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July 19th, 2010
11:01 PM ET

Secular Syria's veil ban

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

On Sunday, Syria’s minister of higher education, Ghiath Barakat, issued a ruling outlawing the niqab — a full veil that like the burqa shows only a woman’s eyes — for both teachers and students at Syrian universities, according to news reports.

Why? Syria’s population is, according to Boston University's World Religion Database, 93 percent Muslim. What does its government have against public displays of Islam? A lot more than you might think.

In a revealing March interview with Charlie Rose, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that the greatest challenge facing his country was warding off religious “extremism” — “How can we keep our society as secular as it is today?”

In France, secularism typically means sweeping the public square clean of the detritus of religion. In Syria, it means something very different — giving a public platform to a variety of moderate religious and warding off religious "extremism" in the process. But this decision to create niqab-free universities brings Syria a tiny step closer to France, whose lower parliament last week approved a ban on veils that cover the face.

Secularism has come under fire in Syria from many sides in recent years, but most notably from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. This decree is a shot back — a reassertion of Syria as a secular state.

Whether the decree will hold up or whether it will be undercut — as Turkey’s 1980s ban on the hijab in universities was in 2008 — remains to be seen. For now, it's an important reminder that the Middle East is not cut from one cloth, and neither are its Muslims.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Islam • Middle East • Politics

soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. James

    Syria is now a bastion of religious moderation? Yea, right.

    July 20, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  2. Peter Q. Wolfe

    To further allaborate my point about catholicism, I would like to point out the original twelve apostles under Jesus Christ were all men. There was no Mary, Jenny, or other feminen sounding names at that time even if Judas sounds a little feminist. You might have been reading a bit too much Feminist Mystique or destruction of nuclear family values too much. The fact is that the percession of catholic heritage linked back to Peter were all men. The fact is that concecration to Holy Fathership is the word Pope meaning what in greek? Look that up man before spouting your secular feminist garbage on here truly sickening. Then, what statistic can you point to that women could prevent or alievate child abuse in the limited dated and isolated cases aroun the world? Women teachers with social workers of the secular government variety with protestants have a higher statistical chance than catholics on average in the U.S of child abuse. The church of morals even if at times indirected is the first church founded by Jesus Christ back in 30 a.d or there abouts to protect family values including but not limited to human life, marriage, etc not the liberal spin. You have probably reading from one source cnn.com too much. Perhaps go to a catholic parish and ask yourself or go to the Comombia F.A.Q online on the information given on scripture.
    Awfully bold for you to denounce a religion that has over one billion members around the world. Christianity, judism and Islam are authentic religion of the Abrahanic variety. We believe in one monotheistic God not multiple God's. We also believe in prophets like Moses, Jesus Christ, and others that sent the Heavely Father's message to us. I think you should do more listening and participating in your local house of worship to find out not by media but by the community. This will do you wonders I believe and open up your eyes to the brainwash by main stream secular atheist news outlets selling stories for advertizers benefits. They don't care about your soul nor about your morals just about the end result meaning profits.

    July 20, 2010 at 8:04 am |
    • Nelson

      Just so you know, all gods are false.

      Man made god in his own image.

      July 20, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • JennyTX

      Bummer that you wound up so brain-washed.

      July 20, 2010 at 8:56 am |
    • independentlyowned

      I've spent plenty of time in houses of worship, 13 years of Catholic school to be exact. But unlike you, I'm intelligent enough to know when I'm being BS'd. All political decisions before 1920 were made by men, does that mean only men are capable of succeeding in politics? No, it means women didn't have the right to vote before 1920, thus were physically unable to partake in the political process. Rights for women in Jesus's time were quite appalling, so it's no surprise that the Bible, written solely by men and written centuries after Jesus died, doesn't mention women much.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:22 am |
    • LouAz

      " You have probably reading from one source cnn.com too much." Me thinks YOU, Peter, "have probably reading from one source" catholic bible too much. Please tell us about the passages in your only book that make it ok for your pedopriests to fiddle little boys. We're waiting . . .

      July 20, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  3. rm

    Syria will now become a terrorist target. Muslim extremists are everywhere, driven on by the words of the Q'uran.

