FaithWorld

Michelle Obama dons headscarf at Indonesian mosque

michelleU.S. First Lady Michelle Obama donned a headscarf on a visit to an mosque in Indonesia on Wednesday, not a requirement for a non-Muslim but a sign of the Obamas’ efforts to show respect for the Islamic world.

Wearing a beige headscarf adorned with gold beads and a flowing chartreuse trouser suit, she toured Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, Southeast Asia’s largest, while on a short state visit to the world’s most populous Muslim country. (Photo: U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, Grand Imam Ali Mustafa Yaqub and President Barack Obama tour the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta November 10, 2010/Jason Reed)

U.S. President Barack Obama had been expected to visit another major religious site during his Asian tour, the Sikh Golden Temple in India, but media reports said the visit was canceled after aides balked at the idea of the president wearing a scarf or skullcap required at the site.

Barack Obama is a Christian but faces persistent sniping among some members of the U.S. public that he is a Muslim and, the reports said, aides feared pictures of him wearing such headgear could fuel such rumors.

Obama, who is using the Indonesia visit as a platform to reach out to the wider Islamic world by praising Indonesia’s pluralism in a speech on Wednesday, pointed out that the city’s Catholic cathedral was opposite the mosque, which was designed by a Christian architect.

from Tales from the Trail:

No decision yet on Obama Golden Temple visit: White House

Hold onto your, er, hats.

Talk that U.S. President Barack Obama has canceled a visit to The Golden Temple in Amritsar because of a dispute over headgear may be premature, the White House said on Wednesday.temple

"We pick sites on foreign trips based on what the president wants to accomplish," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling on Air Force One. Not, presumably, the outfit he might have to wear at a given site.

Obama had been expected to visit the Golden Temple in northern India, a pilgrimage site for Sikhs, during his tour of the country next month. But Indian media reports said Obama's handlers balked at the idea of the U.S. president wearing a headscarf or skullcap while touring the site.

President Karzai votes for female Hindu candidate in Afghan election: sources

karzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai chose a female, Hindu candidate when he voted in Saturday’s parliamentary election, two palace officials close to him said. Just two Hindu candidates were on the list of about 600 vying for parliamentary seats in the Afghan capital. Karzai’s choice could annoy supporters in deeply conservative, Muslim Afghanistan. (Photo: President Karzai casts his vote in Kabul September 18, 2010/Andrew Biraj)

His backers include powerful ex-warlords who were fielding their own candidates and religious conservatives who are opposed to female politicians and unlikely to be happy Karzai is backing a non-Muslim.

“It was Anar Kali Honaryar,” one palace official told Reuters, giving the name of a female activist who largely relied on Muslim supporters during her campaigning.

Afghan Hindus and Sikhs grapple with uncertain future

kabul view (Photo: Kabul, December 30, 2009/Marko Djurica)

They thrived long before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century and for a long time dominated the country’s economy, but Sikh and Hindu Afghans now find themselves struggling for survival.

“We have no shelter, no land and no authority,” says Awtar Singh, a senator and the only non-Muslim voice in Afghanistan’s parliament. “No one in the government listens to us, but we have to be patient, because we have no other options,” says the 47-year-old Sikh.

In a brief idyll in 1992, after the fall of the Moscow backed-government but before civil war erupted, there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared with around just a few thousand today.

A week after riots, Thai capital prays for peace

bangkok

Buddhist monks receive alms in Bangkok on May 26, 2010 during a gathering for peace prayers/Yannis Behrakis

Thousands of Thais prayed for peace and unity in Bangkok on Wednesday, a week after a deadly military crackdown on protesters sparked a terrifying night of arson and riots that levelled buildings and killed 54 people.

But analysts say without major reforms to a political system that protesters claim favours an “establishment elite” over the rural masses, such prayers and forgiveness will not end a polarising crisis costing the economy billions of dollars.

French Muslim rejects polygamist charge, says has wife and 3 lovers

Lies Hebbadj

Liès Hebbadj and his wife Anne after she was fined for wearing a niqab while driving, in Nantes on April 26, 2010/Stephane Mahe

France’s debate about Muslim face veils has taken an ironic twist. An Algerian-born Muslim man who is a naturalised French citizen has fought back against charges of polygamy by saying he doesn’t have four wives, but one wife and three mistresses (and 12 children among them). What could be more French than that? he asked journalists on Monday as politicians debated how they could strip him of his citizenship.

“If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” Liès Hebbadj, a halal butcher in the western city of Nantes, said after visiting the lawyer for his wife, who was fined for driving while wearing a full facial veil.

Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.

October a busy month for Indian religious festivals

October is a busy month for Indian religious festivals in India. Here are Reuters videos from three of them.

Diwali, the five-day festival of lights, was celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the country with fireworks and prayers. It marks the return of Lord Raama to his kingdom Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, in the ancient epic Ramayana.

The three-day Chhath Puja, an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to Surya, the chief solar deity, concluded on Sunday with thousands of devotees offering prayers to Sun God across India. Most devotees are married women praying for their families.

from India Insight:

What makes a religious symbol conspicuous?

Last week, a college in Mangalore in India banned a student wearing a burqa from attending class. The principal told local media the college had a policy of not allowing symbols of religion.

The media did not say if there were students on campus with a 'bindi' (dot) on their foreheads or crucifixes around their necks or turbans on their heads, other symbols of religion one commonly sees in India, besides the ubiquitous "Om" scarves and t-shirts.

Mangalore, a cosmopolitan city, is no stranger to controversy; it was recently in the news for attacks on bars and women by a fundamentalist Hindu outfit that declared they were against Indian culture.

Sikh temple project sparks dispute over copying holy sites

golden-temple (Photo: Sikhs pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, 17 Sept 2001/Rajesh Bhambi)

Are some holy sites so holy or so unique that they shouldn’t be copied? Should monuments like the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican or the Western Wall in Jerusalem have a kind of copyright so nobody can replicate them elsewhere?

It seems unlikely that believers of any faith would undertake such a project, if for no other reason that most holy sites are quite complex, with artwork that would be very expensive to reproduce. But some Sikhs in India are building what looks like a copy of the Golden Temple, their religion’s holiest shrine, in Sangrur, 265 miles (427 km) southeast of the temple in Amritsar. The project has sparked off a debate in the Sikh community and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which maintains gurdwaras in India’s Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh states, has protested against it and called on the religion’s five high priests to intervene. The Sikhs building the new gurdwara deny they’re copying the famous temple, simply giving a facelift to their dilapidated gurdwara.

As Mumbai’s DNA daily put it: “Imitation is sometimes not the most acceptable form of flattery.”