Experience in other areas of community involvement, such as regeneration,
shows that success in involving Black and Minority Ethnic groups depends on
how they are approached and by whom. This involves sensitivity to cultural
traditions, as well as being open and approachable.
Advance preparation will help establish a positive relationship and a good
rapport. You don't need to become an overnight expert to take a courteous and
informed interest in some of the traditions and beliefs of the group you are going
to visit. When you start to develop an outreach programme, leaders of the
community will guide you in practical matters, such as:
help selecting dates for meetings, making sure they do not clash with
other events or religious festivals;
information on prayer times and routines;
language usage and interpretation needs;
developing the best way of approaching households for example, many
South Asian households are still patriarchal and prefer male outsiders to
initially liaise with male members of the household.
People's beliefs and behaviours are informed by country of origin, country of
residence, age, social class, ethnicity and faith. Remember, cultural awareness
means listening to, and finding out from others what their main values a nd ways
of behaving are; it means not making assumptions about the needs or beliefs of
particular groups, but taking account of, and adapting to, each different set of
Faith communities: religions and beliefs
In the section that follows we have provided some pointers to the main
characteristics of the main faith communities in the UK.
What is religion or belief? 1
Religions deal with basic questions such as: how life began, and what happens
when we die and has always attempted to explain these questions and
developed its own ideas, beliefs and rituals on these matters. Any given religion
will normally claim to have been developed by God, but it is important to
Section revised with help from (and thanks to) Faith Communities Toolkit produced for
Birmingham and Solihull Jobcentre Plus.
remember that all religions began and developed in particular historical,
geographical and cultural situations that have influenced and moulded them.
Religions generally include:
creed/doctrine – the system of beliefs and ideas held;
code/ethics – the way people behave, taboos and ideas of sin and
rituals involved in practicing beliefs;
ceremonies, festivals and customs relating to food and dress; and,
community – the social aspects of a religion.
Remember, the same religion will differ by the geographical location of an
individual, by their age, by their length of residence in the UK, by their country
(even region and town) or origin. Also, do not forget that some people – no
matter who – are agnostics (believing that God's existence cannot be proved or
disproved on the basis of current evidence); atheists (the positive disbelief in
God, or the absence of belief); and humanists (people who hold views that are
naturalistic and humane).
The main UK religions
Some practical pointers on the main religions in the UK follow:
There are four main groupings: Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and
Sunday is the usual day for Christian worship. Roman Catholics may
attend Vigil Sunday mass on Saturday evening. Sabbatarian or Seventh
Day Churches believe that the commandment to the Jews to keep the
seventh day (Saturday) holy is binding on Christians. Icons are extremely
important to Orthodox Christians.
There are no universal dietary regulations though some Christians do not
eat meat on Fridays; fasting is a recognised part of an Orthodox
Christian's life e.g. Wednesday and Friday each week, and a long period
before Easter and Christmas. Some Christians will not drink alcohol.
Christians are not encouraged to dress in a particular way.
Hinduism is a pluralistic religion which suggests that God can be thought
of and approached in a variety of ways; its teaching emphasises that as
we are all different, the way we think of and approach the ultimate reality
(God) will be different. The rules of worship and prayer can vary a great
deal from family to family. The Hindu place of worship is the temple.
Greetings and etiquette: Hindus do not traditionally shake hands on
greeting but do not object to doing so. There are strong and extended
Hindus offer food to God first before consuming it, Hindus believe that
food can have profound impact on one's life, and appropriate diet can help
in perusal of one's chosen lifestyle. The Hindu compassion for all living
beings, leads to vegetarian practices, although vegetarianism is not as
universal among the Hindus as may appear. Many Hindus in the UK have
adopted meat eating habits and will use eggs in cakes and biscuits. They
will not consume beef as the cow is considered to be a sacred animal.
For Hindus, fasting is like a vow to avoid certain foods at certain times –
particular days of the week, of the lunar month, and of the year.
Hindu women wear the Tilaka/bindhi, which is a vermilion mark applied on
the forehead. This mark has a religious significance and is a visible sign of
a person as belonging to the Hindu religion. The Tilaka is of more than
one colour although normally it is vermilion. It also does not have any
standard shape and form and is applied differently by members of different
Hindu sects and sub-sects. It is also likely to signify that the woman is
Hindu men cover themselves from waist to knee, though most will wear
western dress for work.
