King Abdullah’s Ascension – Jordan

Anniversary of the Ascension of King Abdullah II – June 9;
Army Day / Anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt – June 10

King Abdullah II of Jordan was not selected as Crown Prince until January 24, 1999, just two weeks before the death of his father. Previously the king’s brother had been heir apparent (and it was speculated that had the king lived longer, Abdullah’s younger half-brother would have been made heir). As it was, upon the king’s death from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Adbullah became the king of Jordan on February 7, 1999. A separate enthronement ceremony was held on June 9 so that…

“future anniversaries of King Abdullah’s accession would not clash with events marking the death of his father.” — (Jordan Crowns New King, June 1999 — BBC.)

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Jordan is known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Hashemites descend from Hashim ibn Abd Manaf, the great grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad, through the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah. Hashim means “cuts into pieces. It sounds like a guy you wouldn’t want to mess with, but Hashim earned his nickname benevolently…

“when during a shortage of flour he prepared cakes and flour and gave a grand feast to the entire inhabitants of Makkah.”  (Muhammad… Mercy for the Worlds: Rehmatullil Alameen)

King Abdullah II’s father, King Hussein (1935-1999), once said of the Hashemites…

“We are the family of the prophet and we are the oldest tribe in the Arab world.” (Hussein CNN obit.)

•  •  •

King Abdullah II studied in England and the United States as well as Jordan. In fact he recently established King’s Academy in Jordan in the spirit of his alma mater, Massachusetts’ Deerfield Academy, even hiring the boarding school’s headmaster to lead it.

He served in several capacities in the Jordanian military, including as Commander of Special Operations, and had attained the rank of Major General when he assumed responsibilities as monarch.

Jordan’s geography and history places it in a unique place in Middle Eastern and Western diplomacy. Like his predecessor, King Abdullah has played a key role in the Palestinian-Israeli relations. In a recent speech commemorating the dual anniversaries of the Great Arab Revolt (Army Day) and his 1999 inauguration, the King responded to military personnel who criticized naturalization of Palestinians for fear doing so could weaken plans for a Palestinian state.

“You should be sure that we will not accept, under whatever circumstances, a solution for the Palestinian question at the expense of Jordan. Also, Jordan will not have any role in the West Bank. At the same time, we will not give up our historical role and duty in supporting our Palestinian brethren until they set up their independent state on their national soil.” — King Abdullah II

The West Bank was part of Jordan until the Six Day War in 1967. Over half of Jordan’s population are of Palestinian extraction, including the King’s wife, Queen Rania, who was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents.

The King’s mother is Princess Muna al-Hussein, born Antoinette Gardiner in Suffolk, England. She met King Hussein on the set of Lawrence of Arabia and converted to Islam; the two were married from 1961 to 1971 and had four children.

King Abdullah II of Jordan

Jordan New Agency – the Hashemites

The Great Arab Revolt

Queen Rania’s Twitter Page

The Peculiar Impact of [the film] Lawrence of Arabia on Today’s Arab World

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.

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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

Independence Day – Israel

May 9, 2011

And the Lord said to him: this is the land that I promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob in these words: I will give it to your descendants.I have allowed you with your own eyes to see it, but you will not pass into it.

—Deuteronomy 34:4

Today marks the 60th anniversary (in the Jewish calendar) of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of independence. The document speaks for itself.

Declaration of Israel’s Independence 1948

ERETZ-ISRAEL [The Land of Israel] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people remained faithful to it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.

This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.

The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.

In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.

On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

Issued at Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 – 5th of Iyar, 5708

Temple Mount. Photo by David Shankbone

Day of Hıdırellez

May 6

Hidrellez

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

Passover, Part 2

Where we last left off, six plagues had devastated Egypt, dealing mainly with water, animals, and disease.

The third of the three plague trilogies moves to the meteorological arena and has its most damaging effects on agriculture:

#7: Hailstorm of fire.

Described as fiery hail in the Bible, it’s also interpreted to mean lightning and hail. This hailstorm which was said to be so violent it would kill any person or animal left outdoors. The Bible makes an unusual parenthetical here (such as this one) to explain how the early crops of flax and barley were destroyed while the wheat and spelt, which were still in the ground, were unaffected.

