I’m a little bit peeved about what I see when it comes to religion and travelling. I’m not going to bring up the topic of the riots going on across the world at the moment regarding that ridiculous and horrible video that apparently went up on youtube (which I have not seen and refuse to watch) because I’m not going to talk about tolerance and peace and blah blah blah in this post. I’m talking about visiting religious sites.

I like to consider myself a respectful traveller. I like to learn a bit about a place before I go. The history, the background the demographics, the culture to make sure that I don’t insult locals with my behaviour, dress or complete ignorance. I also am a big fan of visiting religious sites. I like to see the difference (or similarities) and what influence other cultures have had on what is considered some of the most important architecture and sites in religious countries. When you go into the Vatican, it is expected that your knees and shoulders will be covered. In many religions, women must cover their hair when entering a place of worship or shorts are not allowed. For this reason, when I know I will be visiting a church or cathedral or mosque I bring a long skirt and a pashmina.

A few examples for you:

In the Russian Orthodox church, women must wear skirts (foreign visitors can wear pants) and cover their heads. Many a Russian Orthodox church has numerous large signs posted on the door where you cannot miss them unless you are completely blind saying “no shorts, no tank tops, no pictures, women must wear skirts, men must wear pants” There are pictures to go with these words and they are pretty difficult to misinterpret. Despite all this, everyone is taking photos of the beauty and grandeur of these places. I have been into places of worship where pictures are allowed, which is awesome. I snap away in these places. But MANY of the places I have been on my travels prohibit photos. The Monastery I went to in Kiev had signs every 10 feet depicting “NO PHOTOS” and writing it in about 6 different languages. Despite this, pilgrims (the monastery is a pilgrimage site) were happy snapping all over the place, including in the churches and cathedral. Signs everywhere saying “this is a holy place of worship, please respect it through dressing appropriately, being silent and not taking photos”. I saw people right next to these signs taking photos.

When I was in Turkey last year they required women to be fully covered in the Blue Mosque. Understandable as it is a functioning mosque. Didn’t have something to cover your legs/arms/hair? They would provide scarves and what not for you. Despite this, I still saw girls in the mosque taking the scarves off their head the second they made it inside or sitting with the legs straight out, bottoms of the feet pointing to whomever walked by (a great insult in Islam as the bottom of the feet are considered dirty. I’m sure you all remember someone throwing a shoe at George Bush, Jr.). Talk about disrespectful. You are in a place of worship! You may not believe in a god or follow their religion, but if they came into your house and started disrespecting your stuff how would that make you feel? Do you want them to come into your home and start walking with their shoes on your table or jumping on your sofa?

More recently, I was visiting the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain and I was absolutely horrified. Signs everywhere near the entrance saying no photos, no shorts, no singlets/tank tops. “It is a functioning place of worship so please be respectful.” The inside was absolutely spectacular. I could have taken hundreds of photos inside. Out of respect, however, I didn’t take my camera out once. I was very tempted to take it out and take a photo of a girl wearing a tiny leopard print tube dress. The dress was tight, scant and barely covered her bum. It was horrific to see something like that in a church. I saw people snapping away, people wearing shorts, tube tops, singlets. With the hundreds to thousands of people that go through the Mezquita every day security can’t keep everyone from taking photos, I understand that. But it just really ticks me off that these people can be SO DISRESPECTFUL. I am an atheist and have zero reason to be respectful in any of these places. I don’t believe in any of their notion or ideas on God, I heartily disagree with many of the more conservative ideas on ethics and morals, yet I am often the most respectful person in the place. People, who claim to be of the very religion of the place they are disrespecting are not behaving properly and they are not being respectful and this just drives me up the wall.

So what is my solution? Because since I am ranting and raving about it I need to offer up a solution. In a place where photos (and mobile phones for that matter) aren’t allowed, they should be required to turn them in at security. They can get them back when they leave. Not dressed appropriately? Give them a shroud to wear, male or female. If they need a head covering, give them a scarf to put over their head. If they take it off, kick them out AND fine them. Require they turn in a card or ID with their camera’s and phones as collateral. It absolutely disgusts me to see people being so insanely disrespectful in a place that matters so deeply to their religion or to other people in the area of that religion. Perhaps this is why they don’t allow non-Muslims into most mosques or holy places in Morocco.

Moral of the rant? If you are visiting a holy place, treat it with respect, respect the rules and respect the requests of the institution. You want pictures? Look them up online and photoshop yourself in. You don’t need photos as proof you have been someplace.

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