Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is distressing for Palestinians not only for political reasons since East Jerusalem was seen as capital of a future Palestinian state, but because al Haram esh-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) in the heart of the old city contains places of worship associated with the Prophet Muhammad of equal importance to Mecca and Medina.
VIEW OF THE NOBLE SANCTUARY IN EAST JERUSALEM. IT IS DOMINATED BY THE DOME OF THE ROCK BUILT BY THE UMAYYAD CALIPHS RULING FROM DAMASCUS IN 692 CE. AL-AQSA MOSQUE IS LOCATED AT THE SOUTHERN END OF THE PLATFORM FACING MECCA.
THE DOME OF THE ROCK, QUBBAT AS-SAKRAH, IS AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF MUSLIM ARTISTIC GENIUS. IT IS BUILT OVER THE SACRED ROCK ASSOCIATED WITH THE MIRACULOUS MI’RAJ, OR ‘NIGHT JOURNEY’, MADE BY THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD FROM MECCA TO JERUSALEM.
PALESTINIAN SCHOOLCHILDREN VISIT THE DOME OF THE ROCK IN EAST JERUSALEM, A SACRED MUSLIM SHRINE, IT IS BUILT OVER THE ROCK FROM WHERE, AFTER OFFERING A PRAYER, THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
EVERY INCH OF BUILDING IS COVERED IN GLEAMING TILES EMBELLISHED WITH GEOMETRIC PATTERNS, TYPICAL OF ISLAMIC ART, AND STYLISED CALLIGRAPHY RECOUNTING SIGNIFICANT EVENTS AND VERSES FROM THE HOLY QUR’AN.
THE SACRED SHRINE IS CONSTRUCTED OVER THE ROCK FROM WHERE THE PROPHET ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN. THE FIFTH CALIPH, ABD AL-MALIK, EMPLOYED FIFTY-THREE CLEANERS TO DAILY PURIFY IT WITH A BLEND OF MUSK, AMBERGRIS AND ROSEWATER.
A LAMP IN THE BELLY OF THE SACRED ROCK. IN UMAYYAD TIMES, 5000 LAMPS BURNING OIL OF JASMINE ESSENCE AND TAMARISK WERE USED TO PERFUME THE BUILDING.
STEPS BENEATH THE ROCK LEAD DOWN TO THE ‘WELL OF SOULS’, SO-CALLED BECAUSE MUSLIMS BELIEVE THE SOULS OF THE DECEASED LINGER HERE, BEFORE THEIR OWN DEPARTURE. THE GROTTO CONTAINS ISLAM’S OLDEST PRAYER NICHE.
THE AL-AQSA MOSQUE BUILT IN THE EARLY 8TH CENTURY IMMORTALISES THE MI’RAJ RECORDED IN SURAH XV11 OF THE QUR’AN: Glory be to him who has made his servant go by night from the Sacred Temple to the farthest temple whose surroundings we have blessed.
RAMADAN STARTS AT DAWN WHEN MUSLIMS FAST FROM THEN UNTIL DUSK
Ramadan, a month of sacrifice and endurance in the Muslim world is an occasion for visitors to share in the rewards of abstinence. After sunset.
However Islam is not unique in advocating disciplines at significant times of the year. Devout Christians do not consume red meat during the solemn period of Lent. Hindus eat but once a day during Shravan, a month dedicated to Lord Shiva. On Yom Kippur —the Day of Atonement—Jews, among other taboos, abstain from eating, drinking, washing or performing any sort of work for twenty-five hours.
This said, the sawm (fast) is especially difficult for Muslims since not a crumb of food, nor a drop of water can pass their lips between dawn and dusk during the entire ninth month of the Hijiri Islamic lunar calendar. Intercourse during daytime is further considered a grave sin.
SCENE IN THE EMIRATE OF AJMAN DURING THE FAST MONTH OF RAMADAN
Fasting is hard enough —try it yourself —but when Ramadan falls in summer, the extreme temperatures in Middle Eastern countries push people to the limits of endurance. Then in northern Europe, where the sun may not set until 10pm, Muslims must abstain for a punishing 15-16 hours, especially difficult for the thousands of Muslim waiters when all around are indulging in food and drink.
SHI’ITE FAMILIES IN IRAQ FAST IN THE COURTYARD OF THE IMAM ALI SHRINE IN KARBALA
Muslims fast not merely for atonement, but in an endeavour to come closer to God through scrupulous self discipline. Fasting teaches devotion, patience and fortitude: a dry mouth and a painful stomach reminding how the poor suffer at all times of the year. The experience is spiritual as well as physical. Devout Muslims will perform an extra twenty rakkas (bendings) when offering prayers. Others may spend the daylight hours reading the Qur’an.
