Ramadan 2012 and Olympic Athletes

 

Over the past 6 weeks, living in London has presented me with numerous opportunities to learn more about the culture, visit iconic places, meet new friends, and also see how the city is preparing to host the 2012 Olympic games. During my time in London, there have been constant newspaper articles, BBC reports, and gossip papers about the 2012 games. A topic that has caused different controversies in the games involves various religious morals and practices of numerous religions. One of these controversies includes the Islam practice of Ramadan; this religious practice not only reflects the Islam religion but also causes some problems for Islam athletes competing in the games.

Ramadan is a fasting practice that Muslims participate in for a month once a year. During this month of fasting, Muslims are to restrain from food, drinking, and sexual acts from sunrise to sunset in order to learn self-restraint. During the 2012 Olympics in London this summer, there are about 3500 Islam athletes that are competing and have prepared all their lives these games. How are they supposed to have enough carbohydrates, protein, and energy to be physically ready and healthy for their events? This is where the controversy arises; do the Islam athletes not practice a very important religious holiday or do they practice the holiday and be at much less of an advantage than their competitors?

The foundation of the Islamic religion is based on the five pillars of Islam which consist of 5 different acts and beliefs required for all Muslims. These pillars include believing that there is no god but God, praying five times a day, donating 2.5% of assets to poor/needy, fasting, and to journey to Mecca at least once. Fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan, is obligatory for people of this faith. This year, Ramadan takes place from July 20th till the 18th of August; exactly when the Olympic games occur.

image from Many Muslim Athletes to Fast After London Olympics article

For the Olympic competitors that are Muslim, the athletes and people of the Islamic faith have made some decisions about how to deal with this issue. The article Many Muslim Athletes to Fast After London Olympics, explains how most Muslim athletes are going to postpone fasting until after the games are over, by giving back to the poor, or participating in community work in order to still compete in the games. Also, different Islamic councils are getting involved on the discussion of this topic including the High Olympic Egyptian Islamic. This council “gave athletes a reprieve by announcing a fatwa, or religious edict, stating that Olympic athletes are not required to fast during coaching or competition.” This is very essential to this topic because the fatwa is giving religious permission, allowing a mandatory act of Islam to have an exception. A point that was made in the article however was that the coaches and officials who are Muslim will be fasting because “they aren’t making as much effort as the athletes,” showing how this is strictly for athletes and should still be practiced by anyone who is able to.

Even though most Muslims who are participating in the summer 2012 Olympic games in London aren’t going to fast due to different reasons, the London Olympic games still made the point that “they are trying to facilitate and accommodate all those athletes who decide to fast and compete during the Olympics” as stated in the article Many Muslim Athletes to Fast After London Olympics. There are many different controversies and problems that have and will happen during the Olympics involving religion and many others. The combination of Ramadan and the Olympics isn’t ideal but the Muslim population has made decisions and exceptions that they see appropriate and leave the decision up to the athlete.

 

Sources:

“Five Pillars of Islam.” Five Pillars of Islam. Islam 101, n.d. Web. 26 July 2012. <http://www.islam101.com/dawah/pillars.html&gt;.

Surk, BARBARA. “Many Muslim Athletes to Fast after London Olympics.” Huff Post: SPORTS. N.p., 20 July 2012. Web. 26 July 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120720/oly-ramadan-olympics/&gt;.

Chapel of the West End

Due to another class I’m taking in London, Musical Theatre, I have attended about 7 different theatre productions, most for the class and some on my own. It’s been a great opportunity to experience one of the greatest pieces of culture London has to offer.

39 Steps

Blood Brothers

Porgy and Bess

Chicago

Wicked

Billy Elliot

Les Miserables

Sweeney Todd

Considering all I had previously seen were traveling shows of STOMP and Cats before, this has certainly increased my collection. Everyone I have met has asked me if I have seen a show on the West End, and since I’m in London, I have too. They get really impressed when I tell them the number I have seen, but that’s beside the point.

Now, these shows are all so different from one another, from dramatic to lighthearted, short to long, and popular to operatic. Some of them have been playing in the same theatre since the 1980s, there was the traveling show only in town for 10 days, and the newer productions.

For instance, we went to Porgy and Bess, a traveling show from Cape Town, South Africa, on its opening night in the London Coliseum. And you could tell, the people in attendance were nearly theatre professionals, well-versed in it all. You knew, that if they were there opening night, they had to be. Nearly every newspaper in London, had a critic attending the show, that’s a lot of newspapers.

