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Religious Beliefs

This guide contains detailed information about many of the main world religions and how their customs, festivals and practices may impact upon the working lives of their followers. We also include information on atheism.









Jehovah’s Witness













Atheists believe that God or Gods (or other supernatural beings) are man-made constructs, myths, and legends, or that these concepts are not meaningful.

Atheists may have been brought up in different religious or cultural environments (family, education, state) and this may influence their views: for example, Atheists with a Jewish background may have different views to Atheists with a Christian background.

The four main types of Atheism are:

  • Humanism – Humanism is a positive attitude to the world, centered on human experience, thought, and hopes. Humanists believe that human experience and rational thinking provide the only source of both knowledge and a moral code to live by.
  • Rationalism – Rationalism is an approach to life based on reason and evidence. Rationalism encourages ethical and philosophical ideas that can be tested by experience and rejects authority that cannot be proved by experience.
  • Postmodernism – Postmodernists believe every society is in a state of constant change; there are no absolute values, only relative ones; nor are there any absolute truths.
  • Secularism – Secularists oppose religion, or the religious being afforded privileges, which may disadvantage others.

Unitarian Universalism – Whilst not strictly an atheist movement, Unitarian Universalism is perhaps the religious movement into which some Atheists may most comfortably fit. The movement proclaims the importance of individual freedom of belief, and it includes members from a wide spectrum of beliefs.

2. Bahá’í

The Bahá’í faith has two founding figures: the Báb (a title meaning ‘the Gate’), who proclaimed on 23 May 1844 in the Iranian city of Shiraz , the coming of a new religious dispensation; and Bahá’u’lláh (an Arabic title meaning ‘the Glory of God’), also an Iranian, whose coming as the new Messenger of God had been announced by The Báb.

The Báb was executed in 1850, and Bahá’u’lláh was exiled to Baghdad in 1853. It was here that Bahá’u’lláh announced his mission in 1863. Further exiles took Bahá’u’lláh to Constantinople, Adrianople and, in 1868, to ‘Akká in what is now Israel, where he passed away on 29 May 1892.

Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the most recent manifestation or messenger of God. (Previous manifestations include Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Moses, Krishna, Muhammad, and Jesus).

Bahá’u’lláh teaches that humankind must embrace its oneness and its solidarity as one human family. Bahá’ís believe that all kinds of prejudice must be eliminated, that women and men are equal and that all religions have the same divine foundation, despite their apparent differences. It is the right and responsibility of every individual to seek truth for him or herself.

Bahá’ís work with others, whether Bahá’í or not, for the betterment of the world and the building of a global civilization based on unity and justice.

The Bahá’í faith has no clergy or sacraments, and no public rituals. Bahá’ís pray and study daily in private, but also have a strong community life, with meetings for prayer, study, and the moral and spiritual education of children and young people. These meetings are open to everyone.

There are 6 million Bahá’ís in the world, in 235 countries and around 6,000 live in Britain.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Bahá’ís observe a solar calendar running from 21 March to 20 March. The Bahá’í day begins at sunset.

There are nine holy days in the year when Bahá’ís wish to refrain from work and may request leave for this purpose. Bahá’ís usually hold special events on their holy days and festivals. If they have taken leave for the holy day, the events will not impact further on their work. However, if they have not taken leave for the holy day, they may request sometime during the working day to mark the holy day by attending a meeting or for private prayer.

These days are important for Bahá’ís’ spiritual and religious lives, but they will always seek a reasonable accommodation with their employer about taking leave on these occasions, fully recognizing that it is not always possible to do so.

Ayyám-i-Ha: 26 February – 1 March. Four days (five days in Leap Years) set aside for hospitality, gift-giving and special acts of charity in preparation for the period of fasting that immediately follows.

The Nineteen Day Fast: 2 – 20 March. A 19-day period of fasting each year immediately before the Bahá’í New Year1.

Bahá’ís will wish to refrain from work on the following nine holy days:

Naw-Rúz: 21 March. Technically the Bahá’í new year festival falls at the Spring Equinox; however, it is always celebrated in the West on 21 March.

Ridván: 21 April to 2 May. This is the greatest of Bahá’í festivals, of which the 1st, 9th and 12th days are observed as holy days. The festival commemorates the closing days in 1863 of Bahá’u’lláh’s exile in Baghdad and his announcement that he was the manifestation of God promised by the Báb. Bahá’ís elect their local administrative

Declaration of the Báb: 23 May (the celebration of this anniversary takes place around 2 hours after sunset on 22 May). The Báb was the forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh. His mission was to prepare the world for the coming of Bahá’ u’ lláh.

Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh: 29 May.

Martyrdom of the Báb: 9 July. Commemorates the events surrounding the death of the Báb in 1850.

Birth of the Báb: Falls in October or November and varies according to the lunar calendar.

Birth of Bahá’u’lláh: Falls in October or November and varies according to the lunar calendar.

Prayer times and requirements

Bahá’ís are obliged to say one of three daily prayers: a short prayer to be recited at any time between noon (by the sun) and sunset; a medium one to be recited at three set times during the day; and a long prayer, which includes gestures and prostrations, which can be said at any time during the 24-hour day. Bahá’ís are bidden to wash their hands and face before reciting the obligatory prayer and to face the Qiblih (the Point of Adoration, which, for Bahá’ís, is the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh near ‘Akká in Israel) while reciting the prayer.

Nineteen Day Feast: Local Bahá’í communities gather every nineteen days, preferably on the first day of each Bahá’í month (the day begins at sunset, so the meeting will often take place on the evening before the first day according to the Gregorian calendar). This is the most important community gathering and it consists of three sections: devotional, a period of consultation about community matters, and a period of socializing and refreshments.

Dress codes


Food and drink

There are no dietary restrictions, but the non-medical use of alcohol and other drugs is forbidden.


Bereavement: Bahá’ís honor the bodies of the deceased because they have been associated with the person’s spiritual reality, the soul. Burial should take place as soon as possible after death and the completion of legal formalities and other necessary arrangements but there is no set time for this. However, burial must take place within an hour’s journey of the place of death. The Baha’i religion does not require any specific period of mourning.

Exemptions from fasting: The sick, elderly, and very young are exempt, as are pregnant or nursing mothers, travelers and those doing heavy physical work.

3. Buddhism

Buddhism originated in Northwest India some 2,500 years ago, with the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha (the ‘Awakened One’). His teaching, or Dharma, then spread widely from its Indian home and Buddhist civilizations were established in China, Tibet, Japan, and East Asia generally.

For Buddhists ‘Enlightenment’ or ‘Awakening’ is the true purpose of all spiritual endeavor, a state beyond all self- centered confusion and suffering, often described as Nirvana.

Buddhism assumes the idea of rebirth and the purpose of Buddhist practice is to transcend samsara (the endless cycle of pain and confusion) altogether, not simply to acquire good karma (literally ‘action’) and be born into a more pleasant state. Buddhists believe that how we behave influences our future, both in this life and beyond, and that by learning to act in a skillful way, while at the same time developing deep insight into the nature of life, we can gradually become free from suffering and help others to awaken themselves.

Buddhism has around 376 million followers worldwide.

There is a huge diversity of Buddhist traditions and ways of practicing. The two main Buddhist schools are Theravada Buddhism (found especially in Thailand and Sri Lanka) and Mahayana Buddhism (prevalent in China, Tibet, Japan) which includes the different kinds of Zen, Pure Land and Tibetan Buddhism.

Many Buddhists come from families with ethnic links to one of these traditional Buddhist countries. However, in the last hundred years or so Buddhism has gradually established itself in the West, taking a number of different forms. Consequently, one is equally likely to encounter British people with no family background in Buddhism, who have adopted Buddhism as adults, and increasingly their children who have grown up as Buddhists in a Western milieu.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Buddhist festivals follow a lunar calendar, and their dates will vary from year to year, and generally mark different aspects of the Buddha’s life and activity. Most celebrations will include offerings of light, incense and flowers made to the shrine, chanting of traditional texts and offerings to the Buddhist community (sangha), as well as the reaffirmation of people’s commitment to Buddhist practice.

Dharmacakra day: marks the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching, when he first Turned the ‘Wheel of the Dharma’ at Sarnath. It is celebrated on the full moon in July.

Losar: Losar is a three-day festival which celebrates the Tibetan New Year and is the most important holiday in Tibet. It is celebrated in February, but the exact date varies according to the lunar calendar. Losar is marked with activities that symbolize purification and welcoming in the new. Rituals are performed to drive away any negativity associated with the old year, and people celebrate with feasts and dancing.

Sangha Day (also known as Fourfold Assembly or Magha Puja Day): Sangha Day commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks (arahants) to hear the Buddha preach at Veluvana Vihara.

Kathina: celebrates the largest alms-giving ceremony of the Buddhist year. It occurs at the end of the Vassa, or monsoon, period, in October and November.

Parinirvana (Nirvana Day): a Mahayana Buddhist festival that marks the passing of the Buddha, known as Parinir- vana.

Wesak (also known as Vaishakha Puja): probably the most widely celebrated Buddhist festival which occurs on the full moon in May. It celebrates the Buddha’s birth, and, for some Buddhists, also marks his enlightenment and passing away. The celebration of Wesak is a chance to remember the story of how the Buddha gained Enlightenment, and to reflect on what it might mean for individual Buddhists to move towards Enlightenment themselves. This festival is celebrated with color and gaiety.

Homes may be cleaned and decorated, and Buddhist families often gather at their local temple to hear teachings, make offerings, and perform chanting. Chinese Buddhists may also include a ‘Bathing the Buddha’ ceremony, where water is poured over the shoulders of a Buddha image which serves as a reminder to purify the mind from greed, hatred, and ignorance.

Prayer times and requirements

Buddhists can meditate and chant both at home and at a temple. It is not considered essential to go to a temple to worship with others.

At home Buddhists will often set aside a room or a part of a room as a shrine in which there will normally be a statue of the Buddha, candles, flowers, and an incense burner.

Traditional Buddhist temples reflect the cultural style of the country of origin, but in many countries many places dedicated to Buddhist practice are housed in converted buildings and may have a more Western look. The focal point will be a room containing a Buddha shrine, where people can either sit on the floor or on chairs. The practice of removing one’s shoes before entering the Shrine Room is universal. Activities will include the chanting of Buddhist vows and traditional texts, making offerings, meditation, and Dharma teaching.

Dress codes

There are no particular rules about dress, but it is common to remove hats and shoes when entering a Shrine room, and for people to observe a general modesty of appearance. Since Buddhist precepts include not doing harm to others, some may avoid wearing clothing which might offend this principle, such as leather.

Food and drink

The principle of non-harm means that many Buddhists are vegetarian, but this is by no means universal. Similarly, while many Buddhists abstain from alcohol, others may not.


Central to Buddhism are the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma (teaching) and Sangha (community). These are also known as the Three Refuges.

Buddhist practice can be summarized as having three aspects: Shila (discipline), Samadhi (meditation) and Prajna (wisdom). Shila explains how to act in a skillful way so that Buddhist practitioners can avoid harming other beings, and instead behave so that they benefit both themselves and the world. Meditation covers all the various methods for working with mind and the emotions which lead towards deep insight. Wisdom arises from following a disciplined lifestyle and understanding the nature of things through meditation and study.

Karma: Karma is a concept encountered in several Eastern religions. Buddhist teachings about karma explain that our past actions affect the situation we find ourselves now, either positively or negatively, and that our present actions will in turn affect us in the future. Buddhism uses an agricultural metaphor to explain how sowing good or bad deeds will result in good or bad fruit.

On a larger scale, karma determines where a person will be reborn and their status in their next life. Good karma can result in being born in one of the higher realms, including various god-like states. Bad karma can cause rebirth as an animal, a hungry ghost or as a hell being. A human life is thought to be the most conducive to reaching enlightenment and Buddhists will often aspire to be reborn as a human being, in a place where the Buddha’s teaching is practiced. Skillful actions that lead to good karmic outcomes are based upon motives of generosity, compassion, kindness and sympathy, and clear mindfulness or wisdom. The opposite motives of greed, hatred, and delusion, when acted upon, lead to bad karmic results.

Karma is not an external force, not a system of punishment or reward dealt out by some kind of creator god. The concept is more accurately understood as a natural law similar to gravity.

4. Candomblé

Candomblé is a religion based on African beliefs which is particularly popular in Brazil. It is also practiced in other countries and has as many as two million followers.

The religion is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs which originated from different regions in Africa. It has also incorporated some aspects of the Catholic faith over time.

The name Candomblé means ‘dance in honor of the Gods.’ Practitioners of Candomblé believe in one all-powerful God called Oludumaré who is served by lesser deities. These deities are called orixas. (They can also be called voduns and inkices.) Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own individual orixa which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector.

Music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies. Specially choreographed dances are performed by worshippers to enable them to become possessed by the orixas.

There is no concept of good or bad in Candomblé. Each person is only required to fulfill his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is. Candomblé is an oral tradition and therefore has no holy scriptures. The first official temple was founded at the beginning of the 19th century in Salvador, Bahia in Brazil.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

The American Candomblé Church (a private religious organization) lists the following religious festivals as days of obligation:

Nzambi: Easter Sunday the anniversary celebration of the Montenegro family Eggun:  May 1

Exu Maioral:  September 23

Exu rei:  March 21

Exu and Pomba Gira: August 1

Aje:  October 31

Eggun:  November 1- 2

Kobayende:  December 17

Centelle Ndoki:  October 31

Gurufinda:  Glorious Saturday

Lucero:  January 3

Madre de Agua:  January 1

Calunga:  December 31

Mama Sholan:  March 31

Cabo Rondo:  January 20

Siete Rayos:  September 30

Tiembla Tierra:  Last Sunday of the year

Zarabanda:  April 23

Ozain:  Good Friday

Pretos Velhos and all the Congo spirits: May 1

Lukankanse:  February 9

Tiempo Viejo:  October 4

Ozain, Exu, Aje, Eggun:  September 29

El Senor and la Senhora del Cemeterio:  October 16

Prayer times and requirements

Worship takes the form of specially choreographed dances and hymns.

Dress codes


Food and drink


5. Christianity

Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament of the Bible, that he is the son of God, and that God sent his son to earth to save humanity from the consequences of its sins.

One of the most important concepts in Christianity is that of Jesus giving his life at the Crucifixion and rising from the dead at the Resurrection. Christians believe that there is only one God, but that there are three elements to this one God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christian worship grew out of Jewish worship and is the most popular religion in the world with over 2 billion adherents. 42 million Britons see themselves as nominally Christian, with 6 million who are actively practicing.

There are many separate Christian churches, with a wide variety of different rituals, traditions, and requirements. They include:

The Amish

Baptist churches



Church of England

Church of Scotland

Coptic Orthodox Church

Eastern Orthodox Church

Exclusive Brethren

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Methodist Church



Roman Catholic Church

Salvation Army

Seventh-day Adventists

United Reformed Church

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

The Christian holy day is Sunday. Some Christians may prefer not to work on a Sunday.

Some holydays, like Christmas Day, happen on the same date every year, while others, such as Easter are fixed according to a lunar calendar and so move around from year to year within a range of dates. In a number of countries, many public holidays are based around the key Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter.

Some denominations of Christianity also celebrate Saints’ days, which happen on fixed dates. In many countries these days do not tend to be public holidays.

Advent: the period leading up to Christmas; begins on the Sunday closest to 30 November. Christmas Eve: 24 December. Christmas Day: 25 December. Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Annunciation: 25 March. Marks the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, during which he told her that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Annunciation marks the actual incarnation of Jesus Christ – the moment that Jesus was conceived and that the Son of God became the son of the Virgin.

Candlemas: commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus. This day also marks the ritual presentation of the baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Corpus Christi: celebrates the Eucharist as the body of Christ, celebrated by Roman Catholics and other Christians to proclaim the truth of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the actual body of Christ during Mass. Some countries celebrate the festival with a procession that carries the consecrated wafer through the streets.

Epiphany: early January. Celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’ birth. For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from 6 January until Ash Wednesday. Others, including the Roman Catholic tradition, observe Epiphany as a single day.

Lent: 40-day period before Easter. Starts on Ash Wednesday, a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities.

Pentecost: 7th Sunday after Easter. Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the Christian church, and the start of the church’s mission to the world. Christians celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit.

All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas): 1 November. The day after All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en). Celebrated only by Anglicans and Roman Catholics. It is an opportunity for followers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. As part of this day of obligation, followers are required to attend church and try not to do any servile work.

Ascension Day: 40 days after Easter. Celebrates Jesus’s ascension to heaven after he was resurrected on Easter Day.

Easter: The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is marked on Good Friday and his resurrection is commemorated on Easter Sunday. It is the most important Christian festival, and the one celebrated with the greatest joy.

The Feast of the Guardian Angels: 2 October. A Catholic festival. Catholics believe that each soul, including Christians and non-Christians, has an angel assigned to it to give guidance throughout its life on earth.

Palm Sunday: Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday commemorates Christ’s triumphant arrival in Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd.

Maundy Thursday:  Maundy Thursday of Holy Week is so named because it is recognized as the anniversary of the Last Supper and the beginning of the institution of the Eucharist.

Mothering Sunday: Fourth Sunday of Lent. Traditionally a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother and family. Today it is a day when children give presents, flowers, and home-made cards to their mothers.

Prayer times and requirements

Christian worship involves praising God in music and speech, readings from scripture, prayers of various sorts, a sermon, and various holy ceremonies.

Different churches, even within the same denomination, will use very different styles of worship.

While worship is often thought of only as services in which Christians come together in a group, individual Christians can worship God on their own, and in any place. There are no specific times or physical requirements for Christians to worship.

Dress codes

Although there are no particular dress codes which are mandatory for Christians, the more devout or those who are more conservative are likely to consider that they should dress with modesty. Although not mandatory, the cross on which Jesus was crucified is symbolic for some Christians who choose to wear it as a symbol of their faith.

Food and drink


6. Hinduism

Unlike most other religions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. Throughout its extensive history, there have been many key figures teaching different philosophies and writing numerous holy books. Hinduism is therefore frequently characterized as ‘a way of life’ or ‘a family of religions,’ rather than a single religion.

Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by a large number of deities. They believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by Karma. Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived.

The main Hindu texts are the Vedas and their supplements (books based on the Vedas). Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘knowledge.’ These scriptures do not mention the word ‘Hindu,’ but many scriptures discuss dharma, which can be rendered as ‘code of conduct,’ ‘law,’ or ‘duty.’

Hinduism is the religion of the majority of people in India (80%) and Nepal. It has over 900 million adherents worldwide. The 2001 census recorded 559,000 Hindus in Britain (around 1% of the population).

The most fundamental Hindu deity is the trinity of Brahma:




Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Diwali: The Hindu festival of lights, extends over five days. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. The date is set by the Hindu calendar so varies in the Western calendar but usually falls in October or November. Businesspeople regard it as a favorable day to start a new accounting year because of the festival’s association with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Diwali is very much a time for buying and exchanging gifts.

Ganesh Chaturthi: the birthday of Lord Ganesh. Ganesh is depicted with an elephant’s head on a human body and in the Hindu tradition he is the son of Lord Siva and the Goddess Parvati. He is known as the Remover of Obstacles and is prayed to particularly when people are beginning a new enterprise or starting a new business. Ganesh is also known as the patron god of travelling. In India, in places such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, the festival is celebrated for ten days and is a joyous event and regarded as a public occasion. In other places it is simply celebrated at home and hymns are sung and offerings made to Ganesh. Sweets are also distributed because in Hindu legend Ganesh liked them.

Hanuman Jayanti: commemorates the birth of Hanuman Ji, the monkey God, the symbol of strength and energy. This is a very popular festival. It can be celebrated individually or in the temple. Some people have different rituals, such as sacred fire ceremonies. In India particularly, colorful processions fill the streets. Every celebration is always accompanied by a period of fasting and then a big vegetarian feast.

Holi: welcomes the Spring and celebrates new life and energy of the season. Although Holi has religious roots, not much religious activity is involved in its celebration. Holi is the most energetic Indian festival, filled with fun and good humor; even the strict rules of separation between castes are abandoned. Holi is also called ‘The Festival of Colors,’ and people celebrate the festival by smearing each other with paint and throwing colored powder and dye around. Bonfires are lit during Holi, and food offerings are roasted. The festival is officially celebrated on the day after full moon during the month of Phalunga, usually in February/March.

