Tag Archive for 'Religion'

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Hindu-Muslim family’s choice of cremation arouses anger

A family’s decision to cremate their son’s body has become the object of a tug of war over religious freedom and obligation in Jackson Heights, New York. From the New York Times [via 3quarksdaily]:

Friends and family remember Shafayet Reja as an affectionate young man who stayed up late to write poetry, danced exuberantly at weddings and explored the faiths of his father and mother with an openheartedness that led him to declare on his Facebook page, “I never get tired of learning the new things that life has to offer.”

But within hours of his death on Sept. 10 after a car accident, his memory – in fact, his very body – had become the object of a tug-of-war over religious freedom and obligation. It began when his mother, who was raised Hindu, and his father, who is Muslim, decided to have his body cremated in the Hindu tradition, rather than burying him in a shroud, as Islam prescribes.

His parents, Mina and Farhad Reja, say a small group of Muslims who do not understand their approach to religion are trying to intimidate them over the most private of family choices. “This is America,” Mrs. Reja said. “This is a family decision.”

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Are Indians rethinking the equality of minorities?

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph:

This latest development presents India with a stark challenge. The desecration of St James Church in Bangalore, the murder of a nun and priest in Uttarakhand, rape, lynchings, vandalism, and the bomb blasts only three days before Id-ul-Fitr in Muslim-dominated towns suggest one of two explanations. Either they reflect a spreading popular mood or they are the handiwork of criminals. The state must decide and respond accordingly.

Happily, there are still pockets of tranquillity left in the country. No echo of violence in Kandhamal or Karnataka or of explosions in Mehrauli, Malegaon and Modasa disturbs the serenity of Guwahati’s Ward Memorial Church. In a further manifestation of the secularism that Jawaharlal Nehru dreamt of but Indira Gandhi institutionalized with her controversial 42nd amendment, the pastor is called Aziz-ul Haque. Yet, recalling the charges that were levelled against missionaries during Assam’s “Bangal kheda” movement long before the illegal influx from East Pakistan or Bangladesh, the American Baptist, William Ward, after whom the church was named long after his death in 1873, might have met Graham Staines’s fate if he had been living today and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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The testimony of one Indian Christian

Julio Ribeiro, a former Indian police officer, in The Times of India following anti-Christian violence in several parts of India:

I am a Christian, a Roman Catholic to be precise. I have suddenly realised this. It is quite amazing that I did not think of myself as a Christian all these years! I was an Indian. Religion was in the private domain. No one made me feel that I was different and I never felt different. On one occasion in a temple in Punjab even the VHP’s Ashok Singhal seemed well disposed!

Why did it suddenly occur to me that I was a Christian? I really do not know the answer. I only know that I am sorely disappointed with the BJP for not reining in the VHP and Bajrang Dal, who like the SIMI and its offshoot, the Indian Mujahideen, feel that the best and only way to attain peace is to kill those who they think are different.

My ancestors, like those of most Christians in India, were Hindus. True, I have a strange name. It is Portuguese in origin, but neither I nor the numerous other Christians sporting Portuguese surnames like Fernandes (George is a friend of the BJP) have any Portuguese blood. Our ancestors got these surnames when they were baptised and the surnames were those of the different clerics who officiated at their initiation.

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India’s remote faith battleground

Anti-Christian riots have rocked several parts of India over the past month. The BBC‘s Soutik Biswas travels to a remote region in the eastern state of Orissa, where it all began, to investigate the complex roots of the conflict.

There is no railroad to this remote landlocked district dominated by tribes people. Here, they and a growing number of Hindu untouchables who have converted to Christianity have lived together for centuries, tiling its fertile land, growing vegetables, turmeric and ginger.

It is also the place which has been rocked by violence between Hindus and Christians over the past month. Events here have triggered off anti-Christian attacks in a number of other states.

Villages have been attacked, people killed, churches and prayer houses desecrated. Radical Hindu groups have accused Christian groups of converting people against their will. Christian groups say these allegations are baseless.

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And click here for Reuters Q&A: Why are Christians under attack in India?

