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Culture and Religion Overviews


Adapted from The Needs of Faith Communities in Major Emergencies: Some Guidelines. Home Office and Cabinet Office, UK. July 2005


Bahá’í

Language

Main language is English, but elderly (from Iran) may not speak much.

Diet

Fasting

Bahá'ís abstain from alcohol, but can take it in Medicine.

They fast from sunrise (approx. 6.30am) to sunset (approx. 5.45pm) on 2 to 20 March. This fast is only practiced by people aged 15 years and over and who are not ill, pregnant, breast-feeding, menstruating or who have been travelling substantial distances.



Dress

There are no special requirements other than moderation and modesty.

Physical contact
Medical treatment
Hospital stays, rest centers

Bahá'ís believe in the healing power of modern medicine for both physical and mental ills, while recognizing the role of the spirit, of prayer and of turning to God. There is no objection to being touched or treated by members of the opposite sex.

Blood transfusions, organ donations, the administration of prescription drugs and the like are all perfectly acceptable.

There is no objection to mixed wards, but older Bahá'ís may prefer single-sex wards. Bahá'í patients will be ministered to by friends, by family and by those appointed as spiritual caregivers by the community. Because the Bahá¹í faith has no sacraments, these spiritual care givers do not have a sacramental or priestly/ministerial role nor do they have any authority over the patient.


Daily acts of faith &

major annual events

Every Bahá'í aged 15 years and over must recite daily one of three obligatory prayers each day, as well as reading a passage from the Bahá'í scriptures each morning and evening. Prayers are said privately and facing the 'Point of Adoration' (the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, roughly south east from the UK). Before reciting the prayers, Bahá'ís wash their hands and face, but ablutions do not require special facilities. Timing of the Bahá'í day starts at the sunset of the previous day (e.g. Naw- Ruz begins at sunset on 20 March and finishes at sunset on 21 March, but the date is always shown as 21 March).

Bahá'í holy days always fall on the same dates each year and are:



Naw Ruz: New Year (21 March)

1st day of Ridvan (21 April)

9th day of Ridvan (29 April)

12th day of Ridvan (2 May)

Anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab (23 May)

Anniversary of the Ascension of Bahaullah (29 May)

Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Bab (9 July)

Anniversary of the Birth of the Bab (20 October)

Anniversary of the Birth of Bahaullah (12 November)



Dying

Death customs

There are no special religious requirements for Bahá'ís who are dying, but they may wish to have a family member or friend to pray and read the Bahá'í scriptures with them.

While there is no concept of ritual purity or defilement relating to the Treatment of the body of a deceased person, there are a few simple and specific requirements relating to Bahá'í burial and the Bahá'í funeral service, which the family will wish to arrange:

* the body is carefully washed and wrapped in white silk or cotton - this may be done by family members or by others, according to the family's preference; the family may choose to allow others to observe the preparation of the body;

* a special burial ring may be placed on the finger of a Bahá'í aged 15 or over;

* the body is not cremated but is buried within an hour's travelling time from the place of death;

* unless required by law, the body should not be embalmed;

* it is buried in a coffin of as durable a material as possible; and

* at some time before interment a special prayer for the dead, the only specific requirement of a Bahá¹í funeral service, is recited for Bahá'í deceased aged 15 or over.

While it is preferable that the body should be buried with the head pointing towards the Point of Adoration, this is not an absolute requirement, and may be impossible in some cemeteries without using two burial plots. This is a matter for the family.


Resources (texts,

community facilities etc.)

The Bahá'í scriptures comprise the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the

Faith, and of his forerunner, the Báb. The Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's eldest son and successor, are also included in the Bahá'í Canon. Bahá'ís may read the scriptures in any language, so it is preferable in the UK to provide English-language editions. The Bahá'í scriptures belong to all and there are no restrictions on who may touch or handle the books, provided they are treated with respect. Larger Bahá'í communities may have a Bahá'í centre, but most Bahá'í communities currently have no such facilities.