    July 20, 2010 at 8:00 am |
  4. Peter Q. Wolfe

    AnaHadWolves and others:

    I will clarify what catholicism is saying about why women aren't priests. First in Genesis Adam bore Eve by his rib bone. This shows that Eve first tempted by the serpant a.k.a Satan ate from the Tree of Knowledge. It would be against the teachings of the church to allow someone who could have children not to have children when that was clearly the function of women. Where as men in lots of areas like Alaska have in inproportional amounts of ratios of men-women percentages. Men cannot procreate unless your somehow implying some freakish new age experiement against God. Another thing is women have an important role in the church being mothers and nuns in the churches. Tons of women do tons of important jobs on par with local priests and that isn't discrimination. It's just a different occupation and with the amount of time devoted toward one priest it's hard to think of a married male over 5k or so parishiners having a family except in the rare case of Anglicans converting over as bishops to priests with a marriage intact.
    Overall its a good sign that Syria isn't as conservative in dressing towards women. Nothing to hide behind veils of any religion in my estimation in a publi forum. If you want to do that at your local house of worship and at home or whatever then let that be. The premise is all wrong like if you veil women, then all of the sudden males will forget about them being women. Seriously the logic can be done reverse with men being veiled but they aren't are they? Lust is on both sexes and both can just as much be guilty. The feminist movement is meeting at a boiling point though with abortions given out readily. Unless its the case that the women's life is endangered, the child to be is not part of the woman anymore. The property of God wit the birthing of a soul unless you think you are God feminsit? I cannot understand how anyone could justify murder of any extent at all. You guys make me sick.

    July 20, 2010 at 7:53 am |
    • Nelson

      Oh Gee, where to start. First, I agree with you about it being good to see Syria being more modern and secular. Bravo Syria!!!

      Now, Peter, you do realize that you contradict yourself by stating that women should be allowed to have babies in one sentence and then saying how they have their place as nuns in the next. Why wouldn't a celebate nun be able to give mass? Well because the church is sexist, that's why. No other reason. It's sex control pure and simple. The view of the church is that women are servants and should be subserviant to men and therefore should not be placed in a position of power over men. That's why women aren't allowed to be priests.

      All that said, while I agree that abortion is not a very pleasant subject and isn't something that should be taken lightly, I think that the religious right has blown its availability way out of purportion. Late term abortions are not performed at the whim of any woman wanting to end an unplanned pregnancy a little late. There has to be extraordinary circumstances involved for a woman to have this done and it usually comes after the mother has deliberated painfully over the decission and can come to no other conclusion.

      July 20, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  5. jim

    AnaHadWolves:
    You have the advantage of not believing any of the religions (which I take from your statement "not a religion worth following"). Those who believe their religions consider their rules to be given by God. They can't simply decide that a particular rule is unfair to women and should not be followed. People (especially women) will not be truly free until religions are completely eliminated.

    July 20, 2010 at 7:51 am |
    • Bill

      Well said, religion is just more cause of problems than a solution. I long for the day when people realize there are just too many religions out there for any one to be correct. In the mean-time, ill be happy as an athiest.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  6. ChanceTheChase

    It depends on who's interpreting the laws in Islam, but women we accorded rights in the Qu'ran a thousand plus years ago that women in modern society today are still fighting for. Most of the "extremist" elements of any religion are actually regional customs left over from pre-Islamic (or pre-Christian, pre-Judaic, etc) societies.

    A country can want to be as secular as it wants, but I don't see how banning the niqab is going to prevent "extremism." For most Muslim women, the niqab is a choice, not a requirement and not something their family forces them to wear. True, there are some families that feel wearing the niqab is non-negotiable, but from my understanding they, again, are a more regional type. Banning the hijab or niqab is, to some Muslim women, like banning an aspect of their religion.

    July 20, 2010 at 7:41 am |
  7. Tony

    Change begins in universities. If you have universities pumpin' out extremists, then we here at the US are gonna have to keep watching out back. My view on Syria has changed dramatically, this is a pretty big balls step for a secular muslim nation to take.

