Moses

Biography of Moses, Leader of the Abrahamic Religions

Moses is the prophet who wrote the Hebrew code of laws. He is Judaism’s most revered figure and is mentioned in the Quran more than any other person. According to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.

  • Hebrew: Moshe
  • Arabic: Musa

According to the book of Exodus, which Moses allegedly wrote, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt at the time of his birth. When the pharaoh ordered the death of all newborn Hebrew boys to quell their population, Moses’s mother hid him in the bullrushes of the Nile. Here the pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as her own. Moses grew up in the Egyptian court until discovering his true parentage. He murdered an Egyptian slave-driver and fled to Midian, where he met his wife, Zipporah. 

Instructed by a burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt. He promised the Hebrews a ‘land of milk and honey’ if they submitted to Yahweh, the God of Israel and demanded the pharaoh release his people. He refused, and ten plagues then befell his country. Forced to comply, the pharaoh freed the Hebrews but then sent his army against them, trapping them against the Red Sea. Moses parted the sea and allowed the Hebrews to cross. It then closed and drowned the pharaoh and his army.

God spoke to the Hebrews through Moses, who could see and hear him, atop Mount Sinai and dictated his laws – the Ten Commandments, an eye for an eye. Moses slaughtered the 3,000 who worshipped a golden calf instead then led the Hebrews through forty more years in the wilderness. When the Midianites tried to turn the Hebrews from their god, Moses ordered their destruction. He died on Mount Nebo by the banks of the Jordan River.

 The Quran affirms the Exodus narrative, adding the following details:

  • The pharaoh’s wife, not his daughter, raised Moses
  • Moses offered salvation to the pharaoh through worship of Allah 
  • Moses spoke to Muhammad in heaven

Was Moses real? The Torah claims Moses lived around 1100 BC, but historians have found no evidence in archaeology or contemporary Egyptian records. Most consider him a mythical figure, believing the Hebrews grew out of Canaan’s indigenous population. If a component of their people came from Egypt, their numbers were small. 

‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1939) by Sigmund Freud claims the prophet was an Egyptian nobleman who supported the heretic Akhenaten. This pharaoh had tried to replace the Egyptian pantheon with a single deity named Aten, but when he died, the priests of Egypt destroyed his cult and restored the old gods. According to Freud, Moses escaped the purge and brought his Egyptian god to Israel. There Aten became Yahweh. While mythologist Joseph Campbell embraced Freud’s theory, both theologians and Egyptologists reject it.

According to some Islamic traditions, Moses is buried in Nabi Musa in the West Bank, Palestine.

Sources: King James Bible, World History Encyclopedia

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Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia visitors to reach three million threshold in ...

The Hagia Sophia, meaning ancient wisdom in Greek, is a historic place of worship in Istanbul, Turkey. A Christian basilica for over a thousand years, it became a mosque, then a museum and, as of July 2020, a mosque once more.

Emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sophia in 532, when Istanbul was Constantinople and capital of the Byzantine Empire. Built of marble, concrete, porphyry and stucco, it contained the largest dome and was the largest church for 1,000 years. Hagia Sophia is the crowning achievement of Byzantine architecture. Referencing the old temple in Jerusalem, Justinian allegedly said ‘Solomon, I have outdone thee’. He and his successors filled the basilica with mosaics depicting Byzantine emperors and empresses and Orthodox saints, priceless artifacts today. Byzantine domes as represented in Hagia Sophia became a staple of Islamic architecture.

In 1453, Sultan Mehmet of the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. Rather than destroy or maintain Hagia Sophia, he converted it into a mosque. As Islam prohibits religious icons, he replaced some mosaics with Arabic calligraphy and concealed others. The Ottomans added four minarets to the structure and buried five of their sultans in Hagia Sophia. Orthodox Christians, who form the majority in Greece and many Eastern European countries, mourned the conversion of their holy site.

The Ottoman Empire fell in 1918. By 1922, Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey. A devoted secularist, Ataturk officially closed the Hagia Sophia to worship in 1934. He opened it instead as a museum; a monument to Istanbul’s multicultural heritage and a gallery of its intricate artwork. He commissioned John Whittlemore, an an American archaeologist to restore the damaged mosaics. By doing so, Ataturk hoped to heal old wounds and invoke the image of a new and secular Turkey in place of the theocratic Ottoman Empire. UNESCO named it a world heritage site in 1984, proclaiming its ‘Outstanding Universal Value’. As of 2020, Hagia Sophia receives 37 million visitors a year.

Things you didn’t know about the Hagia Sophia | A Silly ...