MANY SPEND THE DAYLIGHT HOURS OF RAMADAN READING THE QUR’AN
While highly personal, Ramadan is equally a social occasion bringing people together in the knowledge that irrespective of class, or wealth, all are enduring pain. A feeling of goodwill prevails. People give more generously at this time and cook large meals for the less well off.
PAKISTANI WORKERS ENJOY AN IFTAR MEAL DONATED BY A WEALTHY ARAB IN DUBAI
in Muslim countries, a typical Ramadan day begins when the family rises to eat a nourishing meal before dawn. Shops close after the noon prayer, but during the morning food is sold in souqs and supermarkets for women to prepare dishes to be eaten when the fast is broken.
Men pass the long daylight hours sleeping and listening to Quranic recitals on the television, but as sunset approaches people emerge to pass the final hours outdoors.
A CANNON IS FIRED TO SIGNAL THE END OF THE DAYTIME FAST IN DOHA, QATAR
Waterfront corniches in the Arab states are thronged with crowds as the sun sinks into the Gulf. At the same time, Muslims throughout the world are walking out the last minutes to dusk. Then suddenly streets empty as all head home for iftar – literally break-fast.
THIRSTY AFTER THE LONG FAST PEOPLE TAKE WATER AND FRUIT
Starting with water, fruit juices and dates, little is eaten at first. Soup follows, then a main meal of meat or poultry, salads and rice.Family members and invited guests commonly sit around dishes laid out on a tablecloth on the floor. Everyone enjoys their food much more for having gone so long without. Festivities last until late, Ramadan lamps twinkle on street corners and foodstalls do a brisk trade in snacks and softdrinks.
A STREET STALL IN BANGLADESH DOES A BRISK TRADE IN RAMADAN SNACKS
Entering into the spirit of things, children run from house to house singing traditional ditties for a reward of sweets. Parks and carousels are crowded and young men race up and down in cars, playing music and sounding horns, but shortly after midnight before next day’s fast begins, you can hear a pin drop…….
A TURKISH FAMILY SAYS THE BISMILLAH BEFORE THE IFTAR MEAL AT DUSK
Persons real or imagined are central to worship in most mainstream religions. Christians venerate Jesus Christ with the Virgin Mary having special significance for Catholics. Buddhists revere Sidi Gautama who became the Buddha and whose effigy is found in the sacred places wherever Buddha is known to have preached. Sikhs follow the teachings of Guru Nanak, the original guru who founded Sikhism in 1469. Then there are the Hindus —at last count exceeding 1 billion —who believe in one Supreme God manifested in hundreds of male and female forms and avatars. This Supreme Being is depicted in the Hindu trimurti/trinity in which the cyclical functions of creation, preservation and destruction are symbolised by three powerful deities: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. With other gods and goddesses mentioned in the Vedas, and in the epic poem the Ramayana, they are worshiped in temples all over India as well as in mandirs or shrines in family homes.
Brahma, the Creator
Ancient religious texts known as the puranas ascribe the creation of the Universe to Lord Brahma, the first god in the Hindu triumvirate. While an integral part of the Supreme God, he is no longer widely worshiped since it is considered his creative work has been done. Brahma’s consort is Saraswati, the Goddess of Music andLearning.
Vishnu, the Preserver
Vishnu is the second member of the trimurti. He maintains moral order and harmony in the Universe which is periodically destroyed by Shiva in order to prepare for the next cycle of creation. Hindu scriptures speak of Vishnu appearing as ten avatars which include a fish (here) a tortoise and a boar.
Shiva, the Destroyer
Shiva, the third member of the trimurti is tasked with destroying the Universe in order to prepare for its renewal at the end of each cycle. Shiva’s destructive power is regenerative, a necessary attribute to making renewal possible. Symbolising strength and virility he has many devotees known as Shaivites.
Krishna, the Compassionate
Hindus identify Lord Krishna as the teacher of the sacred Bhagavad Gita. From Kṛṣṇa, the Sanskrit word for the colour blue, Krishna is often depicted as a cow-herder cavorting in lush pastures. His promise that he will manifest himself whenever moral order declines has sustained Hindu belief for thousands of years.
Kali, the Durga Mother Goddess
Kali, or Durga Devi, is the powerful Mother Goddess who fights the buffalo demon Mahishasura in order to restore dharma. While terrifying to her adversaries, she is equally filled with love for her devotees. Durga Puja, a festival marking the battle, is held all over India, especially in her home city of Kolkata
Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth
Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and good fortune, is prominent among Hindu female deities. The consort of Lord Vishnu, she has many followers especially among business people who lay their accounts before her image in hope of enjoying a prosperous year. A Lakshmi puja is held on the third day of Divali
Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles
Lord Ganesha, the jolly god with an elephant head, occupies a special place in the hearts of Hindus. Most families have a picture, or statue of him, in the home and he is worshiped at small street shrines as well as in Hindu temples. The annual festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates his birthday.
