Baby rites a feature of all major religions except Buddhism

THE only major religion which does not have a ceremony to welcome children into the world is Buddhism, presumably on the grounds that it would all be old hat for the baby anyway, writes Andrew Brown.

All others welcome the child with some rite designed to celebrate its arrival and set it right with the supernatural world, Dr Martin Palmer, director of an international consultancy on religion and ecology, said.

Sometimes these rites are rather gloomy. In China, the naming cermony is not held at all for the first month of the child's life, in case it dies. Then it is given an unattractive name like 'pighead' to put off the evil spirits which might otherwise be tempted to steal it. The attractive, adult name only emerges later, if the child has survived to school age.

Muslims whisper the ritual call to prayer into a baby's ear as soon as it is born, so that the first words the child ever hears are 'God is Most Great, God is Most Great, I bear witness that there is no God except the one God; I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of God.'

One custom is common to Muslims and Sikhs. After the child is born, a morsel of sugar or honey is put into its mouth to ensure that its words and disposition will always be sweet thereafter. But these are private, family-oriented ceremonies, unlike the public baptisms of christianity.

Hinduism, Martin Palmer says, has rituals 'virtually from the moment of conception'. The main rite of passage would be a horoscope immediately after birth. Jewish male babies are circumcised; female children have their names announced by the father in the synagogue.

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