    There's two ways to finally bring Islam into the 21st century.. Eradicate them all or re-educate. Eventually it all comes down to how many girls or guys you can hook up with. And when hardcore suicide bomber wanna-bes figure out that one virgin IRL is much more satisfiable than "72" fake virgins in heaven, the skie's across Manhattan will be clearer of planes.

    July 20, 2010 at 7:35 am |
    • Jessica B.

      Haha. I spilled my coffee laughing when I read this. Funny, but true. As soon as the whole world gets their freak on, there will never be peace on earth. Awesome post, Tony!

      July 20, 2010 at 8:33 am |
  8. Srose

    Make a muslim man wear a hijab, niqab or burqa for 10 minutes on a sweltering hot day, and I bet you a dollar, no muslim woman would be wearing it ever again. The other day at a water park with children a muslim woman was completely covered from head to toe in black cloth – only her eyes showing – her husband was wearing shorts, sandals and a tank top enjoying the cool water while she watched. Cruel.

    July 20, 2010 at 7:31 am |
    • truebob

      You are implying that there is empathy between the men and their women, when the reality is the men only think of them in terms of "How does she reflect on me?" He doesn't think "Wow she must be uncomfortable", he thinks" wow she better not make me look bad".

      July 20, 2010 at 8:07 am |
    • Tazboy

      I am from a muslim family from pakistan, my mom never wore a hijab, niqab or burqa, no one in my family ever wore one, i mean aunts, cousins, female freinds.. never saw them wearing one.. no male in my family forced any women to wear it... now when most of my cousins have grown up.. some of them wear it because they want to.. not because there husbands or father wants them to... they wear it when they go out.. they take it off when they are inside.. whther it be their house or some other relatives house.. yes in some cases women are forced too.. but in most cases... they are not.. and they chose to wear it just like some men chose not to wear shorts.. or short sleeve shirts..

      July 20, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  9. Confused

    This always confused me. I understand the need to dress modestly, but the Muslim group takes it to an extreme and holds thee woman accountable for the weakness of men. If she shows an ankle, a man has the right to rape and beat her because she tempted him. What a great religion to be a man with no responsibilities. A woman has an affair, she gets stoned, a woman dates someone in the same religion but different caste or belief, she gets stoned. What a great peaceful religion. I love what Syria is doing and hope they get the greatest praise for this. But I believe the peace loving Muslims will instead go and blow up cars to protest this. Maybe kill a few hundred more woman and children there to show how peaceful they are and how this should be worn.

    July 20, 2010 at 7:18 am |
    • t

      In Islam a man has no right what so ever to rape a woman even if she shows her full body out in the streets.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • Robert

      "she shows an ankle, a man has the right to rape and beat her because she tempted him. "

      He has no such right. And frankly I've never met a Muslim that thought in this manner that you are describing.
      However, in some countries the dynamic between men and women includes sympathy for each other, rather than just saying, "I don't care". I think men are overwhelmingly attracted to women – I'm american, not Muslim, but I've always thought it was more balanced approach for both men and women to be concerned about the issues that face both men and women.

      I don't raise my daughter like some radical feminist that says, I have all the choices, and no responsibilities, and if its a problem for men – too bad.

      Hardly, I advise my daughter to dress modestly – otherwise expect to attract men, because women are attractive to men. If you read into that, that a man now has the right to rape – then you don't know how to read – I believe no such thing.

      I think one of the issues, is for so many people there isn't any grey area, any complex understanding, any sympathy – its all black and white – walk around nude, or walk around covered from head to toe.

      A little complex understanding, might be good for society.

      July 20, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  10. AnaHadWolves

    Sorry, but, any religion that discriminates against women...Islam, Christianity, Judaism, whatever...is not, IMHO, a religion worth following. Doesn't it seem funny that Islam has NO rules regarding whether or not a man should cover his entire body to promote "modesty"? Why does the Roman Catholic church recoil in horror at the thought of a woman as a priest?

    I'm a man and I don't agree with the practice of only a man-as-leader of any religion. I don't look at women as second-class citizens; why do religions?

    July 20, 2010 at 6:50 am |
    • dennis

      Why do primitive superstitions look down on women? That's a toughy.

