FaithWorld

Malaysia court hears landmark dispute on religious conversion

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Kuala Lumpur, August 25, 2009/Bazuki Muhammad

Malaysia’s highest court has begun proceedings on a landmark inter-religious child custody dispute whose outcome could further raise political tension in this mainly Muslim country.  The Federal Court heard objections by lawyers for an ethnic Indian couple fighting each other for custody of their two children and adjourned for two weeks before hearing the case.

A Hindu woman, Shamala Sathiyaseelan, won temporary custody of her two children in 2004 following her husband’s conversion to Islam. She is seeking full custody and a declaration that it is illegal under Malaysia’s constitution for a parent to convert a minor to Islam without the other’s consent.

Malaysia’s dual-track legal system where Muslims fall under Islamic family laws while non-Muslims come under civil laws has led to overlaps and unresolved religious disputes that have fuelled minority unhappiness and raised political tensions.

“This is a fundamental constitutional question being brought up for the first time, and a lot of other cases will abide by the ruling on this case,” Shamala’s lawyer, Cyrus Das, told reporters.

Read the full story here.

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In Indonesia, keeping the religious status quo

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Youths read the Koran in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province September 5, 2008/Yusuf Ahmad

 Even though Indonesia is officially secular, belonging to a religious group is part of your national identity — to the point of being listed on your identity card.

But don’t try to spread a religion that isn’t one of six recognised by the constitution or you could be accused of blasphemy.

Malaysia plans interfaith committee as tension rises

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Burn marks on the wall of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur January 9, 2010, one of several struck in a row over the use of the word "Allah"/Bazuki Muhammad

Malaysia will set up an interfaith committee to promote religious harmony, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday, after a series of religious disputes have fueled tensions in the mainly Muslim country.

The interfaith committee will look into religious groups’ disputes with one another and promote understanding among them, Koh Tsu Koon, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, was quoted by the online version of the Star newspaper as saying.

Nepal’s “living goddess” eyes banking career

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Living goddess Chanira Bajracharya at her residence in Patan, near Kathmandu, April 6, 2010/Gopal Chitrakar

Even a “living goddess” is sometimes faced with tough decisions.

Chanira Bajracharya, 15, has been the Kumari or “living goddess” of Patan, an ancient town south of Kathmandu, for nine years, blessing devotees at the temple and riding in decorated chariots 18 times a year during Hindu and Buddhist festivals.

Now, with her time as living goddess drawing to a close — the young virgin deities retire on reaching puberty — Bajracharya is contemplating a career in banking if she makes grades good enough to study commerce or accounting.

Q+A-Religious violence risks reputation of India’s Hyderabad

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Indian police patrol the southern Indian city of Hyderabad March 30, 2010/Krishnendu Halder

Indian police extended a curfew to several areas of the IT city of Hyderabad on Wednesday after four days of religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims left two dead and scores injured.  The religious strife has heightened tension and worried authorities in the southern city of Andhra Pradesh state, which houses major operations of such companies as Microsoft, Google and Mahindra Satyam.

Here are some questions and answers about the latest crisis:

WHAT ARE THE CLASHES ABOUT IN HYDERABAD?

Clashes started after a Hindu group replaced Muslim flags with Hindu ones on streets during a festival, triggering clashes with Muslims. Nearly 125 people have been arrested so far.  The once princely dominion in Hyderabad has a history of religious tension with Hindu groups taking on Muslims over festivals and respective customs to gain supremacy.

Hindu wins battle for funeral pyre in Britain

Davender Ghai outside of Britain's High Court in London, 18 Jan 2010/Toby Melville

Davender Ghai outside of Britain's High Court in London, 18 Jan 2010/Toby Melville

A devout Hindu declared himself “overjoyed” on Wednesday after winning a court fight to be allowed to be cremated in Britain on an open-air funeral pyre.

Spiritual healer Davender Ghai, 71, was granted his last wish by the Court of Appeal which ruled the controversial ceremony could be carried out without a change in the law, which prohibits the burning of human remains anywhere outside a crematorium.

Half a million Hindus bathe in India’s Ganges; first day crush kills 7

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Devotees take dip in waters of river Ganges during "Kumbh Mela" in Haridwar, 14 Jan 2010/Adnan Abidi

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus bathed in waters considered sacred across large parts of India to mark the start of a religious festival on Thursday, with at least seven people killed in a stampede in the country’s east.

At least half a million men, women and children braved chilly winds to bathe in the icy waters of the Ganges in the holy Himalayan town of Haridwar at the “Kumbh Mela,” or Pitcher Festival, held every 12 years in different Indian cities. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges during the almost four-month-long festival cleanses them of their sins, speeding the way to the attainment of nirvana.

GUESTVIEW: Faiths meet at Parliament of World Religions

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The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Paul Knitter is the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York.Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Paul Knitter and Matthew Weiner

In 1893, the Chicago Parliament of World Religions was convened to gather the world’s faiths together for the first time. The organizers had a subversive message they kept hidden from invited speakers from non-Christian traditions: Christianity is the one true faith. They assumed that if all the faiths had a chance to speak publicly to the world, it would be obvious that Christianity was superior. But things didn’t go as planned. As it turned out, the Hindu representative Swami Vivikananda from India stole the show, convincing everyone that Hinduism was as valid a way to worship and experience the divine as any other. The state of the world’s religions was changed forever and the interfaith era had its symbolic beginning.

pwr-buddhistsOver 100 years later, things have certainly changed. The Parliament of World Religions is again under way here in Melbourne, with over 6,000 participants from 200 countries representing every major faith in the world. Now, it is assumed that every faith is valid. Here, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will speak on Wednesday, is by far the most popular speaker, followed by Aboriginal and Native American speakers and others.

Indian report raps politicians over Ayodhya mosque destruction

babri1A government-backed inquiry has accused several of India’s top opposition politicians of having a role in the destruction of an ancient mosque in 1992 that triggered some of the country’s worst religious riots. (Photo: Muslim at New Delhi protest, 6 Dec 2005/B Mathur)

The report has sparked political protests from opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which finds itself in even more trouble as it struggles to emerge from internal feuding after an election defeat in May.

Hindu mobs demolished the 16-century Babri Mosque in the north Indian town of Ayodhya, claiming it stood on the birthplace of their god-king Rama. Riots between Hindus and Muslims left hundreds dead across India.

Nepal Hindu temple conducts biggest animal sacrifice on earth

sacrificeAt least 15,000 buffalo and “countless” goats and birds were sacrificed in a temple in southern Nepal on Wednesday in a ritual billed as the single biggest animal slaughter on earth.

Hindus in Nepal routinely offer animals for sacrifice to appease deities, especially power goddesses, for good luck and prosperity. But the festival held every five years at the Gadhimai temple in southern Nepal was condemned this year by animal rights activists, including French actress Brigitte Bardot, who called for an end to the centuries-old ritual of slaughtering animals.

“We had more than 15,000 buffalo sacrificed Tuesday. But the number of goats and birds, including roosters and pigeons, sacrificed Wednesday is countless,” Shiva Chandra Prasad Kushawaha, chief of the festival’s organizing committee said.