Sacred Respect: Honouring The Religion Of Others
Exploring religious sites can often bring about a depth and beauty to your vacation. But sometimes we're not sure how to best approach these experiences authentically. For me personally it's the worry that my presence is nothing more than tourism and that I fear I will somehow disrespect the location.
The world is made up of a beautiful assortment of beliefs and worldviews creating a vast and diverse landscape of faith. I hold a belief that it's important to visit and explore those landscapes in an effort to grow our own internal sense of self and sense of global community. So how do we so with respect?
Largely, it's about following rules and taking those rules seriously. When we are asked to behave in a certain manner, we must abide by that manner to show respect to the customs and traditions that are hosting our presence.
Most mosques will ask that females cover their heads. Upon my visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the head covering was provided. Some Jewish Synagogues will ask men to wear Kippah's to enter. Some churches will not allow you to enter the main Sanctuary unless you are there to worship or pray. In 2008 I was working on my Masters from a Seminary and working in two churches. At a church in Vienna I attempted to enter the main sanctuary to pray with my friend who had an ill loved one at home and was denied entry for looking too much like a tourist. Many more formal religious sites including mosques and the Vatican, require that shoulders and legs are covered. The Sistine Chapel allows no pictures and no talking. All of these elements are requests that when we follow them, are ways we can show respect. And when in doubt, ask. You can ask me, you can ask an attendant at the facility, or ask google the night before your visit. Asking is one of the most respectful things you can do!
Taking site requests seriously is key. You don't have to follow the teachings of the religion of the site you are visiting, but if we remember that we are guests and approach the experience with humility, we'll have much more positive experiences, as will the people who are there to worship.