Travel itineraries often include visits to churches, cathedrals and synagogues. But what if you want to experience forms of worship beyond the Judeo-Christian world? This week’s clergy discuss appropriate conduct at Muslim, Hindu or Sikh holy places.
Dr. Isma H. Chaudhry
President, Islamic Center of Long Island
A mosque’s doors are open for everyone. There are no restrictions. Anybody who comes in, we have to trust their devotion to God, and we cannot question what type of faith they practice. However, if there is a non-Muslim group or individual that wants to visit, it’s always good to call and find out what would be the best time to come to the mosque, because people are praying there, and if they don’t know about the visit they might be alarmed. They might wonder what your intention is in this day and age. The proper dress code for both men and women is to dress up modestly, which entails covering the legs to the ankles, wearing full-sleeve shirts or a shirt that covers the arm below the elbow. Blue jeans are OK as long as the body is covered; shoulders should be covered. It is preferred that women wear a head scarf in the sanctuary. Because the mosque is carpeted and when people pray they put their heads on the carpet, it’s required to take your shoes off. Socks are OK, and if somebody prefers walking barefoot, that is OK also. Observers should remain silent and pray within their own tradition.
Simran Jeet Singh
Senior religion fellow
The gurdwara is the Sikh place of learning and worship where the community gathers. Visitors of any background can seek shelter, comfort, and food through the langar, a free community kitchen. Because the Sikh faith does not have an ordained clergy, any woman or man from the congregation may lead religious services. The Sikh scripture is at the center of Sikh life, and it is also placed at the center of the gurdwara space. The entire Guru Granth Sahib [Sikh scripture] is written as poetry and music, so the majority of a worship service is conducted in song. Community members and musicians lead the congregation in singing and chanting. After the ceremony, the congregants gather for a meal together. Everyone sits on the floor as a sign of equality, and people of all backgrounds are welcome to join. Visitors must take off their shoes and cover their heads before entering the worship space. Both of these practices are signs of respect. Upon entering the space, Sikhs bow before the Guru Granth Sahib as a sign of submission to the teachings — this is not obligatory for observers. All congregants then sit on the floor together to participate in the worship and singing. Everyone is welcome to participate as they see fit. Most commonly, visitors prefer to sit, observe, and enjoy the music.
Gayatri Gyan Kendra of Long Island
The most important thing to keep in mind while visiting any holy place of worship is to respect its sacredness. It is a place to commune with God with deep reverence. However, knowing some of the etiquette is extremely helpful when you are of a different faith. People take off their shoes in a designated area before entering any Hindu temple. It is a very important sign of respect, cleanliness and humility; it symbolizes that you are leaving all worldly matters, including your ego, outside. People wear clean and appropriate clothing, which means no revealing outfits; rather, long outfits that allow them to sit crisscross on the floor. Usually, people bring a gift of flowers, fruit or dry nuts as an offering to God. When in front of the deity in the temple, people ring the bell and join their hands together while bowing down to offer their salutations. The priest of the temple might put a red dot or ashes on your forehead as a blessing from God. He might offer the arti (holy lighted lamp), holy water and fruit as prasad (offering from God), which should be accepted with the right hand. There are specific timings for the ceremonial rituals, chanting of sacred mantras and songs, which should be inquired about in advance. In a Hindu temple, you might find that many ceremonies are simultaneously carried out. Overall, just relax and try to feel the consciousness and good vibrations of the temple.