Krishna Jayanti (Janamashtami): marks the birth of Krishna, one of the most popular Gods in the Hindu pantheons. Celebrations are spread over two days. The first day is called Krishan ashtami or Gokul ashtami. The second day is known as Kaal ashtami or more popularly Janam ashtami. For the 48-hour period Hindus are likely to forego sleep and instead sing traditional Hindu songs. Some Hindus choose to fast for the first day of Janamashtami, choosing only to eat after the midnight celebrations. Dances and songs are used to venerate and remember this supreme God. In Temples images of Krishna are bathed and placed in cradles.

Mahashivratri (also known as Shivaratri):  is dedicated to Shiva, one of the deities of the Hindu Trinity. Mahashivratri is celebrated during the night and day that come just before the new moon. Each new moon is dedicated to Shiva, but Mahashivratri is especially important because it is the night when he danced the ‘Tandav,’ his cosmic dance. It also celebrates the wedding of Shiva and Sati, the mother divine. Devotees of Shiva observe a fast-during Mahashivratri and stay up all night at a place of worship.

Makar Sankrant: is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu calendar and celebrates the sun’s journey into the northern hemisphere. It is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India.

Navaratri (Navratri) (nine nights):  is one of the greatest Hindu festivals. It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Navratri takes place at the beginning of October around harvest time and, as the name implies, this festival is celebrated for nine days. Navaratri is a festival in which God is adored as Mother (Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has emphasized to such an extent the motherhood of God). A period of introspection and purification, Navaratri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new ventures. The tenth day of the festival is called Dasera, and marks the triumph of good over evil, and also the motherhood of God.

Dussera:  In northern parts of India, Hindus also celebrate Rama’s victory over Ravana during this time. This festival is called Dussera. The ten days represent the ten heads of Ravana, and each day is used by Hindus to get rid of bad characteristics, such as lust and jealousy.

Raksha Bandhan:  is the festival that celebrates brotherhood and love. It is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Sravana in the lunar calendar. The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie. Traditionally, during the festival sisters tie a rakhi, a bracelet made of interwoven red and gold threads, around their brothers’ wrists to celebrate their relationship. Following these customs, the rakhi is believed to remove sin from one hand and provide safety to the other. The protection offered by a rakhi is believed to remain for a year. At the end of the ceremony the sister places a sweet in her mouth. Following this, her brother gives her a small monetary gift of appreciation.

This festival has evolved over the years to encompass the importance of many people in Hindu society, yet foremost it continues to honor and uphold the relationship between a sister and brother.

Rama Navami: celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. There is an element of fasting. Some people do not eat certain foods, particularly things like onions, garlic, some spices and wheat products. The festival is a focal point for moral reflection and being especially charitable to others.

Swaminarayan Jayanti: celebrates the birthday of the founder of the Swaminarayan tradition. Devotees celebrate his birthday by fasting and offering a large variety of food to sacred images of Swaminarayan in temples. At precisely 10.10pm, believed to be the time of Swaminarayan’s birth, the arti ritual is performed symbolizing the auspicious birth.

Thaipusam:  is about faith, endurance, and penance. When it is celebrated in Malaysia, it can stretch for 3 or 4 days, and attract around one and a half million people each year. Thaipusam is held in the last week of January or the beginning of February, depending on the alignment of the sun, moon, and planets, and takes place 13 kilometers outside the Malaysian capital city, Kuala Lumpur in a sacred Hindu shrine called the Batu Caves.

Vaisakhi (Baisakhi): is celebrated according to the solar calendar and is marked in different ways across India, the UK and several other countries. People go to the temple to pay respect and seek blessings, and gifts and sweets are exchanged between friends and family members.

Varsha Pratipada: is the Hindu Spring New Year and, although some devotees celebrate this day, it is not celebrated in the West.

Prayer times and requirements

Hindu worship, or puja, involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras). Central to Hindu worship is the image, or icon, which can be worshipped either at home or in the temple. The majority of Hindu homes have a shrine where offerings are made, and prayers are said. A shrine can be anything: a room, a small altar or simply pictures or statues of the deity.

Hindu worship is primarily an individual act, rather than a communal one, as it involves making personal offerings to the deity. Worshippers repeat the names of their favorite gods and goddesses and repeat mantras. Water, fruit, flowers, and incense are offered to God.

Family members often worship together. Rituals should strictly speaking be performed three times a day. Some Hindus, but not all, worship wearing the sacred thread (over the left shoulder and hanging to the right hip). This is cotton for the Brahmin (priest), hemp for the Kshatriya (ruler) and wool for the vaishya (merchants).

Hindu religious rites are classified into three categories:

Nitya: performed daily. Consists of offerings made at the home shrine or performing puja to the family deities.

Naimittika: only occurs at certain times during the year, such as celebrations of the festivals, thanksgiving and so on.

Kamya: “optional” but highly desirable, for example Pilgrimage.

Dress codes

Women will often adorn themselves with a red spot (bindi) on the forehead to denote their faith. Married Hindu women usually wear black beads or a specially consecrated gold chain (mangalsutra) round their necks and will not remove this. A minority of Hindu men wear a small ponytail in their hair (shikha) and orthodox Hindu men usually have a religious marking (tilak) on their foreheads.

Food and drink

Hindus do not eat beef, and many are vegetarian. Some Hindus may require special consideration at times of ritual fasting on certain days like Janmashtami or Ram Navami.


Pilgrimage, regarded as an undertaking to see and be seen by the deity is an important aspect of Hinduism. Popular pilgrimage places are rivers, but temples, mountains, and other sacred sites in India are also destinations for pilgrimages, as sites where the gods may have appeared or become manifest in the world.

7. Islam

The word Islam means ‘submission to the will of God.’ Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Muslims believe that Islam was revealed over 1400 years ago in Mecca. Muslims believe that there is only One God – and the Arabic name for God is Allah.

According to Muslims, God sent a number of prophets to mankind to teach them how to live according to his law. Jesus, Moses, and Abraham are respected as prophets of God and Muslims believe that the final Prophet was Muhammad.

Muslims believe the Sunnah is the practical example of Prophet Muhammad and that there are five basic Pillars of Islam. These pillars are the declaration of faith, praying five times a day, giving money to charity, fasting and, on at least one occasion, a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Muslims believe in the Day of Judgement, when the life of every human being will be assessed to decide whether they go to heaven or hell; and in Predestination, that Allah has the knowledge of all that will happen – though this does not stop human beings making free choices. The heart of faith for all Muslims is obedience to Allah’s will.

In Islam there are no pictures or statues. Muslims believe these are blasphemous, since there can be no image of Allah, who is wholly spirit.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over 1 billion followers.

The principal texts of Islam are the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Muslims worship in a building called a mosque. The principal subdivisions of Islam are Sufism, Sunni, and Shi’a.

Shahadah: is the declaration of faith. “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Reciting this statement three times in front of witnesses is all that anyone need do to become a Muslim. A Muslim is expected to recite this statement aloud, with total sincerity, fully understanding what it means.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Al-Hijra: 1 Muharram – New Year’s Day. Marks the Hijra (or Hegira) in 622 CE when the Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina and set up the first Islamic state. It is a low-key event in the Muslim world, celebrated less than the two major festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. There is no specific religious ritual required on this day, but Muslims will think about the general meaning of Hijra, and regard this as a good time for ‘New Year Resolutions.’

Ashura: 10 Muharram. A day of fasting for Sunni Muslims since the days of the early Muslim community. It marks two historical events: the day Nuh (Noah) left the Ark, and the day that Musa (Moses) was saved from the Egyptians by Allah. Shi’a Muslims in particular use the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet, in 680 CE. In Shi’ite communities this is a solemn day: plays re-enacting the martyrdom are often staged and many take part in mourning rituals. Every year in London Shi’a Muslims gather for a mourning procession and speeches at Marble Arch. The procession attracts up to 3,000 men, women, and children from many different ethnic backgrounds.

Eid ul Adha: 10 Dhul-Hijja – the festival of sacrifice. This is a four-day public holiday in Muslim countries. The festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to. Each Muslim, as they celebrate, reminds themselves of their own submission to God, and their own willingness to sacrifice anything to God’s wishes. During the festival Muslims who can afford to, sacrifice domestic animals, usually sheep, as a symbol of Ibraham’s sacrifice. As with all festivals there are prayers, and also presents. Eid is also a time of forgiveness and making amends.

Eid ul Fitr: 1 Shawwal. Muslims are not only celebrating the end of fasting but thanking Allah for the help and strength that he gave them throughout the previous month to help them practice self-control. The festival begins when the first sight of the new moon is seen in the sky. The celebratory atmosphere is increased by everyone wearing best or new clothes and decorating their homes.

There are special services out of doors and in Mosques, processions through the streets, and of course, a special celebratory meal – eaten during daytime, the first daytime meal Muslims will have had in a month.

Lailat al Miraj: 27 Rajab. The night journey and ascent of the Prophet Muhammad, and the revelation of Salat. The festival is celebrated by telling the story of how the Prophet Muhammad was visited by two archangels while he was asleep, who purified his heart and filled him with knowledge and faith.

Ramadan: occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (each year it is around 11 days earlier than the previous year in the western calendar). It is important because the Qur’an was first revealed during this month and Muslims believe the gates of Heaven are open and the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained up in Hell. During Ramadan, Mosques are filled with worshippers who go to attend Taraweeh Prayers, which usually last for one and a half to two hours. Some Muslims may also go into seclusion (I’tikaf) during the last ten nights of Ramadan. Some live in the mosque during this time for serious reflection and worship. Others spend a few hours at the mosque or home.

Lailat al Qadr: 27 Ramadan – Night of Power. Marks the night in which the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by Allah. Muslims regard this as the most important event in history. This is a time that Muslims spend in study and prayer. Some will spend the whole night in prayer or in reciting the Qur’an to stand in prayer on this one night is said to be better than a thousand months of worship. Lailat al Qadr is a good time to ask for forgiveness.

Lailat ul Bara’h: 15 Shabaan – Night of Forgiveness. Two weeks before Ramadan, it is the time when Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins and believe that on this night one’s destiny is fixed for the year ahead. On this night, Muslims pray and ask God for forgiveness either at the mosque or at home. Muslims may visit the graves of relatives and the giving to charity is also traditional. Although not a religious requirement, in some parts of the world there are firework displays that mark this night.

