Religions Around the World: The Importance of Cultural Awareness When Traveling
If you are travelling to teach in other countries, then it’s advisable to be aware of religions around the world. It’s important to know what is expected of you as there may be traditions you need to observe. This is especially true if you are going to live in another country for a length of time and if you are going to work with people, teach children and speak to parents who are of that religion. It’s important to be open-minded and respectful of beliefs which may be different from your own or strange to you, as they may be very deeply held by the people you are meeting. In places such as the Middle East, religion and law are intertwined and are an extremely important part of their culture.
You may have an awareness of the main religions but in Japan, for example, they practise Shintoism and Taoism is prevalent in China. Religion can impact political and social issues which may affect you if you visit certain countries and it’s advisable to either avoid these nations or have an understanding of the issues that may help you to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. An example of this is the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians which is rooted in religion. There is also conflict between those observing Hinduism and Islam in India. However, there is no conflict between Hinduism and Sikhism. Remember to exercise caution when choosing jobs and holiday destinations around the world.
Religion is an aspect of human culture which has existed for millennia and the beliefs and practices are very diverse.
Let’s look at the main religions:
There are around 2 billion Christians in the world, who believe that Jesus was the son of God and they follow his teachings. This religion has existed for 2 thousand years and all Christians believe in the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
There are 3 main divisions of Christianity:
- Eastern Orthodoxy.
When travelling in Christian nations, it’s advisable to wear modest clothing when visiting churches and cathedrals and to not take photos during prayer services.
There are around 1.8 billion Muslims across the world.
They believe there is one God (Allah) and his earthly messenger the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). If you talk with a Muslim and mention the Prophet Mohammed, follow his name with ‘Peace Be Upon Him’ (PBUH).
There are 2 branches – Sunni and Shia.
They believe in the 7 Pillars of Islam which they all follow:
- Recitation of the Qu’ran, their holy book
- Pray 5 times a day
- Giving to charity or the needy
- Daytime fasting during the month of Ramadan
- Visiting Mecca, their holy place in Saudi Arabia, if able.
When travelling to Muslim countries, particularly the Middle Eastern Gulf countries, you will be expected to cover your arms and legs, to the elbow and knee at least. Females do not need to cover their heads, even in Saudi Arabia. Remove your shoes before entering a Mosque (their place of worship, known as a Masjid in Arabic). Also don’t publicly eat or drink anything during the month of Ramadan even if you aren’t Muslim.
There are a billion followers of Hinduism, and it’s an ancient religion originating in India. They believe there is one supreme God Brahman who is present everywhere, and there are many Gods and Goddesses. Visitors to Hindu-majority countries such as Nepal and much of South Asia, should remove their shoes before entering a Hindu Temple (place of worship) and women should dress modestly. You must be very respectful to the Gods and Goddesses and not to disturb any of the statues or offerings.
This is another of the world’s oldest religion dating back to Ancient Israel. They also believe there is one God and most Jews are in Israel and the USA. Again it’s important to be respectful if you enter a Jewish Synagogue (place of worship) and to dress modestly. You will see the Star of David, a symbol of a 6 pointed star. Jews’ main celebrations are their new year in September, known as Rosh Hashana and Hanukkah in December.
This was founded around 2500 years ago and is a peaceful religion. The primary teachings are the Eightfold Path which are practices for Buddhists to live by. When travelling to Buddhist nations, it’s important to be quiet and respectful when visiting temples or shrines. Buddhism is about spiritualism and enlightenment and it’s not focused on the relationship between man and God.
In summary, be aware of the main religion or religions in your chosen destination and check how this may affect you, such as food, dress, prayer times and public holidays.