Interfaith services and events have made many congregations more accessible. But visitors may be unsure what is appropriate and what isn't. This week's clergy share things that will make a visit to their house of worship more comfortable.
Habeeb Ahmed, first vice president, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury:
Traditionally, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received visitors of other faiths in his mosque, and he was most welcoming and courteous in his manner -- they were guests and deserved to be treated with utmost respect.
The best time to visit a mosque is Friday about 1 p.m. (Friday is the holiest day for Muslims.) The Friday service includes a half-hour sermon (mostly in Arabic and English), followed by a short prayer. Afterward, visitors can ask any questions they may have.
There is a dress code for the mosque. Everyone (men and women) is required to dress modestly (long sleeves, long pants for all and a head scarf for women). We will even provide scarves for women who don't have them. All shoes must be taken off before entering the prayer area. We do this for cleanliness as we prostrate on the ground as part of our prayers and also in the tradition of prophet Moses. When he was asked to approach the burning bush, he was ordered by Almighty to take his shoes off and prostrate.
I think it is a wonderful idea to visit different places of worship and learn about one another, because ignorance leads to fear and suspicion between communities. We need to build bridges of cooperation to create a thriving and harmonious society.
Cantor Sandy Sherry Pilatsky, cantor emeriti, Temple Beth El, Huntington:
There are ways to participate that are specific to the various forms of Judaism: Orthodoxy, Conservativism, Reconstructionism and Reform.
Each denomination expects some differing degrees of observance. For example, in an Orthodox synagogue, men wear yarmulkes and married women wear a head covering like a hat or lace piece. Men and women do not sit together, although in some modern Orthodox congregations, men and women may sit together. Men and women do not touch or shake hands. Each should keep their eyes averted from the other.
In a Reform synagogue, men and women sit together. One should respect the sacred environment by dressing modestly. Women shouldn't show bare shoulders, wear a strapless dress or a miniskirt. Congregants (men and women) may choose whether to wear a yarmulke.
If the congregation is reciting, chanting or singing, anyone may join them. A non-Jewish person, however, does not get "called" for a Torah blessing or to recite from the Torah scroll.
Priest Pipalmani Sigdel, Afghan Hindu Association, Hicksville:
There are some rituals we observe that all visitors also would observe. Everyone entering the temple should practice purification of the body and mind. This would include being vegetarian and nonalcoholic that day, if possible.
Once at the temple, you will need to take off your shoes and wash your hands before entering the sanctuary. There is a cleansing area on the first floor. If you have any leather -- belts, wallets, purses, garments -- these must be removed, as they are not allowed in the prayer room. Leather is considered coming from the animal's body.
Each person rings the bell once upon entry to the prayer room. When we ring the bell, it is the symbol of welcome to the gods. Afterward, you would bring your hands together (Namaste, in the symbol of greeting) and bow down so your head is touching the floor. This is a greeting of respect to the gods. There are seven god statues on a raised area at this temple: Ganesh ji, son of Shiva; Shiva ji, his wife Parvati ma; Durga maa, the mother power; and Hanuman ji and Radha Krishna ji, the woman and man power, respectively.
Visitors are allowed to offer water and milk on Shiva Lingam, and on the family of Lord Shiva. This giving of a holy bath, Sanskrit, means "to cleanse." You would wash your hands and then pour water over the deity. This is not to cleanse the God, who needs no cleansing. It is a symbol of cleansing oneself, of washing one's sins away.
Afterward, you may sit and pray. Before anyone leaves, he or she walks to the priest to have a blessing and receive a piece of blessed fruit or sweet, which is known as prasad.