If you really want to “go local” on your next vacation, have you considered changing your religion? A new program in Turkey offers guests a chance to be Muslim for a month in order to foster cultural awareness. The term month is used loosely – guests can choose from nine- and twenty-one-day programs, including visits to some of Istanbul‘s most famous mosques, lessons on Islam and Sufism (famed for their Whirling Dervishes), an invite to an Islamic wedding, and side trips to some of Turkey’s most important Muslim sites. While in Istanbul, guests stay in a 400-year-old Sufi lodge and take in many of the non-religious sites of the city.
The Blood Foundation started with a “temple stay” program in Thailand, where guests can learn about Thai Buddhism, volunteer with a school on the Burma border, and stay with a hill tribe family.
It’s appropriate that this cable car in Montserrat, Spain leads to a monastery, because I’d be praying the whole ride that we made it safely. Perhaps other visitors are less height-adverse because this is one of the most important religious sites in Spain, with many people making the trek each year up the mountain to pray at the sanctuary. It’s not just for pilgrims: Santa Maria de Montserrat is home to one of the oldest printing presses in the world, a museum with such art biggies as Picasso and Dali, and a nature park with some stunning views of Catalonia. Want to visit? It’s about an hour from Barcelona, more visiting details here. Thanks to Flickr user othernel for making the climb.
Today France has taken a controversial move and instated a burqa ban, aimed at the traditional religious covering worn by conservative Muslim women. The ban will potentially affect up to 2,000 women who wear a full-face veil in public, though it is unclear how the enforcement will work as police cannot remove the veil. Women who refuse to lift the burqa or niqab may be taken to a police station for an identity check, threatened with a 150 euro fine, or forced to attend “re-education” classes. Men who force women to wear the veil will face a 30,000 euro fine and up to a year in jail. So far only a few women have been arrested for protesting the ban near Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral.
Jacques Myard, a Parliament member and supporter of the ban said “The face is a dignity of a person. The face is your passport. So when you refuse me to see you, I am a victim.” France has the highest Muslim population in Europe, estimated between four and six million, though only a few thousand women wear the full-face veil. Belgium has passed a similar law but hasn’t enforced it, and the Netherlands is considering a ban as well.
Thumbing your nose at the Taliban has never been so fun.
The Malam Jabba ski resort in the Swat Valley of Pakistan has been a battleground between the Pakistani army and the Taliban for years. When the Taliban seized the area in 2006 they blew up the resort. They decided that skiing is unislamic, probably because it’s fun. Well, the Muslims in the Pakistani army didn’t agree with this interpretation of Islam and when they retook the region in 2009, they rebuilt the resort. Now they’re hosting a skiing competition to show off the new facilities, the BBC reports. Six Pakistani teams are competing. No news on the winners yet, but the only losers are those grumpy nutcases in the Taliban.
The army, which runs the resort, is hoping to attract tourists to the region. It used to draw intrepid foreign skiers but the fighting, which continued into last year, scared them away. Judging from the above photo, the skiing looks pretty good. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell what the facilities are like now because this picture was taken in 2005 by M. Sajid Ishaq, before the Taliban got their hands on it.
In most of the western world, Christmas and Hanukkah have come and gone, but in Russia, presents are being wrapped in anticipation of tonight, New Year’s Eve. In the days of the Soviet Union, religious celebrations were frowned upon, so Russians shifted their winter celebrating to December 31 and combining the traditions of gift-exchanging and New Year’s revelry into one night. In the Russian Orthodox church, Christmas isn’t officially for another week, with the Julian calendar corresponding December 25 to January 7, 2011.
I arrived in Moscow last Friday (western Christmas Eve) to find the capital freezing but festive, with New Year’s yolki (trees) decorated all over the city and various versions of Ded Moroz walking the streets, and now in St. Petersburg, locals are rushing home with Champagne and Charlie Brown-like trees under their arms. Nearly every public square has a large decorated tree and every store has elaborate holiday displays.
%Gallery-112268%Ded Moroz (Grandfather or Father Frost in English) is the Russian version of Santa Claus. He wears a blue (or traditional red) and white fur suit and carries a white staff. Ded Moroz originally was a more sinister figure, extorting presents from parents in exchange for not taking their children. In the Russian fairytale (and according to my Russian husband), Father Frost ruled the winter and if children were polite to him, they received gifts, but if they were rude, he would let them freeze to death. Sort of gives a new meaning to naughty and nice! These days, he brings gifts to children at parties rather than leaving them under the tree and he is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka the Snow Maiden. According to the Moscow News, a Ded Moroz appearance can run 2,000 to 10,000 roubles (about $65 to $325 USD) and professional Santas might make more than 10 visits a day during Christmas week, making it a lucrative seasonal profession.
Tonight in Russia, the usual pre-New Year’s partying and indulging is going on, along with tree-trimming and presents. Be sure to stick to your resolutions and be polite to snow kings or you could be left out in the cold next year! S novym godom!