FaithWorld

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.

But the judges ruled in his favour only after Ghai agreed that the pyre would be surrounded by walls and a roof with an opening, the Press Association domestic news agency reported.

Ghai believes that a pyre is essential to “a good death” and for the release of his spirit into the afterlife.  He wants a permit for an open-air cremation site in a remote part of Northumberland in northern England.

France creates paper trail in campaign against Muslim veils

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--- A fully veiled woman walks past the city hall in Ronchin, northern France, 9 Aug 2009/Farid Alouache ---

France is building up an interesting paper trail in its campaign to ban full-face Muslim veils. The latest twist in this story is that Immigration Minister Eric Besson has denied citizenship to a foreign man said to have imposed the wearing of a full-face veil on his wife, a French citizen. “He was depriving her of her liberty to come and go with her face uncovered and rejected the principles of secularism and equality between men and women,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister François Fillon said he would sign a decree Besson had drafted to make this kind of constraint an obstacle to naturalisation.

This is not the first piece of paper on this trail. A veiled Moroccan woman was denied citizenship in 2008, a decision the State Council upheld on appeal. That occurred before the “ban the burqa” activism that led to the parliamentary commission that recommended last month France explicitly outlaw the full veil. The argument in the 2008 case was not about the veil itself, for example as a security risk because the person cannot be easily identified, but about a “radical religious practice that is incompatible with the essential values of the French community.”

Italy moves towards emulating France on burqa ban

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Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna in the Senate in Rome, 15 May 2008/Max Rossi

Italy may soon seek a ban on full-face Muslim veils, drawing on debate in France where President Nicolas Sarkozy has described the burqa as unwelcome and legislators are considering a vote to outlaw or restrict it. Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna has said the Italian government will quickly follow in France’s footsteps, breathing new life into four draft bills on burqas already circulating in parliamentary committees.

“I completely agree with the French initiative, which I think will push other European countries and hence, also Italy, to enact laws on this issue,” Carfagna said this week.  “This is about a sacrosanct battle to defend the dignity and rights of immigrant women. A law is being studied that would ban the use of a burqa and niqab, which are not religious symbols — that’s not us saying it, but the top religious authorities of the Islamic world, like the imams of Cairo and Paris.”

Discussing the veil ban on France24, BBC World TV

Being an English-speaking religion editor in Paris these days means being invited to try to explain the story to foreign audiences. Here are videos from BBC World Television today, after a parliamentary report on face veils was issued, and from a France24 television debate broadcast last Thursday but only just posted on its website yesterday. Apart from explaining my analysis of the issue, both show why I didn’t go into television!

France24‘s site has no “share” option so click on the images to open the France24 page and watch the videos.

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France takes first step towards banning Muslim face veils

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Camera crews at presentation of the veil commission report in Paris, 26 Jan 2010/Tom Heneghan

The French parliamentary commission studying the issue of full Muslim veils has produced its expected result — a recommendation that the National Assembly denounces these veils as contrary to French values and votes a law to ban them in public. They could not propose a full draft law because there are some doubts about whether a total ban would be constitutional. But the lawmakers made it absolutely clear they wanted to rid France of the veils — known here as “burqas” even though most are Saudi-style niqabs — and the fundamentalist Islam they said the garments represent.

Our news report here gives the main details of the story. At the news conference presenting the report, commission chairman André Gérin was his usual outspoken self, lashing out at “gurus of fundamentalism” who he said were forcing women to wear full veils and warning the veil phenomenon was only “the tip of the iceberg.” The veil hid what he called “scandalous practices of sectarianism and fundamentalism.” His deputy chairman Eric Raoult was more moderate and even defended the commission against charges it was “monomaniac” in its focus on the veil.

French MPs seek resolution denouncing Muslim veil, with ban to follow

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Women in niqabs in Marseille, 24 Dec 2009/Jean-Paul Pelissier

France’s parliament is likely to call in a resolution for a ban on Muslim face veils in public but take longer to turn that policy into law, deputies said on Thursday. A parliamentary commission studying the sensitive issue, which has been discussed alongside a wider public debate about French national identity launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy, is due to publish its recommendations next Tuesday.