Milad un Nabi: 12 Rabi-ul-Awwal – Birthday of the Prophet. Milad un Nabi marks the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslim parents will tell stories of the Prophet’s life to their children. There are only restricted festivities on Eid Milad-Un-Nabi because the same day also marks the anniversary of the death of the Prophet. As well as recounting the Prophet’s life, salutations and songs in his praise are recited. In some countries, streets and mosques are decorated and illuminated at night. Some Muslims donate to charity. Families gather together, feasts are arranged, and food is served to guests and the poor.

Prayer times and requirements

Salat is the obligatory Muslim prayer ritual. Muslims pray at five set times of day: dawn, before sunrise; midday, after the sun passes its highest; the late part of the afternoon; just after sunset; and between sunset and midnight. All Muslims try to do this. Carrying it out is not only highly spiritual but connects each Muslim to all others around the world, and to all those who have uttered the same words and made the same movements at different times in Islamic history.

Takbir is entering into the state of prayer by glorifying God. Muslims face towards Mecca. To begin the act of prayer, they say ‘Allahu Akbar’ meaning God is great, raising the hands to the ears or shoulder. Although Muslims can pray to God at any time or place, and in any language, there are five prayers they are obligated to perform throughout the day. They follow the same pattern so everyone can follow in congregation, and set prayers are always recited in Arabic.

The set prayers are not just phrases to be spoken. Prayer for a Muslim involves uniting mind, soul, and body in worship; so, a Muslim carrying out these prayers will perform a whole series of set movements that go with the words of the prayer.

In the ritual prayers each individual Muslim is in direct contact with Allah. There is no need of a priest as an intermediary; while there is a prayer leader in the mosque (the imam) they are not a priest, simply a person who knows a great deal about Islam.

Muslims can pray anywhere, but it is especially good to pray with others in a mosque. Praying together in a congregation helps Muslims to realize that all humanity is one, and all are equal in the sight of Allah. Midday prayers on Fridays must be said in congregation.

Muslims must be clean before they pray. They make sure of this by performing ritual washing, called wudhu. Mosques have washing facilities (if providing prayer rooms, employers should where possible also try to provide suitable facilities for ablution). Muslims must be clean and wear good clothes before they present themselves before God. Muslims start in the name of God, and begin by washing the right, and then the left hand three times.

While women can attend the mosque, it is more usual for women to pray at home. Men and women pray separately.

Dress codes

Hijab: The most visible form of hijab is the head covering that many Muslim women wear but hijab is actually an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition. It is the principle of modesty and includes behavior, as well as dress, for both males and females. Hijab goes beyond the head scarf and can refer to the complete covering of everything except the hands, face, and feet in long, loose, and non-see-through garments. Muslim women are required to observe the hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry. Hijab does not need to be worn in front of other Muslim women, but there is debate about what can be revealed to non-Muslim women.

Modesty rules are open to a wide range of interpretations. In the English-speaking world, use of the word hijab has become limited to mean the covering on the head of Muslim woman. However, this is more accurately called a khimaar.

Niqab: is the term used to refer to the piece of cloth which covers the face and women who wear it usually cover their hands also. Although most scholars agree that hijab is obligatory, only a minority of them say that the niqab is. The most authentic ruling according to the majority of scholars is that it is not necessary, and, unlike hijab, there is no sin if it is not worn. Some of these scholar’s state that wearing the niqab as an act of extra piety, provided they do not believe it is an obligation, will be rewarded.

Food and drink

Islam lays down what is permissible (halal) and prohibited (haraam) and also stipulates that animals are to be slaughtered in accordance with strict principles (dhabiha). There are some similarities between the dietary laws observed by Muslims (for example the prohibition of the consumption of pork and all pig products) and the kashrut (kosher) requirements of Judaism.

The consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants is prohibited for Muslims.

Muslims also fast (Sawm) during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During the 29/30 days of Ramadan all adult Muslims must give up the following things during the hours of daylight – food or drink of any sort, smoking, including passive smoking, and sexual activity. Muslims do not only abstain from physical things during Ramadan, but they are also expected to do their best to avoid evil thoughts and deeds as well.

During Ramadan, many Muslims will try to eat a large meal called suhur just before dawn. When daylight is over, most Muslims will break or open the fast with dates or water. The evening meals during Ramadan are occasions for family and community get-togethers.

Muslims who are physically or mentally unwell may be excused some of these, as may those who are under twelve years old, the very old, those who are pregnant, breast-feeding, menstruating, or travelling. If an adult does not fast for the reasons above, they should try to make up the fast at a later date or make a donation to the poor instead.


Sharia: All aspects of a Muslim’s life are governed by Sharia. Sharia law comes from a combination of sources including the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book), the Hadith (sayings and conduct of the prophet Muhammad) and fatwas (the rulings of Islamic scholars).

Hajj: Once a year, Muslims of every ethnic group, color, social status, and culture gather together in Mecca and stand before the Kaaba praising Allah together. The Hajjis or pilgrims wear simple white clothes called Ihram. During the Hajj, the Pilgrims perform acts of worship, and they renew their sense of purpose in the world.

Mecca is a place that is holy to all Muslims. It is so holy that no non-Muslim is allowed to enter. The Hajj occurs in the month of Dhul Hijjah which is the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is the journey that every sane adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able.

Zakat: is the compulsory giving of a set proportion of one’s wealth to charity. It is regarded as a type of worship and of self-purification. Zakat is the third Pillar of Islam. Zakat does not refer to charitable gifts given out of kindness or generosity, but to the systematic giving of 2.5% of one’s wealth each year to benefit the poor.

Gambling is forbidden.

Physical contact between men and women is discouraged and some Muslims may, for example, refuse to shake hands with members of the other sex.

8. Jainism

Jainism is an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. The word Jain is derived from the root Jina which means conqueror of inner voices. A true Jain is one who has reached the inner purity of the soul and is not tainted by greed, violence, or vices of any kind. Jains believe in reincarnation and the aim of Jain life is to achieve liberation of the soul. Mahavira is regarded as the man who gave Jainism its present-day form.

Jains are strict vegetarians and live in a way that minimizes their use of the world’s resources. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself.

Jainism is a religion of self-help in which people live an ethical life. There are no Gods or spiritual beings that will help human beings. Jainism has no priests. Its professional religious people are monks and nuns, who lead strict and ascetic lives observing the highest values of purity. Jains pay special homage to 24 individuals known as tirthankara who show the path to enlightenment, and they are often depicted in statues in Jain temples.

The three guiding principles of Jainism, the ‘three jewels,’ are right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct. The supreme principle of Jain living is non-violence (ahimsa). This is one of the 5 mahavratas (the 5 great vows). The other mahavratas are non-attachment to possessions, not lying, not stealing, and sexual restraint (with celibacy as the ideal).

There are around 7 million Jains globally and most live in India, where according to the 2001 Census of India there are around 4.2 million. However, census figures may underestimate the true number of followers since many Jains identify themselves as Hindu. There are around 25,000-35,000 Jains in Britain.

The principal Jain texts are the Agamas.

The two main Jain sects are the Digambara (in which monks are “sky clad” (naked)) and the Svetambara (in which monks and nuns wear white).

The two sects agree on the basics of Jainism, but disagree on details of the life of Mahavira, the spiritual status of women, whether monks should wear clothes, rituals, which texts should be accepted as scripture. The Digambara sect is more austere and is closer in its ways to the Jains at the time of Mahavira.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Mahavira Jayanti: This festival celebrates the day of Mahavira’s birth. Jains will gather in temples to hear readings of the teachings of Mahavira. Images of Mahavira are paraded through the streets with much pomp and ceremony.

Paryushana: means ‘to stay in one place,’ which signifies a time of reflection and repentance for the Jain devotee. Originally this was primarily a monastic practice. This festival consists of eight days of intensive fasting, repentance, and pujas.

Daslakshan: is the 10-day Digambara festival of forgiveness.

Divali: In Jainism Divali has special significance, as on this day in 527 BCE (according to Svetambara tradition) Mahavira gave his last teachings and attained ultimate liberation. During Divali parents will often give sweets to their children, and lamps are lit all over India. Some deeply religious Jains will also fast for the two days of Divali.

Kartak Purnima: Following Divali this important festival is considered to be an auspicious time for pilgrimage to the sacred sites associated with the Jain religion.

Mauna Agyaras: This is a day-long observance of fasting and silence.

Prayer times and requirements

Jain prayers are not like the God-focused prayers found in Christianity. Instead, Jain prayers tend to recall the great qualities of the tirthankaras and remind the individual of various teachings. As part of a Jain’s spiritual routine they will endeavor to pray before dawn, before lunch and in the evening; visit the temple for worship and hearing teaching (these visits are often replaced by ceremonies in the home) and at some point in the day, try to fit in a 48 minute period of self-study and static meditation known as samayik.

Before the ritual worshippers wash themselves and put on clean unstitched clothes that are normally used only for worship.

Dress codes


Food and drink

Fasting is quite common in Jain spirituality. Although Jains may take it upon themselves to fast at any time, most will fast at special times during the year, at festivals and holy days. The monsoon period (in India) is a time of fasting, and fasting is a feature of Jain festivals. There are several types of fasting: complete fasting: giving up food and water completely for a period; partial fasting: eating less than you need to avoid hunger; limiting the number of items of food eaten; and giving up favorite foods.

Modern Jains respect animals and the environment and eat a diet that encourages this.


Pilgrimage: plays an important part in Jain life although there are no compulsory pilgrimages.

Ahimsa: Jains believe that the only way to save one’s own soul is to protect every other soul, and so central Jain teaching, and ethics is ahimsa (non-violence). Literally translated, Ahimsa means to be without harm; to be utterly harmless, not only to oneself and others, but to all forms of life, from the largest mammals to the smallest bacteria. In following this discipline Jain monks may be observed treading and sweeping in their temples with the utmost of care so as to avoid accidentally crushing crawling insects or wearing muslin cloths over their mouths in case they should accidentally swallow a fly.

9. Jehovah’s Witness

Jehovah’s Witnesses are members of a Christian-based religious movement.

The denomination was founded in the USA towards the end of the 19th century, under the leadership of Charles Taze Russell.

Members of the movement are probably best known for their door-to-door evangelical work, witnessing from house to house, offering Bible literature and recruiting and converting people to the truth.

Although Christian-based, the group believes that the traditional Christian Churches have deviated from the true teachings of the Bible, and do not work in full harmony with God.

The traditional Christian Churches, for their part, do not regard the movement as a mainstream Christian denomination because it rejects the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which it regards as both irrational and unbiblical.