Saraswati, Goddess of Wisdom
Mentioned in the Rigveda, Saraswati the goddess of learning, wisdom, and music. Students offer prayers to her during the school term and especially before their examinations. She is often dressed in white symbolizing light, knowledge and truth. Her four hands hold a book, a mālā rosary, a water pot and a musical instrument.
Hanuman, the Monkey God
Hanuman is widely worshiped in Hinduism. Starring in the epic poem, the Ramayana, he is celebrated for his strength, devotion, and courage while helping Rama (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) battle the demon king Ravana. His value lies in inspiring his followers to conquer obstructions in their own lives.
Surya, the Sun God
Surya, the golden Sun God is usually depicted arriving on a chariot pulled by seven horses. Once ranked in importance with Vishnu and Shiva, he has many temples dedicated to him and is invoked in the Gayatri mantra, uttered daily at dawn by millions of Hindus.
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St John’s Anglican Church was among the first public buildings erected by the East India Company when Calcutta became the official capital of British India in 1772. Its foundation stone was laid by the first Governor General of India, Warren Hastings, on 6th April 1784 and the church opened for worship in 1787. Built of stone from the ruins of the ancient Bengali town of Gaur, St John’s bears a passing resemblance to the 13th century church of St Martins-in-the-Fields in London. Its neo-classic style architecture is topped by a similar spire inset with a giant clock said to have been wound every day since its construction. Whether you are a Christian or not, a reason to visit St John’s is that its compound houses a monument in memory of the soldiers who suffocated in a small room in Fort William following the British surrender of Calcutta to the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah, in April 1756. Of the 146 prisoners crammed in overnight, only 43 were still alive when the cell was unlocked next morning ——the dead, with no room to fall, remained on their feet. The lexicon “black hole of Calcutta” has entered the English language to mean anywhere small, dark and claustrophobic. The room concerned is said to have measured only 14x18feet.
An obelisk commemorating the lives lost on that terrible night was removed in 1821. The new Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, built a new memorial in 1901, but due to the sensitivities of the Indian independence movement, it was taken to its present site in the shady compound of St John’s Church. Located on Netaji Subhash (NS) Road, St John’s is a quiet oasis in the maelstrom of modern-day Kolkata. Your transport can drive in and park outside the entrance of the church (leave a tip for the gate keeper on your way out).
YOUNG BULL FOR SACRIFICE IN PAKISTAN
Animal sacrifice is mentioned hundreds of times in the Old Testament, but over the centuries, both Judaism and Christianity have gradually consigned the practice to the past.
A fundamental difference within the disturbed world of Islam is that the majority of peaceful Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less abjure, the warrant for violence and intolerance embedded in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is believed to be the direct words of God, revealed via the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad,more than 1400 years ago. It is therefore considered sacrilegious to affect any changes in the text.
THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD CUTS THE THROAT OF A SACRIFICIAL ANIMAL IN LAHORE
Whereas Salafists take the Qur’an at its most literal, pious Muslims quietly adhere to its teachings on diet and dress without trying to impose Islamic lore on unbelievers. The problem is that many of their religious beliefs sit uncomfortably in the economic, cultural and political structure of democratic societies playing host to millions of Muslim migrants and refugees,
Islam espouses many customs that aggravate western sensibilities. Perhaps none is more sensitive than the edicts concerning women. Sura 4:34 …”Allah permits the hitting of women”…being one of the most noxious.
Ramadan, the month long fast when Muslims may not eat or drink between the hours of dawn and dusk may have been all very well for a herdsman resting under a date palm in 9thcentury Arabia, but the practice is unsuited in an inter-connected world.
A WRETCHED BULL FOR SACRIFICE IN INDONESIA WHICH HAS AN ABOMINABLE ANIMAL RIGHTS RECORD
Among other Muslim observances, Eid ul-Adha — the feast of sacrifice — is considered repugnant in societies with a concern for animal welfare. Dating from a time when Arabs offered blood sacrifices to pagan idols, it requires every Muslim family slaughter an animal at the end of the hajj pilgrimage (a symbolic act commemorating the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son to God, and believed to bring good karma).
HOW TO EDUCATE CHILDREN ON KINDNESS TO ANIMALS WHEN SACRIFICE IS SEEN AS ENTERTAINMENT
On the first day of Eid ul-Adha an estimated 400 million animals worldwide have their throats cut — bull, buffalo, cow, sheep, camel, goat — whatever the head of the household can afford, with the meat then distributed, as an act of charity, to the poor.
DISTRIBUTION OF MEAT OF SACRIFICIAL ANIMALS IN BANDA ACEH
How much more compassionate it would be to gift the animal to a poor family for milk. Or to build up a small rural herd. It is also economically more sensible.
” Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day: give him a fishing rod and he’ll eat for a lifetime. ”
Buddhists are not required to worship in temples, but many do so in order to meditate on the Four Noble Truths, the essence of Buddha’s teachings. Meditation itself is a central practice in Buddhism which today counts some 500 million followers. Mainly in Asia but increasingly so in western countries. Those Buddhists who can, undertake a pilgrimage to the holy places associated with the Buddha’s life. Stupas to accommodate any sacred relics are common. Pilgrims walk around these bell-shaped structures by way of paying their respects and to turn prayer wheels containing Buddhist texts. The most important sites revered by all branches of Buddhism are: Lumbini birthplace), Bodghaya (enlightenment) Sarnath (where Buddha gave his first sermon) and Kusinara (where he died).
Siddhartha Gautama, who was given the honorific title of Lord Buddha (literally meaning the awakened one) was born in 623 BCE in Lumbini in what is now southern Nepal. This is verified by an inscription on a pillar erected by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, an early convert to Buddhism in the third century. The Lumbini monuments were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
The Dhamekh Stupa, built in 200 BCE, is located in Sarnath, 12 kms from the Hindu city of Varanasi in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It marks the place where Buddha delivered his first discourse on the noble Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Sarnath is one of the four holy sites in India sanctioned by the Buddha himself for pilgrimage. Pictured is a pilgrim circumambulating the lofty structure.
Buddha died c.487-483 BCE. His final days are described in the Pali text called the Great Parinirvana Sutra. On reaching the village of Kusinara in eastern Uttar Pradesh, he instructed Ananda, his most faithful disciple, to prepare a bed for him with its head aligned towards the north. Above is the 61 m. long dying Buddha statue in the Mahaparinivana Temple in Kusinara which all devout Buddhist hope to visit.
The group of Sanchi monuments, 32 km east of Bhopal in the state of Madya Pradesh, date from the Mauryan Empire, mid-third century BCE. Central is the Great Stupa, a solid hemispherical dome symbolizing the dome of heaven enclosing earth. Four gateways surrounding the stupa are adorned with scenes from the Buddha’s life. Carvings also depict the Emperor Ashoka’s visit to the sacred Bo Tree at Bodhgaya.
Bodhgaya in Bihar, is the centre of the universe for Buddhists. It was here, under a spreading bodhi tree, that Siddhartha Gautama spent six years meditating on the nature of life and the path to nirvana. When the young ascetic attained the higher state known as enlightenment, he became known as Lord Buddha. The Bo Tree and adjacent Mahabodi Temple were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2002.
The Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu is believed to have been a Buddhist pilgrimage destination since at least the 5thcentury. Legend says a miraculous lotus planted by a past Buddha blossomed into its golden spire set with two eyes. Between the eyes, the Nepali figure 1 symbolises the one righteous path to nirvana. Pilgrims include Vajrayana Buddhists of northern Nepal and Tibet and Newari Buddhists from central and southern Nepal. Sacred texts written on prayer flags are believed to disperse as the flags flutter in the wind.
Lhasa is noted for traditional buildings related to Tibetan Buddhism. Among them is the four-storey Johkang Palace housing the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha statue, the most venerated object for Tibetan Buddhists. The gilded bronze tiled roof of the palace is topped with two deer flanking the eight-spoked dharma wheel, or “Wheel of Law” central to Buddhist philosophy. The original palace dates from around 642 CE.
Sri Lanka abounds in Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Everywhere are temples, stupas and rock carvings of the Buddha. There is also the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, whose shrine room contains a sacred tooth relic of the Buddha brought to the island in 4 CE. The tooth is paraded on the Maligawa temple elephant in an annual procession known as the Kandy Perahera.
Mount Kailash, in the Trans-Himalayan region of south-west Tibet, is venerated as a holy place by Hindus and Jains as well as Buddhists. Embedded in ancient Asian myths, the sacred mountains has historically attracted pilgrims. Most walk around the base, while especially devout Tibetan Buddhists make full body prostrations the entire way round, an arduous commitment taking some three weeks.
The Dazu rock carvings are a series of Buddha images, displaying Taoist and Confucian influences, in Chongqing Municipality of south-west China. The estimated 10,000 individual statues are in a remarkable state of preservation considering their age, late 9thcentury to mid 12th century. Like many Buddhist sites, today they are visited by tourists as well as Chinese Buddhist and Taoist pilgrims.
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar. Built by the Mon people in the 6th century, it enshrines eight hairs of the Buddha and a tooth relic.The soaring gold plated stupa is crowned by a hti, or umbrella, embedded with thousands of rubies and diamonds. Entering via one of four stairways, pilgrims buy incense, candles and flowers to offer to at small shrines around its base.
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