Polls say most voters want a legal ban on full-length face veils, known here by the Afghan term burqa although the few worn in France are Middle Eastern niqabs showing the eyes. Critics say a law would stigmatise Muslims and be unenforceable.

Jean-Francois Copé, parliamentary floor leader for Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party, told France Inter radio said the plan was for “a resolution to explain and then a law to decide.” André Gérin, head of the commission, agreed that deputies needed more time to draft a law, but told the daily Le Figaro: “The ban on the full facial veil will be absolute.”

UK court accused of interfering in Jewish identity

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UK Supreme Court in London, 14 Sept 2009/Andrew Winning

Britain’s top court was accused of interfering in religious matters after it ruled on Wednesday that a Jewish school was guilty of discrimination by refusing entry to a boy whose mother was a Jew by conversion, not birth.

The Supreme Court said the policy employed by the popular JFS school in London broke race laws by using ethnicity to decide which pupils to admit.  “Essentially we must now apply a ‘non-Jewish definition of who is Jewish’,” said Simon Hochhauser, president of the United Synagogue.

The case was brought after the school refused to admit a boy, known as M, whose father was a practicing Jew and whose mother had converted to Judaism at a non-orthodox synagogue. The over-subscribed school gave precedence to children recognized as ethnically Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth.

Egypt Christian group seeks to change Muslim status

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Egyptian Copts pray in a Cairo church , 21 April 2006/Goran Tomasevic

Ayman Raafa, an Egyptian born a Christian, was nine months old when the father he never knew converted to Islam. Now 23, Raafa is fighting to get the Christian faith he professes recognised by the state and registered on his identity documents vital to daily life.

Raafa was raised a Christian but the state says children automatically become Muslim on a father’s conversion, a policy that places dozens of people in limbo in a society that does not — in practice — recognise conversion away from Islam.  He is one of a group of 40 facing the same identity conundrum and now filing a lawsuit to have their Christian faith recognised, touching a raw spot in relations between Muslims and 10 percent of Egypt’s 77 million people who are Christian.

“I graduated last year and I cannot get a job because I do not have a national ID,” Raafa said at his lawyer’s office, near a well-known Coptic Christian church and hospital in Cairo.

Could Irish abortion case lead to a “European Roe v. Wade”?

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European Court of Human Rights,30 Jan 2009/Vincent Kessler

Ireland has defended its strict law against abortion at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in a case that could overturn that ban if the judges agree with three women who said it endangered their health and violated their rights.  The women, two Irish and one Lithuanian living in Ireland, had travelled to Britain to have abortions because traditionally Catholic Ireland allows the procedure only when the mother’s life is in danger. Read our full story on Wednesday’s hearing here.

The three women, named only as A, B and C, argued they had to terminate their pregnancies due to medical and social problems, and that being forced to travel abroad for abortions meant submitting to inhumane treatment that violated their right to privacy. They also said the law constituted gender-based discrimination.

This has been described as “Europe’s Roe v. Wade case” (here and here) because a Court ruling would be an authoritative interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights to which 47 European states are parties and with which they must comply.  “Domestic courts have to apply the Convention,” the ECHR’s FAQ says. “Otherwise, the European Court of Human Rights would find against the State in the event of complaints by individuals about failure to protect their rights.”

World halal standard would help $2 trillion industry, Malaysia says

halalMalaysia hopes that Muslim countries can agree on which goods and products are halal, or acceptable to Muslims, a move that would boost the $2 trillion industry, although politics and interpretation of islamic law may complicate the task.
(Photo: Halal label at Kuala Lumpur restaurant, 8 April 2005/Bazuki Muhammad)

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is working on a single standard to be applied in its 57 member countries.  Agreement to regulate the halal industry, which ranges from financial institutions to cosmetics and meat, would help trade and speed up the certification for makers of halal products.“Malaysia’s halal certification is recognised worldwide so perhaps we can play an important role in creating a global standard,” Malaysia’s religious affairs minister Jamil Khir Baharom said in an interview on Thursday. “We need a halal certification that everyone can use easily.”Muslim jurists do not always agree on what is halal. Islam prohibits the consumption of pork and prescribes how animals must be slaughtered, but there has been debate on the acceptability of non-alcoholic beer, collagen and vinegar.See the full story here.

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