The Holy Qur’an enjoins Muslims — both men and women — to dress with decorum and to refrain from wearing any clothes that accentuate body contours. Beyond this general directive, it offers no specific directives for female garments.
Beyond this directive, it offers no specific directives concerning female garments. No mention of the burqa or other types of head covering usually associated with Islam meaning the majority of women in Muslim countries simply cover their head with a hijab or veil.
Like these Malay students, most moderate Muslim women simply wear a hijab
The burqa is thought to have origins in 10th century Persia from where it extended its influence eastwards to[present-day] Afghanistan and Pakistan and subsequently to the Arabian Peninsula.
The niqab is favoured by many devout Muslim women in South Asia
In Saudi Arabia a variant known as the niqab was adopted by the ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islamic reform movement founded in the 18th century in the Najd region and ultimately adopted by the autocratic House of Saud.
Box-type variation of the niqab worn by Bedouin women in Oman
Deoband, a 19th century revivalist movement centred in India and Pakistan and similarly identified with hard-line Sharia law requires women cover themselves in the all concealing burqa.
A beak-like mask and abaya is traditional dress in the Arab States of the Gulf
Under the Taliban the burqa was made compulsory in Afghanistan between 1996-2001 and reflecting their desire to subjugate women, they again insist the garment is worn subsequent to their return in August 2021.
Afghan woman wearing a burqa in Bamiyan, location of the former 6th century Buddha statues
The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has seen the burqa spread to parts of West Africa where women never covered themselves until two or three decades ago.
Extreme purdah including gloves is in the least anti-social
Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that concealing the identity poses a security risk, especially since the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Qaeda, in sub-Saharan countries. Chad banned the burqa in 2015 after a male suicide bomber wearing the head-to-toe burqa killed twenty people in capital N’Djamena.
The author with a masked lady in the incense souq in Salalah, Dhofar province in Oman.
Suffering multiple terrorist attacks committed by extremists in its large and largely peaceful Muslim population, France made a face covering in public illegal in 2011.
Switzerland along with Belgium and Austria has now also banned the burqa which is almost universally considered unwelcome dress in secular western nations.
copyright: images Christine Osborne
WORSHIP is an act of religious devotion, often performed before a diety, but generally directed towards a “Higher Power”. It may be practised privately or in a congregation lead by a spiritual leader in a building – be it a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a temple or a gurdwara, formally consecrated for religious use.
CLASSIC HINDU TEMPLE IN SOUTH INDIA WITH SACRED POND AND SOARING TOWERS
HINDUS WORSHIP A MULTITUDE OF DEITIES. ACTS OF PUJA OFFERINGS ARE MADE TO THE OBJECT OF DEVOTION BOTH IN THE HOME AND IN THE TEMPLE, ESPECIALLY DURING COMMUNAL FESTIVALS. HERE A PRIEST OFFERS ARTI BEFORE LORD KRISHNA AND HIS CONSORT, THE POPULAR GODDESS RADHA.
THE ART-NOUVEAU STYLE SYNAGOGUE IN SUBOTICA, SERBIA WAS BUILT IN 1902
DURING THE TIME OF THE TEMPLE IN JUDAISM, THE ASSOCIATED RITES WERE CONSIDERED AN IMPORTANT ACT OF VENERATION, BUT THE MOST COMMON FORM OF WORSHIP REMAINS THAT OF PRAYER. HERE A MAN COMMUNES WITH GOD AT THE WESTERN WALL, ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM.
THE YELE PAGODA IN MYANMAR, BUILT IN 3 BCE, IS SAID TO CONTAIN RELICS OF THE BUDDHA
BUDDHISTS OF THE THERAVADA SCHOOL FOLLOWED BY 94% OF THE POPULATION IN THAILAND MAKE OFFERINGS OF FLOWERS AND INCENSE AT A POPULAR SHRINE IN BANGKOK.
THE HUGE HASSAN II MOSQUE IN CASABLANCA HOLDS 25,000 WORSHIPPERS
IN ISLAM, WORSHIP REFERS TO RITUALISTIC DEVOTION AS WELL AS ACTIONS OUTLINED IN THE HOLY QUR’AN. PRAYER OR SALAAT SHOULD BE PRACTISED FIVE TIMES DAILY. iT MAY BE PERFORMED IN PRIVATE OR IN COMMUNAL WORSHIP, LEAD BY THE IMAM OF THE MOSQUE.
THE GURDWARA IS THE PLACE OF DEVOTIONALS IN SIKHISM
SIKH WORSHIP OF GOD, THE CREATOR, INVOLVE COMMUNAL RITUALS IN THE GURDWARA. HERE PEOPLE PAY THEIR RESPECTS TO THE GURU GRANTH SAHIB, THE SACRED TEXTS VENERATED AS A “LIVING GURU”- WAHEGURU- THE WONDERFUL GURU.
AZANIA FRONT LUTHERAN CHURCH IN DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA, CONSECRATED 1963
CELEBRATING THE HOLY EUCHARIST IS A COMMON FORM OF COMMUNAL WORSHIP IN THE ANGLICAN CHURCH. PRIVATE PRAYERS ARE ALSO SAID TO PROMOTE SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND COMMUNION WITH GOD. VENERATION OF THE VIRGIN IS WIDESPREAD AMONG CATHOLIC DENOMINATIONS.
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 and Learning.
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 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 LEARNING
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.
Images are copyright of World Religions Photo Library
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).