Essay on Temples of Different Religions
On our field trip, our class visited an Islamic mosque, a Hindu temple, and a Jewish synagogue. All three places looked very different, and they taught me quite a bit about the lives of the followers of each of these religions. I also learned about the unique theological aspects of each religion which caused me to think deeper about my perspective of these religions.
One of the first things I noticed walking into the mosque was the offering slots in the wall. Later we learned that these slots were for the donations that Muslims were required to make. Before we went into the prayer hall, we took off our shoes. Walking inside the prayer hall, I noticed that the school children and other people did not even wear socks. The room was carpeted and had almost no furniture except for a few folding chairs to assist those who had difficulties with prayer. Looking up to the ceiling, we saw a gigantic chandelier. At the front of the room, there was a board that displayed the times for prayer. After walking upstairs and walking into the bathroom, I noticed that the bathrooms had a separate area for foot washing.
The women in the mosque generally had loose clothes on with various kinds of head scarfs. The men also had baggy clothes but without a headscarf. Their clothes are to represent their chastity and modesty. Their way of prayer includes several pieces of symbolism like having the mind and the heart at the same level. I found that everyone I encountered at the mosque was hospitable and considerate. The amount of security at the mosque certainly stood out but is understandable considering current events. I thought that Maysa Albarcha, our guide, was kind and communicated her thoughts very well.
I learned several new things about Islam while visiting the mosque. I learned that Islam is based upon surrender and submission, usually to Allah. It did make me feel somewhat weird, because I have always known God as a loving God, but Muslims mostly fear Allah. I found it interesting that in Islam, making mistakes is not the same thing as sinning; sinning is intentional and making mistakes do not count as sins. I also found the necessity of repenting to be very interesting.
This concept is shown in their beliefs on suicide as well as certain Bible stories. For example, instead of Adam and Eve sinning and being cast out of the garden forever, they repented and were allowed back into the garden. While Islam has grace, their version is very different from Christianity. In Islam, grace is only given when it is deserved, whereas in Christianity, grace is freely given. I also admired Maysa’s ability to be well-spoken and to reasonably communicate her beliefs.
Driving up to the Hindu temple, the architecture on the outside was eye-catching. There was a large tower in the center of the building with intricate architecture and small details that could not be seen from far away. After taking off our shoes in the basement, we walked up to the inside of the temple. Immediately, I noticed a certain smell that I believe to be a kind of incense. The temple also seemed mostly empty; there were only a few people there besides the priests.
The inside also had the same elaborate architecture as the outside. Walking through the temple, we could see that somebody was currently working on maintaining the temple by painting the walls. There was also a pattern painted in white on the tile floor. Going around the temple clockwise, we walked through all the various deities that the temple had. All the deities were dressed in elaborate clothing and accessories. The temple also had a small Jain temple inside of it. Generally, the temple was quiet except for the priests performing the pujas.
The people in the temple generally were quiet. They went about their own business and made their offerings. They usually stopped at most of the deities and said something as well as placing a small offering of fruit or flowers. Some people were wearing more traditional Indian clothes, while others were wearing more modern clothes. The priests in the temple did not seem hostile; however, they seemed uncomfortable with our large group of non-Hindus being in the temple.
Going to the Hindu temple was a unique experience that caused me to think deeper about the things taught in class. One of the main things I noticed was how different Hinduism was from monotheistic religions. Everything just felt off while in the temple. I found Hinduism to be mainly based on individuals instead of a community. Instead of the priests teaching the people certain beliefs, the people come to the priests for help performing certain activities. I feel that I did not truly understand the differences between Hinduism and Christianity until we visited the temple.
Immediately upon walking inside, the Jewish synagogue seemed the most similar to Christian churches I am used to seeing. They had plenty of chairs that were set up into rows with each chair having a prayer book. These prayer books contained prayers for them to follow that were in Hebrew and English. The synagogue had several windows in the front that had orange and black stained glass. This stained glass represents the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites through the desert. The Ark is at the front of the synagogue, which is where the Torah scrolls are kept. The Ark and the Torah scrolls had a water theme which represented justice. On top of the arc, there was a glass flame that had a flickering light under it. This represents God’s eternal presence. Behind the Ark and the eternal flame, there was a large wall. This represented the wall in Jerusalem from the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
The first person we met was Debbie Bram. She mostly talked about the significance and meaning behind the various parts of the synagogue. Debbie also made sure to try to relate certain concepts to Christianity. The second person we met was Canter Seth Warner. He addressed more cultural aspects of Judaism as well as some of the theological parts. Both were often hesitant to talk about theological questions and did not entirely know the answers to the questions most religions answer. Everyone we saw at the synagogue seemed nice and dressed completely normally.
One of the things that surprised me about Judaism was how little theology was actually discussed. Judaism, especially Reform Judaism, seemed to be much more a part of their culture. While they had a synagogue, it was mainly used to reflect and remember the past as well as continue their traditions. One of the interesting metaphors used by Canter Warner was “making your patch of grass green.” It shows that Judaism does not emphasize certain parts of theology, rather simply wants the world to be a better place. I also thought about the differences between the various denominations of Judaism and how those compared to the differences between certain Lutheran denominations. I found that the differences in the way that Reform and Orthodox Jews treat the Torah to be similar to the way that ELCA and LCMS Lutherans treat the Bible. The differences are also similar in the strictness of their practices as well as the emphasis of certain laws.
Our field trip surprised me in several different ways. I was surprised by the simplicity of certain worship spaces compared to the elaborate architecture and painting of others. I was intrigued by the wide variety of people we encountered during the trip. Finally, I was surprised by the amount that this trip caused me to think long and hard about my thoughts on Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism.