The Bahá’í Faith began in 1844 in Persia (modern-day Iran). Its Founder is Bahá’u’lláh, whose chief message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. He called for the ending of conflict and injustice. There are about 6 million Bahá’ís around the world, 6,000 in the UK.
In 1844, a young man known as the Báb, which means ‘gate’ or ‘door’ declared Himself a Messenger of God, heralding One greater who would be the fulfilment of all previous religious messengers. Widespread support for the Báb angered the Persian authorities. He was executed in 1850 and His followers brutally persecuted. In 1863 a nobleman called Husayn ‘Alí, now known as Bahá’u’lláh (meaning ‘Glory of God’), claimed to be the One foretold. The authorities imprisoned Him, stripped Him of his wealth and exiled Him, first to Baghdad and later to Akka in Israel, where He died in 1892. In His will He appointed His Son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the authorised interpreter of the teachings. He in turn appointed His grandson Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. After the Guardian’s death, legislative authority passed to the Universal House of Justice – an institution established by Bahá’u’lláh and elected by the national governing institutions of the Bahá’í world.
Religious Scriptures and Symbols
Bahá’í Writings are made up of all the writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. These are believed to be the revealed message of God. Bahá’ís in the UK do not have their own places of worship, but meet in members’ homes and rented rooms. Bahá’ís often use a nine pointed star as a symbol.
What Do Bahá’ís Believe?
Bahá’ís believe that there has only ever been one God and one religion, expressed in different ways at different times by a series of Messengers including Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad, all described as Manifestations of God. Bahá’u’lláh is seen as the fulfilment of their promise that one day a great Messenger would come and bring peace to the world. There will be further Messengers in the future. This concept is called progressive revelation: the idea that all the great religions have a single divine source and are part of a single historical process taking humankind from its beginnings to the coming global civilisation and beyond.
The purpose of human life is to know and worship God, for people to develop spiritually and fulfil their potential. After death, the soul passes on to the next world, where its spiritual development in this world affects its progress. Heaven is a state of nearness to God, and souls pass through many worlds on their journey towards Him. Spiritual life goes hand in hand with everyday life. Bahá’ís are expected to develop virtues such as trustworthiness, and to promote justice, peace and the ending of prejudice.
They see education as the entitlement of all, and participation in social and economic development activity as an expression of faith in action. They do not take part in partisan politics, but work for the unity of humankind. They foresee a future world order in which prejudice of race, gender and nationality will have ended, and extremes of wealth and poverty will have been eliminated. Religion and science are seen as complementary paths to truth.
In 2001 the UK Bahá’í community set up the Institute for Social Cohesion to promote research and practical programmes for improving cross-cultural relations. Nottingham Bahá’ís are much involved in this field. The Bahá’ís have been strong supporters of the inter-faith movement since its inception, and continue to be active in this arena.
What Do Bahá’ís Do?
All Bahá’ís aged over 15 are expected to say one of three ‘obligatory’ prayers each day. First they wash and then face the direction of Bahá’u’lláh’s burial place in Israel. Every morning and evening they read extracts from the scriptures, and are encouraged to meditate for a period each day. There is no special day of the week for worship. There are seven large purpose-built Houses of Worship around the world and others in construction. Each has a dome, symbolising unity, and nine sides, and is open for prayer and meditation by people of all religions. There is no priesthood and very little ritual in the Bahá’í faith, nor are special symbols or dÃ©cor required. An Arabic monogram representing the Greatest Holy Name is often displayed, and sometimes a photograph of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Communal worship is simple and consists of prayers, meditations, often music, and readings from the Bahá’í scriptures and those of other religions.
Bahá’ís are not restricted in what they may eat, but should not drink alcohol nor take addictive drugs, and are discouraged from smoking.
The Bahá’í community is organised through administrative bodies called Spiritual Assemblies, which work at local and national levels. Each has nine members elected annually by the Bahá’ís of its area from among their number. The international governing body is the Universal House of Justice, elected every five years by members of National Spiritual Assemblies and based in Haifa, Israel. Bahá’ís are generally keen to share their vision and belief with enquirers, but do not hold out the promise of reward or threat of punishment to gain converts. A person joins the community by applying to a Spiritual Assembly and satisfying it that he or she accepts the status of the faith’s central figures, believes their message and understands the need to follow their laws.
Dates of Importance
The Bahá’í calendar has 19 months, each of 19 days. The local community comes together for a Nineteen Day Feast on the first day of each month, when members read prayers and holy Writings, consult on the affairs of the community and socialise. The new year begins at the vernal equinox so varies between March 20 and 21. Bahá’ís try to avoid working on their nine Holy Days, which include Naw-Rúz, the Bahá’í New Year, a joyful time, the Feast of Ridván, the most important festival, which marks Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration of His mission, and the Anniversary of the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh, a solemn day of prayer and contemplation commemorating His death. The Intercalary Days before the last month of the year are a time of festivity and giving of gifts, and keep the calendar in step with the solar year. Bahá’í adults in good health undertake a Fast in the last month of the year, when they refrain from food and drink between sunrise to sunset. It is a time for spiritual reflection.
Bahá’ís In Nottingham
At present most of the county’s Bahá’ís live in greater Nottingham, where there has been a Local Spiritual Assembly for more than 60 years. There is also an Assembly in Carlton and groups in several villages. Regular meetings for enquirers are held. Local activities, open to everyone, include prayer and discussion meetings, children’s classes and study circles on a variety of subjects.
Nottingham Spiritual Assembly – firstname.lastname@example.org
Carlton Spiritual Assembly – email@example.com
For contact with the UK National Bahá’í Faith use this link, or telephone 0207 584 2566.
Bahá’í Faith worldwide
The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (UK) teaches Raja Yoga as a way of experiencing peace of mind and a positive approach to life. The University provides opportunities for people from all religious and cultural backgrounds to explore their own spirituality and learn skills of reflection and meditation derived from Raja Yoga, which will help develop inner calm, clear thinking and personal well-being. Across the UK they work with national and local organisations and community groups in such areas as inter-religious dialogue, youth programmes, prison outreach, social work and women’s and men’s groups.
BKWSU (UK) was established as a UK charity in 1975 and charges no fees for any of its activities, being funded by voluntary contributions of its students and teachers.
The University is part of a worldwide network of over 8,500 centres in more than 100 countries, the first of which was founded in the 1930s in Sindh (formerly part of India, now Pakistan). Today the World Headquarters is located in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan, India. Regional Offices of the Brahma Kumaris are in London, Moscow, Nairobi, Sydney and New York.
Inspired by a series of revelations in 1936, Brahma Baba, (1876-1969) founder of the University, dedicated the final 33 years of his life to his vision of a world where all live together in peace, harmony and abundance. A spiritual community of nearly 400 formed around his teachings, which emphasise meditation and understanding as routes to peace and happiness, and they devoted their time to intense spiritual study and selftransformation. The community moved to Mt. Abu in 1950 and activities to bring Brahma Baba’s vision into reality spread throughout India.
One of Brahma Baba’s most revolutionary inspirations was to place women in the major leadership roles of the University. This continues to present day with the Administrative Heads all being female. Now all in their 80s and over, they still share platforms across the world with political and religious leaders at the highest level.
A New Way of Living and Learning
The University’s core teaching is Raja Yoga Meditation, an ancient system of meditation practices and deep spiritual understanding of the self and God. Other free courses and seminars for personal development are offered, which include Positive Thinking, Self-Esteem, Stress-Free Living and Overcoming Anger.
