FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Waiting to die

Varanasi, India
By Danish Siddiqui

The River Ganges is sacred in Hinduism, and the city of Varanasi, which lies on its banks, is one of the oldest and holiest sites for Hindu pilgrims from all over the world.

Devotees believe that you can wash away your sins by taking a dip in the Ganges at Varanasi. What’s more, dying and having your ashes scattered here is a sacred thing for Hindus who believe that it brings “moksha,” or freedom for the soul from the constant cycle of death and rebirth. To attain this salvation, many travel to Varanasi to die.

A woman stands in a street outside the Mukti Bhawan (Salvation Home) at Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, June 17, 2014. Picture taken June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

“Mukti Bhavan,” or “Salvation House,” is a charity-run hostel for people who wish to pass away in the city. It has 12 rooms, a temple and small quarters for its priests. Lodging there comes with certain conditions: guests have two weeks to die or they are gently asked to move on.

Sometimes, Bhairav Nath Shukla, the hostel manager, extends his guests’ stays by a few days if he thinks the person is about to die. Eerily enough, Shukla can often predict roughly when it will happen.

Bhairav Nath Shukla, manager of Mukti Bhavan (Salvation Home) looks out of a window while praying inside his office at Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, June 17, 2014. Picture taken June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The 61-year-old has been taking in the dying and performing prayers for their salvation for the last 44 years and when I started covering this story, hostel records showed that 14,577 people had checked in to date. Most of them have attained moksha. Many of those who couldn’t die left disheartened with their relatives.

from Photographers' Blog:

Uighurs of Shanghai

Shanghai, China
By Aly Song

The traditional home of China’s Muslim Uighur community is the far western state of Xinjiang, a region that has been plagued by violence in recent years.

The government blames a series of attacks on Islamist militants and Uighur separatists, who it says want to set up an independent state called East Turkestan. But human rights activists say that government policies - including restrictions on Islam - have stirred up the unrest, although the government strongly denies this.

Uighur men visit the Bund in Shanghai, April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Aly Song

Some members of the Uighur community have chosen to move elsewhere around the country and Shanghai, the city where I am currently based, had 5,254 Uighur residents as of 2010, according to a government website.

from Photographers' Blog:

Daily life in Shi’ite Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq

By Ahmed Jadallah

When people mention Sunnis and Shi'ites, the topic is often sectarian violence.

This is certainly true in Iraq. The country’s former ruler Saddam Hussain came from the Iraq’s Sunni minority, but since he was overthrown, Shi’ites have dominated Iraqi politics. Now, over the past year, Sunni insurgents who target Shi'ites have been gaining ground and violence has spiraled.

With the government battling Sunni rebels, I wanted to take a step back and show the human face of the divided communities. So in Baghdad I went to photograph daily life inside some of its poor, Shi’ite neighbourhoods.

I saw buildings crumbling, people keeping chickens in their kitchen, and children playing by an open sewer outside school. It made me sad to think that people still live this way in 2014, in a country that is now the world’s fastest-growing oil exporter.

from John Lloyd:

The UK’s paradox of faith

When David Cameron recently proclaimed in the Church Times -- the organ of the Church of England -- that he was a Christian, that his faith helped guide him through life and work and that Britain is a Christian country and should be proud of it, he was met with a wall of disapproval.

When a European leader says he's a Christian and that he lives in a Christian country, he's asking for trouble. The approved political position in Europe is that religion should be commended for its sterling values when it cares for the poor and condemned when it is used as a rationale for terrorism. Otherwise, politicians should steer clear and leave it to the clergy.

European states are not the United States, and thus not “nations under God,” (though only since 1954, when the words were added to the pledge of allegiance). EU states are nations under constitutions that prescribe secularism. They say that all faiths may (peacefully) flourish and that none shall have priority.

from The Human Impact:

Burmese journalist beseeches brethren: Stop with the Muslim hate speech

The slight, soft-spoken woman onstage called on the media and the rest of the country to let go of narrow-minded nationalism.