Enter 2020. Tayyip Erdogan, a longtime president popular with conservative Turkish Muslims, loses his political hold on Istanbul in a landslide. On 10th July the Turkish court ratifies his decision to annul Hagia Sophia’s museum status and make it a mosque once again. It will be open to all religions and nationalities outside of prayer times, during which its mosaics will be covered up. 

Prominent Orthodox clergy and scholars gather for ...

Critics accuse Erdogan of firing up his base in the face of a looming election and reversing his souring popularity. Patriarch Bartholomew (right), the Istanbul based Orthodox leader called the decision ‘disappointing’, the World Council of Churches expressed ‘grief and dismay’, Patriarch Kiril of Moscow called it a ‘threat to Christian civilization’. UNESCO mentioned the move was done without their consent and could breach the 1972 World Heritage Convention. Erdogan stated it was in his rights as the site falls under Turkish national authority. Reactions within the country were mixed.

Turkey sits on the crossroads of east and west. Ataturk sought to make it a secular country but since Erdogan took power, Turkey is pulling away from its founding principles to Erdogan’s blend of conservative authoritarianism. Having so dismayed its members, particularly Greece, Turkey is unlikely to join the EU under his rule.

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, Greek Reporter, UNESCO, Washington Post

Iranian Civilisation

Iran 1Iran has one of the oldest and most influential civilisations in the world. Iranian culture dominated Central Asia and the Middle East from the time of Cyrus the Great to the Islamic Conquests and in some ways continues to do so.

Greater Iran includes the countries and peoples who speak Iranian languages, from the Euphrates to Indus Rivers. These include:

  • Persians (Iran)
  • Kurds (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria)
  • Tajiks (Tajikstan, Afghanistan)
  • Pashtuns (Afghanistan, Pakistan)

Other nations that were once a part of Iranian empires but today have different cultures include Iraq, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. ‘Stan’ is the Persian word for land.

iran 3Persia is the old Greek world for Iran and its English name until 1932. The modern Persian language swapped the P sound for F, so ‘Persia Proper’ is today Iran’s Fars province. The Persian language is Farsi. The Zoroastrians who fled to India when the Muslims took over before the language changed are called the Parsi.

‘Iran’ comes from the Sassanian name for Persia, ‘Eran-Shahr’ which derives from ‘Aryan’. All Persians are Iranian but not all Iranians are Persian.

Five Dynasties ruled Iran before Islam. They mainly followed the teachings of Zoroaster, a Bronze Age prophet:

  • persian empireMedians (non-Persian Iranians, 678 – 549 BC)
  • Achaemenids (Cyrus, Darius etc, 559 – 330 BC)
  • Seleucids (Macedonian, 305 – 63 BC)
  • Arcasids (Parthians, 247 BC – 224 AD)
  • Sassanians (Persians, 224 – 651 AD)

As Western civilisation grew out of Rome, and Chinese out of the Han Dynasty, Iranian civilization sprang from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Cyrus the Great conquered most of the known world and established an administration system that lasted centuries. Even Alexander the Great, who conquered it, retained the Persian system.

The Muslims who conquered Iran in the 600s ushered an age of foreign rule. Arabs, Turks and Mongols ruled Iran. Although the foreigners adopted elements of Persian culture, they were still considered foreigners. The greatest scientific advances of the Islamic Golden Age were made by Persians like Avicenna and Al Khwarezemi.

Iran 2The Safavid Dynasty restored native rule in the 1500s. They retained Persian culture, made Persian, not Arabic, the country’s official language and made Iran the centre of the Shia Muslim world. In 1979 clerics overthrew the last Shah, Reza Muhammad of the Pahlavi Dynasty, and replaced the monarchy with a theocratic republic, ending 2,500 years of imperial rule.

Though Greater Iran is overwhelmingly Muslim today, it has given the world four religions:

  • Zoroastrianism (900s BC -)
  • Mithraism (200s BC – 300s AD)
  • Manichaeism (200s AD – 1400s)
  • Baha’i (1800s -)

Central to the Iranian philosophical and religious tradition is an emphasis on truth and spiritual purity.

Historically Persia lay between the eastern and western halves of Eurasia. The Silk Road ran through it meaning Chinese inventions like chess, gunpowder and silk came to Europe via Persia.

Persian carpetAmong other things, Persia has given the world:

  • lutes
  • polo
  • ice cream
  • refrigerators
  • windmills
  • banks
  • armoured knights
  • poetry of Hafez and Rumi
  • The Shahnameh (Book of Kings)
  • Avicenna, father of modern medicine
  • hospitals
  • trigonometry
  • carpets

While the Syrian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures were largely subsumed into Arabic, Iran retained its unique identity. Modern Islamic civilisation is arguably a mixture of Arabic and Persian influences. The Persian example helped internationalise Islam and allow it to spread as far as it has today. Sir Muhammad Iqbal, the spiritual father of Pakistan, claimed:

“If you ask me what is the most important event in the history of Islam, I shall say without any hesitation: “The Conquest of Persia.” The battle of Nehawand gave the Arabs not only a beautiful country, but also an ancient civilisation; or, more properly, a people who could make a new civilisation with the Semitic and Aryan material. Our Muslim civilisation is a product of the cross-fertilisation of the Semitic and the Aryan ideas. It is a child who inherits the softness and refinement of his Aryan mother, and the sterling character of his Semitic father. But for the conquest of Persia, the civilisation of Islam would have been one-sided. The conquest of Persia gave us what the conquest of Greece gave to the Romans.”

Sources: Richard N Frye – The Heritage of Persia (1962), Iran Review

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Modern Kosovo

Kosovo flagNestled in the centre of the Balkans, the Republic of Kosovo is Europe’s youngest country, both politically and demographically. Alongside Bosnia and Albania, it is one of only three majority Muslim states in Europe. It is a small country of only 1.8 million; mostly ethnic Albanians and an Orthodox Serb minority. Like Bosnia, Kosovo emerged from the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, governed by a UN mandate until 2008. This week marks its tenth birthday. 

Kosovo is recognised by only 113 of the 193 UN states.  This puts it in the ambiguous category of ‘partially recognised state’, alongside Taiwan, Palestine, Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus. Serbia’s fellow Orthodox Christian nations like Greece, Romania and Russia, and the former USSR do not recognise Kosovo while the Muslim world is split. Kosovo is neither a member nor observer of the UN.

kosovo recognition

Green countries recognise Kosovo. Crucially security council members Russia and China do not.

Yugoslavia’s sectarian strife of the 1990s was a legacy of Ottoman imperialism. The divide and rule policy of empires breeds ethnic hatred wherever it is implemented. Most conflicts since WW2, from the partition of India to the Rwandan Genocide result from old imperial policies that kept subject populations divided and favoured one group over another. This leaves deep seated hatred and mistrust along ethnic and religious lines, particularly when land rights are involved.

The Balkans, though under Muslim Turkish, not Christian European, rule was no different. The Ottomans favoured Muslims while taxing Christians higher and stealing their boys to raise as devout soldiers. When the Ottoman Empire retreated from the Balkans in the 19th century, the Austrians and the Russians took their place. The Austro-Hungarian Empire favoured Catholic Croats while the Russians favoured the Serbs. The nationalist zeitgeist which had united Italy and Germany only divided and ‘balkanised’ ethnoreligious lines further.

Kosovo was a tricky case. The small territory is dear to the hearts of many Serbs, being the centre of their old kingdom and the site of the heroic Battle of Kosovo in 1389 against the invading Turks. Despite this, by the 20th century, the majority population were ethnic Albanians, a non-Slavic folk who adopted Islam under Ottoman rule.

kosovo balkans.png

Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia were formerly a part of Yugoslavia

Broz Tito united the region after WW2 through his magnetic personality and the internationalist appeal of Pan-Slavism and socialism. Each state in the federation had equal rights and the promotion of nationalism was banned. After Tito’s death, however, Yugoslavia became increasingly Serb dominated. Beginning in 1990, its constituent republics seceded.

In the following wars Kosovo was the last dispute to be settled. Slobidan Milosevic, who rose to power on a Serb nationalist platform, installed a Serb administration and clamped down on Albanian Kosovar rights. In 1996 the Kosovo Liberation Army took up arms. Milosevic responded with a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing, massacring  10,000 Albanians and expelling a million others. The KLA committed war crimes too, but firepower was on the Serbian side. It was only after NATO aircraft bombed Serb targets into submission that Milosevic relented. Peace was ratified in 1998 and Kosovo gained independence a decade later.

Image result for kosovo bill clinton

Bill Clinton Boulevard, Pristina. The US President is a hero in Kosovo for guaranteeing  independence from Serbia in 1998

Ten years on and Kosovo is the second poorest nation in Europe after Moldova. Mistrust between Serbs and Albanians remain high, most of the former still yearning for reunification with Serbia. Unemployment stands at 57% and the country struggles to attract foreign investment. Kosovo’s diplomatic status does not help either. Foreign travel is virtually impossible: even the Prime Minister was recently denied visas to Britain and the USA.

Despite this, there are glimmers of a brighter future. Kosovo is debt free and in the capital of Pristina a cultural scene is booming. Power outages, which were common in the early days of independence, are now rare. In a continent plagued by low birth-rates, Kosovo’s young population just might be its saving grace.

Sources: BBC, CIA Factbooks, Kosovo Info, New York Times

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