The Brahma Kumaris believe that the soul is the eternal identity of a human being. It travels through an ongoing cycle of death and rebirth into a new human body. God is the Supreme of all souls – an unlimited source of light, love and peace. They emphasise the importance of the ‘dharma’ element of religion – inculcation of the universal principles, taught by God to humanity, for spiritual renewal. The purpose of ‘dharma’ is to enable us to come close to God so as to receive the power to live by our highest motivations, and put an end to our negative tendencies. When our actions become aligned to universal principles, this becomes a basis for the advancement of the world.
There are four main principles the Brahma Kumaris live by: Daily Study of spiritual knowledge, Meditate with the practice of soul-consciousness and a connection to God, Practise to live a life dedicated to improving one’s character, and Serve by sharing with others on the basis of one’s own life experiences.
Take Time to Create Time: Retreat Centres and Inner Spaces
Going on retreat doesn’t mean running away from life, but to walk quietly and earnestly towards ourselves.
Global Retreat Centre, Oxfordshire: a 17th century stately home in 55 acres of historical landscape and gardens overlooking the River Thames. One-day and residential retreats are hosted throughout the year for people from all over the world.
Lighthouse Retreat Centre, Worthing: a quiet, intimate atmosphere with a sea view, where Raja Yoga meditation residential retreats and silence weekends are hosted.
The Inner Space Centres: bringing calm to the heart of the city, making it accessible to local communities and business. Each centre has a Quiet Room to take time out to reenergise and most have a bookshop. The Inner Space Centres are in Covent Garden (Central London), Wembley (Greater London), Romford, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Glasgow and Oxford.
Brahma Kumaris in Nottingham
To find out about free courses, talks and other activities in the Nottingham area, please contact us:Tel: 0115 981 7331
The Brahma Kumaris in the UK, their publications and other information may be obtained from these links.
Buddhism began near Benares in India around the fifth century BC. The founder was Siddhartha Gautama, who achieved a state of enlightenment and the title of Buddha (‘awakened one’). It is a path of spiritual self-development and does not believe in a God. It spread throughout Asia, forming a number of different schools, and over the last century or so has been growing in the West. There are about 360 million Buddhists around the world; 152,000 in the UK; and 1,900 in Greater Nottingham.
Siddhartha Gautama was a prince with a sheltered, comfortable life. On a trip to the city at the age of 29 he saw a sick person, an old man, a corpse and a serene holy man. He resolved to understand suffering and find a way to end it, and spent six years trying all sorts of demanding spiritual practices. Eventually he chose a Middle Way between self indulgence and self-denial, and his determined meditation allowed him to break through to a new understanding. He gathered disciples and travelled to pass on what he’d learned.
Religious Scriptures and Symbols
Although the Buddha is revered, he is not worshipped: he is a guide to the teachings. Different schools have their own scriptures, but most accept the Pali language canon, also known as the Tripitaka, collecting material from the Buddha and his disciples. Many schools have vast collections of other sutras, writings around a particular theme. Buildings for devotion are known as temples or, simply, centres. Common symbols are the Buddha image and the eight-spoked wheel, representing the Eightfold Path of right conduct.
What do Buddhists believe?
Buddhists talk about ‘going for refuge’ to the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the dharma (teachings) and the sangha (community). One can learn the teachings, but they’re only truly understood through an experience of ‘awakening’ where one sees into the ultimate nature of existence and responds with compassion for all beings. The core of the dharma is the Four Noble Truths. The first is the idea of duhka,’unsatisfactoriness’: life is accompanied by imperfection, impermanence and suffering. Second, the origin of duhka is desire and attachment. Third, this craving can be quenched and transcended, leading to a state called nirvana where one is free from impulses like greed and hatred. Fourth, the way of life that can lead one toward this is the Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
There is no permanent, immortal soul. We are collections of ever-changing elements like feelings and perceptions. After death, these elements are reborn into a new life, according to the good and bad deeds of past lives. The Buddhist desires to escape from this wheel of birth and death.
Buddhists are expected to behave according to the Five Precepts, refraining from harming living beings, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, harmful speech and substances that cloud the mind. There are two main branches of Buddhism. Theravada focuses on the historical Buddha, the Tripitaka and achieving nirvana for oneself. It is found mainly in south Asia. Mahayana regards the Buddha as a divine being with many different forms, accepts other sutras, and its ideal is the Bodhisattva, one who postpones their final nirvana to work for the enlightenment of all. It is mainly found in north Asia, and includes Pure Land Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Zen (known as Ch’an in China). The Western Buddhist Order is a new movement drawing on all the traditions of Eastern Buddhism while engaging with modern Western culture.
What do Buddhists do?
Meditation is central to Buddhism. It is thought to build confidence, concentration, mindfulness, energy and wisdom. There are various different methods, but two basic forms. Tranquillity meditation is about promoting a calm, concentrated state of mind. It often involves being aware of one’s breathing and sending out goodwill to the whole world. Insight meditation focuses on seeing the true nature of the world. Meditation can be aided by focusing on an image or statuette of a Buddha or Bodhisattva or a sacred diagram called a mandala, by special chants called mantras, or by particular hand gestures.
Different schools have different styles of building, from simple meditation halls to ornate temples. In the UK most places for devotion are in converted houses. There is usually at least a statue of the Buddha; there might be images of Bodhisattvas. A space free of distractions for meditation is often accompanied by teaching facilities. There is no particular holy day in the week. Many Buddhist centres offer meditation classes to the general public. Most Buddhist homes also have a small shrine with a statue. The puja ceremony involves offering food, flowers, incense and water to show devotion to Buddha’s teachings.
Many Buddhists go away on retreats. These can be for solitary meditation, small study retreats, or large family retreats. In the UK they’re often held in country retreat centres. Buddhist schools often have monks and nuns, men and women who adhere to a particularly spiritual and chaste life. They are often called upon to officiate at ceremonies and help with running the Buddhist community.
Most Buddhists in the west are vegetarian, and many avoid alcohol and smoking. However, this is not a rule but an individual decision about applying the principle of not harming living beings, including oneself. There is no baptism or initiation as such. The ceremony of Ordination recognises someone’s commitment to Buddhism and the centrality of dharma practice in their life.
Dates of importance
Buddhist festivals are based on the lunar calendar, so dates vary, and they also vary between traditions. Here are some major ones. New Year (Mar/Apr) is a major festival but not specifically a religious one. Wesak or Buddha Day (May) marks the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha in Theravada and is also observed by other Buddhists in the West. Asalha or Dharma Day (Jul/Aug) remembers when the Buddha first taught. Sangha Day is an expression of the spiritual community of all Buddhists.
Buddhism in Nottingham
The following groups differ regarding philosophy, but in general members meet to meditate together, study Buddhism and discuss how their practice of Buddhism is going. They also run classes for members of the public who are interested in trying meditation or learning about Buddhism.
The Soka Gakkia International have eight groups around the county, meeting in homes and other venues.
The Nottingham Akshobya Centre (New Kadampa Tibetan)
Nottingham Buddhist Centre (Friends of the Western Buddhism)
Nottingham Serene Reflection Meditation Group (Soto Zen Buddhism).
Christianity has its roots 2,000 years ago in the land now called the Holy Land. Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, at once human and divine; that His death by crucifixion redeemed the sins of the world; and that His resurrection to eternal life opened that life to all humankind.
There are 2,000 million Christians worldwide – one third of the global population, with many different churches and denominations. Christianity has been the main religion in Britain for over 1000 years. Today 42 million people in the UK and 386,000 in Greater Nottingham think of themselves as Christians, 71% of the total in each case.
Jesus was born to a Jewish woman called Mary, and spent His youth in Roman occupied Palestine. When He was about thirty, He began to travel about speaking of God and healing the sick and disturbed. His was followed by a group of disciples, and by large crowds of people who wanted to hear his teaching. He taught that God, whom He called ‘Abba’, Father, is merciful and full of love for humankind and all creation, and that we should love and care for one another, even our enemies, and trust God in everything. He fell foul of the Jewish religious authorities and Roman occupying power, and was condemned to death by crucifixion.
After the crucifixion His body disappeared, and His disciples said He had been raised up by God and that they had seen and spoken to Him. They proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection and His teaching far and wide, and Paul of Tarsus took the story to Rome itself. About 313 the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced the Christian faith, and the church spread throughout the Empire. After the fall of Rome the church became the dominant power in Europe, and helped preserve the learning and culture of the ancients into the Middle Ages.
Religious Scriptures and Symbols
The Bible, the Christian holy book, is in two parts. The Jewish scriptures form the Old Testament; the New Testament includes four accounts of Jesus by different writers, called the gospels, and account of the early spread of the faith, plus letters written by Paul and other early Christian leaders.
A Christian place of worship and a community of believers are both called a church. The Christian symbol is the cross, either empty, or showing Jesus crucified[the crucifix]. It speaks of God’s love for humankind and the promise of eternal life.
What do Christians believe?
Christians believe that there is one God, the creator and sustainer of all things, and that God is known to us in a threefold way, as the Father, the Son who is incarnate in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The title Christ is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, the one who would be sent by God to redeem and renew the world. Jesus’ early followers proclaimed that He fulfilled this role, and the prophecies in the Jewish scriptures.
Humans are sinners, that is, they fall short of God’s intention for them, enslaved by selfcentredness. Jesus called people to turn to God, repent of their sins and receive forgiveness and salvation. God’s love and mercy are available to all humankind because through Jesus’ death and resurrection the forces of evil are defeated and sin is overcome. Each person has only one life, and after death they will be judged on how they have lived it. Jesus taught that the criterion of judgement would be how we have cared for each other. Traditionally judgement was thought to lead to paradise in heaven or punishment in hell, but modern western Christianity places less emphasis on this. The Bible and Christian tradition teach that Jesus will return again one day to judge all humanity and bring about a complete renewal of all creation.
Christians follow the Ten Commandments for moral conduct, but Jesus taught that living a life shaped by love for others was more important than sets of rules. Christianity has a strong tradition of care for the poor and the sick. Fundamentalist Christians believe that every word of the Bible is inspired by God and accept it as literal truth. Christians more generally believe that the Bible speaks the truth about God and about the moral and spiritual life in many different ways, and is sometimes to be read literally and sometimes not.
Different ways of reading the scriptures and different forms of worship and authority have given rise to different churches and other Christian organisations. In England the Church of England is the national church and is governed by the Queen and led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and an elected General Synod..
What do Christians do?
Traditionally Christians pray in the morning and evening, and set time aside for study and reflection on the Bible. Sunday is the day when most Christians gather together for worship. In England churches are often local landmarks, with a tower or spire. Inside the church may have a simple wooden cross on the wall, or it may have ornate carving and paintings. There are often stained glass windows showing scenes from the Bible. Focal points are the altar used for celebrating communion, and the pulpit, a raised platform for preaching. Christian services may include prayers, readings from the Bible, the singing of psalms and hymns, and a sermon, where a priest or other qualified person talks about a theme from the scriptures. The Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples is often used.
The central act of worship is Holy Communion, which involves sharing bread and wine as a memorial of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his passion. Most churches also have a separate Sunday school for children. Christians have no restrictions on what they eat or drink. Fasting from expensive foods or luxuries during the period of Lent – the 40 days before Easter â€“ is practised by many Christians, and some denominations avoid alcohol. Baptism is the rite of initiation into Christianity. In some churches and denominations only teenagers and adults are baptised, but in most the sacrament is administered to babies, and followed by a confirmation ceremony in the early teens.
Christians believe that Jesus told his followers to spread the faith. Some feel called to do this through organised evangelism, while others prefer to witness to their faith in the way they live their everyday lives.
There are two great festivals: Christmas, celebrated on 25th December, is the feast of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, and Christians prepare for the feast during Advent, which begins in early December. The celebration continues until Epiphany on 6th January. Many Christians are sad that Christmas is now so commercialised that its religious significance is mocked or forgotten.
Holy Week and Easter, in April, mark the climax of Jesus’ earthly life, and Christians commemorate the crucifixion on Good Friday, and resurrection on Easter Sunday. Forty days after Easter is the feast of Pentecost when the church celebrates the pouring out of God’s Spirit on Jesus’ disciples, empowering them to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.
Christians in Nottingham
Nottingham is rich in Christian churches and congregations. St Barnabas’ Cathedral in Derby Road dates from the 1840s and is, unusually, Roman Catholic. The city’s Anglican parish church is St Mary in the Lacemarket, and the Anglican cathedral is Southwell Minster. These are both medieval foundations. Nottingham was the birthplace of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, which still has a strong presence in the City, as does the YMCA, another 19th century Christian movement. As well as Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed, Pentecostal and Orthodox Churches [ Greek, Russian, Romanian], Nottingham is home to many Black-led congregations, which have a strong tradition of gospel and revival singing. New congregations include Trent Vineyard, part of the Vineyard movement, and the Christian Centre, linked to the Assemblies of God.
Christians support homes for older people, chaplaincies with many volunteers at the hospitals and the prison, youth clubs, and services for homeless people like Emmanuel House, and the Hope Nottingham project.
The City Centre business community is supported by Nottingham Workplace Chaplaincy, based at St. Peter’s.
The term ‘Hindu’ comes from the name of the River Indus in India, and ‘Hinduism’ has come to represent the complex of religions that flowed out from that area. Many Hindus prefer to call their way of life Dharma or Sanatana Dharma (eternal way of life). It has no single founder or fixed beginning. Its roots go back at least 8500 years (many Hindus trace a much longer history), and its branches have grown to embrace a very wide range of philosophies and practices from different parts of India, making it hard to give a single account of modern belief. There are more than 1 billion Hindus around the world, the third largest religious group. The vast majority of Hindus, approximately 940 million live in India and almost 560,000 are in the UK, with nearly 4,000 in Greater Nottingham.
In Hindu philosophy there is only one God. God is ‘beyond form’ and so may be worshipped in many forms and under many names and guises. Lord Brahma the Creator, Lord Vishnu the Preserver and Lord Shiva the Destroyer are the best known ‘aspects’ of the one God. Other popular Hindu deities, each an aspect of the one God, are Goddess Durga the Mother Goddess, Lord Ganesha the Remover of obstacles, Lord Hanuman, Lord Krishna [an avatar of Vishnu], Lord Rama [an avatar of Krishna], Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess associated with prosperity and wellbeing, and Goddess Saraswati, goddess of the arts and of practical wisdom.
Hindus believe that all living beings are animated by Atman [Soul] which is Paramatman, the Supreme Soul, or God, in each of them. This is why they greet each other by saying ‘Namaste’, meaning I bow down to God in you.
