NUS Religious Handbook
Information for students' unions
Hello and welcome to the first publication of this year’s anti-racist anti-fascist campaign (ARAF).
This is a short but vital guidebook that is designed to help students’ unions better understand their
faith groups on campus.
We went to the national religious groups and asked them three questions;
1) To give a brief description of their faith
2) To outline any festivals that may exists and how these would affect a student keeping this festival
3) Are there any areas of University life that might come into conflict with the student due to their
This booklet is the outcome of their answers. The submissions were written by the groups and
collated and edited by NUS for your benefit.
It is not the easiest time to be a religious student on campus. With calls from universities of
secularism, increasingly negative attention from the media and students across the education sector
facing challenges on religious clothing there has never been a more important time for students’
unions to be informed of the different faiths that occupy their clubs and societies. Religious students
are proud of their identity and in keeping with our values their students’ unions should be seen as
inclusive and welcoming places for them.
This guide is not meant to be taken in a vacuum. Along side the religious calendar these two
documents are meant to guide our members to the requirements of your students and we urge you
to consider them when setting the dates for your events. Last year a third of freshers’ fairs fell on the
days of Jewish New Year or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) meaning Jewish Societies up and down
the country could not take part. This year many are scheduled for Eid-ul-Fitr, the festival at the end of
Ramadan, this is a situation that students’ unions must be aware of and deal with by dialogue with
their faith societies.
Understanding leads to inclusion and diversity on campus that is reflective of the society we inhabit.
We hope that you find this guidebook useful and we look forward to working with all of you in the
Joel Braunold Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy
National Executive Member Black Students Officer
Co-Convenor ARAF Campaign Co-Convenor ARAF Campaign
Page – Bah’ai
Page – Buddhism
Page – Christianity
Page – Hinduism
Page – Islam
Page – Judaism
Page – Sikhism
Page – Zoroastrianism
Page – Acknowledgements
National Spiritual Association of Baha’is of the UK
27 Rutland Gate London SW7 1PD
The Baha’i faith is a world-wide religion, founded in Iran in the 19th century. The central teachings
stress the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity, equality of the sexes, and calls for a global
civilisation that sees the world as one country and all humankind as equal citizens. These principles
come from the teachings of Baha’u’llah, one of two prophet founders of the Baha’i faith. Today there
are believed to be 5 -6 million Baha’is living in 188 countries. The ideologies of fascism and racism
stand in direct contradiction to the core Baha’i belief in one human race, and passages in the Baha’i
writings specifically challenge nationalism and racism as flawed ideas. Another central principle for
Baha’is is the importance of education as the means of unlocking the intellectual and spiritual
potential of all human beings.
There are 12 significant festivals or holy days in the Baha’i calendar. Amongst the most significant
dates are the Festival of Ridvan (April 21 – 2nd May ), a period of 12 days commemorating the
announcement of Baha’u’llah’s mission to his closest followers, of which the first, the ninth and the
twelfth days are celebrated and work is suspended. The festival of Naw Ruz on March 20th marks the
Baha’i New Year and the end of their annual period of fasting. This date coincides with a New Year
celebration in Iran, Kurdistan, and other cultures. Baha’is will seek to take the day off from work on
these and other holy days.
Baha’is believe that the fundamental reality of life is spiritual and their beliefs ask them to make
choices that follow a life-style which they believe will be conducive to the full development of their
spiritual qualities. This means that Baha’is choose to avoid consumption of alcohol, narcotic drugs,
and sexual promiscuity. This does not mean that they pass judgement on the life-styles of others who
have made other choices. Indeed, Baha’is believe the practice of “back-biting” or speaking ill of others
is far more damaging in the sight of God and is regarded as the most serious of transgressions. Baha’is
fast once a year from 2 – 20 March and will not consume food or drink from sun-rise to sun set for a
period of 19 days.
There is a fundamental principle for Baha’is that states that all individuals have the right to investigate
truth for themselves, including spiritual truth. This religious belief correlates closely with the
fundamental human right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as expressed in article 18 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Baha’is believe that all human beings have the right to
believe or disbelieve in religion, to change or adopt a religion throughout their life and that no person
should be subject to coercion or pressure when exercising this most fundamental of rights.
The Buddhist Society
58 Eccleston Square
London, SW1V 1PH
Telephone 020 7834 5858
The historical Buddha was an Indian prince called Siddharta Gautama who became an ascetic and
gained enlightenment around 2500 years ago. The teachings of the Buddha can be summarised in the
following way: The Three Signs of Being are Change, Suffering and no ‘I’. The Four Noble Truths are
Suffering, the Origin of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering and the Way to End Suffering. The Three
Fires – Desire/Thirst, Anger and Delusion – are the obstacles to Enlightenment and the cause of
suffering for which the Buddha described the Noble Eightfold Path as a cure. There are 376 million
Buddhists worldwide today divided into three main schools – Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana.
There are many different schools within Buddhism which have their own special celebrations – please
see our website for further details www.thebuddhistsociety.org.
The main celebration is Wesak when Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s birth, death and
enlightenment. In the Theravada tradition (South & South East Asia) this is celebrated on the full
moon day of the month of May. In Mahayana (Northern) Buddhist countries this can vary depending
on regional and sectarian differences.
The basis of Buddhist morality are the Five Precepts according to which a Buddhist should do the
following: refrain from killing, refrain from taking what is not given freely, refrain from sexual
misconduct, refrain from lying and harmful speech and refrain from intoxicating substances.
UCCF: The Christian Unions
38 De Montfort Street
Christians believe that human beings have been made for a relationship with God and each other.
People often behave in ways that are self centred, hurting other people and rejecting God.
Desperately needing forgivingness for our selfish attitudes and behaviour, out of his love, God, in
Jesus Christ takes the punishment that we deserve when he died on the cross. Reconciling us to God
and restoring our relationships with other people.
The main Christian festivals are Christmas and Easter both of which are national holidays.
Most Christians would believe that drinking in moderation is a demonstration of God’s goodness and
generosity in creation. However, some Christians would choose not to drink at all for various reasons.
It is the teaching and tradition of orthodox Christianity that sex should be enjoyed and celebrated
within the context of marriage.
The major area of conflict between some Christian Unions and Students Unions has been on
membership. Many Christian Unions insist that there be some restrictions placed on membership and
leadership, usually by the signing of a doctrinal statement to demonstrate commitment to the faith.
Some students’ unions have taken the view that this in conflict with their equal opportunities policy.
NUS and UCCF have been in positive discussion to help resolve this issue.
National Hindu Students Forum (UK)
P O Box 46016
London. W9 1WS.
07815 578428 http://www.nhsf.org.uk
Hinduism or ‘Hindu Dharma’ is the oldest religion of the world, dating back many millennia.
Throughout history, it has remained strong due to its dynamic and evolutionary nature, whilst
preserving the core, universal beliefs, which are talked about in the scriptures - Vedas. It is a natural,
scientific, logical, pluralistic and truly universal way of life, accepting all other faiths as equal.
Hindu students should be able to adapt to the academic necessities of university life, whilst preserving
their values. In order to respect the principles of Hinduism and its members, all Hindu society events
have a strict ‘no meat, no alcohol’ policy. Our events are open to students from all faiths. There are
many festivals that are celebrated throughout the year, and Hindu societies around the country would
greatly appreciate help from their students’ unions in helping to organise these events. Here are but a
few common ones that are celebrated:
Navratri (Tue 30 Sept– Wed 8 Oct)
A nine-day evening festival usually celebrated in a Temple or community centre in the local city. Hindu
societies will often transport their members to these locations. Some chapters may also organise the
festival in their own university, requiring a hall, music system and vegetarian food.
Diwali (Tue 28 Oct)
The most popular of Hindu Festivals, celebrating the return of Lord Rama. Hindu societies hold large-
scale events in the form of cultural and Dinner and Dance shows.
