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from Photographers' Blog:

An island of religion in a sea of secularism

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Warsaw, Poland

By Kacper Pempel

When Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he was stepping down, the mood in my country, Poland, was overwhelming. This is one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in Europe, which still proudly identifies itself as the birthplace of Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II. On the day of the announcement my colleagues went to the church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. The worshipers coming out of the church were in a state of shock. "It’s so sad. It’s such a shame. But what can we do? I can’t believe it,” said one woman as she left the Holy Cross church in the Polish capital, who gave her name as Maria. “I am very sorry because I really like the Pope. He is continuing the teachings of our Pope (John Paul II).” Janusz, another worshiper, said: “I don’t think it’s true. In my opinion it would not be a good solution. It would definitely be a huge pity for Poles and Catholics.”

I spent the last few months traveling around Poland taking photographs of Polish people demonstrating their Catholic faith: going on pilgrimages, attending mass, children having religious lessons in schools. I photographed the statue of Jesus in Swiebodzin, near the Polish-German border, which stands 33 meters tall. I visited a huge church built since the fall of Communism in farmland in Lichen, in central Poland. As I drove towards the church, its gold-colored dome, 98 meters high, looked incongruous surrounded by cows grazing in a pasture.

The building was so vast that it dwarfed the worshipers and the village around it. I went to another new church in the Warsaw suburb of Wilanow. Filled with young, middle-class families, it stands in stark contrast to the image many people have of Catholicism in Poland, a religion for the old and the poor.

But one incident sticks in my mind from my time trying to capture Catholicism in Poland. It happened while I was at an open-air mass in Jasna Gora, the holiest site in Polish Catholicism, which attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. I was trying to photograph a group of worshippers on the grass. As I always do on occasions like this, I was trying to be discreet. But one man, in his 40s and wearing a leather jacket, asked me to stop taking his picture. "Get out of here," he said. "You're from UB." That was the acronym for the Communist-era secret police, which used to spy on worshipers because they were considered potential subversives. I moved away and started taking pictures of another group nearby.

from India Insight:

‘Nobody can stop you if you engage in art with dignity’: Zila Khan on singing and Islam

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The members of Praagaash, an all-girl band in Kashmir, split up this week after an influential cleric deemed their music un-Islamic. Zila Khan, one of India’s most popular sufi singers and daughter of sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, spoke to Reuters about how singing is closest to worship and meditation and how children should be allowed to sing.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Questions about Grand Mufti of Kashmir and Islam are best answered by experts in the field of religion. I am an expert in music, it will be no use pondering on subjects that I am not an authority on. There will be more experts to say better things on this issue. I can, however, talk about music, on my journey as a singer and the issue of women’s rights.

from Edward Hadas:

What Islamic finance can offer

The Islamic approach to finance was once the most advanced in the world. The period of pre-eminence ended six or seven centuries ago, but the religion’s fundamental insights into the field could help form a financial system suitable for the 21st century.

From the beginning, Muslim teaching took a religious view of commercial relations and responsibilities. There are a few injunctions in the Koran and far more in the teachings traditionally attributed to Mohammad. I am not an expert, but the basic ideas seem clear enough: merchants should be fair, risks should be moderate and understood, and God condemns all rapacious financial practices.

from Photographers' Blog:

Living under sharia

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Banda Aceh, Indonesia

By Damir Sagolj

A siren rips apart the silence at the tsunami memorial in Aceh. A short announcement follows, after a greeting in Arabic and blessing from God – everyone is to leave the site immediately. It is time for prayers and the memorial built around a huge ship stranded miles inland during the 2004 tsunami will soon close its gates. Visitors are leaving the site, expected to go to nearby mosque and pray.

I’ve been watching different groups silently walking through the gates - students, business-like people, families and tourists – few went praying. Others were more interested in small shops selling souvenirs and in their pictures being taken. Some stood behind the memorial’s fence, smoked a cigarette and then just boarded their buses.

from John Lloyd:

A church divided against itself cannot stand

The Church of England voted not to ordain female bishops last week, a move widely seen as defying the modern world. Much justification was given for this view.

Both the retiring and the incoming archbishops of Canterbury deplored the vote. The former, the scholarly (and “greatly saddened”) Rowan Williams, said, “It seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of … wider society.” The incoming Justin Welby took a more upbeat view, one appropriate for a former senior oil executive. “There is a lot to be done,” he said, “but I am absolutely confident that at some point I will consecrate a woman bishop.” Still, Welby conceded that the vote was “a pretty grim day for the whole church.”

from Photographers' Blog:

A barrier to peace

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Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

“Sure, why would they want to pull down these walls?” asks William Boyd mildly as he offers me a cup of tea in his home at Cluan Place, a predominantly Loyalist area of east Belfast.

He pulls back his net curtains to show me the towering 20-foot-high wall topped with a fence that looms over his home blocking out much of the natural light.

from Photographers' Blog:

Portraying polygamy

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Rockland Ranch community outside Moab, Utah

By Jim Urquhart

If patience is a virtue I am damned to burn forever but I've made some friends in the process.

Growing up in Utah, knowledge of polygamy has long been part of my experience. I can recall standing on the side of the residential road looking at a nondescript home with a large cinder block wall surrounding it. My friend leaned over to me to tell me that a polygamist family lived there. He tried to explain to me what plural marriage was in the best way a 10-year-old could explain to another. I was confused. I had a hard enough time trying to fully understand why my parents were divorced let alone trying to figure out how there could be a home with several moms and one dad.

from Full Focus:

Imaging religion: Navesh Chitrakar

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Nepal-based photographer Navesh Chitrakar documents almost all the country's religious festivals. In this interview, Navesh discusses the art of photography and reflects on the state of the nation's festivals.

from India Insight:

The news this weekend: LPG, Kejriwal, toilets, politicians… and Somali pirates

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It's shaping up as a busy weekend for India's politicians...

The price of LPG -- liquefied petroleum gas cylinders, or cooking gas -- has risen 11.42 rupees per cylinder because dealers are getting higher commissions. TV channels attacked the government because this "shocker" comes right after the imposition of a cap on subsidized cylinder sales was imposed.

Bharatiya Janata Party politician Smriti Irani said the party will hold a nation-wide protest on Oct. 12, saying the higher prices are “anti-women”. This is presumably because they do more of the daily cooking than men, whose potential inversely proportional waistline shrinkage could be in their favour.

from Photographers' Blog:

Baby-kissing Popes

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By Max Rossi

There's a man in this world that kisses more babies than any mother over the course of her life: the Pope.

Following the Vatican for more than 15 years I can absolutely say that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have kissed more babies than any other public figure in the world. It's a common scene for the faithful to literally throw their babies to the Pope as he walks by or is driven by in the Pope mobile during general audiences or a pastoral visit.

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