Religious Scriptures and Symbols
The four Vedas (‘knowledge’) are the most ancient of the Hindu sacred texts, and contain over 20,000 mantras (verses) for spoken and sung worship and other purposes. The Ramayana and Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad Gita, are epic stories showing the activities of the gods and how morality can guide personal life and protect the social order.
A Hindu place of worship is called a mandir or temple. The common symbol for Hinduism is the aum. It represents a sacred sound, often used in meditation, with three elements linked to the major gods. God Brahma the creator, God Vishnu the preserver and God Shiva the destroyer..
What do Hindus believe?
Atman is the spirit present in all life, the energy that activates the body. It is eternal: after death it is reborn as another creature. Due to karma, the universal principle of actions and their consequences, past actions determine the nature of the new life. This cycle of birth and death is called samsara, and the goal of living beings is liberation from it, moksha.
There are three principal paths to liberation:
karma, the path of good works, acting according to duty without getting attached to the consequences;
jnana, the path of knowledge, meditating on God; and
bhakti, the path of devotion, a great love for a particular god.
They are all valid, and a person may pursue more than one.
A number of powerful traditional ideals about life are less rigidly applied in modern society. There are four main castes of people: brahmins are intellectuals and priests; kshatriyas are administrators, military and leaders; vaishyas are farmers and merchants; sudras are workers. Opinions differ as to whether they should be hereditary or based on individual qualities.
Life progresses through four stages called ashramas: study under a teacher; marriage, family and social obligations; focusing on the spiritual life; and, rarely, renouncing all earthly ties. Values shared by most Hindus include: respect for parents and elders; reverence for teachers; regard for guests; non-violence; tolerance of all races and religions; the sanctity of marriage; and the equality of all living beings. Women and men are of equal worth but have different social roles. Although Hindus seek to promote the Sanatana Dharma they don’t generally try to convert others.
Many believe the history of the world is a cycle of four ages called Yugas, lasting 4,320,000 years altogether. This is the fourth, Kali Yuga, which began around 3100BC and has seen a gradual spiritual degradation. At the end of this age, in 426,896 years from now, the planet Earth will sleep and regenerate itself and the whole cycle will start again.
What do Hindus do?
Most Hindus have a small shrine in their home, with pictures or figurines of favourite gods or goddesses. Some of these might be murtis, which are especially dedicated and thought to contain the presence of the deity. Daily worship, called puja, involves prayers and offerings of food, water, flowers and incense. They also attend the mandir or temple to join with other Hindus for spiritual and social activities. Visitors must remove their shoes before entering the main hall. There one sees a number of murtis and pictures of holy people. There is usually incense to purify the air and give a spiritual atmosphere. One often sees the aum symbol and the swastika – Hindus are outraged at the way the Nazis appropriated and used this sacred symbol. Sometimes a conch shell is blown, and there are often many other symbolic objects. People often perform puja.
A typical service includes songs, mantras and a sermon. The arti ceremony is performed several times a day: the deity is offered articles of worship including small oil lamps, water and incense while worshippers play instruments, sing and clap. Priests perform ceremonies in the temple, look after the shrines and attend family homes to mark important stages of life. They are usually male, but can be female. They are often from India, staying for a while and then returning.
Many Hindus are vegetarian, based on the principle of ahimsa (‘non-harming’), avoiding meat, fish and eggs. Strict vegetarians avoid any food containing or cooked in animal products, like chips cooked in animal fat. Even meat-eating Hindus usually avoid beef. They often refrain from intoxicating drinks, and sometimes from tea and coffee too.
Dates of Importance
Hindu festivals are based on the lunar calendar, so dates vary. Here are some of the major ones. Shivaratri, in February or March, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Holi, also in February or March, is a festival of colours, associated with Vishnu, and is celebrated with bonfires and sprinkling of coloured powders and water. Yugadi in March or April marks the New Year for many Hindus, and is celebrated with puja, feasting and greetings. Janmashtami in August or September celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. Diwali, the festival of lights, falls in November or December and Hindus celebrate victory over darkness and ignorance by lighting lamps, and in recent times with fireworks.
Within the wide streams of Hinduism are many different organisations. A jati is a hereditary group associated with one of the castes. These have a significant influence on social, economic and cultural life for Hindus in the UK. Local and national jati associations help to link and support their members. There are also sampradayas, spiritual traditions, with their own beliefs and customs. These include Swaminarayans and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Hindus in Nottingham
Hindus started to settle in Nottingham in noticeable numbers in the late 1950s and the numbers grew considerably in the 1960s and 1970s. At first they usually met in community halls. The Hindu Temple of Nottingham developed out of this small beginning. This Temple is in Carlton Road Nottingham. Sai Dham (Nottingham) in Egypt Road New Basford was started in 1993. There are two others – Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Palm Street and Shri Bhagwati Mata Temple, in Eland Street, both also in New Basford Nottingham.
These temples have spacious worship halls where the religious deities have been ritually installed. There is also space for community functions in halls within each complex. Marriages and other community festivals are held at some of these temples. The temples open twice daily in the morning and the evening, Monday to Sunday. Their priests are available at these times at the temples, and also offers prayers and carry out ceremonies at devotee’s residences
Islam means peace and submission; peaceful co-existence with the creation and submission to the creator. Those who practice the Faith of Islam are known as Muslims. Islam is not a new religion; it is actually a continuation of Judaism and Christianity. Muslims believe that when God created the world, he sent a line of prophets all of whom promoted virtue and prevented vice. The first prophet of Islam was Adam followed by others including Noah, Moses, Abraham and Jesus (Peace be upon them all). It is an integral part of Islam to believe in the above mentioned prophets and to believe in the Torah, Bible and the book of Psalms. Hence, Islam originated with the father of mankind Prophet Adam Peace be upon him.
What do Muslims Believe?
The message of Islam has been the same throughout the ages which is essentially: there is only one God Allah; the creator of the universe, the most merciful the most compassionate, He will judge mankind in the afterlife rewarding the righteous and punishing the evildoers. God has given this message through a succession of prophets, but each time people disobeyed and corrupted the guidance so that other prophets were needed to reinstate the message and guide people back to the correct belief. Subsequently, Muslims believe that after Jesus (PBUH), the people distorted and corrupted the pure message which he brought from God and thus God sent the final Prophet, Prophet Muhammed to guide mankind back to the correct path. The prophets were mortal men who received a special revelation from God; they are revered but not worshipped. Out of respect, Muslims write/say ‘peace be upon him'(PBUH) after mentioning any prophet’s name.
Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)
Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) is the last and final prophet to be sent by God. He was born in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia around the year 571 CE. Like most people, he could not read or write. Even though he was born an orphan, he was highly respected due to his honesty, piety and excellent character. In a society of corruption, dishonesty, vice and immorality, Muhammed stood out due to his piety and supreme morality. His name was Muhammed but he was referred to as Al-Amin-Al-Sadiq (The trustworthy & truthful one). Arabia was engulfed in vice and transgression, people had ventured far away from the teachings of the previous prophet Jesus (PBUH) and God wanted to reinstate his religion. Thus at the age of 40, the angel Gabriel visited Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and informed him of God’s decision to confer upon him the honour of prophet-hood. From this point onwards, Gabriel would periodically visit Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and bring to him revelations from God. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) would memorise these revelations and immediately instruct his scribes to write them down. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) preached the revelations to the people, urging them to live righteously and peacefully. The poor and humble accepted his message but the leaders of Makkah persecuted him and the other Muslims; they were tortured and driven away from Makkah. After 13 years of persecution and torture, Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and his followers migrated to the city of Madinah where the people welcomed them and gave them refuge. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) lived in Madinah preaching God’s message until his death in the year 632 CE. The humble and loving character of Prophet Muhammed drew thousands of people towards Islam. Annie Besant, a prominent author and women’s rights activists writes: “It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia, who knows how he taught and how he lived, to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of the Supreme. And although in what I put to you I shall say many things which may be familiar to many, yet I myself feel whenever I re-read them, a new way of admiration, a new sense of reverence for that mighty Arabian teacher.”