Traditional dress for Hindu women includes:
A Sari: for a single length of material, the sari must be the most versatile
garment in existence. It is only one of the many traditional garments worn
by women, yet it has somehow become the national dress of Indian
Shalwar-Kamees – loose fitting trousers and lone top.
A Ghagra - a form of pleated skirt known as the ghagra or lehanga. This
skirt is secured at the waist and leaves the back and midriff bare. The
heads are often covered by a length of fine cotton known as orhni or
A Choli - the tightly fitted, short blouse worn under a sari is a choli. The
choli evolved as a form of clothing in 10th century AD and the first cholis
were only front covering; the back was always bare. Bodices of this type
are still common.
Sikhs believe in one form-less God who is present throughout the whole of
creation; they respect all life, the natural environment, and all people,
regardless of gender, caste, class, colour, creed or ability. The Sikh place
of worship is called a Gurdwara, a place for speaking about God, public
worship and community service.
Sikhs have early morning and evening prayers, which may be recited at
home or in congregation at the Gurdwara.
Sikh teachings advocate that closer unity with God is achieved through
active family life; providing for the family and caring for all its members
material, emotional and spiritual needs are an act of worship in
Greetings and etiquette: when encountering a group of Sikhs it would be
customary to greet the eldest first. Sikhs greet each other by putting their
hands together and bowing; there is no objection to shaki ng hands; some
Sikhs may hug people of their own gender. The home is considered to be
holy and you should offer to remove your shoes.
Scriptures forbid the eating of meat killed in the Muslim (halal) or kosher
tradition (Halal) and the consumption of tobacco, alcohol or other
intoxicants. Many Sikhs do not eat beef and some will not eat pork; many
are lacto-vegetarians and do not eat fish, eggs, or products made with
them. The preparation, storage and serving of food needs to be managed
carefully. Orthodox Sikhs will not eat food if they fear there is a risk of
contamination. Different utensils, cutlery and cooking pots should be used
in the preparation of meat and vegetarian dishes and when serving meat it
should be kept very separate from vegetarian dishes. There are no
universal fasting requirements.
Sikh men can be easy to identify because they all have a full beard, and
wear their hair uncut and contained in a turban; but not all do so.
Khalsa Sikhs show their commitment by wearing five religious symbols,
known as the Five Ks:
o kesh, or uncut hair;
o kanga, the comb;
o kaccha, a short baggy undergarment;
o kara, a steel bangle;
o kirpan, a short sword.
Many non-initiated Sikhs also wear Khalsa symbols and bear Khalsa
Women, in particular older Sikh women, will wear Punjabi suits (two piece
cotton or silk dress over baggy trousers). Men tend to wear western
clothes, however, orthodox Sikhs will wear a more traditional dress of a
tunic over baggy trousers.
The literal meaning of the word 'Islam' is Peace and Submission. It implies
a peaceful way of life based on Submission to the will of God/Allah. It is
followed by many Muslims throughout the world and has many different
schools of thought.
Muslims are expected to pray five times a day: before sunrise, at noon,
midway between noon and sunset, at sunset and at night. These prayers
are obligatory and so can be offered anywhere; there will also be set times
in mosques. It is important to offer facilities for prayer as Muslims will not
automatically request them. Friday afternoon is the weekly congregational
Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan – the ninth month of the
Islamic lunar calendar; it moves forward 11 days earlier each year so you
need to check when it is in any one particular year. During this month,
Muslims abstain from food and drink from just before dawn to sunset.
It's not just at Ramadan that Muslims abstain. When you become a
Muslim you will abstain from certain things like alcohol - khamr - and, of
course, drugs for ever. Also, Muslims do not go to places where alcohol is
served - so do not set up meetings in pubs.
The commonality between all Muslims is that they must only consume
Halal – that is, permitted, allowed, lawful or legal for Muslims – food. The
classification of food products as Halal is a very serious religious matter
and can only be carried out by a Muslim who is an expert in The Islamic
Dietary laws. All the preparation, processing and manufacturing
equipment (e.g. cutting equipment, mixing equipment, containers, utensils
and other related equipment) must be free from non Halal products and all
Halal meat meals must be served in a separate container / package from
that of non Halal meals.