Not only were hundreds of people in attendance, but not only that, the next morning, hundreds of people could read the reviews.

(In the case of Musical Theatre) are the songs of these shows hymns, are the productions sacred scriptures teaching life lessons, are those in attendance religious followers of Theaterianism? (Okay, I made that up.) Is the West End just a series of elaborate Chapels dedicated to this prominent London religion? Could shows that have had over 20 year runs in these theatres be gurus, messengers, prophets from the great Theatre god?

If people can relate following Sports teams and even Pimm’s to being similar to religions, then it doesn’t seem like the biggest leap to feel as if theatre can be compared similarly. It is a very important aspect of London culture; if you are here then you must see a show on the West End! England is very well known to be nonsecular, but theatre is so prominent that it seems like a state sponsored religion too! So many things have pseudo-religious followings, especially the city of London, that you feel living here that you are a part of.

As this is also a concluding blog for my stay in London, I’d like to finish with this. Because this city is a multicultural Mecca, although it was never that I became less American, but I just became a piece of the mosaic of London. Even if it is scattered and seemingly mismatched, when you step back it is a mosaic that is uniquely one-of-a-kind, colorful, and beautiful. The theatre culture reflects this too. Its diverse, there are so many options, genres, and styles, but they all fit together to a larger piece and a larger following.

 

Red Light, Green Light

De Wallen district in Amsterdam

In today’s popular culture debates about religion and society, it seems that often, at least in America, the topic of morality arises. To be more specific, does no religion mean one is immoral? Do morals only stem from religion? It’s a complex and multi-faceted debate, one that arose this weekend in a peculiar place: Amsterdam’s red-light district. More formally known as De Wallen, it’s a place most people assume is filled with prostitution and pot smoking. At the root level, those assumptions are right. The Dutch are quite liberal in their law making, but instead of letting those activities take over the entire city, they sectioned it off and kept it contained within three red-light districts (De Wallen is the biggest and most well known of the three). De Wallen is unlike any other place in the world; it is an area solely dedicated to what many would classify as sinning. While the Dutch government has tried to keep a hand on everything that goes on in the red-light districts of Amsterdam, there is still a significant amount of human and drug trafficking. It isn’t all bad in the red-light district, however, and that is where religion comes into play.

The Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in all of Western Europe with only 39% being religiously affiliated according to the Netherlands’ Social and Cultural Planning Office. One organization, however, is looking to bring a little faith, and a little help, to the red-light district. The Scharlaken Koord (Scarlet Cord in English) is a religious organization that aims to help prostitutes escape from the world they’re living in. Ironically, they seem to both reject and accept prostitution at the same time. The organization has stated that it condemns the actions of the prostitutes, but their organization is named after the scarlet cord that appears in the biblical story of Rahab, a prostitute herself that uses the cord to help two Israelites escape from the city of Jericho. It’s an interesting position they take by naming their organization after the story of a prostitute and helping sex workers, yet condemning the fact that they are prostitutes. Either way, it is nice to see a religious organization such as the Scharlaken Koord have a presence in such a controversial district. Prostitution is labeled as the oldest profession, and while Christianity may not be the oldest religion, it is certainly doing its job to help the red-light district.

Red lights above doorways

King’s College Chapel and Christian Consistency

Side view of King’s College Chapel

Comparing how different countries and parts of the world practice the same religion, specifically Christianity, has always been an interest of mine. Seeing how consistent a religion in is in various places of the world with different cultures and languages always made me wonder how strong and regular Christianity is. Because of this, before I came to study abroad in England, I made a pact with myself that I would try to attend a Christian service and see how similar services in England are to services I have attended in the United States. I partially accomplished this already when I attended a church concert at St. Martins-in-the-fields Church in London with my Religion class, a post I wrote about previously, but this will particularly focus on my visit to a very well known Christian Chapel in Cambridge, England; the King’s College Chapel.

The King’s College Chapel, since it is located in England, is an Anglican Church and a perfect example of Perpendicular architecture due to its fan vaulting, high ceilings, large amounts of stained glass windows along every wall, and pointed arches. This was the first thing that I noticed as a main difference; the grand and ornate place of worship. The church I attend at home is a fairly simple building with a few modern aspects in its abstract, non-symmetrical plan, and plain façade made out of stucco with a few wooden decorative crosses. For me, this reinforced the history of religion, specifically Christianity, in England. This chapel was first started by King Henry VI in the 15th century and was finally completed after 100 years in 1536. This chapel was designed to reflect the Christian religion similarly to churches in the US but the degree of ornamentation and decoration reflecting Christian ideals and stories is incomparable. The stained glass windows of this chapel are particularly special due to its biblical references. The top portion of these windows depict biblical stories from the old testament and the lower level of stained glass windows reflect biblical stories from the new testament; a incredibly unique feature that isn’t seen in the United States.

Unfortunately, the day I went to Cambridge, I was unable to attend either service that is held at the Chapel due to the inexistence of services that day, but I did participate in the exhibition of the Chapel where it explained the different services held here. What I noticed from the exhibition was that the main concepts and principles of Christianity including accepting God as your one and only savior, devoting your life to God, the forgiveness of sins, and the holy scriptures and stories from the Holy Bible that are taught are consistent with what I’ve learned in services in the United States. The songs, number of services, and the structure of these services however, is where differences arose.

The main difference between services of King’s College Chapel and services in the United States is the various service types. Normally, Christian churches in the United States have a weekly service on Sunday that consists of singing worship songs (some from the bible, but not all), a sermon from the Priest, and Holy Communion once a month at one of these Sunday services. At King’s College Chapel however, has two types of services that bring the Christian traditions to daily life are held numerous times a week. Matins and Evensong is one of the two different services held at the chapel. This particular service highlights the literary traditions of Christianity with music by reading and singing prayers from parts of the Bible and with the people participating in sacrament. Also at this service, the famous boys choir performs various psalms from the Bible. The second service, Mass or Holy Communion, also held regularly, is a service where a Priest preaches a sermon and leads the congregation in communion by repeating Christ’s words by saying “This (bread) is my body. This (wine) is my blood.”

When comparing these services to the United States, numerous differences start to appear. For instance, the songs that are sung during Evensong are strictly psalms from Holy Scriptures where as in the United States, most songs that are sung in services I’ve attended are contemporary music pieces from modern artists. Also, the choir at the Evensong service consists of only young boys whereas in the United States most choirs are made of older adults of both sexes. Similar to the Mass service at King’s Chapel, Priests in the United States say this same thing before Holy Communion services, but communion itself isn’t a different service. What I found generally was that the churches I go to at home are more contemporary and emphasize the individual’s private relationship with God rather than biblical psalms, scriptures, and traditions of Christianity, all of which were emphasized more in the services at King’s College Chapel.

Although I wasn’t able to actually sit and attend a church service at King’s College Chapel, after visiting this beautiful building, I was able to learn a little more about the similarities and differences of Christianity in England and the United States. From my experience, I came to the conclusion that even though the services at the King’s College Chapel are far more traditional than most Christian services in the United States, the foundation and base of the Christian religion (morals, principles, and teachings) are consistent in England and the United States; showing the regularity and strength of Christianity.

Interior of King’s College Chapel

Fan vaulting and stained glass windows

Source:

Tour and exhibition at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England

“History of the Chapel.” King’s College, Cambridge. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. <http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/chapel/history.html&gt;.

Hindu Temple in Neasden

At first I was not very excited about going to see a Hindu temple because I felt a little bit out of place because I am not very religious. As well, the religion that I do practice is Judaism. I also did not feel like I had that great of a grasp on the aspects of Hinduism because there are a lot of different parts that make up the religion: caste system, vedas, samsara, moksha, dharma, and more. Not only are there so many different parts to Hinduism, but there are also two types: Philosophical Hinduism and Devotional Hinduism. I came into the temple thinking Hinduism is very complex, but after I left I was very surprised and satisfied with my experience and now am able to understand more of its beliefs.

At first, I listened to a man give our class some background on Hinduism and he explained things in a way that was very easy to understand and he kept my attention. One thing that stuck out to me is that Hindus worship the cow and view the cow as their mother. This is drawn from the fact that a mother provides milk for her children and because cows provide milk as well, Hindus honor the cow as one would respect a mother. The cow is also the reason that Hindus do not wear shoes inside of their temples because if shoes are made from leather, one would be disrespecting the cow. As well the cow explains why Hindus follow a vegetarian diet.

Another thing that I really noticed throughout the whole temple was a feeling of respect. Everyone inside of the temple practiced silence, showing respect for their religion and for others who were there practicing their religion. Because everyone was silent, I felt like it was a sign that we all had an understanding of each other and were respecting whatever everyone was there doing. As well, I felt welcomed and I did not feel out of place at all because those who saw our class there knew we were there for learning purposes.

There was one room we went into that had some of the deities in small set back rooms that we could view from the center of the room. This was interesting because we discussed some of the deities in class such as Shiva, Krishna, Kali, and Durga. I liked the fact that I was able to visually see topics we discussed in class in actual practice inside of the temple. Another symbol that was in that same room was a swing that a lot of people congregated around and performed some sort of moment of silence or prayer. The sign explaining what this swing was said that the swing was a way to pull oneself closer to God. One of the problems in Hinduism is samsara which means wandering or distance from God and the solution to this is moksha which is devotion to God. Therefore, this swing has a lot of meaning and helps to draw Hindus closer to their religion and center themselves with God.

As well, the architecture of the building also drew my attention. The temple was beautiful and from the street was huge and looked intimidating. Both the outside as well as the inside was filled with extremely intricate designs and symbols of Hinduism. The ceiling was the most beautiful to me. I think that out of all the religious places of worship I have visited in the last six weeks in London, this Hindu temple is where I got the most information from.

Exploring Chinatown

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This weekend I decided to strike out on my own and adventure through London without a plan.  I started at the Covent Garden tube stop and began walking in whatever direction looked interesting.  About an hour in I managed to stumble upon what I realized was Chinatown, an area I had wanted to explore but hadn’t had the chance.  As I started looking around I realized that this could be an interesting blog post, especially since we haven’t learned very much about Chinese religions.  I began my search for signs of religion in this area teeming with culture. The first things that caught my attention, as far as religions go, were a few Buddha statues in a shop selling souvenirs and trinkets.   I also saw a Buddha statue on an altar sort of thing in a restaurant.  The last semblance of religion I saw was some incense being sold in a shop.  I decided to go home and do some research to determine the significance of these objects. 

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Breadown of Buddhism in London

There are two major religions in China and those are Buddhism and Taoism.  Very briefly put, Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gotama), who claimed that life is suffering and the way to end that suffering and become enlightened is through becoming fully aware of our thoughts and actions and acting morally.   Put in the simplest and briefest terms possible.  Taoism is both a philosophy and a religion encouraging a way of living (“the way”) that incorporates a variety of principals regarding diet, exercise, breathing, and meditation.  It is based on the teachings of Lao–Tze.  Tao is a force that represents everything natural. 

As far as the religious symbols I spotted in Chinatown, only one incorporates both religions: incense.  Incense is believed to purify one’s surroundings and bring forth any friendly spiritual forces.  In both Buddhist and Taoist temples, incense is hung from the ceilings and placed in front of statues of deities.  The fragrance is also considered to be symbolic of ethics and morality, however, if one is not acting morally in life the offering of incense means nothing. 

The next two symbols only represent Buddhism.  The Buddha statue itself is not worshipped but is used as a reminder of the path to Enlightenment and therefore highly respected.  One of the most interesting things I found in my research was the reason for different poses used in the statues.  These poses are known as mudras.  There are five more popular poses: Abhaya mudra (meaning peaceful intentions and peacemaking), Bhumisparsha mudra (enlightenment of Buddha), Dhyana mudra (wisdom), Dharmachakra mudra (wheel of Dharma), and Varada mudra.  Each is represented by different hand gestures and body poses, like all five fingers of the right hand reaching to touch the ground for the Bhumisparsha mudra. It’s fascinating how much symbolism is often so quickly overlooked. 

The last thing I saw on my adventure was the Buddhist altar.  The purpose of the altar is to call holy beings down to the Earth to encourage compassion and wisdom to the people in the presence of the altar. The altar is also used for daily practices like lighting incense or presenting flowers to encourage purification of the mind. 

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Look at all that meat!

I thought it was so cool to see another representation of religious diversity in London.  Buddhism and Taoism are definitely not majority religions of London, but they were well represented in this nook of SOHO. As a last thought, I also thought it was really interesting to compare Chinatown restaurants with restaurants in Brick Lane.  One overwhelming difference (among many) was the amount of meat and skinned animals hanging in the windows of every restaurant.  This is something I don’t think you would ever see in Brick Lane because of the vegetarian practices of most of the religions there.  Obviously these are both places strongly influenced by the cultures and religions that reside there. 

 

Further Reading:

Picture 1

Picture 2

mudras 

Buddhism

Taoism

Buddhism

Altar

Statue