For more quotes and references please click: http://www.cyberistan.org/islamic/quote1.html
Qur’an: the Religious Scripture
The holy Qur’an refers to the revelations which Gabriel would bring from God to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). All the revelations which Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) received over a period of 23 years constitute the holy Qur’an. God discusses five main topics in the Qur’an.
1) Belief in God, His prophets and the afterlife.
2) God’s divine attributes, His power and the relationship between the Creator and the creation
3) Rulings on acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimage etc
4) Advice and praise on good character and piety; admonishment on corruption and vice
5) Stories and examples
The Qur’an is solely the word of God and it is the ultimate source of guidance which is relevant and applicable to all places and times. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is an expression of many scientific and mathematical miracles; a simple Google search will give you more information on this. Many scientists, academics and notable people have embraced Islam after researching the scientific and mathematical nature of the Glorious Qur’an.
Few verses from the Qur’an:
‘Worship Allah and do not associate anything with Him in worship, and behave with excellence towards parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor; the neighbour who is near of kin and also the neighbour who is a stranger; the companion by your side and the wayfarer (whom you meet)’, (Verse 36, Surah al-Nisa)
‘The Pious and God-fearing are those who spend in charity during both times of prosperity and adversity; those who repress anger and pardon others; verily, Allah loves the good-doers’. (Verse 134, Surah al-imrán)
‘O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may recognise one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is the most God-fearing’. (Verse 13, Surah al-Hujurát)
What do Muslims do?
Islam is based on five pillars. These five pillars form the core practices a Muslim must observe and they define a Muslim. All Muslims throughout the world, regardless of colour, culture, cast or country, observe the following five injunctions.
1) Shahadah (Testimony) – is to believe with the heart and affirm with the tongue that, God is One and Muhammad (PBUH) is his final Messenger.
2) Salah (Prayer) – Muslim adults are required to pray five times at different intervals during the day. Prayers can be offered individually or in congregation, in a Mosque or anywhere else.
3) Sawm (Fasting) – Muslims who are physically able are required to fast for the period of thirty days once a year during the month of Ramadan.
4) Zakat (Charity) – Wealthy Muslims must to give 2.5% of their savings annually to the poor.
5) Hajj (Pilgrimage) -Muslims who are physically and financially able are required to perform the annual pilgrimage once in a lifetime.
Place of Worship
The place of worship for Muslims is called a ‘Masjid’ (Mosque). Men and women both worship in the Masjid and both have an equal position in the Masjid. However, Just like Judaism and other religions Islam promotes modesty which is sometimes expressed through segregation in order to prevent inter-mingling in a sacred place like the Masjid. Muslims can also worship at home, work etc. The Green Academy Trust in Nottingham is always happy to welcome visitors to the Mosque. The Mosque also hosts an information centre and a gallery of over fifty poster displays which cover all the main aspects of Islam. Entry is free. If you are interested in visiting a mosque,
please contact : firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a visit.
Dates of Importance
Al-hijrah – is the first day of the Islamic New Year. It marks the day when Prophet Muhammed migrated to Madinah
10th Muharram – marks the day when God saved Moses and his people from Pharaoh. Muslims fast on this day to thank God.
Ramadhan – Muslims fast for 29 or 30 days (depending on the moon). Healthy adult Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse from dawn till dusk. It is a month of charity, reflection and self discipline. The Mosque holds daily events for both men and women throughout the month of Ramadhan.
Eid al-Fitr – the end of Ramdhan is marked with a day of feasting, gifts and visiting friends and family. Muslims observe a special congregation on this day and worship together.
Eid al-Adha – Is the 3rd day of the five day Hajj period and is known as The Festival of Sacrifice. Wealthy Muslims sacrifice an animal to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey God’s instruction of sacrificing his son Ishmael. Muslims worship together and eat from and share the meat of the sacrificed animal.
Friday – on Fridays, Muslim men and women go to the mosque and worship in congregation. The Imam will deliver a Khutbah (sermon) which is a weekly reminder on issues pertaining to morality, worship and righteousness.
Muslims in Nottingham
Based on the 2011 census, Muslims make up approximately 4.4 % of the UK population, and 9% of the Nottingham population who come mainly from a Pakistani background. Muslims are the most ethnically diverse faith group with 5200 recorded conversions to Islam majority of them being women. There 30-40 mosques and Madrasahs in Greater Nottingham, mostly in the NG7 area. As well as religious functions like worship and Quranic classes, they provide schools, day nurseries, sports clubs, trips for young people and many other activities. The Muslims of Nottingham have been involved in many community projects such as Food Banks, Homelessness Outreach, Community Street cleaning and Interfaith; for project details please contact the Green Academy Trust. The Mosque also hosts an information centre and a gallery of over fifty poster displays which cover all the main aspects of Islam. Entry is free. If you are interested in visiting, please contact email@example.com to arrange a visit. Muslim Community Organisation and Karimia Institute also provide a range of services and resources for the local community. There is a local Muslim radio station, Radio Dawn, on 107.6 FM, broadcasting in community languages.
Nottingham Muslim Women’s Organisation provide a range of activities and events for women. email: firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
A person is considered to be a Jew if their mother was Jewish, in the Orthodox tradition, or if either parent was Jewish, in the Progressive tradition. People may also convert to the faith. The mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah encompass every aspect of daily life. Prayer and study of the Torah are central to religious life. Special times are set aside for celebration and devotion. The world and one’s fellow humans must be treated with respect because they are creations of God. Jews should act with love, justice and compassion.
Within Judaism, the Orthodox tradition believes that scripture contains the unchanging words of God and gives it full authority in determining law, life and religious practice. It does not allow women to become rabbis, although they can teach in the synagogue. Progressive Jews believe the Torah was inspired by God but written down by humans and open to revision. They seek to make Judaism more relevant to the modern world and place less emphasis on rituals. Other traditions link to one or both of these main strands.
A traditional belief is that one day a special person – a Mashiach (‘Anointed One’) or Messiah – will reveal himself, gather the Jewish community from around the world and establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. Today this is interpreted in different ways.
What do Jews do?
Shabbat is a weekly day of worship, rest and peace, celebrated from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. During this time Jews are forbidden to do anything considered to be work. Traditions differ on what counts as work: for instance, Orthodox Jews do not drive cars but Progressive Jews do. Shabbat is a time to be with the family, and also to worship at the synagogue. There are services on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Larger synagogues have services every morning and evening. They are places for social activities and education too. Inside are a range of symbols and objects, including the menorah. There is a raised platform from which the Torah is read, and usually also a pulpit where the sermon is preached. The Holy Ark is an alcove or cupboard containing the Torah scrolls, with a lamp hanging in front as a reminder of the presence of God. The scrolls are hand-written on parchment, kept in a cloth cover and treated with great respect. In the Orthodox tradition men and women sit in separate areas. Men and married women cover their heads during worship as a sign of respect to God. (Some Jews keep their heads covered all the time.) Orthodox services are conducted in Hebrew, except for the rabbi’s sermon. Progressive services use more English, and sometimes musical instruments; men and women sit together. One of the 54 portions of the Torah is read each Shabbat. The rabbi of an Orthodox Synagogue must be male but the rabbi of a Progressive Synagogue may be female.
There are several rules about what is kosher (‘proper’) to eat, which people observe with varying strictness. For example sheep, cows, deer, chickens (and their eggs) and fish with fins and scales are acceptable; but pigs, rabbits, horses, birds of prey and shellfish are not. Animals must be killed and butchered by a qualified person. Milk and meat foods may not be mixed, so separate utensils are used and they are not eaten at the same time. Fruit and vegetables are always acceptable.
Young people become adults with responsibility for following the commandments in a special ceremony: the Barmitzvah at 13 for a boy and Batmitzvah at 12 or 13 for a girl. They read a portion of the Torah in Hebrew at the synagogue, and there’s often a celebration afterwards.
Dates of Importance
Jews use a lunar calendar, so festival dates can vary. Here are some of the major ones. Rosh Hashanah in September, or October is the New Year, beginning ten days of repentance which end on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), a 25-hour fast. Sukkot, also in early autumn, recalls the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. Hanukah in December marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem: candles are lit and kept burning over 8 days, and sometimes there are gifts for children.
Pesach in March, or April, also known as Passover, commemorates the Exodus, the liberation from slavery in Egypt.One of its main features is the Passover meal or ‘Seder’ when Jews recount the story of the Exodus and eat special foods such as unleavened bread or ‘Matzah’. Shavuot in early summer commemorates the giving of the Torah and pledging allegiance to God.
Jews in Nottingham?
There are two synagogues in Nottingham Hebrew Congregation, the Orthodox Synagogue and Nottingham Liberal Synagogue. Each has a Rabbi who looks after the spiritual and pastoral needs of the congregation. The synagogues should be contacted in the first instance for further information about Judaism. There are also a number of Jewish organizations and societies in engaged in welfare and cultural/social activities. There is a national annual Mitzvah Day held to celebrate service to the wider community. Locally, Mitzvah events often involve young people of all faiths.
Paganism is an umbrella term for a broad range of spiritual paths and religious practices from all cultures and all periods of history underpinned by a broad animistic belief that all things have a non-physical aspect to their nature through which they are connected and can communicate. Paganism is not a single religion or belief and is therefore difficult to define or even describe unilaterally, however, within Paganism there are many threads with commonality such as those which acknowledge a divine or creative force that is immanent within the universe (pantheism), often personified as a goddess rather than a god and often both or even many (polytheism). Divinity is often seen as immanent in nature (including animals, plants, landscapes, places and, of course, human beings) – one Pagan path sums this up as “There is no part of us which is not divine”. Many modern western Pagans see the celebration of nature and their place in it as representative of a deep connection to the divine and attune themselves intimately to the natural world and its seasonal cycles (the solar equinoxes and solstices, the moon’s phases and other annual festivals such as May Day and Halloween) by way of festivals and ceremonies to mark these points on the turning wheel of the year.
Paganism often sees itself as the ancestral spirituality and religion of the whole of humanity. Its ancient outlook remains active throughout much of the world today, both in complex civilisations such as Japan and India, and in less complex tribal societies worldwide. It was the outlook of the European religions of classical antiquity – Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome – as well as of their “barbarian” neighbours on the northern fringes, and its European form is re-emerging as part survival and part revival into explicit awareness in the modern West as an articulation of urgent contemporary religious priorities.
Characteristics of Paganism
Veneration of Nature
The spirit of place is recognised in Pagan religions, whether as a personified natural feature such as a mountain, lake or spring, or as a fully articulated guardian divinity such as, for example, Athena, the goddess of Athens. The cycle of the natural year, with the different emphasis brought by its different seasons, is seen by most Pagans as a model of spiritual growth and renewal, and as a sequence marked by festivals which offer access to different divinities according to their affinity with different times of year. Many Pagans see the Earth itself as sacred: in ancient Greece the Earth was always offered the first libation of wine, although She had no priesthood and no temple. One consequence of the veneration of Nature, the outlook which sees Nature as a manifestation of immanent divinity rather than as a neutral or inanimate object, is that divination and magic are accepted parts of life. Augury, divination by interpreting the flight of birds, was widespread in the ancient world, as was extispicy (divination by reading the entrails of the sacrificed animal) though in modern western Paganism practices such as divination by reading the tea-leaves left in a teacup are modern extensions of these practices. As well as reading the signs already given by deities, diviners may also actively ask the universe to send a sign, e.g. by casting stones to read the geomantic patterns into which they fall, by casting runes or the yarrow stalks of the I Ching. Pagans usually believe that the divine will answer a genuine request for information. Trance seership and mediumship are also used to communicate with the Otherworld.
Polytheism: Pluralism and Diversity
The many deities of Paganism are a recognition of the diversity of Nature. Some Pagans see the goddesses and gods as a community of individuals much like the diverse human community. Others, such as followers of Isis and Osiris from ancient times onwards, and Wiccan-based Pagans in the modern world, see all the goddesses personified as one Great Goddess, and all the gods as one Great God, whose polarity and harmonious and balanced interaction is one of the secrets of the universe. Yet others think there is a supreme divine principle, that “both wants and does not want to be called Zeus”, as Heraclitus wrote in the fifth century BCE, or which is the Great Goddess and Mother of All Things, as Isis was to the first century CE novelist Apuleius and as she is to many Western Pagans nowadays. Yet others, such as the Emperor Julian, the great restorer of Paganism in Christian antiquity, believe in an abstract Supreme Principle who is the origin and source of all things. But even these Pagans recognise that other spiritual beings, although perhaps one in essence with a greater being, are themselves divine, and are not false or partial divinities. Pagans who worship the One are described as henotheists, believers in a supreme divine principle, rather than monotheists, believers in one true deity beside which all other deities are false.
The Goddess and the Divine Feminine
Pagan religions all recognise the feminine face of divinity. A religion without goddesses can hardly be classified as Pagan. Some Pagan paths, such as the cult of Odin or of Mithras, offer exclusive allegiance to one male god. But they do not deny the reality of other gods and goddesses, as monotheists do. (The word ‘cult’ has always meant the specialised veneration of one particular deity or pantheon, and has only recently been extended to mean the worship of a deified or semi-divine human leader.)
Not all Pagan religion is public religion, much is domestic and much is private, anonymous or even secret. Not all Pagan deities are seen as humanoid super-persons, many are elemental or collective. For Pagans, religion and spirituality pervade the whole of everyday and domestic life.
The many divinities of Pagan religion often include ancestral deities. The Anglo-Saxon royal houses of England traced their ancestry back to a god, usually Woden, and the Celtic kings of Cumbria traced their descent from the god Beli and the goddess Anna. Local and national heroes and heroines may be deified, as was Julius Caesar, and in all Pagan societies the deities of the household are venerated. These may include revered ancestors and, for a while, the newly dead, who may or may not choose to leave the world of the living for good. They may include local spirits of place, either as personified individuals such as the spirit of a spring or the house’s guardian spirit, or as group spirits such as “Elves” in England, the “Little People” in Ireland, “Kobolds” in Germany, “Barstuccae” in Lithuania, “Lares” and “Penates” in ancient Rome, and so on. A household shrine focuses the cult of these deities, and there is usually an annual ritual to honour them. The spirit of the hearth is often venerated, sometimes with a daily offering of food and drink, sometimes with an annual ritual of extinguishing and relighting the fire. Through ancestral and domestic ritual a spirit of continuity is preserved, and by the transmission of characteristics and purposes from the past, the future is assured of meaning.Magic, the deliberate production of physical results by non-physical or spiritual means, is generally accepted as a feasible activity in Pagan societies, since the two worlds are thought to be in constant communication. In ancient Rome a new bride would ceremonially anoint the doorposts of her new home with wolf’s fat to keep famine from the household, and her new-born child would be given a consecrated amulet to wear as a protection against harmful spirits. The Norse warriors of the Viking age would cast the magical ‘war fetter’ upon their enemies to paralyse them, and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts record spells to bring healing and fertility. Specialist magical technologists such as horse-whisperers and healers are common throughout Pagan societies, but mostly the practice of magic for unfair personal gain or for harm to another is forbidden, exactly as physical extortion and assault are forbidden everywhere.
With its respect for plurality, a refusal to judge other ways of life as wrong simply because they are different from one’s own, with its veneration of an animistic natural world from which Westerners in the age of technology have become increasingly isolated, with its respect for women and the feminine principle as embodied in the many goddesses of the various pantheons and with a non-dogmatic and non-proselytising approach Paganism appears to have much to offer people of European background today hence it is being taken up by them in droves. When they come to believe that it is in fact their ancestral heritage, its attraction grows. Democracy, for example, was pioneered by the ancient Athenians and much later reinvented by the Pagan colonisers of Iceland, home of Europe’s oldest parliament. Our modern love of the arts was fostered in Pagan antiquity, with its pageants and its temples and the development of science as we know it began in the desire of the Greeks and Babylonians to understand the hidden patterns of Nature, and the cultivation of humane urbanity, the ideal of the well-rounded, cultured personality, was imported by Renaissance thinkers from the writings of Cicero. In the Pagan cities of the Mediterranean the countryside was never far from people’s awareness, with parks, gardens and even zoos, all re-introduced into modern Europe by the classically-inspired planners of the Enlightenment.
In the present day, the Pagan traditions manifest both as communities reclaiming their ancient sites and ceremonies (especially in Eastern Europe), to put humankind back in harmony with the Earth, and as individuals pursuing a personal spiritual path alone or in small groups (especially in Western Europe and the European-settled countries abroad), under the tutelage of the Pagan divinities. To most modern Pagans in the West, the whole of life is to be affirmed joyfully and without shame, as long as other people are not harmed by one’s own tastes and actions. Modern Pagans tend to be relaxed and at ease with themselves and others, and women in particular have a dignity which is not always found in broader society.
Modern Pagans often feel emancipated from the customs of an established cultural religion or the dogmas of a revealed one and are often creative, playful and individualistic, affirming the importance of the individual psyche as it interfaces with a greater power. There is a respect for all of life and usually a desire to participate with rather than to dominate other beings. What playwright Eugene O’Neil called “the creative Pagan acceptance of life” is at the forefront of the modern Pagan movement and it is bringing something new to religious life and to social behaviour for many people, a way for pluralism to flourish without fragmentation, or creativity without anarchy. Pagan commentators believe this is an age-old current surfacing in a new form suited to the needs of the present day and it is being taken up readily and increasingly by a western population seeking to find their own place in the cosmos.
Pagans in Nottingham
National and international organisations such as the Pagan Federation, The Centre For Pagan Studies, The Children of Artemis, OBOD and the Druid Network have some very strong local connections in Nottingham, while the internet and the “mind, body, spirit” section of any bookshop can provide rich sources of further information. On a local level there are many smaller groups often hosting social gatherings (sometimes called “moots”) which are an excellent place to talk and learn about Paganism and meet Pagans and most are very conscious of being inclusive so are open to non-pagans with a definite prohibition on proselytism.
Here in Nottingham we have Nottingham Pagan Network, Nottingham Empyrean and Pagan Pride itself:
National & International Pagan Organisations:
www.witchcraft.org (Children of Artemis)
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
The Religious Society of Friends arose from the ideas of Christian preacher George Fox in England around 1647. Members refer to each other as ‘Friends’, but the term ‘Quaker’ (originally a nickname) is more widely known. There are about 300,000 Quakers around the world, and 28,000 in the UK. Early persecution in Britain led many to emigrate to America, and their greatest numbers are there today.
Fox did not find spiritual answers in the established churches of his day, and developed his own message. He taught that after death Christ returned in the Spirit, and that this ‘inner light’ can be experienced directly and personally by anyone – regardless of background and without the need of a church hierarchy. Fox and the early Friends formed the Society.
There is a wide variety of belief among Friends. The historical roots of the Society are Christian, and many Friends express their faith in Christian terms. Others, however, feel uncomfortable with Christian language. The words in which members express their beliefs may change over time. However, one of the essential features of the faith is a personal sense of the nearness of God in day-to-day life.
Religious Scriptures and Symbols
The Christian Bible is an important book for Quakers, but not a set of fixed rules or final revelation. They believe it was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that its words can awake insights of the Spirit in the reader. A local Quaker group is called a meeting, and their place of worship is called a Meeting House. They have no special symbol.
What do Quakers believe?
Quakers believe there is ‘that of God’ in everyone. So all people are children of God and no-one should set themselves above others. They do not separate religion and everyday life, but aim to experience God in all aspects of their lives. They believe that human fulfilment comes from the attempt to live in the power and spirit of God, the fruits of which are love, truth and peace.
Religion is about experiencing God for oneself, not just accepting words and practices. If one waits silently on God, this inner light will sometimes speak in one’s heart. Such times of revelation and spiritual guidance are often called openings. Quaker life is an inward and outward journey: being mindful of God’s presence in everyday activities, and turning one’s spiritual guidance into action in the world. Friends are often involved in social action and supporting those in need.
There is no creed (statement of common belief), as Quakers believe all people are on individual spiritual journeys. Instead they are challenged to live their lives in ways which show they value truth, equality, simplicity, caring, kindness and peace.The Friends believe strongly in peace, and oppose preparations for war. They aim to work in ways that bring different points of view together to make a new and higher understanding, seeing the Light as a force that creates unity among those who respond to it. They are open to learn from other people and other faiths.
What do Quakers do?
Meetings for worship are held once or twice a week, often on a Sunday. Meeting Houses vary, but are generally simple and plain. There are no special symbols. Members sit together in silence seeking God’s guidance for how they should live their lives and receiving the strength and energy to carry out this work. Anyone present may stand and share insights or experiences that they feel may be of help to others. (Some meetings in other countries use paid ministers and have more structured worship.) A Meeting for Business is also held in the context of worship, seeking the will of God. It is a careful exercise in listening: coming along well informed but then being open to the spirit. The Clerk draws out ‘the sense of the meeting’. No votes are taken. The majority isn’t necessarily right, and a meeting will continue to hear a member’s deeply felt concern. There are no appointed religious leaders. Tasks are shared among the members: nurturing the spiritual growth of each individual and looking after each other, the buildings and finances. Practically, this work is carried out by committees.
Quakers are encouraged to avoid alcohol, tobacco and other habit forming drugs, but not prohibited from using them. There are no rules about what may be eaten. Those that feel the Religious Society of Friends is the right place for them can write to the local district clerk and apply to join. An existing Friend works with them to explore the nature and insights of the Society, and their application is considered at a monthly business meeting.
Dates of Importance
Quakers do not celebrate festivals, believing that no day is more holy than any other and that the messages associated with special days such as Christmas and Easter need to be remembered every day. Quakers do, however, celebrate an international Summer Gathering of Friends every four years. Here worship and experiences are shared, various workshops take place and there is singing and dancing for those who choose. There are also various other Quaker meetings and gatherings throughout the year.
Quakers in Nottingham
About 50 people meet for worship each Sunday at 10.30am at Nottingham Friends’ Meeting House in Clarendon Street. During the meeting, activities are organised for the children, who join the meeting for the last 10 minutes. The Friends try to include the children in all aspects of the life of the meeting and respect the spiritual insight that can be gained from them. Some members also meet up during the week for fellowship and to study various issues.
Quakers have always been committed to finding peaceful methods to prevent and resolve conflict, and this concern is reflected in a local Quaker peace group. The belief in the worth of every human being has led to a long history of involvement in criminal justice issues.There is a fledgling peace and justice group running in Nottingham. Twice a month there are meetings of a spiritual growth support group, at which Friends can support others on their spiritual journey. Once a month there is a shared lunch followed by a talk or activity of interest to Friends. While they have no programmed singing in worship, a singing group meets once a month. Everyone is welcome to join our meeting for worship on Sundays. The doorkeeper greets newcomers and will answer any questions.
For information on other Quaker groups in Nottingham visit nottinghamquakers.org.uk/local-meetings
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 in the Punjab area of what is now Pakistan. His message combined worship of God and social equality. The Sikh population in the UK is the largest outside India. Sikhs in Britain usually speak Punjabi and English. There are about 23 million Sikhs around the world; 336,000 in the UK; and just over 5,000 in Greater Nottingham.
Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak Dev was born in an enlightened state. When he was about 30 he felt the call to preach and travelled extensively in India, the Middle East and some neighbouring countries. In a time of great conflict between religions he taught that there is only one God but many paths – the important things are sincere worship, peace and brotherhood. He eventually settled, and founded a community of Sikhs (‘learners’).
Religious Scriptures and Symbols
He was followed by nine other Gurus. They are seen as divine teachers, but not objects of worship. The last, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), said there would be no more human Gurus. He invested spiritual authority in the holy text, the Guru Granth Sahib, which contains the teachings of the Gurus and Hindu and Muslim saints in the form of 5817 hymns. He also founded the Khalsa Panth (‘community of pure ones’), the society of initiated Sikhs.
A Sikh place of worship is called a gurdwara (‘doorway to the Guru’), usually marked by a triangular saffron-coloured flag. The symbol is the khanda: the double-edged sword in the centre represents truth, strength, freedom and justice; the circle represents the eternal; and the two outer swords symbolise political and spiritual sovereignty.
What do Sikhs believe?
Sikhs believe in one God, who can be experienced but is beyond human understanding and never takes human form. There are many names for God, but the most common in worship is Waheguru (‘wonderful lord’). The Mul Mantar which starts every section of the Guru Granth Sahib says: There is but One God, the Eternal Truth, the Creator, without fear, without enmity, timeless, immanent, beyond birth and death, self-existent: by the grace of the Guru, made known.
Sikhs also believe in the ten Gurus, the Guru Granth Sahib and the teachings of the Gurus it contains, and the Amrit Pahul, the Sikh form of initiation. They adhere to no other religion.
After death a soul is reborn as another creature, depending on the deeds of its old life. Humans are aware of the consequences of their actions and can seek unity with God, breaking out of the cycle of rebirth – this is called mukti. A major barrier to this is an illusory, materialistic view of the world, leading to self-centredness, lust, anger, greed, worldly obsessions and pride. Instead one should develop contentment, charity, kindness, happiness and humility.
Religious practice involves meditating on God and reading passages from the Guru Granth Sahib, individually or in groups. Being in the company of enlightened souls helps to purify one’s own soul. God should always be remembered in everyday life. Key principles include reciting the name of God, earning a living by honest and approved means, sharing with the needy and sewa (selfless service) to the community. Equality is a strong principle: Guru Nanak taught that all people are born with the opportunity to attain mukti, regardless of wealth, caste, sex or education.
What do Sikhs do?
A Sikh’s daily routine involves getting up before sunrise, taking a bath or shower, then meditating on the one God, saying a standard set of prayers. Verses are recited in the evening and before going to bed.
There is no single holy day in the week. The gurdwara is open daily, and some Sikhs visit it every morning and evening. In the UK sadh sangat (congregational worship) is usually on a Saturday or Sunday. In the hall of worship one must dress modestly, remove shoes and cover the head. Men and women sit separately as a social tradition. The focal point is the Guru Granth Sahib on a raised platform. There are no priests as such: any adult Sikh may perform religious ceremonies, though there’s often a professional granthi to read scripture.
A typical service consists of hymn singing, accompanied by instruments including tabla (drums) and harmonium, followed by a sermon on the divine name and a final prayer. Everyone receives Karah Prashad, a sweet food made from flour, sugar, ghee (a purified butter) and water. Langar, a communal vegetarian meal, is provided free of charge. These symbolise universal equality, as everyone eats together regardless of their position.
Sikhs avoid alcohol and tobacco, and these are prohibited in the gurdwara. Many Sikhs are vegetarian, but others believe that meat can be eaten provided that the animal is killed with a single stroke.
Amrit Pahul is the initiation into the Khalsa Panth, undertaken by both men and women when they’re old enough to understand its significance. The initiate makes vows and takes amrit, specially prepared sugared water, in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib and five members of the Khalsa Panth who recite special prayers.
Members of the Khalsa wear ‘the five Ks‘ to show obedience to God and the teachings of the Gurus.
Kesh is uncut hair (including the beard and body hair). Men usually tie their hair up and wear a turban.
The Kangha is a small wooden comb worn in the hair to symbolise orderliness.
The Kara is an iron or steel bracelet, a reminder of fellowship and the covenant with God.
Kachhera is special knee-length underwear symbolising modesty and moral restraint.
The Kirpan is a curved sword representing dignity, self-respect and readiness to protect the weak.
Dates of Importance
Sikh festivals were based on the lunar calendar, so dates varied, but a new calendar has been prepared and in future they will be on fixed dates. Major ones are: Birth of Guru Nanak Dev; Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur; Birth of Guru Gobind Singh; Vaisakhi, the founding of the Khalsa; Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev; Installation of Guru Granth Sahib; Diwali; Guru Hargobind’s return from imprisonment.
Sikhs in Nottingham
There are seven Sikh gurdwaras [temples] in Greater Nottingham, mostly in the NG7 area . There is also the Sikh Community Youth Service [SCYS] at Unity Complex, Ilkeston Road,Radford.
In addition to the religious services (mostly on Sundays) and meals for the community after every service, they run many other activities such as day centres for older people; Punjabi religious classes; kirtan (music) classes; other classes like English, sewing and computing; ladies’ programmes; play schemes for children during holidays; and trips. The gurdwaras often host school visits, when children come to learn about Sikhism. The Sikh Community Youth Service arranges activities for young Sikhs, including trips and camps.