#8: Locusts.

To the modern urbanite this sounds to be a plague of inconvenience. Who wants to scrub dead grasshoppers off your windshield every time you get gas? But to an agrarian society whose water, fish, livestock, and half their crops depleted, this was the kiss of death. To give you an idea of the damage locusts can do, a swarm of locusts in Ethiopia in 1958 cost the country 167,000 tons of grain—enough to feed a million people for a year. (The Desert Locust in Africa and Western Asia)

#9: 3 Days of Darkness.

In modern times, explosions from crashing meteors such as Tunguska 1908, and volcanic eruptions such as Tambora 1815, sent out ash particles that covered the earth’s atmosphere for months. (1815 was called the Year Without Summer.) Exodus doesn’t give much to go on, other than the strange weather pattern of the previous two plagues.

All this said there really is no explanation for the deadliest of the plagues, number 10 in which

…I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. — God, Exodus 12

No known plague or disease makes any distinction as to birth order.

One theory is that the “first-borns” that were killed originally referred to the first-born crops, not the people. And that may make sense if, for nothing else, the events in the story of Exodus are not mentioned in any ancient Egyptian text of the supposed time. You would think a massive slave revolt and exodus, unprecedented horrors, plagues, and the killing of the first-born in every house would have at least garnered a footnote on a papyrus scroll. But nope.

The real miracle of Passover may be that it is one of the oldest continuously observed holidays ever. On Passover Jews gather around the table, and the youngest asks the elders “Why is this night different from all other nights.” The story of the Exodus is retold, and Jews continue to follow the instructions laid down in Exodus.

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations…Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread…

Jews eat matzoh during Passover in memory of their ancestors who left Egypt without time to bake their bread, which hardened in the hot sun on their backs.

Though Abraham the monotheist is considered the father of the Judeo-Christian religions, long before Moses walked the earth, the moment the Hebrews left Egypt is considered to be the beginning of codified Judaism as it is recognized today. (Note: It was a Passover meal that Jesus and the disciples observed over a thousand years later during the Last Supper.)

After escaping Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the Jews spent 40 years roaming the desert for their homeland. Proof that even then Judaism, like Christianity and Islam, was a patriarchal society.

No one asked directions.

Sizdah Bedar – Nature Day

April 2

It’s time to celebrate the 13th!

April 2 is Sizdah Bedar, the last day of the Norooz celebrations.

Sizdah means 13, and Sizdah Bedar is celebrated on the 13th day of the Persian new year, which begins on the spring equinox, March 20 or 21.

The first twelve days of the New Year are spent visiting the homes of family and friends. Grandparents and older relatives come first. Then other family members. Then families visit with friends during the later days.

All this leads to the last day of the Norooz season, the 13th.

It’s not because 13 is particularly lucky in Iran or anything. In fact, Sizdah Bedar translates roughly to “getting rid of the 13th.” Persians spend the unlucky 13th day mitigating its potential bad influence on the year by creating good luck of their own. They do this with big communal picnics and outings to parks or the Great Outdoors, and by being surrounded by nature in general. For this reason, Sizdah Bedar is also referred to as Picnic Day or Nature Day.

Some telltale signs it’s 13 Bedar and not just a really big picnic:

  • A lot of red, white, and green
  • Persian music and dancing
  • Noodle soup and lettuce in sekanjebin — a homemade syrup with sugar and vinegar
  • And you might see plates of what looks like grass growing in a patch of soil. This is sabzeh. These sprouts of wheat or lentils, are planted in early March so as to be short blades by the equinox, symbolizing rebirth. Sizdah Bedar is the traditional date to dispose of the sabzeh, which is often done by young a woman, who ties the ends of sprouts together before dropping them in running water. The tradition stems from fertility rites said to bring good luck in finding a mate in the coming year.
Sabzeh © Michele Roohani

Sizdah Bedar is a cultural holiday, not a religious one. But by coincidence, Sizdah Bedar comes one day after Republic Day in Iran. Republic Day marks the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran on April 1, 1979. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary.