A Range of Religions Being Worshipped; This Week, DEBORAH DUNDAS Examines the History, Culture and Challenges Facing Ethnic Minorities in Northern Ireland. Today She Looks at Some of the Religions Practised in the Province

Article excerpt

Byline: DEBORAH DUNDAS

The Hindu temple is on the right as you walk in to the converted church on Clifton Street in Belfast. ''Please do not wear shoes in the Temple,'' says a sign placed above the rows of shoe racks. Dozens of shoes are neatly stored in the little cubicles provided.

The temple is a glass-walled space purpose-built in the middle of the church.

Inside is a group of 50 students sitting on the floor, asking questions. They're learning that the Hindu temple wasn't difficult to create - statues were brought in from India. They're learning you can't wear shoes inside the temple and that the only food allowed inside is vegetarian - cows particularly are sacred in India.

''People are interested in what we do,'' says Sunita Patra, administrator at the Indian community centre. It might seem a little out of place, a Hindu temple inside what used to be a Christian church, but it works for the community.

''If you believe it's a church,'' she says, ''then it's a church. And if you believe it's a temple, then it's a temple."

Hindu is one of the many religions besides Christianity practised in Northern Ireland. Many of the ethnic communities who live here have brought their own ways of worshipping to the Province.

For example, another branch of the Hindu community is the Hare Krishna movement, which has two temples here, one in Dunmurry and one on Inish Rath Island in Upper Lough Erne.

The Pakistani community tends to be Muslim and so worships at a mosque. Mohammed Yasin, a Pakistani immigrant who has been in Northern Ireland since the early 1970s, believes that religion and culture are quite separate things, and doesn't mention worship as a big issue.

He points out that there is a mosque here which people go to, and then notes that ''culture bonds through geography and language".

The Muslim community in Northern Ireland comprises about 4,000 Muslims who practice Islamism. Their mosque in Belfast has a wealth of information on Islam - anyone in the community is welcome to come in and learn more. There are also smaller prayer halls in Newtownards, Craigavon, Ballymena, and at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown.

Interestingly, the Chinese community here probably has the most in common with people from Northern Ireland. According to the Chinese Welfare Association, the biggest organised religion celebrated by the Chinese community here is Christianity.

''There's a Chinese Christian church just off the Lisburn Road,'' says Dean Lee, Race Relations and Training Officer at the Chinese Welfare Association. …