Names

Bahá'ís follow the practice of the wider community in naming. There are no Specific religious names. It is very important to check the spelling of the Names of Iranians, which may be transliterated in different ways. For Example, the name Masoud may also be spelt Massoud or Masood.




Buddhist

Language

Members may speak several languages other than English, including Tibetan, Cantonese, Hakka, Japanese, Thai and Sinhalese.

Diet
Fasting

Often vegetarian, salads, rice, vegetables and fruit are usually acceptable foods to offer. Some Buddhists do not eat onions or garlic, but this is more a matter of personal choice or cultural habit, rather than religious restriction. Buddhists who are vegetarian may eat fish and eggs.

Full moon days & new moon days are often fast days for many Buddhists, as are some festival days for various schools of Buddhism. On days of fasting, a Buddhist may eat before noon, but not afterwards.



Dress

Generally, no religious requirements for forms of every-day dress for lay Buddhists. Buddhist monks or nuns of the Theravada school shave their heads and wear orange or ochre-colored robes.

Physical contact

Medical treatment

Hospital stays, rest centers

In the case of medical examination and treatment and comforting by strangers, a Buddhist may be touched by a person of either sex.

There are no religious objections to blood transfusions, or transplants.

In cases of hospital stays, the use of either a bath or a shower is a personal matter. Provision of a quiet space set aside in a hospital or rest center is not a necessity, but if available it can be used for silent reflection and meditation.


Daily acts of faith &

major annual events

Buddhists do not pray in the generally-accepted sense, but meditate regularly. Other than in Zen Buddhism, the Buddhist calendar is lunar; the dates will therefore vary from year to year. Traditional observance days are the full moon, new moon and quarter days. There are different special events during the year, but those celebrated by all schools of Buddhism are:

Wesak

Full moon days

The calendar observed by Buddhists is not standardized and different traditions within Buddhism may observe the same Festival on significantly different dates. It is therefore wise to ask about the practice within the tradition involved, rather than making an assumption that for instance, Wesak, is observed on the same date by all Buddhists.



Dying

Death customs

Many Buddhists wish to maintain a clear mind when dying. There is respect for the doctors’ views on medical treatment, but there may sometimes be a refusal of pain-relieving drugs if these impair mental alertness. This is a matter of individual choice. It is helpful for someone who is dying to have some quiet, and it is customary to summon a monk to perform some chanting of sacred texts in order to engender wholesome thoughts in the mind of the dying person.

After death, the body of the deceased may be handled by non-Buddhists. In some cases a monk may perform some additional chanting, but this is not a universal practice. There are no objections to post-mortems. Preparation of the body for the funeral is generally left to the undertaker, but in some instances relatives may also wish to be involved. The body may be put in a coffin, or wrapped in cloth (sometimes white), or dressed in the deceased’s own clothes. It may be surrounded by candles, flowers, incense, photographs and colored lights, but this is a matter of individual choice and there are no hard-and-fast rules. The body is usually cremated, at a time dependent upon the undertaker and the availability of the crematorium’s facilities.



Resources (texts, community facilities, etc.)

The Pali Canon contains the teachings of the Buddha and his disciples and is used in the Theravada school of Buddhism. Mahayana schools use texts either in Sanskrit or their own languages, such as Chinese, Korean,

Japanese and Tibetan. Books of Scripture, liturgy etc. should, at all times, be handled with the utmost respect. In many traditions it is considered disrespectful to place them on the ground or to cover them.



Names

Buddhists usually have two or more names. The last name is the family name, and the preceding name(s) is/are given at the time of birth.