      July 20, 2010 at 7:41 am |
    • Paula

      I have noticed form an early age the discrimination of women in religions: Baptist women cannot wear their dresses above the knees, orthodox churches rule that women should have some sort of scarf on head before entering a church, mennonite women wear their hair in a bun with that little cap thingy covering it. I even found a buddhist temple in Hawaii that does not allow women to enter. And many religions have the unspoken consensus that an "immorally" dressed woman is responsible if she is raped. Only a handful of years ago were the laws changed in our legal system-a woman could not be qustioned about what she was wearing when raped. Just don't understand any of it and why it is still tolerated in 2010.

      July 20, 2010 at 8:16 am |
    • DevsFan72

      Because organized religions are about mind control through terrorism. A "chosen few" get power and that power corrupts them. They don't want to share it and will protect it at all costs. Christianity, and islam both have used terrorism over the years to get people to do what the "higher ups" wanted. The spanish inqusition and the king james bible are perfect examples of this for the christian faith and all the stonings and beheadings and burquas are examples of islam. As for judisim, there are far too may sects of that religion to go into here.

      July 20, 2010 at 8:30 am |
    • independentlyowned

      Because people are typically afraid of what they don't know, or what's unfamiliar, and in turn oppress them. Back in the day, men didn't understand how a woman could bleed for days and not die. It showed strength, strength that they did not have and they manifested their envy into fear and anger. Obviously just one, generalized reason, but speaks a lot as to how an entire 1/2 of a population (sometimes more) can become a minority.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:09 am |
    • t

      Jusy an FYI – there are rules in Islam for men and being modest when it comes to clothing. For example, a Muslim man cannot wear shorts that go above his knees.

      While I do agree that some women are forced to wear the hijab, many however do wear it on thier own for thier own personal and religious beliefs. I know a Muslim family with four girls in the family, two of them wear the hijab and two do not. Thier father never forced them to wear it and this is one example of many.

      My only concern here is how many women who wear the nigab on thier own will now not be able to get an education.....

      July 20, 2010 at 9:28 am |
    • Julia

      "Doesn't it seem funny that Islam has NO rules regarding whether or not a man should cover his entire body to promote "modesty"? "

      Islam has rules on modesty, in fact, they are similar to the rules on modesty that Christians and Jews are suppose to follow, however that majority chooses not to. The rule for men is to cover themselves from knee to neck. Shorts and a polo are just fine. The rule for women is to cover from ankle to wrist. Jeans and a button-down shirst are just fine.

      Historically speaking, women in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faith have been encouraged to cover their hair centuries ago, and some women of the present choose to continue that practice. Modesty can be interpreted differently by anyone, to each his/her own. Maintain your choice to dress how you dress for your own reasons, but do not impart those choices on others. Muslim women do not have to cover their hair. Women who choose to cover are choosing to only show their true beauty to their husbands and families. There is something admirable in that. Women are not for sale, it is very much a Western perspective to think that women have to display everything they have for everyone to see and judge. Look at different cultures, the Western perspective is not that only perspective worth considering.

      It is very interesting that the majority of the writers here think that Islam and the Middle-East are the same thing. What products of the media you are. The majority of Muslims do not live in the Middle-East, the majority live in Asia. Look it up. It is a shame that some Middle-Eastern countries have made such a hideous image of Islam.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • Tazboy

      There are laws.. such as ur pants should always be below your knees. andif I am correct, the sleeves should cover the elbow. men have been asked to lower their gaze .

      July 20, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • independentlyowned

      So men have to cover from knee to elbow (even though a lot of Muslim men do not do this, as I've lived in a Muslim country for a while), but women need to cover even more? Why is that? Are women's ankles more scandalous and sexy than men's ankles? Well of course men think so, and men wrote all major religious texts...

      July 20, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • Robert

      I can confirm that Christian – (Eastern Orthodoxy) women cover their hair, even today.

      My wife covers her hair – I do not force her. She isn't a 2nd class person.

      She merely has a religious belief. Ironically she isn't even a strict believer in Christianity.
      She believes in Feng Shui, if you have any New Age idea, she's going to consider it.

      If you said, here is the university, where you can't practice your beliefs, she probably wouldn't go to that University – luckily she has already graduated – but my point is, I can just imagine how rulings like this would impact her.

