Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Traditions Banned in a Christian Country!

Christmas is the most visibly important festival for the majority of the 2.1 billion Christians in the world today. The commercialization of Christmas has ensured that Christmas cannot be avoided at all in larger cities all over the world whether in Mumbai, Tokyo or Shanghai.

Christmas decorations, street lights, carol singers, Christmas gifts, glitter, Father Christmas or Santa Claus – all symbols of Christmas, familiar to kids and adults all over the world are, in 2009, banned in different parts of the Western World in the name of political correctness, often after complaints from non-Christians, who are offended by the religious symbols.

Christmas Trees Banned From Copenhagen Climate Change Summit by UN

Christmas trees have been banned from the Copenhagen Climate Change summit in Denmark.

Cutting down all those Christmas trees and then burning them afterwards raises the temperature of the planet by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000001% and contributes significantly to the destruction of the ozone layer.

Lights are not Christmas Lights in Dundee, Scotland

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Either due to market demands or probably aiming for sympathy from the UN, the Dundee City Council has ordered any reference to Christmas from the annual light switching on ceremony. A disco, a contemporary circus, a continental market and a fairy on stilts will replace the traditional nativity story.

Christmas Carol Singers Warned to Stay Away

As many people are feeling insecure about many strange people gathering outside their doors, Neighbourhood Watch and the Safer Chorley and South Ribble Partnership in Penwortham in Lancashire, UK are giving householders postcards, which they can hang on their doors or windows to inform carol singers to go elsewhere.

Similarly, in one New Jersey, USA, school district, children are banned from singing religious songs. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the Maplewood-South Orange school district's ban on celebratory religious music.

Christmas Cross Banned on Fire Station Building

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The traditional Christmas cross on top of the fire station in Holliston, Massachusetts, USA, has been banned for fear of discriminatory lawsuits.

Christmas Decorations Ordered Removed From Building in Canada

The social housing agency, owned by the city of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, ordered Christmas trees and decorations from lobbies and wreaths from hallway doors removed as they were considered fire risks.

Glitter on Christmas Cards Banned

A nursery in St Georges Community Centre in Worle, near Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset, UK, have been ordered not to use glitter on Christmas cards made by the kids as this could damage the highly polished wooden floors.

Red-Suited Santas and Popular Carols Banned in Vienna Market

Organisers of the Christkindlemarkt in Vienna, Austria have banned the red-suited Santas and carols like ‘Jingle Bells’ as too tacky for their image.

Santa Claus Barred from Church in UK

Reverend Tim Storey, leading the service at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Blanford, Dorset, UK ordered a parishioner Henry Cuff either to take off the Santa costume or leave.

Mrs Santa Claus Banned from Parade

Diversity or no diversity! A woman dressed as Mrs Santa Claus was banned from the annual parade in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA as having Mr and Mrs Santa in identical costumes would have confused children.

Christmas Banned in UK and USA

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Celebrating Christmas was banned in England as immoral and wasteful by the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell from 1647 to 1660.

The Puritans took their dislike of Christmas to the USA. In the Boston are of Massachusetts, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas for 22 years. In the USA, Christmas became a Federal holiday only in 1870.

Bush and Blair Still Banned From Bethlehem

In April 2003 at the height of the military campaign directed against Iraq, the Orthodox Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem decided to ban US President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and UK Prime Minister Blair from the birthplace of Jesus Christ. 

"They are war criminals and murderers of children. Therefore the Church of Nativity decided to ban them access into the holy shrine forever."

Italian Mayor Bans Christmas Decorations to Battle Mafia

In the southern town of Portici, Italy, the Mayor Vincenzo Cuomo has ordered the police to patrol the streets and to immediately remove Christmas lights, wreaths, trees, red welcome mats or any other decorations that could be construed as expressions of holiday cheer. 

The ingenuous Camorra or the Naples based mob force locals to buy exorbitantly priced Christmas decorations as a form of protection payment known as “pizzo di natale”.

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This very brave mayor has already received an AK-47 bullet by mail, but refuses to defy the mob in the spirit of Italy’s two great anti-mafia heroes magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino (both were assassinated). Let us remember the valiant Mayor Cuomo as a part of the Christmas wishes. Merry Christmas!

A Merry Holiday season to all of you, whatever faith you follow.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

What People Want Their God to See in Them?

People from different religions have their own concepts of divinity and the ‘afterlife’. The stricter their faith, the stronger their belief in a special and exclusive arrangement with this divinity. 