Sewa Week (2 – 6 March)
All Hindu societies take part in a week of Sewa (selfless service), whereby they organise a week of
charity-related events, ranging from sports competitions to blood donations etc. This requires a lot of
planning and logistical expertise – an area where students’ unions can help.
Holi (11 March)
Hindu societies celebrate Holi by organising a thoroughly entertaining colour fight. Using soluble,
coloured powder, students will attempt throw colour on one-another in a spirit of friendship, usually
on university fields/local park. It is often difficult to gain permission for such an event, but with the
help of students’ unions, we aim to give all students a chance to celebrate this truly enjoyable festival.
38 Mapesbury Road
0208 452 4493 www.fosis.org.uk
Islam is a monotheistic religion, which is founded on the principle of believing in One God, and that
Mohammed is His Messenger. Adherents, Muslims, submit themselves to God. For them Islam plays a
significant role in the upholding of their everyday life since it governs every aspect of it. When
thinking about Islam, one must think about the striving for moral excellence, about the individual’s
spiritual dimension, about the seeking of justice and so forth.
There are religious requirements of a Muslim student that should be considered, a few significant
• Muslims pray five times a day every day, and a prayer room that facilitates this is necessary;
most universities throughout the UK now provide this. Depending on the time of year, three
out of five prayers normally fit in regular university hours. Prayer times vary depending on
the time of the year.
• Muslim males are instructed to partake in a communal Friday prayer that takes place mostly
between 12.30pm and 2pm.
• There are two main festivals of Islam, which are Eid-ul-Fitr, that concludes the holy month of
Ramadan, and Eid-ul-Adha that concludes the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, and these are
both celebrated by all Muslims throughout the world.
• Muslims keep fast in the Islamic month of Ramadan between sunrise and sunset. They do not
eat or drink between these hours.
• Alcohol is forbidden in Islam as is fornication, and Muslims will avoid bars and clubs and
often strongly prefer alternative alcohol-free environments.
• Muslims are only permitted to eat Halal (permissible) foods, which can be found in some
Students’ Unions and universities.
020 7387 4644
Judaism is one of the three main monotheistic religions. It is based on principles and ethics embodied
in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) and further explained in the Talmud and other religious texts. It is
amongst the oldest religious traditions still being practiced today. Judaism begins with the Covenant
between God and Abraham. Throughout the ages, Judaism has adhered to a number of religious
principles, the most important of which is the belief in a single God, who created the universe and
continues to govern it. Other central tenants of Judaism include a connection to Israel and a yearning
for a return to the land, a sense of community, shared culture and shared history. Jews consider
themselves to be a people, a race and a nation as well as a religious community
There are a number of Jewish festivals throughout the year which would prevent Jewish students
from attending university lectures, sitting exams, or going to student union fairs. During these festival
days observant Jews will not use electricity, write, drive or handle money. These prohibitions also
apply to Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. In Judaism the day begins from sundown the night before until
sunset on the given day, not from 12 until 12, i.e. the Jewish Sabbath runs from Friday evening to
Saturday evening, meaning that observant Jews will not attend events on Friday nights. However,
there are many different levels and strands of religiosity within Judaism, and many Jewish students
will not adhere to these rules or have varying interpretations of them.
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, two days)
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, a fast day)
Sukkot (festival is 8 days long, prohibitions apply for first two and last two days)
Passover (festival is eight days long, prohibitions apply for first two and last two days)
Shavuot (Pentecost, two days)
Students’ unions should also be aware of the strict Jewish dietary laws, which forbid Jews from eating
non-kosher meat, and mixing milk and meat products in the same meal (some wait for up to six hours
between eating meat and dairy products). Some Jewish students will be happy to eat vegetarian food
but more observant Jews will need a fully kosher option.
The Union of Jewish Students will be happy to offer advice and support around any of these issues to
Students’ unions or universities.
British Organisation of Sikh Students
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Jee (1469) spread a simple message of "EkOngKar": We are
one, created by the One Creator. Followers practice: Meditation (Naam Japna), Truthful living (Kirat
Karna) and Altruism with all (Vand Ke Shakna). Sikhs aim for salvation with the One Creator. They
believe Guru Granth Sahib Jee (the Holy Scriptures) to be their eternal Guru.
