Muslim prayers welcome at Pentagon chapel

Less than 100 feet from where a hijacked airplane slammed into the Pentagon, Muslim military personnel bring prayer rugs on weekday afternoons for group worship.

On Fridays, a local imam conducts a service in the Pentagon Memorial Chapel built after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks by al Qaeda that killed 184 people at the U.S. military headquarters.

The chapel, with stained-glass windows, burgundy carpeting and a wooden altar, provides a place of prayer and religious observance for anyone regardless of faith or culture.

Its welcoming calm and nondenominational culture are in stark contrast to the emotional debate over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York City, where planes flown by al Qaeda hijackers destroyed the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,700 people…

“I’ve never had a question about it” in four-plus years at the Pentagon, Army spokesman George Wright said…

“We’re very tolerant here of one another and our faith,” he said. “We don’t keep track of who comes in.”

Of course, what’s “normal” in the political life of the United States of America doesn’t have as much to do with tolerance or freedom – as it does with power and control.

Air Force Academy to accommodate Wiccans

They’re planning a student dorm named Hogwarts

The Air Force Academy will add a worship area for followers of “earth-centered religion” — pagans — with a dedication ceremony scheduled for March 10.

A double circle of stones atop a hill on the campus has been designated for cadets and other service personnel in the area to practice Earth-centered faiths.

The academy said Monday that staff at the academy chapel worked with Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, a follower of the pagan tradition, to establish the site. He’s the noncommissioned officer in charge of the academy’s astronautics labs.

Longcrier said the stones had been moved to the area at some point in the past to keep them from rolling downhill and potentially striking buildings. The crews placed them in a circle thinking it would be a pleasant place for cadets to relax. The circle will join Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist sacred spaces at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The chief of the academy has made religious tolerance a priority after 2004 a survey of cadets found instances of harassment. Longcrier said earth-centered spirituality includes traditions such as Wicca and Druidism. Wicca is the largest religious group in the Air Force after Christianity.

Not that the Academy will start accepting openly gay or lesbian cadets any time soon.

Nepal scraps ‘living goddess’ tradition – she has to go to school!

A centuries-old tradition in Nepal of worshipping a virgin girl-child in a palace as a “living goddess” has been scrapped after it was condemned as outdated by the country’s supreme court, which has ruled that the supposed deity must go to school.

Earlier this year, religious authorities started a search for a new Kumari, chosen from a handful of three-year-olds, after it was revealed the current living goddess is going to retire later this year.

However, that process looks as if it will be halted after the country’s highest court accepted the argument from a lawyer that keeping a young girl locked up in a medieval palace in Kathmandu was a violation of her fundamental rights.

The court ruled against the rights of the Kumari being “violated in the name of culture”.

“There should be no bar on the Kumaris from going to school and enjoying health-related rights as there are no historical and religious documents restricting Kumaris from enjoying child rights,” the court said.

The short answer is, of course, “overdue!” More complex decisions will tightrope through traditions and a theocracy that was interwoven with the old royal family.

Modern influences, Eastern and Western, shouldn’t be as restricted under the new government – compared to monarchist days. But, local politicians usually being what my cynical experience tells me, it’s still going to be a long difficult road ahead for Nepal to build a progressive economy and education system, civil service and vital parliamentary democracy. Certainly, I hope they succeed.