“This is a time to fight for democratisation. We have to respect each and every ethnic (group) as a human being,” beseeched Mon Mon Myat, whose meek bearing veils her ferocity as a powerful freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.

It was refreshing to hear these words in a public forum in Myanmar because - let’s face it - such sentiments have been sorely lacking.

from Photographers' Blog:

Keeping the faith

Manila, Philippines

By Bobby Ranoco

Covering the grand procession of the Jesus of the Black Nazarene is not easy, even though I do it annually. Every year on January 9, millions of devotees crowd the streets as a life-sized, dark, wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross is brought through Manila’s old city.

I began to prepare days before the procession and sought permission to get a vantage point on the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta Park, where the procession begins, and on top of other buildings surrounding the route, to produce photographs from a bird’s eye view. It was my first time photographing from the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand. I had to do my research on how my photographs would turn out at such an angle.

As I did all this, I was praying hard for guidance from the Jesus of the Black Nazarene that all my requests would be approved. He heeded my prayers: everything was approved and ran smoothly with time to spare.

from India Insight:

Anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar shot dead

Narendra Dabholkar, who campaigned against superstition in India for more than two decades, was shot dead in Pune on Tuesday, police said.

Dabholkar, 67, was a physician-turned-activist who openly criticised and questioned supernatural phenomena attributed to practitioners of black magic in India.

He was instrumental in drafting a new law in Maharashtra state that sought to target conmen who exploited superstitious beliefs, especially among the illiterate. The controversial bill is yet to be passed by the state assembly due to opposition from right-wing groups and political parties who fear the new law might curb religious freedom.

from Photographers' Blog:

The search for a mosque in Athens

Athens, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Some say that to come in contact with “God” is a spiritual matter that has nothing to do with the particular spot or place where such contact takes place. Well, if it were that simple then there would be no need to build churches or mosques.

In the Greek capital Athens, where almost half the country’s 11 million people live, there is a 500,000-strong Muslim community, mostly immigrants from Asia, Africa and eastern Europe. Many of those are faithful and want to express their faith by praying in an appropriate place. Well, there is no such place - there isn't a single “official” mosque in the wider area of the Greek capital.

Instead, they have to rent flats, basements, old garages and all kinds of warehouses and transform them into makeshift mosques to cover their need for a place to hold religious ceremonies. There are lots of these types of “mosques” around town but they're not easy to spot and whenever I arrived at one of those addresses I had to double-check it was correct as there was no way to identify these flats or warehouses from the outside. I could not say that they’re miserable places but I could better describe them as hidden places, places that do not want to get noticed. During most of my visits people have been very welcoming and very keen to express their concerns about the lack of a recognizable place of worship as well as their fears about the threats they get from some locals.

from Photographers' Blog:

The man with the coconut and the GoPro

Lalitpur, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

Rato Machhindranath is the god of rain, so huge crowds gather in Lalitpur around a 32-meter (104 foot) high tower mounted on a chariot during the chariot festival in an effort to ensure good rains and prevent drought.

The highlight of the day is when someone climbs to the top of the chariot and throws a coconut to devotees below. This is an ancient ritual thought to guarantee the catcher of the coconut the birth of a son. Few people believe this nowadays and I think participation is more about enjoying and preserving the tradition.

Every year I saw the same man climb atop the chariot. Every year he threw the coconut down towards the devotees. I really wanted to show in pictures what the perspective of this man looked like.

from Photographers' Blog:

Reality of a grand Hasidic wedding

Jerusalem

By Ronen Zvulun

Coming back home at 5am sunrise, I was just beginning to digest the grand event I was lucky to witness and cover: the wedding of the grandson of one of the most influential spiritual leaders in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

GALLERY: ULTRA-ORTHODOX WEDDING EXTRAVAGANZA

The wedding, attended by some 25,000 people, was a massive event that was conducted like a military operation.

How do you take care of thousands of people, feed them, accommodate them, seat them and provide safety for the huge crowd? There was a 20-story stand that needed to hold thousands of dancing Hasidic men.