By Samantha Lee
Growing up and living in Singapore has definitely taught us to be more understanding and tolerant towards different religions. In order to achieve that, we first need to gain a basic understanding of the different religions. Have you ever committed a taboo unintentionally? Don’t worry, you are not alone. Everyone has those moments. In order to avoid unknowingly breaking any decorum when visiting places of worship in future, we have provided you here with a handy guide on the Do’s and Don’t’s.
- Do bow your head respectfully when passing by statues of Buddha and monks/nuns. Upon entering the temple, bow your head thrice towards an image of Buddha. This is done in order to pay your respect to the Triple Gem – Buddha, Dharma (the teachings of Buddhism) and Sangha (the monks and nuns who carry and pass on the teachings). Robes worn by the monks and nuns are emblems of the Triple Gem. Hence you bow to them to salute the symbol, rather than the person.
- Do remove your shoes before entering and always remain quiet and respectful while observing. The temple is a spiritual place of mediation and prayers. Hence it is inconsiderate towards the worshippers to be making a din in the temple.
- Do not offer the monks and nuns money. They are not allowed to accept any cash offers, or any luxurious items (e.g. mobile phones), as it is believed to connote lust, greed and materialism – all of which prevents one from reaching the peak of enlightenment. However, donations made to the temples are acceptable.
- Do not point, with your fingers, at people or things on temple grounds. The act of pointing is deemed as rude. Instead, extend your palm towards the person or object to indicate something.
- Do dress modestly when visiting a mosque. It is advisable to cover as much skin as possible. For ladies, your dresses should at least cover your knees and shoulders and you should also have a shawl to cover your hair.
- Do return the greetings. Upon entering the mosque, you will most likely be greeted “Assalammualaikum” – which means “peace be upon you” in Arabic. The correct way of returning the greeting would be “Wa’alaikumussalum”.
- Do not turn up smelling like you just finished a marathon or jumped out of a pool of perfume. Cleanliness is one of the core elements of their belief. Furthermore, strong odour disrupts prayers.
- Do not shake hands with someone of the opposite gender. Shaking hands may be a common way of greeting but in the Muslim culture, physical interaction between members of the opposite sex is best avoided.
- Do take a bath and wear fresh clothes before going to the temple. Similar to Muslims, cleanliness is important when visiting a Hindu temple as well.
- Do receive the prasadam (part of the offerings to deities) with your right hand. Using your left is a sign of disrespect. Also, eat it once you are outside of the temple.
- Do not bring food into the temples. Unless it is an offering to the deities (i.e.: fruits), do refrain from taking any foodstuff in.
- Do not enter the inner sanctum. If you have brought offerings to the deity/deities, hand it to the priest who may be sitting right outside of the chamber.
- Do arrive at a church early before mass. Late-comers disrupts the service and the prayers/thoughts of those in the service.
- Do pay attention and try to participate in the service. While you are not there for entertainment of any kind, it is only respectful to the priest and the religion.
- Do not block the path of people going in and out of the pew. Try to move inwards instead of sitting at the entrance.
- Do not talk loudly and create a din. Whisper if you have to to the person next to you – they should be able to hear you just fine.
- Do register at the counter and cover up your head with a turban or shawl before heading in. Similar to the mosques, visitors are expected to cover up their hair. If you turn up without the necessary accessories, the staff at the reception area will be able to loan one to you.
- Do accept the prashad if it is offered to you and eat it with your right hand. It is a sacred pudding-like confectionary with a sweet taste. Even if you do not wish to consume it on the spot, do not dump it within temple grounds. Although not obligatory, it would still be nice to make a small cash donation upon receiving the prashad.
- Do not sit with your legs extended, or worse – with your feet pointed towards the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scripture). The Guru Granth Sahib is a respected symbol of the Sikh religion and pointing your feet towards it is deemed as disrespectful. You should also bow before it when you enter the gurdwara.
- Do not wear your shoes into the compound. Most gurdwaras have racks at the entrance area for you to deposit your shoes. Otherwise, you can just leave them at the doorsteps.