Chinese (Confucianism, Taoism, Astrology, Christianity)

Half the Chinese in the UK do not profess any religious belief. 1 in 4 are Christians and worship in Chinese language churches, and 1 in 5 observe Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian ceremonies and practices. Belief in astrology is widespread. Some 200 Chinese Christian churches exist in cities and towns, each having congregations worshipping in Cantonese, English and Mandarin to cater for linguistic preferences. Some are denominational but most are non-denominational and evangelical. Pastors are bilingual in English and Cantonese or Mandarin. More than half of the UK’s Chinese churches have fraternal links with the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission (COCM) that runs a Bible College (in Mandarin) in Milton Keynes. The COCM has long-standing links with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, formerly the China Inland Mission. The COCM also has links with some 200 congregations of


Chinese Christian churches in continental Europe.

Language

Cantonese, Mandarin, Hakka, Hokkien, English

Diet

Fasting

Southern Chinese (Cantonese and Fujian): seafood, fish, pork, poultry, green vegetables, soup, rice, rice noodles and fresh fruit. Northern Chinese: bread, wheat dumplings, meat dumplings, noodles, pork, lamb, chicken, cabbage, green vegetables. Beef and cheese are least preferred food. Drink: Soya milk is preferred to cow’s milk as some Chinese are allergic to cow’s milk. China tea (without milk and sugar).

Buddhist/Taoist Chinese will eat a vegetarian diet before major festivals.



Dress

Men and women prefer shirt/blouse and trousers/slacks.

Physical contact
Medical treatment, Hospital stays, rest centers

Although there is no gender barrier, women prefer to be medically examined by women health professionals. Single gender wards are preferred. Showers are preferred as Chinese people are not accustomed to bathtubs. Washing is done personally or by a spouse, parent or offspring of the same gender as the patient.

Injections are preferred in the belief that they are more effective than pills.

Chinese food should be offered to patients. Family units stay together and do not like being separated in emergencies, and this includes extended family members.


Daily acts of faith &

major annual events

Buddhists and Christian Chinese will pray or meditate in similar ways to their co-religionists. In addition to the two main Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter, Chinese Christians celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Lunar New Year: The biggest family occasion and honor/reverence is paid to ancestors and parents. A time for family reunions, visiting friends and relatives and exchanging monetary gifts in red envelopes.

Teng Chieh (Lantern Festival at first full moon of the year)

Ching Ming: A public holiday in China and Hong Kong - a time for people to visit their ancestral graves (April)

Dragon Boat Festival (June)

Mid-Autumn Festival (September)



Dying
Death customs

All family members gather at the bedside. A Chinese Christian pastor is called to pray for and to counsel the dying person. In the UK this practice is also common among Chinese with no religious convictions or who are traditional Confucian/Taoist. Buddhists call for a priest/monk from a Buddhist association or temple with links to Taiwan or Hong Kong.

After death, undertakers handle the deceased. Some undertakers in areas with long established Chinese populations (e.g. Merseyside) are accustomed to Chinese needs such as embalming and the deceased being fully dressed in best clothes including shoes and jewelry. In such areas some cemeteries have a Chinese section. Burial or cremation may take place a week after the person has died. Friends and relatives visit the bereaved family, usually in the evenings prior to the funeral when gifts of money or flowers are given and help offered. Sweets are offered to visitors when they leave.



If the deceased is the head of the family, all children and their families are expected to observe a period of mourning for about a month. Headstones may have a picture of the deceased. If the deceased is a child, parents usually do not want to visit the mortuary. A sibling or close relative would be asked to identify the body in the mortuary.

Resources (texts,

community facilities etc.)

Chinese Christians read bilingual bibles printed in English and Chinese. Bibles printed in the traditional script are preferred by Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan whilst the simplified script is read by people from China and Singapore. Buddhist scriptures are available in traditional script. At least one Chinese community association, community center or church exists in every town and city in the UK. Local Councils should have the names, addresses and telephone numbers. Religious bodies in the Chinese community are usually found in local telephone directories.

Names

Chinese names start with the family name first, followed by the generation name and the personal name. Chinese Christians usually have Christian names in addition. Always ask the person how (s)he would like to be addressed.
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