      You all sound like complete fools. Applauding this move for something its not – this is merely a political move, one group plotting against another group. This isn't tolerance – its the opposite.

      It's like you don't know what tolerance is – being force to not wear signs of your religion is no better than being forced to wear signs of someone elses religion, force is force.

      And why do you really support force over tolerance? Because you want western ideals to rule in these countries, and you'll support force to get that in place.

      July 20, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  11. NoWayDude

    Surely the West is to blame for this discord among Syrian Muslims. Iran would never do this.

    July 20, 2010 at 6:45 am |
    • independentlyowned

      That's because Iran is an oppressive theocracy with no human rights whatsoever. I wouldn't expect a regime like that to actually do something progressive.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:06 am |
    • lance corporal

      isn't the west to blame for every thing?? i mean no one in the east is capable of any free thought it's controlled by what the west does....

      July 20, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  12. james

    The Hindus used to be worse than Muslims. Now improved very much in treating women equal in society.

    July 20, 2010 at 6:45 am |
    • historian

      @james
      Wrong, get your history lessons straightened out.Gender equality has been there since the beginning of time for Hindus. It started to get affected by the systematic killing burning raping pillaging by the Muslim hordes about 12th century AD. Just think about it when ever a muslim invader seige a city it usually ended with all males greater than 14 years killed. Every one else convert to Islam or die by beheading.

      It affected the social fabric down to the grass roots. There was no purdah (veil) for women they used to rule and there are many matriarchal societies in India.Things changed by over time by the repeated conquests and a sort of Muslim inquisition over past 800 years.

      July 20, 2010 at 7:44 am |
    • offgrid

      I love reading the Upanishads. Full of Light and Wisdom. I'm a Christian (Jesus:Love your neighbor as yourself etc) who loves learning about Buddhism and Hinduism. We have much to learn from each other. The essence of all mystical traditions is unconditional Love.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  13. austinwpt

    A hijab or ḥijāb pronounced is both the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women and modest Muslim styles of dress in general.

    The Arabic word literally means curtain or cover (noun). Most Islamic legal systems define this type of modest dressing as covering everything except the face and hands in public.

    Taken from Wikipedia.....

    July 20, 2010 at 5:53 am |
  14. Tom

    This is a landmark ruling. Syria should be commended for facing challenges with vision and resolve.

    July 20, 2010 at 4:03 am |
    • RG Roustum

      Kodus to the Syrian Government for that rouling. It is God given right to the people to have Liberty, freedom and dignity,
      Thanks To Giath Baraket and of course His Government For taking that importent step.

      July 20, 2010 at 7:29 am |
  15. David80

    I think the write was too excited on the ban by a secular islamic state, so he mixed the 'hijab' and 'jihad', to make it 'jihab' ... LOL.

    July 20, 2010 at 4:02 am |
  16. peace2all

    Any movement of a more peaceful or positive tone ...anything moving in that direction, hopefully will snowball into more peaceful and loving action...

    Peace....

    July 20, 2010 at 2:47 am |
    • offgrid

      Peace to you also.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  17. Eva

    "the niqab — a full veil that like the burqa shows only a woman’s eyes"

    I thought that the burqa covers even the eyes, versus the niqab, which leaves them visible?

    July 20, 2010 at 12:57 am |
    • timothy

      you are correct. This author seems to lack and understanding of ther differences between the two. He also calls a Hijab a Jihab towards the end of the article. LOL
      For the people that wear niqab, hijab, etc... they feel it is there religious obligation - not attempts at being "extremists" or terrorists. Yet, some people feel obligated to take away their religious freedoms and force them to become more secular.

      July 20, 2010 at 7:21 am |
    • Arthur C

      The problem Timothy is that they are used as a tool to keep the women 2nd class or even 3rd class citizens. The penalties that are given out by the extremists for not wearing a veil in public can be a bit severe.

      July 20, 2010 at 8:27 am |
    • Robert

      @Arthur, seems like you like to repeat the company line.

      The law outlaws niqab's at universities. Those who were trying to keep women in 2nd, 3rd, 5th and sometimes 25th class (I'm mocking you, btw) – would have tried to keep the woman out of the university.

