Elul is the New Year of Animals, during which animals and property were counted.

4. Yet, it’s in the Fall that the big New Year is celebrated. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah marks the sixth day after creation, the birthday of humanity. Thus, the beginning of the relationship between God and man.

Just as Tu B’Shevat and Rosh Chodesh Elul call for an inventory of property, Rosh Hashanah requires an inventory of the soul. Some scriptures say it’s during this time that God sits upon a throne with a book entailing the deeds of each human life. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a ten-day period of introspection, collectively known as the High Holy Days, which culminates with the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.

During this time, practicing Jews attend special services at their local synagogue where Rosh Hashanah is marked with the blowing of a ram’s horn known as a shofar. Traditional Rosh Hashanah foods include apples and honey, previously collected this season, to symbolize sweetness in the coming year.

This year Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the year 5771 in the Jewish calendar.

Saudi National Day

September 23

In 2008, National Day in Saudi Arabia was a muted celebration. It coincided with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, one of the most auspicious times of the year. And in Saudi Arabia, when it comes between the state and Islam, Islam has the first, last, and every word in between.

Islam is not just the official religion of Saudi Arabia, it’s the only religion. The law of the land is Shari’a–Islamic religious law based on the teachings of the Qur’an.

Shari’a covers everything from banking to hygiene. According to “Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice”:

…we do not mean that the Holy Quran and Sunna of the Holy Prophet or the rulings of Islamic scholars provide a specific answer to each and every minute detail of our socioeconomic life. What we mean is that the Holy Quran and the Holy Sunna of the Prophet have laid down the broad principles in the light of which the scholars of every time have deduced specific answers to the new situations arising in their age.

Saudi Arabia is one of the last true monarchies, where the king is also the head of state. The Saud royal family has ruled the bulk of the Arabian peninsula off and on since the 18th century. September 23 commemorates the creation of the modern Saudi Arabian state in 1932, but the date has only been celebrated as a holiday since 2005.

1932 was also the year that the discovery of oil in nearby Bahrain set off a wave of Western speculation. The following year Standard Oil of California struck a deal with the Saudi government to explore for oil. Pay dirt came in 1938 when the first of numerous massive oil reservoirs were discovered. Today Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world.

In 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud the 8th richest man in the world, the youngest of the top ten. And the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, is believed to be the world’s most profitable company; however, their finances are not made public.

The country’s most invaluable treasures however–as any Saudi Arabian will tell you–are Al-Masjid al-Harām (“the Sacred Mosque”) at Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (“Mosque of the Prophet”) in Medina.

The Sacred Mosque can accommodate over 800,000 worshippers, and over two million Muslims gather there each year during the Hajj, the great pilgrimage of Islam. At its center is the Kabba, where Ibrahim (or Abraham) is believed to have offered to sacrifice his son for God. Muslims around the world face this spot in Mecca when they pray.

The original Mosque in Medina was built by the Prophet Mohammad, who is buried at the site.

Recent National Day celebrations have been more jubilant (Saudi Arabia Celebrates National Day – AFP), but they don’t get going until nightfall. Temperatures in the 100’s (F) keep tend to keep celebrants inside during the day.

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

Tisha B’Av

9th of Av (August 8-9, 2011; July 28-29, 2012)

One of the most tragic dates in the Hebrew calendar, the ninth day of the month of Av commemorates not just one but several tragedies that befell the Jewish people on that date, from the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

According to the Bible, the First Temple was built by King David’s son and heir Solomon in the 10th century BC, with materials and assistance from King Hiram I of Tyre and under the direction of Tyrian and Phoenician master-builders.

Model of Solomons Temple
Model of Solomon's Temple

It was said to house the Ark of the Covenant, which was moved from the tent in which King David had deposited it. The Temple stood for six centuries.

The siege of Jerusalem in 589 BC ended with the razing of the Temple three years later.

The building of the First Temple has been studied by religious leaders and Freemasons alike (Solomon’s Temple is considered the symbolic foundation of Freemasonry). However, few remains of this era have been excavated from the site on which it once stood*. This may be partly because construction on the Second Temple began only 50 years after the fall of the first one, and partly because excavation on the Temple Mount is forbidden: In addition to being sacred to Judaism, the Temple Mount is the location of the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two of the holiest sites in Islam, where Muhammad ascended to heaven (Isra wal Miraj) and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son to God (Eid al-Adha).

The building of Second Temple was sanctioned by the Persian King Cyrus the Great and completed under Darius I in 516 BC. This temple stood for five centuries and was completely rebuilt around 16 BC by King Herod.

In 67 AD Judea rebelled against Roman occupation. Roman general (and future Emperor) Titus laid siege to Jerusalem. The siege culminated with the complete sack of the capital, the expulsion of the Jews, and the final destruction of the temple–again on Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) in 70 AD.

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans - David Roberts
"The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70"- David Roberts, 1850

Tisha B’Av begins tonight at sunset and continues until nightfall tomorrow.

Freemasons and the Temple of the Solomon

Temple Mount Excavation Conflict

Crystalinks – Solomon’s Temple

*An October 2007 construction project unearthed remains believed to date from King Solomon’s Temple.

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