Many strongly religious people believe that upon dying there is some kind of ‘judgement’ ritual with their version of God presiding. Many also expect a cataclysmic event, where the chosen few are selected and others damned to nasty places like hell, Gehenna, the Outer Darkness, etc.

The believers, however, must do certain things to pacify divinity into selecting them and not the others. This business of excluding others is very important because many believe that heaven has a limited space for e.g., 144 000 as in some Christian denominations.


Christians of different denominations often talk about an invisible sign marking that you are one of the chosen 144 000. For many, the sign of the cross is the identifying factor.

Many are convinced that it is a “Are you wearing a cross? Come in and walk to the left!” scenario on Judgement day!

Some Catholics practice bodily flagellation, so that their bodies are full of gaping wounds and blood. And God will surely not refuse them entry into heaven out of pity!

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Hindu ascetics like to show that they are not a part of everyday society though many of them might feed off society. They can use sandalwood paste and ochre marks,
matted hair, orange clothes etc.

Often they go colour and effect full blast.

If there’s a lot to choose from, you never know which one will work.

Hinduism does not have any Hollywood style ‘judgement day’. Krishna’s advice to Arjuna (chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita) is very behaviorist and cognitive science savvy!

Remembering whatever object one leaves the body 
At the end of life, one attains that object, O Arjuna, 
because of the constant thought of that object.

The path of light and the path of darkness 
Are thought to be the world's two eternal paths. 
The former leads to nirvana and the latter leads to rebirth.


Buddhists probably would want good character and non-violence to be their hallmark. Bodhidharma, the 5th century Indian monk said to have transmitted Zen Buddhism to China, warns about tricksters.
"Many people have the Great Vehicle Root Nature, but there are also many people who lie. Having cultivated without success, such people claim to have the way. Though they have not certified the fruit, they claim to be certified sages."
Buddhists believe that Buddhas have the 32 major marks, and the 80 minor marks of a superior being. Buddhists, especially Western converts, sometimes have visible ‘Buddhist’ signs on their body.


Many Jewish authorities stress that living a good life based on the Torah guarantees good afterlife.

The Yarmulke or Kippah caps are visible signs for some. A circumcised willie is a must for Jewish males. 

Amidst the general bustle of the ‘End of the World’, do Jewish and Muslim men expect that God or angels have the time or desire to take a peek between their legs to check if they are circumcised? 

And how would they distinguish between Jewish, Muslim and other circumcised willies?


Preaching Islam or letting non-believers understand Islam or Dawah is the act most loved by Allah. This implies that behaviour and not clothes is the decisive factor.

But clothes seem to play a role too.


Shinto men would like to be seen wearing clean, starched, well-ironed clothes and lots of them too.

Ku Klux Klan

KKK members would probably hope that God or heavenly agents have the kind of vision modern airport screening machines have, to see through all the layers of clothes, past the flames and find the hidden good qualities in them.


Gay men would probably like to be seen as sexy, slim and always desirable. Body image is very important.

One could rightly argue that Gay is not a religion, but a sexual orientation and thus shouldn't be in this list. However, since the emphasis in the gay issue is on sexuality, and as there is a common ground with the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) who are typically very vociferous in condemning sexuality, so maybe the expectations that God is extremely interested in matters sexual (in a judgement senses!) are somewhat in the same area. 

However, it does make me wonder, often, why among all the other sins (lots and lots of them mentioned in the Abrahamic religions) does God choose to focus so much on one particular sin.

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Native American

Perhaps this is one religious tradition we people of the 21st century should really look to for a genuinely elevated stance on the issue of sexuality and how to define it and especially how 'tolerant' people should be. Most importantly, the reason why people should be tolerant needs to be understood from a wider perspective than just moralising and following laws.

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Most Native American religions considered interest, androgynous people, feminine males, masculine females to be two-spirit people. Instead of being obsessed about the physical expression of people's sexuality, they focussed on their spiritual gifts. As a person's character is a reflection of that person's spirit and as everything comes from the domain of the spiritual, these two-spirited people are doubly blessed and thus valued by others. The French term for two-spirit is berdache, which originated from the Persian bardaj (an intimate male friend) just doesn't get the point here.

Here is a very interesting article on this Native American theme on the excellent First People website.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Where Can A Muslim Woman Show Her Face?

A veiled woman is a familiar sight in many countries, especially Islamic ones. In many places like Afghanistan under the Taliban, a woman wanting to remain alive had to stay totally veiled.

But how is the situation elsewhere? 
Has it always been this tough for women?