      Since she's there, she's not anything but 1st class, I assure you.

      Secondly if the issue, is, as you state, that their can be 'severe penalties' for not wearing the niqab in public, then outlaw the penalties.

      Because what you are supporting has a name – religious intolerance.

      Yes, you have your excuse ready in hand, for supporting religious intolerance, people like you always do.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:50 am |
    • jay

      timothy,
      I would agree that the women who wear the burqa/veil/niqab, do it out of a sense of religious duty. However, the people who make them wear these covering are making extremist interpretaitions of their reliigon

      July 20, 2010 at 9:52 am |
    • David

      This isn't religious intolerance, Robert. This is a secular country deciding to stay secular. Just like France is doing. Just like America should be (we were intended to be more secular by the framers).

      July 20, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  18. Michael

    truth,

    Great job in catching their error. I probably would of noticed it if you hadn't beaten me to this article, as I just read it.

    July 20, 2010 at 12:01 am |
  19. sous1970

    no it's nikab... hijab does not cover face... nikab covers the face

    July 19, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  20. amit narain sinha

    Stephen
    india is an agglomeration of people(tribes or castes) each group having its own way of life. There are 1.2 billion people here and a very few of these take extreme measures. The rest of us are at peace with ourselves and so should you be. As for the merits of the caste system, the fact is that it exists and there is no need to apologize for it. As with all other systems some things need to change with the times and there are others that are better left as is. We in india can perceive changes in the world and there is sufficient resilience here. Please do not demonize. I need to point out that as one historian as put it so aptly and i quote "the fundamental sanity of the hindu way of life is in the absence of the devil". The religions who believe in the devil (and sometimes they believe in the devil more than they believe in god should first clean their own stables

    Amit

    July 19, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • Scott in Atlanta

      Amit says, "As for the merits of the caste system, the fact is that it exists and there is no need to apologize for it." I am glad my ancestors in the American South did not win with this view about slavery. Injustice exists everywhere, and there is every reason to apologize for it. Amit's sleepy views need a thorough shaking up.

      July 20, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • sdn

      Amit, as a fellow Indian and raised as a Hindu, I can only say casteism is the scourge of Indian society. There may be no reason to apologize for it, but there is every reason to stop following it. We cannot be defined by primitive classifications that restrict our abilities. Once we get rid of the caste menace, perhaps we can start treating one another equally.

      July 20, 2010 at 7:56 am |
    • sr

      @Scott – Do you know that because of the system of castes (as it is right now), people of lower castes can get unbelievable benefits from the government. I saw many people belonging to lower castes receive free education, 1st preference of seats in colleges, jobs over any person of higer caste (even if that person is dirt poor and scored much higher in exams). Many people of lower caste do well, become rich and still their kids get all the above benefits. On the other hand people belonging to upper caste are literally beggars and their kids don't get anything because they belong to upper caste. Of course I am not saying that all lower caste people are well off. It will take time. It is the difference between making a meal for a dozen people versus making a meal for 1000 people.

      Also don't compare slavery to castesim. The way these two evils came about, exiisted and implemented are totally different. India survived and flourished for centuries without the concept of higer castes and lower castes. Then it got beat down for centuries by muslim invaders (between 9th and 15th BC over 100 million hindus/buddhists were murdered for being Hindu/Buddhist or for not converting to Islam). Then after a few centuries it got beat down even further by British/Christian invasions. And when it is at its lowest point, Missionaries took over and started propaganda (causing further rift within the society) to convert the whole country to Christianity. if you go to joshuaprojectdotnet you will see what I mean. It is a billion dollar industry. And the Pope once said "we have a billion potential converts in India".

      I do not belong to any religion but I know that Hinduism is the only (major) religion in the world that never proselytizes, never had holy wars, never has the concept of scaring people of other religions with heaven/hell, god/devil concepts. Hinduism is the only religion or rather a philosophy that has different schools of thoughts including Atheism (nastika), Theism, Agnosticism (from where Buddhism came). It is perfectly fine and acceptable to be a Hindu Atheist and Hindu Agnostic. Hindu philsophers taught secular classes and encouraged different philosophies centuries ago while the whole of Europe and the west are killing people for religious reasons. Don't be fooled by the missionary propaganda.