Sikhs who are baptised wear the 5K’s, refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage, refrain
from taking tobacco, alcohol, and all other intoxicants and avoiding eating meat.
Sikhs have many festivals that they observe throughout the year. The main festivals include:
Vaisakhi (Celebrating the birth of the Khalsa and Sikh New Year.) Falls in April
Bandi Chor (Festival of light celebrating freedom and justice) Falls in October
Guru Nanak Dev Jee’s Gurpurb (the birth of the founder of Sikhism) Falls in November
Sikhism encourages its followers to leave a normal family life and thus does not especially encourage
Sikhs to take time out from work and other worldly duties to celebrate its festivals. Instead a Sikh is
encouraged to practice Sikhism within the midst of a normal life. Thus the vast majority or Sikh
students do not require special
consideration for events.
Sikhs are asked to refrain from the following four activities:
Smoking, drinking and consuming any other type of intoxicants.
Cutting their hair
Sexual relations outside of marriage.
Baptised Sikhs are required to wear the 5 K’s at all times. These cannot be removed under any
circumstances. (The 5 K’s are: Kanga: wooden comb, Kara: iron bangle, Kirpan: ceremonial dagger,
Kesh: uncut hair and Kacherra: cotton undergarments.)
It would be best if social and educational functions could be held in an environment which is
conducive for Sikhs. Many Sikhs do not like to be present where alcohol, meat or cigarettes are being
There are no pre-conditions or objections on lecture or course material
Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (Incorporated) Zoroastrian Centre,
440 Alexandra Avenue, Harrow HA2 9TL, UK
Tel: +44 20 8866 0765 Fax: +44 20 8868 4572
Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest prophetic world religions circa, revealed by Prophet Zarathushtra
known as Zoroaster by the ancient Greeks, who lived and preached his religion in the area now known
as Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan circa 1500BC. Zoroastrianism was one of the first world religions to
believe that there is only one single God or Creator whose name is Ahura Mazda, referred as the Wise
Lord, who created truth, wisdom, light and all things good but unlike other religions the Zoroastrian
Creator God is not responsible for evil! Zoroastrians observe a 12 months 30 days per month religious
calendar commencing with NoRuz or New Year. Each month is named after the Creator God Ahura
Mazda, or an attribute of Ahura Mazda, or a Zoroastrian divinity.
The Zoroastrian Community in the UK is made up of those who have originated from the Indian
subcontinent and Pakistan who are known as the Parsis and those who have come from Iran. Both
groups of Zoroastrians have a similar religious calendar, celebrate similar festivals but due to historical
misunderstanding celebrate their NoRuz or New Year on a different date in comparison with the
Gregorian calendar. Some of the key Zoroastrian festivals are:-
Festival Iranian Calendar / Gregorian Parsi Calendar / Gregorian
NoRuz / New Year 21 March – spring equinox 19 August
Khordad Sal / Prophet 26 March 24 August
Zarathushtra’s birth anniversary
Zarthosht – no Diso / Prophet 26 December 26 May
Muktads 10 – 20 March 9 – 18 August
Mehergan / Half Year 1 October 2 March
Tirgan / Quarter Year 1 July 29 November
Zoroastrianism believes that education is meritorious for all human beings no matter what gender,
religion, colour or creed or ethnic group. Zoroastrians do not have a dietary code and are permitted to
consume alcohol as long it is in moderation and should not get drunk and their behaviour must not be
anti social. However, Zoroastrians are avid anti smokers.
This guidebook was made possible by the submissions from all the national groups and NUS staff
We would like to thank
The Buddhist Society
National Spiritual Association of Baha’is of the UK
University and Colleges Christian Fellowship
National Hindu Student Forum (UK)
Federation of Student Islamic Societies
Union of Jewish Students
British Organisation of Sikh Students
Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (Incorporated) Zoroastrian Centre
James Lorenz (Head of Communications NUS)
Vicky Thomas (Senior Designer/Campaigns Support NUS)