Muslims are forbidden to consume pork or any of its derivatives.
All vegetarian food is allowed and so is the safest option. Eggs and fish
can be eaten but must not be prepared in an area where non-Halal meat
has been prepared.
Greetings and etiquette: when two Muslims greet each other they might
say 'Assalamu Alaikum' (peace be upon you). Modesty discourages
physical forms of greeting (kissing, hugging etc), especially between
members of the opposite sex. You should offer to remove your shoes
when entering a Muslim house.
The Muslim woman wears correct hijab when she goes out of her house.
Hijab is the distinctive Islamic dress whose features have been clearly
defined by the Qur'an and Sunnah. She does not go out of the house, or
appear before non-mahram men, wearing perfume, make-up or other
The Jewish people believe that God made a convenant with Abraham, a
promise that he would be their God, and they would be his people. The
Torah contains 613 commandments which are seen as the revelation of
God and the basis of the covenant. The tradition is seen as a living one
and interpreted and applied through the Talmud.
There are three daily prayers – morning, afternoon and evening.
Communal prayer can take place anywhere, and does not need a rabbi to
officiate. In the Orthodox tradition there must be ten or mo re males
The Sabbath begins about half an hour before sunset on Friday evening,
and ends at nightfall of Saturday. Jewish people believe that the Sabbath
is commanded by God and as a result take time out from everyday things
to feel special. Shabbat is a time with no television, no rushing to the
demands of the telephone or a busy work schedule.
Food is either kosher (permitted) or trief (forbidden). The Jewish dietary
laws, known as kashrut, cover the way in which meat is ritually killed and
prepared as well as which foods can and cannot be eaten. Most poultry -
including chicken, turkey, duck and goose - is permitted (excluding birds of
prey), as are animals with spilt hooves like sheep, cows and deer and fish.
Eggs and dairy products - are permitted, provided they come from an
animal which is kosher, although more religious Jews may only consume
the latter if they have been made with milk from a supervised kosher dairy.
Vegetarian food is permitted.
Greetings and etiquette: there are no fixed forms of greeting. Orthodox
Jews would not expect overt physical displays of affection between the
sexes; very Orthodox Jews will not touch any woman other than his wife
and immediate family.
“Ultra-Orthodox" Jews obey religious laws very strictly. They li ve in
separate communities and follow their own customs. To some extent they
keep apart from the world around them. The Ultra-Orthodox are one of
the fastest growing groups of the Jewish people. "Ultra-Orthodox" is not a
term that Jews like very much, and it is more acceptable to use the word
Males who are Orthodox Jews wear the traditional head covering (kipah or
yarmulke) - married women also cover their heads with hats or scarves,
and are expected to dress modestly.
Buddhism is primarily a practical way of spiritual and moral training for
those who follow the teaching of the Buddha – the name means
Adherents follow the Eightfold Path, which aims to eradicate personal
egotism and material self-seeking, and promote wholesome thinking and
Greetings and etiquette: in Buddhist countries the normal form of greeting
is to place the hands together, pointing upwards at chest height with
palms joined and then bow. Western converts will also adopt the usual
style of greeting and shale hands. There are no requirements for everyday
dress (except for monastics – see below) but people are encouraged to
dress modestly and discretely.
Some Buddhists eat only once a day, in between dawn and midday; this is
uncommon among Western converts.
Vegetarianism is part of the Buddhist commitment to non-violence, though
practices vary depending on the school of Buddhism or country of origin.
Devotees are supposed to abstain from drink or drugs which alter
Examples of other religions:
African tribal religions
Chinese/Vietnamese – Confucianism, Taoism and Bhuddhism
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
The Home Office produced a useful Brief Guide to Major Religious and Cultural
Observance in the United Kingdom, which provides general background about
the major religions and cultures. More comprehensive information can be
obtained from sources such as the Multi-Cultural Matters Yearbook.
Or look at Cultural Diversity: A resource booklet on religious and cultural
observance, belief, language and naming systems
More guidance is also available in Religions in the UK: A Multi-Faith Directory,
University of Derby in association with the Inter Faith Network for the UK.
Contact the University of Derby on 01332 592026 or visit the Multifaithnet
Click here for local community regeneration contacts and projects.