Dealing with the religious divide when traveling overseas

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ June 7th, 2009. Updated on February 9th, 2011. Published in: Travel blog » Uncategorized.
Mosque in Brooke's Point, Palawan

Islam in mainly Catholic country, will either affect your travel plans?

Dealing with Religion when traveling

As I have traveled & lived through countries with the  main religions throughout the world I’ve notice little written about the two subjects. Travel & religion.

Is there a need? Or is it one of those subjects that people really don’t like to ask, nor talk about? It is after all one of those sworn rules when in travel:

“Don’t talk about politics, money, and … religion”

That’s fine for when you travel, but it doesn’t mean we won’t get asked …

Religion in The Philippines

The Philippines has a multi religious and ethnically diverse mix of people. Christianity, Islam and a host of other religions make up the mainstay. In the North and central areas it’s mainly Christian (catholic). So it came as a little surprise to me to stumble upon a mosque in Brooke’s Point, Palawan.

Then again it just went to show me how big the Philippines really is. 90 million or so. So having a Mosque in Palawan is actually not all that surprising.

Religious tension and travel

However there is religious tension in the Philippines, as there seems to be in most parts of the world, when it comes to the subject of religion. When traveling I stay out of these discussions. Which is not always easy. In the Philippines the second most popular question after where are you from is -

“What religion are you?”

Hand painted advertising in the Philippines

Hand painted advertising in the Philippines

Having lived and traveled in 50/50 religious split West Africa for over two years and traveled to many multi “everything” religious countries my common answer is.

“I am mixed, a little bit of everything.”

This generally works quite well. Most people with good English give me a wry smile and realize it’s an answer meaning I respect everyone’s beliefs – but am not getting into deep discussion about it.

Others ponder over it for a while, then smile and nod with a fair enough attitude to it all.

Dealing with people trying to convert you to their religion

In West Africa and some other places I found many, many people trying to convert me one way or the other. If not to a religion, then at least to a single particular religious house of worship. Hence my steely grip on the “mixed” approach.

In this case I still stick to my “I believe in a little bit of everything” approach. And, if necessary, rinse, repeat, restart and smile a lot. The latter is very important. Not as a joke, but as a friendly gesture. When I travel, I bring humor with me, even if I’m not smiling in the inside.

The darker side to religion when you travel

Not everything is about faith when you are invited into a house of worship either. In many countries religion is money, and power. To a local community a church is often times the local bank. Donations are expected.

National Mosque and Church in Nigeria

Travel & Religion are they complete opposites?

This might not be apparent at first, but it will come in time. As a travel guest in any house of religion I certainly don’t like to have a box of notes and coin passed around to me if I visit. Much like being invited to dinner, and then being asked to donate.

I’ve also noticed travelers of the same faith when visiting a religious place of the same order being oblivious to many of these things. Or if not oblivious, turning a proverbial blind eye. Even to the point of outright rudeness to fellow travelers.

Why this occurs, I do not know. Other than kinsman-ship perhaps.

Religious surprises when you travel

While there are people such as those in West Africa who will persistently ask you to some to their church. There are some surprising joys as a traveler in the Philippines when it comes to this subject.

In the Philippines people are very religious and; respectful. But they also will not pressure you to join anything.

It’s a practical joy to have your own wishes respected and not be given a lecture on being of a certain faith or another.

This is something I’ve not come across too often. And, although there are exceptions; I appreciate the Philippines that bit more because of this.

Perhaps religious orders should take note of what travel can bring to them, or take aways from them.  Those that travel bring with them a degree of their own faith. Listen, don’t convert.

As, in doing the opposite the person that travels will take with them your overbearing need to convert them rather than speak of it’s history, merits or values. Therein, in my view, lie the true value of religion & travel.

A little bit of everything.

Coming Soon:

Leaving Brooke’s Point and ending up in Prison

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