Witnesses believe that worshipping God properly means living properly – which includes living honest, truthful, and sober lives.

The Bible is the scriptural text of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are about 6.9 million active Witnesses in the world, including 1 million in the USA and 130,000 in the UK.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Memorial of Christ’s Death: The most important religious event of the year for Jehovah’s Witnesses is the commemoration of the Memorial of Christ’s Death, which takes place on the anniversary of the Last Supper, calculated according to the lunar calendar in use in Christ’s time. They believe that this is the only observance commanded by Christ.

Christian festivals: Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas or Easter because they believe that these festivals are based on (or massively contaminated by) pagan customs and religions. They point out that Jesus did not ask his followers to mark his birthday.

Secular festivals: Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays or other secular festivals that originate in other religions.

Prayer times and requirements

Jehovah’s Witnesses have no professional clergy. Religion occupies much of the time of each Witness. They attend meetings regularly, and read and study their faith intensely, both on their own and in home groups.

Dress codes

Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to dress modestly; men will often be relatively formally attired (e.g., jackets and ties) and women will often wear skirts/dresses to below the knee.

Food and drink

Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid eating the flesh of animals that have not been properly bled because they believe it is wrong to eat blood.


The Cross: Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus did not die on a cross but on single stake. Modern Witnesses regard the Cross as a pagan symbol and do not use it.

The Watchtower: is the Witnesses’ magazine and the primary Bible study aid for members of the faith.

Missionary work: involves visiting door-to-door to discuss scripture with people they meet. Witnesses do this work without pay and some, called pioneers, spend 70 hours a month in door-to-door witnessing. Witnesses believe that missionary work should take priority over a career, so many will choose lower-paid jobs with limited hours to have more time to devote to their faith.

Medical ethics: Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions.

10. Judaism

Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions and was founded over 3,500 years ago in the Middle East.

Jews believe that there is only one God, with whom they have a covenant and by whom they were appointed to be his chosen people, in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behavior to the world. In exchange for all the good that God has done for them, Jewish people keep God’s laws and try to bring holiness into every aspect of their lives.

Jews worship in Synagogues and spiritual leaders are called Rabbis.

The Old Testament is the principal written text, but there is also a substantial body of oral law which is codified in the ‘Talmud.’

Globally, there are 13.1 million Jewish people (The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute 2007). The Jewish population is concentrated in major conurbations, notably London.

There are many people who identify themselves as Jewish without necessarily believing in, or observing, any Jewish law.

Historically, Jews are divided between those with Ashkenazi (eastern European) roots and those with Sephardi (Iberian and North African) roots.

Jews believe that a Jew is someone who is the child of a Jewish mother, although some groups also accept children of Jewish fathers as Jewish. A Jew traditionally cannot lose the technical ‘status’ of being a Jew by adopting another faith, they simply lose the religious element of their Jewish identity. Someone who is not born a Jew can convert to Judaism, but only if they are able to demonstrate a strong commitment to Jewish principles.

The main subdivisions of Judaism are:

  • Conservative Judaism
  • Reform Judaism
  • Liberal Judaism
  • Orthodox Judaism
  • Strictly Orthodox Judaism (Charedi)
  • Masorti Judaism

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

The following festivals are all likely to prevent an observant Jew from working:

Sabbath: The Sabbath begins at nightfall every Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday. Observant Jews abstain from ’mundane’ activities on the Sabbath (Shabbat) i.e., activity which one traditionally does during a normal working week. This would include, for example, not watching television and not rushing to the demands of the telephone or a busy work schedule. Chores like shopping, cleaning, and cooking are also prohibited and must be finished before sunset on Friday. Shabbat is often a time for families and friends to spend time together at festive meals and at the Synagogue. Sabbath candles are lit at sunset on a Friday, a ritual usually performed by the woman of the house. It is traditional to attend synagogue for prayers before the Sabbath meal on Friday evening, and also on Saturday morning before a Sabbath Lunch. Jewish law says that Jews must not carry any item or push things outside the home during the Sabbath.

Passover: one of the most important religious festivals in the Jewish calendar. Jews celebrate the Feast of Passover to commemorate the liberation of the Children of Israel who were led out of Egypt by Moses. Especially stringent dietary laws are applicable during Passover when no bread can be consumed, nor any product that has ‘risen’ in its preparation. Four days of leave may be required to observe Passover.

Rosh Hashanah: is the Jewish New Year festival and commemorates the creation of the world. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to evaluate one’s deeds during the preceding year. Jews believe that God balances a person’s good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds and begins the process of deciding what the coming year will hold for them. Two days of leave may be required to observe Rosh Hashanah.

Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement: Yom Kippur, the most sacred and solemn day of the Jewish year, occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah and brings the Days of Repentance to a close. On Yom Kippur, God makes the final decision on what the next year will hold for each person. The metaphorical ‘Book of Life’ is closed and sealed, and those who have properly repented for their sins will be forgiven. Most Jews spend the majority of this day in the synagogue and fast for 25 hours.

Shavuot: also known as the festival or feast of ‘Weeks,’ it takes place seven weeks (fifty days) after the first day of the festival of Passover. Shavuot marks the time that the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is considered an incredibly important historical event. Two days of leave may be required to observe Shavuot.

Sukkot: commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land and celebrates the way in which God protected them under difficult desert conditions. Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths. Four days of Leave may be required to observe Sukkot.

Tisha B’av: is the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av. Although religious prohibitions do not apply as they do in the cases of the festivals above, it is a solemn occasion because it commemorates a series of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the years, many of which have coincidentally happened on this day. Tisha B’av is observed with prayers and fasting. Shaving and the wearing of cosmetics and leather are banned.

The following festivals are important but do not necessarily require leave from work:

Purim: commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by the courage of a young Jewish woman called Esther. It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations, to perform plays and parodies, and to wear fancy dress. Purim is not subject to the restrictions on work that affect some other holidays.

Hanukkah: or Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights, often falls around Christmas time and is celebrated for eight days. The word Hanukkah means rededication and commemorates the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom at the time of the Greek empire.

Tu B’Shevat (Tu Bishvat): Tu B’Shevat is the Jewish ‘New Year for Trees.’ On Tu B’Shevat Jews often eat fruits associated with the Holy Land, especially the ones mentioned in the Torah.

Yom Hashoah: is a day set aside for Jews to remember the Holocaust. The name comes from the Hebrew word ‘shoah,’ which means ‘whirlwind.’ Yom Hashoah was established in Israel in 1959 by law. It falls on the 27th of the Jewish month of Nissan, a date chosen because it is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Prayer times and requirements

Observant Jews pray three times a day; morning, afternoon, and evening. The Jewish prayer book (siddur) has special services set down for this.

The synagogue is the Jewish place of worship, but is also used as a place to study, and often as a community center as well. In Orthodox synagogues men and women sit separately and married women cover their hair. In a Reform synagogue men and women can sit together. Traditional Jewish worship requires a minyan (a quorum of ten adult males) to be present. Adult men (i.e., those over the age of 13) often wear a Tallit or prayer shawl for morning prayer.

Dress codes

Clothing worn by Jews can vary according to which denomination of Judaism they adhere to. Most Jews will cover their heads when praying, attending the synagogue or at a religious event or festival.

Kippah: Orthodox Jewish men always cover their heads by wearing a skullcap. Liberal or Reform Jews see the covering of the head as optional.

Women also cover their heads by wearing a scarf, a hat or in some cases, a specially made wig.

Food and drink

Observant Jews will abide by the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher). The best-known proscription is that they should not eat certain types of meat, such as pork, eating only meat or poultry that has been killed in the approved way, called shechita. The slaughterer must be a specially trained Jew called a shochet. The animal must be killed by cutting the throat with a single stroke and the animal must be allowed to bleed out. Jewish law does not permit pre-stunning because it requires the animal to be uninjured at the time of shechita, and all pre-stunning methods involve an injury to the animal. The entire process is carried out with the express purpose of eliminating any pain or discomfort to the animal.

There are numerous additional rules of no lesser significance proscribing other foodstuffs and the way in which they may be consumed (for example, the requirement not to mix dairy and meat products).


Death customs and funeral rites: Jewish tradition requires funerals to take place as soon as possible but not on the Sabbath. Most Jews prefer to be buried, rather than cremated. Mourners traditionally wear old clothes and tear them as a sign of mourning. By custom, the mourners put the first spadefuls of earth into the grave and others generally follow suit. It is not customary to send flowers to a funeral.

‘Shiva’ is the seven-day period of mourning. Traditionally, a short prayer service is held at the house of mourning on each evening of this period. During a Shiva, family, friends, and acquaintances visit the mourners to offer comfort and support and on leaving, visitors wish each mourner ‘long life.’ Food with a kosher label is taken to a house of mourning, thus ensuring that there is enough food for mourners in the house. Close friends may provide full meals.

Circumcision: Judaism is very much a family faith, and the ceremonies start early. A Jewish boy baby is circumcised at eight days old, (as long as he is entirely healthy) following the instructions that God gave to Abraham.

11. Mormons

Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was founded in 19th century America by Joseph Smith. Following his death, it was developed by Brigham Young who migrated with the new Mormons to Salt Lake City in 1847.

Mormons believe their church is a restoration of the Church as conceived by Jesus and that the other Christian churches have gone astray.

Mormons believe that God has a physical body, is married, and can have children. They also believe that humans can become Gods in the afterlife.

Mormons are strongly focused on traditional family life and values. They oppose abortion, same-gender relationships, unmarried sexual acts, pornography, gambling, tobacco, consuming alcohol, tea, coffee, and the use of drugs.

One of the more common misconceptions is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints advocates polygamy. However, this was discontinued over a century ago and the Church excommunicates anyone who practices it.

The church has 13.5 million members world-wide (LDS 2008 Statistical Report), but this figure is likely to be an over-estimate since it is based on the number of baptisms performed, without discounting members who may later leave.

Texts: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses four holy books. The Holy Bible (King James Version); The Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants (revelations and writings given since the restoration of the Church began); and Pearl of Great Price (a selection from the revelations, translations, and writings of Joseph Smith).

Mormons celebrate in a Temple.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Sunday: Like many other Christian churches, Mormons regard Sunday as the day of rest and day of worship. Most Mormon families will spend a substantial part of Sunday in meetings and worship with their community. The heart of the Sunday is the Sacrament Meeting.

Monday: Monday is often reserved for Family Home Evening.

Festivals: Mormons only celebrate two religious festivals: Easter and Christmas.

Pioneer Day: 24 July. This celebrates the arrival of the first Latter-day Saint pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In Utah it is both a state and church holiday.

Prayer times and requirements

Mormon prayer is a sincere, heartfelt talk with God the Father. Mormons pray only to God.

Individual Mormons usually pray privately every morning and night. Mormon families aim to come together in family prayer every morning and evening.

Communal worship in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is rather informal and doesn’t involve ceremonials or priests. It takes place in a simple Chapel, which does not have religious statues or pictures. The service is organized and conducted by unpaid lay members of the congregation, as the Church does not have clergy. The buildings used for regular worship are open to everyone, but only Mormons regarded as worthy by the Church are able to enter a Temple.

Dress codes

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, maintaining a clean appearance is important. Mormons believe in wearing modest clothing and avoiding extreme styles.

Food and drink

Mormons are health-conscious and although they are not usually vegetarians, they tend to eat meat sparingly, avoiding products with much blood.

They eschew stimulants, including caffeine and Mormons drink neither tea nor coffee – some will avoid all hot drinks. Alcohol and tobacco are forbidden.

Mormon families normally ask a blessing on food before eating.

Fasting and fast offerings: Members fast each month (on the first Sunday) by going without food and drink for two consecutive meals. They give the amount of money they would have spent for the meals to the church (they can give more if they wish). This offering is called the fast offering.


Tithing: Tithing is the custom by which members give one-tenth of their annual income to the Church. It provides the main source of Church income. Most of the money is spent on building and maintaining buildings for church activities, and on the Church Educational System.

12. Paganism

Paganism describes a group of contemporary religions based on a reverence for nature and encompasses a diverse community. These faiths draw on the traditional religions of Indigenous peoples throughout the world.

Wiccans, Druids, Shamans, Sacred Ecologists, Odinists and Heathens all make up parts of the Pagan community.

Most Pagans share an ecological vision that comes from the Pagan belief in the organic vitality and spirituality of the natural world; some groups concentrate on specific traditions or practices such as ecology, witchcraft, Celtic traditions, or certain gods. The recognition of the divine in nature is at the heart of Pagan belief. Pagans are deeply aware of the natural world and see the power of the divine in the ongoing cycle of life and death. Most Pagans are eco-friendly, seeking to live in a way that minimizes harm to the natural environment.

Pagans worship the divine in many different forms, through feminine, as well as masculine imagery, and also as without gender. The most important and widely recognized of these are the God and Goddess (or pantheons of God and Goddesses) whose annual cycle of procreation, giving birth and dying defines the Pagan year. Paganism strongly emphasizes equality of the sexes. Women play a prominent role in the modern Pagan movement, and Goddess worship features in most Pagan ceremonies.

Paganism is not based on doctrine or liturgy. Many pagans believe ‘if it harms none, do what you will.’ Following this code, Pagan theology is based primarily on experience, with the aim of Pagan ritual being to make contact with the divine in the world that surrounds them.

Belying their misrepresentation in popular culture, Pagans are not sexual deviants, do not worship the devil, are not evil, do not practice ‘black magic’ and their practices do not involve harming people or animals.

The Pagan Federation of Great Britain have no precise figures but estimate that the number of Pagans in the British Isles is between 50,000 and 200,000 (2002).

The main subdivisions of Paganism are:

  • Pagan paths
  • The Goddess movement
  • Heathenry
  • Wicca

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

The Pagan seasonal cycle is often called the Wheel of the Year. Almost all Pagans celebrate a cycle of eight festivals, which are spaced every six or seven weeks through the year and divide the wheel into eight segments.

Winter Solstice (Yule): falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December). The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. The Druids also began the tradition of the yule log, they thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits, and bring luck for the coming year.

Imbolc: Imbolc rituals were performed to harness divine energy that would ensure a steady supply of food until the harvest six months later. Like many Celtic festivals, the Imbolc celebrations center around the lighting of fires. Fire was perhaps more important for this festival than others as it is also the holy day of Brigid (also known as Bride, Brigit, Brid), the Goddess of fire, healing and fertility. Rituals and activities associated with this festival include the making of candles, planting spring flowers, reading poetry and telling stories.

Spring Equinox: celebrates the renewed life of the Earth that comes with the Spring. Pagans attribute the changes that are going on in the world to an increase in the powers of their God and Goddess. At the time of Spring Equinox, the God and the Goddess are often portrayed as The Green Man and Mother Earth. The Green Man is said to be born of Mother Earth in the depths of winter and to live through the rest of the year until he dies at Samhain. To celebrate some Pagans, carry out particular rituals. For instance, a woman and a man are chosen to act out the roles of Spring God and Goddess, playing out courtship and symbolically planting seeds. Egg races, egg hunts, egg eating, and egg painting are also traditional activities at this time of year.

Beltane: Beltane is a fire festival that celebrates the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year. Fire is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalize. People leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body, and spirit) and happiness through the coming year. Fires are lit at night and festivities carry on until dawn.

Summer Solstice: is the longest day of the year and the time to celebrate growth and life. For Pagans, who see balance in the world and are deeply aware of the ongoing shifting of the seasons, it is also time to acknowledge that the sun will now begin to decline once more towards winter. In England, thousands of Pagans and non-Pagans go to places of ancient religious sites (such as Stonehenge and Avebury) to see the sun rising on the first morning of summer. Many more Pagans hold small ceremonies in open spaces, everywhere from gardens to woodlands.

Lughnasadh (Lammas): comes at the beginning of August (for agricultural communities this was the first day of the harvest). Although farming is not an important part of modern life, Lughnasadh is still seen as a harvest festival by Pagans and symbols connected with the reaping of corn predominate in its rites.

Autumn Equinox: is the final festival of the season of harvest. For many Pagans, it is a time to reflect on the past season. This is one of the least celebrated of the Pagan festivals, although a harvest festival may be held to thank the Goddess for giving enough food to last the winter.

Samhain: marks the Feast of the Dead. Loved ones who have recently died are remembered and their spirits invited to join the living in the celebratory feast. It is also a time when those born during the past year are formally welcomed into the community. As well as feasting, Pagans often celebrate Samhain with traditional games, such as apple-ducking. To celebrate this festival the Druids, build huge sacred bonfires.

Prayer times and requirements

Forms of Pagan worship vary widely. It may be collective or solitary. It may consist of informal prayer or meditation, or of formal, structured rituals through which the participants affirm their deep spiritual connection with nature, honor their Gods and Goddesses, and celebrate the seasonal festivals of the turning year and the rites of passage of human life.

Pagans have no public buildings specifically set aside for worship and most believe that religious ceremonies are best conducted out of doors, rituals often take place in woods or caves, on hilltops, or along the seashore.

Dress codes


Food and drink



Pagan Ceremonies: usually begin with the marking out of a ritual circle, a symbol of sacred space which has neither beginning nor end, and within which all stand as equals. At the quarter-points, the four directions and the corresponding elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water will be acknowledged and bid welcome. There may follow, according to the purpose of the rite, any or all of meditation, chanting, music, prayer, dance, the pouring of libations, recitations of poetry and/or the performance of sacred drama, and the sharing of food and drink. Lastly, the circle will be formally unmade, the directions, elements, and all the forms of divinity that have been called upon thanked, as the rite ends.

13. Rastafari

Rastafari developed in Jamaica following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as King of Ethiopia in 1930.

Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie will return to Africa members of the Black community who are living in exile as the result of colonization and the slave trade. Rastafari theology developed from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, a political activist who wanted to improve the status of fellow Black people.

Rastafarians believe that Black people are the chosen people of God, but that through colonization and the slave trade, their role has been suppressed. The movement’s greatest concerns are the repatriation of Black people to their homeland, Africa, and the reinstatement of Black people’s position in society.

Followers of Rastafari are known by a variety of names: Rastafarians, Rastas, Sufferers, Locksmen, Dreads or Dreadlocks.

Rastafari religious ceremonies consist of chanting, drumming, and meditating in order to reach a state of heightened spirituality. Rastafarian religious practice includes the ritual inhalation of marijuana (ganga), to increase their spiritual awareness.

Rastafarians follow a number of Old Testament Laws.

There is a separate code of religious practice for women in Rastafari.

Rastafarians believe reincarnation follows death and that life is eternal.

There are approximately one million Rastafari worldwide, of which around 5,000 live in England and Wales according to the 2001 census.

The main subdivisions of Rastafari are:

  • Bobo Shanti
  • Nyahbinghi Order
  • The Twelve Tribes of Israel

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Groundation Day (21st April): Marks the date Haile Selassie I visited Jamaica in 1966. The visit was the only time the emperor visited Jamaica. A Nyabingi session, inclusive of music, chanting and prayer is held to mark the occasion.

Ethiopian New Year’s Day (11th September): The start of the New Year in Ethiopia is recognized because Rastafarians believe Ethiopia to be their spiritual homeland and a place to which they want to return. The history of Ethiopia is remembered, and its importance acknowledged through Biblical passages and prayer. A Nyabingi session is also held to mark the occasion.

Crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie, I (2nd November): Commemorates the Coronation of Ras Tafari, as Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Ethiopia in 1930. The high priest reads Biblical passages and initiates the singing of songs to re-emphasize the importance of Haile Selassie as Messiah. A Nyabingi meeting also takes place to remember Haile Selassie.

Ethiopian Christmas (7th January): Christianity has existed in Ethiopia since 330 AD and Rastafarians regard Black people as the Jews of the Bible. Ethiopian Christmas is marked by a large feast. The food eaten is vegetarian or vegan in keeping with Rastafari food laws. During the feast, prophecy and readings take place, and a Nyabingi meeting will often follow.

Ethiopian Constitution Day (16th July): Commemorates the implementation of Ethiopia’s first constitution by Haile Selassie in 1931. The constitution instigated a Parliament and resulted in the appointment of a number of deputies, although Emperor Haile Selassie I retained supreme power and authority. Rastafarians remember the history of Ethiopia and the events that led up to the birth of the Rastafari religion. A Nyabingi session also occurs to honor the importance of Ethiopia.

Birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie (23rd July): Observes the day on which Emperor Haile Selassie I was born in 1892. Nyabingi sessions are held to honor the date.

Marcus Garvey’s Birthday (17th August): Commemorates the Birthday of Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican politician born in 1887 who predicted the crowning of a King in Africa and instigated the ‘Back to Africa’ movement. On this date Rastafarians remember the key role played by Marcus Garvey in the development of Black rights. The occasion reflects on Marcus Garvey’s influential prophecy. Poetry is recited recalling the historical importance of Marcus Garvey. African dance is also encouraged.

Prayer times and requirements

Rastafari does not have a specific religious building that is set aside for worship and usually meet weekly, either in a believer’s home or in a community center. Meetings are referred to as Reasoning sessions. They provide a time for chants, prayers and singing, and for communal issues to be discussed. Marijuana may be smoked to produce heightened spiritual states.

The music used at these meetings is known as Nyabingi, and so when meetings are mostly musical, they are often referred to as Nyabingi meetings. Meetings may also include large feasts.

Dress codes

Rastafarians are forbidden to cut their hair; instead, they grow it and twist it into dreadlocks. Wearing hair in dreadlocks is believed to be spiritual. Men often cover their heads with a tam (a large hat) or wrap (a cloth wrapped into a turban).

During festivals and celebrations women usually cover their heads and wear long dresses. Trousers are not acceptable, and makeup is not encouraged. African attire is encouraged especially in the red, gold, and green colors of the Ethiopian flag.

Visitors may be asked to remove their shoes when entering a Rastafarian household.

Food and drink

Rastafarians follow strict dietary laws derived from the Old Testament.

Rastafarians eat strictly I-tal which means natural and clean; many are vegetarian, and food is prepared without salt.

Pork, lamb, and shellfish are proscribed. Rastafarians regularly eat fish.

Rastafarians do not drink alcohol, milk, or coffee, but will drink anything herbal, grown from natural roots, such as herbal tea. Plentiful amounts of fruit and fruit juice are consumed.


Rastafarians are opposed to abortion and contraception.

Rastafarian colors: the Rastafarian colors are red, green, and gold. Sometimes black is added. These colors are chosen because Red signifies the blood of those killed for the cause of the Black community, throughout Jamaican history; green represents Jamaica’s vegetation and hope for the eradication of suppression; gold symbolizes the wealth of Ethiopia; black signifies the color of the Africans who initiated Rastafari.

The Rastafarian symbol: The lion is the symbol of Rastafari, representing Haile Selassie I, who is referred to as the ‘Conquering Lion of Judah.’ Rastafarians’ dreadlocks symbolize the lion’s mane.

Marriage: In Rastafari there is no formal marriage structure. A Rastafari man and woman who live together but are not related family members are regarded as husband and wife. If marriage does take place it is regarded as a social occasion, rather than a religious event.

Death: In Rastafari there is no funeral ceremony to mark the end of life. Rastafarians believe that reincarnation follows death, and that life is eternal.

14. Santeria

Santeria (the way of the Saints) is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on Yoruba beliefs and traditions, with some Roman Catholic elements (the religion is also known as La Regla Lucumi and the Rule of Osha). Santeria incorporates elements of several faiths. It has grown beyond its Yoruba and Catholic origins to become a religion in its own right, and a powerful symbol of the religious creativity of Afro-Cuban culture. The center of the religion is Cuba, but it has spread to the USA and other nearby countries. For a long time, Santeria was a secretive underground religion, but it is becoming increasingly visible in the Americas.

Santeria focuses on building relationships between human beings and powerful, but mortal, spirits, called Orishas (an Orisha is a manifestation of God). Followers believe that these spirits will give them help in life, if they carry out the appropriate rituals, and enable them to achieve the destiny that God planned for them before they were born. This is very much a mutual relationship as the Orishas need to be worshipped by human beings if they are to continue to exist.

Orishas can be perceived in the physical universe and the whole community can share in their presence when they possess a priest during some rituals.

Animal sacrifice is central to Santeria. The animal is sacrificed as food, rather than for any obscure mystical purpose. Without sacrifice the religion would die out, as sacrifice is essential for initiation into the faith community and the ‘ordination’ of priests. The animals are killed by cutting the carotid arteries with a single knife stroke in a similar way to other religious methods of slaughter.

Sacrifices are performed for life events such as birth, marriage, and death. They are also used for healing. Animals are cooked and eaten following all Santeria rituals (except healing and death rites). Sacrificial animals include chickens (the most common), pigeons, doves, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, sheep, and turtles.

There is no central organization in Santeria and the religion is passed on by word-of-mouth without written texts.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Feast of Ogun, Orisha of Strength, Endurance, and Perseverance (January 17). Feast of Oya, Orisha of Death, and Rebirth (February 2).

Feast of Osanyin, Orisha of Deciduous Vegetation (March 19).

Feast of Oshun, Orisha of Passion, and Fertility (March 25).

Feast of Ogun, Orisha of Self-reliance, and Industrious Labor (April 23).

Feast of Ochossi, Orisha of Animals (May 15).

Feast of Orisha Babalu Aye, Guardian of the Disabled (June 21).

Feast of Orisha Eleggua, Intercessor and Ruler of Destinies (June 29).

Feast of Oshun, Orisha of Love and Compassion (September 8).

Feast of Obatala, Orisha of Peace and Justice (September 24).

Feast of Orisha Eleggua, Intercessor and Ruler of Destinies (September 29).

Feast of Shango, Orisha of Passion, and Virility (September 30).

Feast of Orunmila, Orisha of Wise Counsel and Protection (October 4).

Feast of Oya, Orisha of Death, and Rebirth (November 25).

Feast of Orisha Shango, Defender Against Evil (December 4).

Feast of Orisha Babalu Aye, Healer of Deadly Diseases (December 17).

Festival of Orisha Yemaya, Mother of the Sun and Moon (December 31).

Prayer times and requirements

Santeria rituals include dancing, drumming, speaking, and eating with the spirits. Rituals often take place in halls rented for the purpose, or privately in Santeria homes which may be fitted with altars for ritual purposes.

Dress codes

Many followers dress in white to symbolize purity.

Food and drink

Ritual animal sacrifices are made, and the flesh consumed.


Casa or ilé: A vital unit of the Santeria community is the ‘house’ called a casa or ilé. Members of the ilé relate to each other in much the same way as members of an extended biological family. An ilé may be large or small. Ilés are independent but may join up for special occasions. Membership is taken seriously.

Priesthood: includes both men and women; the priesthood is not a full-time paid job and is often combined with ordinary work. Priests have special powers because they have been ‘entered’ by an Orisha.


The name Shinto comes from Chinese characters for Shen (‘divine being’), and Tao (‘way’) and means ‘Way of the Spirits.’ It is an ethnic religion and rarely practiced outside Japan. Shinto has been a big influence on Japanese culture and values for over 2,000 years. Some think that it is more than just a religion – it is the Japanese way of looking at the world. Because ritual, rather than belief, is at the heart of Shinto, Japanese people do not usually think of Shinto specifically as a religion – it is simply an aspect of Japanese life. This has enabled Shinto to coexist happily with Buddhism for centuries.

The essence of Shinto is the Japanese devotion to invisible spiritual beings and powers called kami, to shrines and to various rituals.

Shinto sees human beings as basically good and has no concept of original sin, or of humanity as ‘fallen.’ Everything, including the spiritual, is experienced as part of this world. Shinto has no place for any transcendental other world. The religion has no canonical scriptures; it teaches important ethical principles but has no commandments. Shinto has no founder, no God and does not require adherents to follow it as their only religion.

Although most Japanese follow many Shinto traditions throughout life, they actually regard themselves as being devoted to their community’s local shrine and kami, rather than to a countrywide religion.

Today many Japanese mix Buddhism and Shinto in their lives; about 83% of Japanese follow Shinto, and 76% follow Buddhism (1999 figures). Some Japanese Christians also practice Shinto as well as Christianity.

The holy books of Shinto are the Kojiki or ‘Records of Ancient Matters’ (712 CE) and the Nihon-gi or ‘Chronicles of Japan’ (720 CE).


Jinja (Shrine) Shinto: Shrine Shinto is closest to the traditional form of Shinto that is said to date back to prehistoric times. The term is usually used to refer to the beliefs and rituals associated with the shrines that give their allegiance to the Jinja Honcho or Association of Shinto Shrines.

Kyôha (Sect) Shinto: Sect Shinto started in the 19th Century and includes 13 major independent sects which are officially recognized by the Japanese government. The 13 sects, with their date of formal recognition, are:

Fusokyô (1882)

Izumo Oyashirokyo (1882)

Jikkokyô (1882)

Konkokyo (1900)

Kurozumikyô (1876)

Misogikyo (1894)

Ontakekyô, formerly known as Mitakekyô (1882)

Shinrikyô (1894)

Shinshukyô (1882)

Shinto Shusei-ha (1876)

Shinto Taikyô, known before World War II simply as Shinto (1886)     Taiseikyô (1882)

Tenrikyô (1908)

Minzoku (Folk) Shinto: This is the name given to the traditional Shinto that was practiced by ordinary Japanese people at their local shrines, and that was not institutionalized by the various national reforms. Folk Shinto influences many of the rites of passage celebrated in Japan, together with agricultural and other festivals.

Kami:  are not God or Gods. They are spirits that are concerned with human beings – they appreciate our interest in them and want us to be happy – and if they are treated properly, they will intervene in our lives to bring benefits like health, business success, and good exam results.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

Festivals center on particular kami, who are treated as the guests of honor at the event. The celebrations are very physical events, and may include processions, dramatic performances, sumo wrestling and feasting. They are bright, colorful, loud, and aromatic with the smells of food. The processions often feature a mikoshi, a ‘divine palanquin,’ used to carry a kami (or an image of a kami). The mikoshi is often described as a portable altar or portable shrine.

Because Shinto originates in the agricultural prehistory of Japan, most of its festivals are tied to the farming seasons.

Seijin Shiki (Adults’ Day): 15 January. Japanese who have had their 20th birthday in the previous year attend a shrine to give thanks.

Rei-sai (Annual Festival): Annual festival on a day particular relevant to the shrine where it takes place.

Oshogatsu (New Year): 1 January. It is traditional at New Year to visit a shrine and attendance is huge for this festival.

Haru Matsuri (Spring festivals): Springtime (January to May) is a time for many festivals, haru matsuri, often centered on the planting of crops. Different shrines countrywide hold their own celebrations on varying dates.