Temples where gods come to life

Few things in India express the continuous presence of the gods better than the ancient, massive temple complexes of Tamil Nadu. Edward Wong in The New York Times:

THE god was ready for his night of conjugal bliss. The priests of the temple, muscular, shirtless men with white sarongs wrapped around their thighs, bore the god’s palanquin on their shoulders. They marched him slowly along a stone corridor shrouded in shadows to his consort’s shrine. Drumbeats echoed along the walls. Candles flickered outside the doorway to the shrine’s inner sanctum. There, Meenakshi, the fish-eyed goddess, awaited the embrace of her husband, Sundareshwarar, an incarnation of that most priapic of Indian gods, Shiva.

Along with hundreds of Indians clustered around the shrine entrance, I strained to get a glimpse of the statue of Sundareshwarar, but green cloths draped over the palanquin kept it hidden. Worshipers surged forward in mass delirium, snapping photos with their cellphones, bowing to the palanquin and chanting hymns. They stretched out their hands to touch the carriage. Priests ordered them back.

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A goat for the goddess

One of the most powerful holy places in India, Tarapith in West Bengal is home to a Tantric divinity whose worship promises protection and power. William Dalrymple witnesses a dark and bloody ceremony. In Financial Times: [via 3quarksdaily]

Tarapith is regarded as one of the most powerful holy places in India, the abode of the Devi’s Third Eye. Yet despite the reputed power of its presiding deity, compared with the other great pilgrimage sites of the region, Tarapith is little visited. A thin line of pilgrims were queuing to do darshan (pay homage) to the image of the goddess, but although it was approaching the time for the evening arti, the place was still surprisingly empty for such a famous shrine.

The reason for this, I had been told in Calcutta, was that Tarapith had a sinister reputation, notorious for the unsavoury “left-handed” Tantric rituals which are daily performed in the temple. Stranger things still were rumoured to take place in the nearby cremation ground after sunset. Here the goddess was said to live, and at midnight – so Bengalis believe – Tara can be glimpsed in the shadows drinking the blood of the goats slaughtered day after day in an effort to propitiate her anger.

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India’s tribal lands, a factory of Hindu foot soldiers

By Krittivas Mukherjee/Reuters:

JALESPETA, India: Deep inside the thickly forested hills of eastern India, where ancient tribes live in huts of grass-and-mud cut off from modernity, a stealth electoral weapon is at work for India’s Hindu nationalists.

It is a sprawling residential school founded by a Hindu proselytiser, where girls from animistic tribes learn Sanskrit prayers and Hindu philosophy in between gardening and cooking.

Across India’s remote tribal belt, a zone of Christian missionary activity for decades, such tutelage is aimed at converting tribes to Hinduism and creating foot soldiers for Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, the political standard-bearer of India’s Hindu nationalist groups.

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Science and the Buddha

From The Immanent Frame [via 3quarksdaily]

The first three postings in this series remind us how complex the individual topics of cognitive science, Buddhism, and religious experience can be. Certainly there are many interpretations of each-many more than an entire monograph could account for, let alone a column in the New York Times-and reminders of the density of such topics are valuable and need to be repeated. But the cultural phenomenon that David Brooks’s column describes is its own topic altogether. Just what this phenomenon is will probably take a while for historians to describe and for critical scholars to assess. My preliminary suggestion is that we are witnessing an aesthetic urge, in which scientists and Buddhists find common cause in their pursuit of a beautiful-albeit potentially dangerous- “theory of everything.”

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In search of Nepal’s living goddesses

A prepubescent deity of Hindu-Buddhist tradition is also a modern child of HBO and Barbie. From The Christian Science Monitor:

Chanira Bajracharya (c.) is one of Kathmandu\'s kumaris – a living goddesses until she reaches puberty. ReutersLike any typical schoolgirl, 13-year-old Chanira Bajracharya struggles to finish hours of homework each day. That doesn’t stop her from stealing away to watch TV (she enjoys HBO; her younger brothers often change it to Nickelodeon) or use the computer. She even has Barbies, but now that she’s older, painting has replaced organizing tea parties as her favorite pastime.

The similarities end there. To start, no one – including her family – may scold her. Chanira eats whatever she desires, though she’s yet to abuse this power by demanding an endless supply of ice cream. And don’t even mention chores.

It may seem like she’s hit the jackpot, but in exchange for this life of relative luxury, she’s forbidden to leave her five-story home, save for religious holidays. She must also endure a constant stream of Hindu followers who come seeking her healing powers or to snap a photo of her.

[Photo: Chanira Bajracharya (c.), is one of Kathmandu's kumaris – a living goddesses until she reaches puberty. Reuters]

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Hindus upset over Hollywood film

From BBC

Hindus in the US have started a protest against a Hollywood comedy, saying the film will hurt the religious sentiments of millions of Hindus worldwide.

More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition protesting against the film Love Guru, starring actor Mike Myers and due to be released on Friday.

Some Hindu groups are considering a boycott of Paramount Pictures which produced the film.

Paramount says the film does not make reference to any particular religion. The company says Love Guru portrays a purely fictional faith.

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Previously in AW: Love Guru woos Hindu priests

Searching for the Dalai Lama

In The New York Times, Holly Morris, the author of “Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for a New Kind of Heroine,” reviews “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama,” by Pico Iyer.

Do you get the impression that the Dalai Lama is not exactly the brightest bulb in the room?” a journalist asked Pico Iyer after both men left a speaking event by His Holiness. We know what he’s getting at. At a certain angle, the chirpy aphorisms, the generous stream of book forewords, the Hollywood entourage, all conspire to cast a hue of superficiality that few global pop icons escape.

In that light, it is possible to forget that the Dalai Lama is, in fact, a titan: a head of state, a doctor of metaphysics, a prolific author, a hyperrealist, a newshound, a godhead to the Tibetan people and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize – a man who embodies a “simplicity that lies not before complexity but on the far side of it.”

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Previously on AW:

Tibet isn’t a Buddhist litmus test

Deepak Chopra at The Huffington Post:

As the violence in Tibet has continued, the Dalai Lama issued a stern statement that he could not align himself with insurrection in his home country. Buddhism rests on several pillars, one of which is nonviolence. Tibet quickly became a kind of Buddhist litmus test. How much pain and oppression can you stand and still exhibit loving kindness and compassion? I wonder if that’s really fair. The Tibetans face a political crisis that should be met with political action. Whatever that action turns out to be, nobody should be seen as a good or bad Buddhist, anymore than defending your house from an intruder tests whether a Christian is living by the precepts of Jesus.

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The Islamic republic of Harvard?

In The New Republic blog, Harvard undergrad Sahil K. Mahtani asks how far universities must bend to accommodate religious observance

The symbolism could not be more striking: Harvard College, an institution founded for men by men has, for the first time in its history, banned men. For six hours every week, only women will be allowed in one of the university’s three major gyms–a new policy implemented in response to a request by female Muslim students, who were uncomfortable exercising around men.

Since announcing the new policy, the university has been besieged by vitriolic criticism, with some commentators characterizing the decision as “appeasement” and “capitulation” to the demands of “radical Islam.” One blogger, in a post entitled “Slouching toward Constantinople,” compared the decision to the Turkish conquest of that city in 1453. One commentator called it Harvard’s “Islamofascist gym.” Even Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan lamented the onslaught of “Sharia at Harvard.”

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Previously on AW:
Women only hours at Harvard gym

Sir Arthur C. Clarke: 90th birthday reflections

Hello! This is Arthur Clarke, speaking to you from my home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

As I approach my 90th birthday, my friends are asking how it feels like, to have completed 90 orbits around the Sun.

Well, I actually don’t feel a day older than 89!

…Watch the video:

Sundown With Arthur

Jeff Greenwald in Wired:

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When last I saw Arthur C. Clarke, in March of 2005, his memory was already fading.

It was late afternoon. We sat on the patio of the Galle Face Hotel, one of Arthur’s favorite spots in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It had been nine years since my last visit to his adopted island. Now I was back working with Mercy Corps, an international aid agency, on a tsunami relief project. Clarke sipped his tea and stared west, where the Indian Ocean stretched in an uninhibited arc to the coast of Somalia.

“I don’t remember anything about working with Stanley (Kubrick) on 2001,” he said, “or my months at the Chelsea Hotel. I don’t remember my last scuba dive, or what my mother’s face looked like. The only thing I remember with any real clarity is the first kiss with the love of my life — and our last words, before we parted.”

[Photo: Clarke stands by his private satellite dish, one of the first private dishes in Asia, on the deck of his Sri Lanka home.]

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For Clarke, issues of faith, but tackled scientifically

From the New York Times:

spaceodyssey.jpg“Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral” were the instructions left by Arthur C. Clarke, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90. This may not have surprised anyone who knew that this science-fiction writer, fabulist, fantasist and deep-sea diver had long seen religion as a symptom of humanity’s “infancy,” something to be outgrown and overcome.

But his fervor is still jarring because when it comes to the scriptural texts of modern science fiction, and the astonishing generation of prophetic innovators who were his contemporaries – Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury – Mr. Clarke’s writings were the most biblical, the most prepared to amplify reason with mystical conviction, the most religious in the largest sense of religion: speculating about beginnings and endings, and how we get from one to the other.

[Photo: Keir Dullea in the film version of Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”]

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Previously on Asian Window:

What led to Tibetan backlash?

Jim Yardley from Beijing in The New York Times:

Chinese leaders have blamed “splittists” led by the exiled Dalai Lama for spurring violent protests in Tibet and orchestrating a public relations sneak attack on the Communist Party, as they gear up to play host to the Olympics Games this summer.

But to many Tibetans and their sympathizers, the weeklong uprising against Chinese rule in Lhasa reflects years of simmering resentment over Beijing’s interference in Buddhist religious rites, its tightened political control and the destruction of the environment across the Himalayan territory the Tibetans consider sacred. If there is a surprise, it may be that Beijing has managed to keep things stable for so long.

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In this video, the Dalai Lama tells a group of international journalists he would resign as Tibetan leader if the situation veers out of control in Tibet. Speaking in Dharamsala in northern India where has been in exile since 1959, he denied accusations from China that he was inciting riots.

Can the Dalai Lama resign?

From BBC: While denying accusations of inciting violence in Tibet, the Dalai Lama – who endorses non-violent protest – has gone so far as threatening to “completely resign” if the situation veers out of control. But can the man many Tibetans consider as their leader just throw in the towel?

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Dalai Lama fears bloodshed in Tibet

In an interview with the BBC, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, said he feared there would be more deaths unless Beijing changed its policies towards Tibet, which it has ruled since invading in 1950. “It has become really very, very tense. Now today and yesterday, the Tibetan side is determined. The Chinese side also equally determined. So that means, the result: killing, more suffering,” he said.

An Associated Press report from Beijing says China blocked access to YouTube.com on Sunday after dozens of videos of recent protests in Tibet appeared on the popular U.S. video Web site.

“Cultural genocide”

Reuters reports from Dharamsala:

The Dalai Lama called on Sunday for an investigation into China’s tough response to protests in Tibet, and whether it was deliberate “cultural genocide”. The comments from Tibet’s spiritual leader came as police and troops locked down Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, two days after street protests against Chinese rule that the region’s government-in-exile said had killed 80 people.

“Whether the Chinese government admits or not, there is a problem. The problem is the nation with ancient cultural heritage is actually facing serious dangers,” he told a news conference at his base of Dharamsala in northern India.

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Women-only hours at Harvard gym sets off a storm

Harvard University has banned men from one of its gyms for a few hours a week to accommodate Muslim women who say it offends ‘their sense of modesty to exercise in front of the opposite sex’.

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To read the CNN report and related stories click here.

Writer Ali Eteraz is opposed to the move. Here’s why: 

Among the many gyms at Harvard University, there is now one which for six out of the seventy hours its open, becomes “women’s only” in order to make it easy for conservative Muslim women to work out. Andrew Sullivan opposes it, calling it Sharia at Harvard. Mathew Yglesias isn’t particularly threatened.

First of all, Volokh doesn’t think it violates Massachusetts anti-discrimination law. Muslims are going to say: well that seals it. Its legal, we can do it. Sure, but just because something is legal doesn’t mean its right: it is legal to sentence a drug-addict to a longer term than a murderer. Legal? Yes. Is the law wrong? Yes. Therefore, do not wave “the law” in my face.

I oppose this measure to the extent that it engages in religious favoritism, because the intention of the rule is to benefit Muslim women.

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Also read Retributions for another view: 

Is this a fair decision? There are couple of important theme to consider here. First, Harvard and America are increasingly multi-cultural societies; reasonable accommodations should be made taking into account cultural/religious differences. Second, as the world’s best known university, Harvard sets the standards: has an appropriate message been given? Third, has the issue been highlighted only because Muslims are involved?Okay, let’s deal with them one by one.

In a test of Harvard‘s famed open-mindedness, the university has banned men from one of its gyms for a few hours a week to accommodate Muslim women who say it offends their sense of modesty to exercise in front of the opposite sex.

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Inside Islam, a woman’s roar

Wazhma Frogh, an Afghan, uses her religion to press for women’s rights – and development agencies take note. Jill Carroll in The Christian Science Monitor:

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Just hours after Wazhma Frogh arrived in an isolated, conservative district in northeastern Afghanistan in 2002, the local mullah was preaching to his congregation to kill her. Ms. Frogh was meddling with their women with her plan to start a literacy program, he told the assembly.

As she walked past the mosque during noon prayers, his words caught her ear. Shocked, she marched straight into the mosque. In a flowing black chador that left her face uncovered, she strode past the male worshipers and faced the mullah. Trembling inside, she challenged him.

“Mullah, give me five minutes,” she recalls saying. “I will tell you something, and after that if you want to say I am an infidel and I am a threat to you, just kill me.”

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Subcontinental drift: Maha Shivratri festivities span countries

As Hindus in India gear up to celebrate Maha Shivratri, which falls on March 6, festivities seem to span countries from Pakistan to Nepal.

In Nepal, over 2,000 sadhus gather at Pashupati in Kathmandu to celebrate one of Hinduism’s biggest festivals, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Xinhua’s Bimal Gautam gets the big picture.

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For more pictures, click here.

And in Pak Tea House, a Daily Times report on Maha Shivratri celebrations in Pakistan

Thousands of Hindu pilgrims are expected to attend this event in Katas, located in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

Maha Shivratri falls on the 13th (or 14th) day of the dark half of ‘Phalgun’ (February-March). The event marks the night when lord Shiva performed the Tandav dance (the dance of destruction).”

“Maha Shivratri means the night of Shiva, and ceremonies are pre-arranged chiefly at night time. Maha Shivratri is the night on which lord Shiva and Parvati got married.”

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215px-shiva.jpg215px-shiva.jpg215px-shiva.jpg215px-shiva.jpgFor more on Maha Shivratri (the night of Shiva), Wikipedia has detail on the legends and rituals associated with this festival.

In India, Dow Jones meets Dharma

A new set of indices measuring such characteristics as good governance and eco-friendliness is winning favor with investors and gurus alike. Nandini Lakshman in BusinessWeek.

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India’s superstar swamis: A slide show

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian sage who taught transcendental meditation to the Beatles, died in the Netherlands on Feb. 5. Back in India, a new generation of gurus is promoting the latest thing to hit the Indian stock market: values investing. Not to be confused with Warren Buffett-style value investing, values-based investing draws on the principles of Indian religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Last month Dow Jones launched the faith-based Dow Jones Dharma indices, which measure the performance of 254 companies that have characteristics like good governance and environmental friendliness in common.

Letters are pouring in to support the new group of five indices. They are not your typical congratulatory notes, but blessings and endorsements from assorted Indian spiritual leaders and scholars.

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