History of Women Wearing Veils
Women wearing veils has a long history, going back to 13th century B.C. Assyria. The ancient Greek women sometimes used veils. Statues of Persian elite women from Persepolis show examples of some women wearing veils and some without.

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The Western world is also full of examples of women wearing veils.

The veil for women was rather common in the Byzantine Empire. Judith Herrin, in her book, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, claims that Arab tribes did not use the veil before the spread of Islam. Anglo-Saxon and even Anglo-Norman women wore a veil like headdress called the Wimple.

Logic for Using the Veil in Islam

Awrah or Aurat (Arabic: عورة) is a term used in Islam, for parts of the body, which men and women must keep covered. Exposing the Awrah is considered a sin. Different schools of Islamic thought have different ideas about which particular body parts are exposable in which context.

In Middle Eastern Muslim societies (usually patriarchal) Namus is a concept of virtue. It relates to honour, respect and modesty. The Namus of a man, usually the breadwinner of the family, is violated if any woman in the household does not dress according the codes of chastity. People are often killed for violating Namus as has happened in Bangladesh, UK, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda.

Is there another even older logic for women using the veil?

Something, which is veiled, becomes more mysterious and alluring. Was the idea of a woman veiling herself, her way of keeping men enthralled? If you see everything easily, you soon lose interest; the logic goes.

The famous Dance of the Seven Veils, where veil after veil is tantalisingly removed as the dance progresses, definitely reveals such logic. This concept is thousands of years older than Islam, probably having originated with the myth of the goddess Ishtar and the god Tammuz in Babylonian and Assyrian mythology.

Different Kinds of Veils Used by Muslim Women

The chadri or Burqa is the total cover version of the veil. The Taliban in Afghanistan insisted that all women use it, but nowadays you see it only in the tribal areas. In Pakistan it is called the "Shuttlecock Burqa".

The Khimar is slightly more revealing as the eyes can be seen even by men on the street.

The Niqab shows the eyebrows and forehead and sometimes even the nose.

The Hijab is basically a headscarf as worn by women (e.g. Nuns) in many Western countries.

An even more permissive version is the loose headscarf as used by this Turkish Muslim woman.

Countries Banning the Hijab

12 European countries have (or are planning) various forms of bans for using veils:

  • Albania (draft resolution)
  • France (since 2004)
  • Belgium (since 2011) 
  • Germany (banned in 8 states) 
  • Spain (no national ban, but the city of Barcelona has banned full face veils in Barcelona city) 
  • Britain has no national, regional or city bans but schools are allowed their own dress codes since 2007) 
  • The Netherlands has yet to pass legislation but is planning bans, Italy has a draft law wearing face covering veils (the town of Novara in the north-west is an example of a local ban) 
  • Denmark has banned judges from wearing headscarves, crucifixes or other religious symbols 
  • Russia tried to impose ban on women wearing headscarves in passport photos
  • Kosovo has banned headscarves in schools in 2009 
  • Austria as well as Switzerland are considering a ban in public places 
Of all the EU and European states, only Norway and Sweden have officially announced an anti-ban stand. The European ban situation update in 2011 can be found here.

Some countries outside Europe also have bans:

  • Tunisia (since 1981) 
  • Turkey (since 1997) ban the Hijab or head covering of women in public schools, universities and government buildings. 
  • In Islamic Bangladesh, the state airline Bangladesh Biman forbids the use of the Hijab
The learned Egyptian, Mohammad Tantawi, the head of the oldest university in the world, Al-Azhar University in Cairo spotted only one 11 year old schoolgirl and ordered her to take off her Niqab and promptly issued a Fatwa in October 2009 that veiling the face is not required in Islam.

Several Belgian municipalities ban public wearing of the Niqab and Burqa. The Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht plan to cut social security benefits to unemployed women wearing a Burqa, on the grounds that it makes them unemployable in a predominantly non-Muslim country.

After the Shabina Begum case in the UK, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled that freedom to manifest religious beliefs is not absolute and can be restricted by the Government.

Finland has not officially discussed the issue yet, though many Muslims allege that wearing a veil or scarf seriously impairs their job prospects. A Finnish (non-Muslim) journalist put this allegations of discrimination to test wearing a full body and face covering veil walking around the city. Read the article here.

Men Wear Veils Where Women Do Not Use Veils

Among the Berbers in North Africa and the Tuareq in West Africa, the women do not wear veils but the men do. The Tuareq men wear veils to protect from evil spirits (or desert sand in reality) and start to wear them at the age of 25.

Maybe the evil spirits are only attracted to men there or the women have discovered women only secret methods of warding evil spirits off.