Rissun (or Setsubun): 3 February. Marks the beginning of spring. Known as the bean-throwing festival; when celebrated at home, a male of the family will scatter roasted beans, saying “demons out, good luck in.” At shrines, lucky beans are thrown into the congregation, who will attempt to catch them.

Toshigoi-no-Matsuri: This spring festival is a celebration to pray to the gods for a good harvest.

Shichigosan (7-5-3 festival): 15 November, or the nearest Sunday. On this day parents take boys of three and five years old and girls of three and seven to give thanks to the gods for a healthy life so far and pray for a safe and successful future.

Prayer times and requirements

Shinto worship is highly ritualized, and follows strict conventions of protocol, order, and control. It can take place in the home or in shrines. There is no special day of the week for worship in Shinto – people visit shrines for festivals, for personal spiritual reasons, or to put a particular request to the kami (this might be for good luck in an exam, or protection of a family member, and so on).

Although Shinto rituals appear very ancient, many are actually modern revivals, or even modern inventions.

Dress codes


Food and drink



Harae (purification rites): Purifying rituals are always performed at the start of Shinto religious ceremonies. Water and salt are commonly used as purifying agents; one of the simplest purifications is the rinsing of face and hands with pure water. Oharae (the “ceremony of great purification”) is a special purification ritual that is used to remove sin and pollution from a large group. The ritual is performed at the end of June and December in the Imperial Household and at other shrines in order to purify the whole population. It can also be performed as a year-end purification ritual for companies, or on certain occasions, such as the aftermath of a disaster.

New Buildings: Many events that would be secular in the West involve a brief Shinto ritual in Japan, e.g., the construction of a new building involves a Shinto ceremony.

Many Japanese homes contain a place set aside as a shrine (kami shelf), where they may make offerings of flowers or food, and say prayers.


Sikhism is a monotheistic religion. It stresses the importance of doing good, rather than merely carrying out rituals.

Sikhism was founded in the 15th century in the Punjab district of India and Pakistan. It was founded by Guru Nanak and is based on his teachings and elaborated by the 9 Sikh Gurus who followed him.

Sikhs worship God and only God; they do not use images or statues to help them.

Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to keep God in heart and mind at all times, live honestly and work hard, treat everyone equally, be generous to the less fortunate, serve others. The three duties that a Sikh must carry out can be summed up in three words; Pray, Work, Give.

Sikhs believe that human beings spend their time in a cycle of birth, life, and rebirth. They believe the quality of each particular life depends on the law of Karma and the only way out of this cycle is to achieve a total knowledge of and union with God.

Sikhs believe that God’s message can be found in several ways; in the whole of creation, by the Gurus in their lives and in their words and in the message set down in the teachings of scripture.

The community of men and women initiated into the Sikh faith is the Khalsa. The Sikh place of worship is called a Gurdwara, and the Sikh scripture is a book called the Guru Granth Sahib.

There are 20 million Sikhs in the world, mostly in the Punjab province of India.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements

The Sikh calendar is called the Nanakshahi Calendar. For most of its history Sikhism has used the traditional Vikrami (or Bikrami) calendar, shared by Sikhs and Hindus in North India, to set the date of its festivals. The Nanakshahi Calendar was adopted in 2003 and made life much easier for Sikhs as their holy days no longer move about the calendar from year to year. Gurpurbs (celebrations devoted to particular Gurus) now always happen on the same date and occur once (and once only) in every year. The calendar did not fix the date of all Sikh festivals. Those Sikh festivals that are celebrated at the same time as similar Hindu religious events, such as Diwali and Hola Mohalla, still have their dates set by the Vikrami calendar.

Diwali: The Festival of Light (end of October or early November). A festival that Sikhs, Hindus, and Jains celebrate. For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619. Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today. Lights and Fireworks are a big part of the celebrations. It is also very much a time for buying and exchanging gifts. Diwali is also a traditional time to redecorate homes and buy new clothes.

Gurpurbs: are festivals that are associated with the lives of the Gurus. They are happy occasions which are celebrated enthusiastically. The most important are:

The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism (October or November)

The birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, founder of the Khalsa (January)

The martyrdom of Guru Arjan (June)

Sikhs celebrate Gurpurbs with an akhand path. This is a complete and continuous reading of Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which takes 48 hours and finishes on the day of the festival. Gurdwaras are decorated with flowers, flags and lights, and Sikhs dress up in new or smart clothes and join together for special services. Hymns are sung. In India and parts of Britain, there are processions where the Sikh Scripture is carried in a decorated float. Five people representing the first five members of the Khalsa (the Panj Piaras or Five Beloved Ones) head the procession carrying the Sikh flag. Musicians, singers, and martial artists follow. Outside some Gudwaras, free sweets are offered to the general public, regardless of their faith. Food is important in this festival. Sikhs come together to eat special food such as Karah Parashad, a sweet-tasting food which has been blessed and is served warm. Free meals are served at the Gudwaras.

Vaisakhi: the Sikh New Year festival, celebrated on April 13 or 14. It also commemorates 1699, the year Sikhism was born as a collective faith. In 1699 the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, chose Vaisakhi as the occasion to transform the Sikhs into a family of soldier saints. Vaisakhi is celebrated in much the same way as Gurpurbs. Gudwaras are decorated and visited. Parades, dancing and singing happen throughout the day. Many Sikhs choose to be baptized into the Khalsa brotherhood on this day.

Nagar Kirtans: The festival is marked with processions through the streets. Celebrations always include music, singing and chanting scriptures and hymns. The Guru Granth Sahib will be carried in the procession in a place of honor.

Prayer times and requirements

Sikh worship can be public or private and Sikhs can pray at any time and any place. Sikh aims to get up early, bathe and then start the day by meditating on God.

The Sikh code of conduct lays down a clear discipline for the start of the day. There are set prayers that a Sikh should recite in the morning and evening and before going to sleep.

Although Sikhs can worship on their own, they see congregational worship as having its own special merits. Sikhs believe that God is visible in the Sikh congregation or Sangat, and that God is pleased by the act of serving the Sangat. Congregational Sikh worship takes place in a Gurdwara. Sikh public worship can be led by any Sikh, male or female, who is competent to do so.

Dress codes

The 5 Ks are 5 physical symbols worn by Sikhs who have been initiated into the Khalsa. They date from the creation of the Khalsa Panth by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Each K has a particular significance and together symbolize that Sikh men and women who wear them have dedicated themselves to a life of devotion and submission to the Guru.

The five Ks are:

Kesh (uncut hair)

Kara (a steel bracelet)

Kanga (a wooden comb)

Kaccha – also spelt Kachh, Kachera (cotton underwear)

Kirpan (steel sword)

Sikh men cover their heads at all times, normally by wearing a turban (dastar), although a smaller head covering (patka) may at times be worn. The importance of the turban is recognized in many countries by the fact that Sikhs are exempted from legislation requiring certain protective headgear, such as motorcycle crash helmets and hard hats on construction sites.

The traditional dress of Sikh women is the Salwaar Kameez – loose fitting top and bottoms – with a chunni (a large rectangular piece of cloth) to cover the head and draped around the shoulders.

Food and drink

Sikhism proscribes the consumption of alcohol and any other substance considered to be mind-altering. It is also forbidden to eat meat which has been ritually slaughtered, such as halal and kosher. The religion is otherwise relatively free of restrictions, although many Sikhs are vegetarian.


Spiritualists believe in continued future existence and that the spirit world exists all around and through the material world that human beings inhabit (but in a different dimension, or on a different plane). Spiritualists communicate with the spirits of people who have physically died, via mediums. Communication can be verbal, such as messages; or physical manifestations, such as tapping.

The movement began in the USA in the middle of the 19th Century and is said to be the eighth largest religion in Britain with a network of groups across the country.

The validity of Spiritualism has always been controversial, partly because of the negative image that fraudulent people have given of communications from the ‘other side.’

Modern Spiritualism sees itself as entirely rational, with no element of the supernatural. For Spiritualists, this is what distinguishes their beliefs from the concept of life after death found in many other faiths. Beyond the belief of communication with spirits, Modern Spiritualism can include a very wide range of beliefs and worldviews. The core philosophy of Spiritualism is described in The Seven Principles.

The Seven Principles of Spiritualism are:

The Fatherhood of God

The Brotherhood of Man

The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels

The continuous existence of the human soul

Personal responsibility

Compensation and retribution hereafter for all the good and evil deeds done on earth

Eternal progress open to every human soul

Spiritualists believe awareness that death does not free a person from the consequences of their bad acts will lead people to behave better in their present life. They believe that everyone goes to the spirit world, but that those who have done wrong go to less pleasant parts of that world – because they will gravitate to spend time with other spirit beings who behave badly. Spiritualism differs from many ideas of reincarnation in that a spirit being can work to improve itself while remaining in the spirit world; it does not have to return to the material world to improve.

There are several Spiritualist organizations which set standards for Spiritualists and mediums and provide common frameworks of beliefs. In the UK this is the Spiritualists’ National Union and in the USA is the National Association of Spiritualist Churches. Other spiritualist organizations also exist in both countries.

The Seven Principles underpin the religion in place of any sacred text.

Festivals, holidays and leave requirements


Prayer times and requirements

Spiritualism is practiced in a Spiritualist church (this may be a special church building, hall, or any other suitable place). Churches in the Spiritualists’ National Union hold services every week, usually led by a medium. During these services, a medium will ‘link’ with the spirit world. The main service takes place on Sundays and consists of prayers, hymns, a reading, and a talk from a medium.

Dress codes


Food and drink



The National Association of Spiritualist Churches in the USA has nine principles which provide more information about Spiritualist beliefs.

The nine principles of Spiritualism (USA) are:

  • We believe in Infinite Intelligence.
  • We believe that the phenomena of Nature, both physical and spiritual, are the expression of Infinite intelligence.
  • We affirm that a correct understanding of such expression and living in accordance there with, constitute true religion.
  • We affirm that the existence and personal identity of the individual continue after the change called death.
  • We affirm that communication with the so-called dead is a fact, scientifically proven by the phenomena of Spiritualism.
  • We believe that the highest morality is contained in the Golden Rule: ‘Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you do ye also unto them.’
  • We affirm the moral responsibility of the individual, and that we make our own happiness or unhappiness as we obey or disobey Nature’s physical and spiritual laws.
  • We affirm that the doorway to reformation is never closed against any human soul here or hereafter.
  • We affirm that the precepts of Prophecy and Healing contained in all sacred texts are Divine attributes proven through Mediumship.
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