What if you were in an airport lounge working on your computer while awaiting your flight when a group of men enter the desk area of the lounge, take off their shoes, face Mecca and start praying?
This reportedly happened to FlyerTalk member NYTA while at the airport in Rome, who believes in freedom of religion but thought that the time and place for prayer by these men to be offiensive — especially when non-denominational chapels are found in many airports and the airport in Rome supposedly has rooms in which to pray.
Were the men behaving inappropriately in that airport lounge in Rome?
This is a very difficult question to answer because of its subjectivity. For example, a man who devoutly practices Judaism will most likely wear a yarmulke — a cap worn on the head — at all times. I have never seen anyone offended by the mere wearing of a yarmulke — but what if the man faces the direction of the Western Wall in Israel and starts to daven, which is usually standing while rocking back and forth and praying?
No one is usually offended when a woman wears a necklace around her neck with a cross hanging from it — but what if she starts reciting a prayer from a Bible before she eats and thanks Jesus Christ for the food she is about to eat?
Slaughtering a chicken a certain way may be a widely accepted religious ritual in some places — but would it be appropriate in an airport lounge, or in a place where societal customs would find that practice unacceptable? You might think that that is a ridiculous example — but that may be akin to openly consuming beef in public to some people in India, as cows are considered sacred. What is considered normal to you may be strange and unknown to others; and vice versa.
Many people — except for those who practice atheism and agnosticism, to an extent — believe in the power of religion in some way, shape or form. Some are Orthodox in their beliefs; while others tend to be less strict. Some will follow their chosen religion to the very last letter; while others may pick and choose which parts of their religion in which they believe and which parts they do not believe.
Freedom of religion is an idealistic thought in which everyone has a right to practice their beliefs in any way they see fit. However, there are many different religions practiced in this world — and each religion has so many variations — that they may seem foreign or unusual to those not familiar with that religion. This can cause a harmless distraction at best — or intolerance which leads to an unfortunate misunderstanding which may be strong enough to lead to adversarial actions.
Therein lies the conundrum.
Some FlyerTalk members would not be bothered at all by those men who started praying in that airport lounge. In fact, many FlyerTalk members seem to agree that there would not be an issue — as long as those who pray are quiet and not disruptive. However, other FlyerTalk members believe that there is a more appropriate time and place for practicing religious beliefs — and the airport lounge may not be one of those places.
Of course, FlyerTalk members are quick to point out that there are distractions and disruptions which could be considered far worse and annoying — such as people who talk loudly on their mobile telephones, for example.
While I believe in the freedom of religion, I have always felt that differences in religions may cause more conflict and controversy rather than peace and harmony; that they may create more problems and issues than resolve them, as they are purportedly designed to do. This is evidenced quite clearly in the OMNI/PR forum on FlyerTalk, where politics as well as religion — the P and the R in OMNI/PR — are discussed with such passion and conviction that fierce and controversial debates usually erupt as a result, which is a reason why politics and religion are usually not allowed to be discussed in the public forums of FlyerTalk. If you are not a member of FlyerTalk for a certain length of time and have not posted content a certain amount of times, do not bother attempting to access the OMNI/PR forum, as you do not have the privileges required to participate.
I believe that spiritual beliefs are a personal and private matter, shared only when appropriate. I personally would not enter an airport lounge and start praying — but that is just me. You may not agree with what I believe, but that is all right — different belief systems make the world go ’round and add flavor to society, despite the potential shortcomings of religion in general. I believe that there is usually a time and place for everything — and even though I do not believe an airport lounge is a place to pray, that does not mean I believe it is the wrong thing to do, either. I certainly have absolutely no interest in attempting to restrict someone from freely practicing their religious beliefs. In fact, it would not bother me if I found myself in a similar situation to NYTA…
…but at the same time, what about other people who might be more sensitive and uncomfortable, leading them to feel intimidated?
Where is the threshold as to what is acceptable as opposed to what is inappropriate? As I said earlier, that is subjective and cannot be answered definitively.
Rather, I believe that it is more important to keep an open mind and be respectful and considerate to other people around you — whether it is you or someone else engaging in their religious beliefs.
What are your thoughts?