      July 20, 2010 at 8:30 am |
    • lance corporal

      Gandhi stated that all vestiges of the caste system should be eliminated from the hearts and laws of india, he was right, here in america we have made color racism a priority and have eliminated it from our laws and are still working to eliminate it from our hearts, I demonize no one and I'm not christian so a belief in a "devil" does not effect me, I look FORWARD. I believe you are suffering from complacency and that you are wrong, it is not alright to accept that which is wrong, I know many indian people here in america, many are friends, I have known some that have obviously developed personality flaws from growing up with a caste system, both in feeling unwarranted superiority and in lack of self esteem, India should follow the teachings of gandhi and work hard to remove the caste system from all aspects of indian life

      July 20, 2010 at 8:58 am |
    • BC in BA

      I'm guessing Amit is not Dalit? Or of the other lower caste classes?

      July 20, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • Tom

      SR: Your caste defense still does not work. Slavery was a functional part of nearly every classical and medieval civilization, many of which flourished for a long time. Ever hear of China? Rome?

      Unless you are arguing that Buddhism is part of Hinduism, I cannot think of any Buddhist holy wars. Jews do not proselytize.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:21 am |
    • gandulara

      Amit, you should have read what you wrote. You are poor example of Hinduism and a human being. You represent oppression, human suffering and misery. I quote you "As for the merits of the caste system, the fact is that it exists and there is no need to apologize for it." This mean you are an active oppressor and a supporter of it You are the perfect candidate why abortion should be legal. The caste system and you and your supportive trash are the curse India has to carry.

      July 20, 2010 at 9:35 am |
    • dave

      Hinduism was created by Aryans who invaded and enslaved the indus population over 3000 yrs ago. The caste system was used to enslave the original indus people by putting them into the lower two castes and out of the caste system (outcastes). Then all Aryans were in the top two classes and people could not move out of their class. It was a way of convincing Indus people they were inferior. You guys should read a little bit....rs mainly

      July 20, 2010 at 10:06 am |
    • dave

      The very religion was created to take over and enslave society rs.....you are not educated on what you speak of.

      July 20, 2010 at 10:08 am |
    • dave

      Buddhism was then created as a peaceful alternative to hinduism by Siddartha.......

      July 20, 2010 at 10:09 am |
    • Colin in Florida

      It's simple: The caste system is as bad as apartheid in South Africa which was as bad as slavery in the US South and elsewhere. I don't care what 'benefits' people in different caste's get-what they don't get is freedom, which is the most important 'benefit'. Until India wakes up to this, it will remain a country that treats it's citizens as second class citizens.

      The Declaration of Independence, one of the great documents in world history, states "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal," Until there is equality in India, India cannot become a great country.

      July 20, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • sr

      @Dave
      Which missionary website or pamphlet did you get that story from? You should try reading non-fiction, non-propaganda stuff. Try it a little bit. you might like it. I am dying laughing here reading your story. Anybody that does some research will see how your story is just a story in your mind and in missionaries' pamphlets.

      There is no question about all the concepts of Buddhism like Nirvana, Karma etc that came from Hinduism.... It has been proven. Buddha did not come up with them. Just this fact disqualifies you stories and lies. I don't have to say anything more.

      @Colin in Florida
      You are missing one major point. Apartheid is government controlled and implemented to opress and segregate people. Caste system is not like that in India. There are several politicians from lower castes in important Political positions. One of our ex President belongs to lower caste. It is not legal to segregate and devaliue certain humans. But it takes a while for many million of villages to reach that point.

      July 20, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • Indian2

      Amit, Well put. Who are these guys to pass judgements, with their biased and eclipsed world view.

      July 20, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • Indian2

      Amit and SR, awesome guys... like you guys correctly stated, these readers' comments that spew hate towards India, will never be able to look and think straight on anything to do with India. They are wholly eaten up by various propaganda machines who serve various biased stories in the name of the lord. So, it does have religious sanction and approval. I challenge these same people who are so vehement in their criticism of India to first go and evangelize in islamic republics. We Indians are sour grapes if they cannot convert us.

      July 21, 2010 at 12:06 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.