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Required Occasional Observances
Thursday, January 10, 2008


The main occasions for Baha’i collective worship are dawn prayers (mashriqu'l-adhkar), 19-day feasts, and the observance of holy days. For Baha’is, the purpose of life is to know and love God. To accomplish this, prayer and meditation are the primary tools, and service to humanity becomes one of the highest priorities.

Every religion has its own calendar, and the Baha’i is no exception. The calendar begins on March 21, the vernal equinox, and divides the year into 19 months of 19 days each. Once each month members gather for what is called a feast. In the community, the feast consists of a time for worship (recitation of scripture and prayer), an organizational business meeting, and a period of social fellowship.


Each tradition will honor a significant date in the life of their particular founder and may also include significant dates in the lives of other notable persons. In Japan, Obon is observed. Obon is held during the summer and consists of a festival with folk dancing and services honoring one’s ancestors. Other Buddhist traditions, especially in countries influenced by Confucianism, conduct memorial services for deceased family members. Pilgrimages to holy sites, such as sites where the Buddha became enlightened and stupas (monuments housing ashes or relics of the Buddha or popular disciples) are also important in many traditions.

Eastern Rite Catholicism

The Eastern Rites follow a liturgical calendar as does the Latin Rite. However, there are some significant differences. The primary difference is that the Eastern Rites still follow the Julian calendar which now has an approximately thirteen day difference. Major feasts fall about thirteen days after they do in the west. This could be a point of contention for Eastern Rite detainees forced to practice Western Rite liturgies. Sensitivity should be maintained by possibly incorporating special prayer on the Eastern Rite Holy days into the Mass. Each liturgical season has a focus: Christmas (incarnation), Lent (human mortality), and Easter (salvation). Be mindful that some very important seasons do not match western practices such as Christmas and Holy Week.


Up to twenty-two celebrations have been recorded per year. The following seven are among the more significant celebrations of the Hindu tradition. In addition, many localities will also observe special days for their local deities as described in their particular Sthala Puranas.  Some of these observances may take place on different dates depending on how the Hindu calendar is interpreted and how local customs may impact the observances. The below listed dates can be used for planning purposes. The exact dates change yearly because the celebrations are based on a lunar/solar calendar.

Mahashivaratri in March

This is a night festival dedicated to Shiva. The night before the feast, Hindus recite texts, sing and tell stories in honor of this God whose dynamic dance creates, preserves, destroys, and recreates the world.

Holi in March

This is a colored-water Spring Festival. In some parts of India this festival is dedicated to Kama, the God of Pleasure and in others to Krishna.

Ramanavani in April

This festival celebrates the birthday of Rama, the seventh incarnation of the God Vishnu. Hindus read the Ramayana during the previous eight days.

Raksha Bandhana in August

This is a festival in which girls and women, both married and unmarried, tie amulets on the wrists of their brothers for protection against evil. This amulet stays on the wrist until it wears off. Raksha Bandhana literally means to tie protection on.

Janmashtami in August most years, but occasionally in September

This day celebrates the birthday of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. Worship of Krishna is characteristically expressed in dance and song.


Accommodations may be made for the prayers during the Night of Power which happens on the odd nights during the last third of the month of Ramadan. Detainees may have a prayer time scheduled later in the evening, but overnight prayer in the chapel is usually not accommodated.

Night of Power

Make provisions for a special time of prayer on the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th day of Ramadan. The length and time of prayer depends of the security level of the institution.

Much emphasis is placed on fasting and Muslims are encouraged to fast voluntarily at different times. Some of the traditional days for the voluntary fasts are: Muharram (first month of the Lunar calendar), 9th, 10th, and 11th; Mondays and Thursdays; any six days of Shawwal (the month immediately following Ramadan); and the 14th, 15th, 16th day of any Islamic month.

Muslim detainees who are participating in a strict fast during the holy month of Ramadan are often unable to provide a urine sample during the day because of the rigors of the fast. Because observant Muslims neither eat nor drink for many hours, this often affects their ability to provide a sample on demand. If a detainee participating in a religious public fast is randomly selected for drug surveillance, the urine sample will ordinarily need to be taken in the evening after the detainee has had the opportunity to break the fast. Detainees should not be forced to consume water during the prescribed hours of fasting in order to produce a urine sample. In this manner, the random drug testing procedures are not compromised and the religious rights of the Muslim detainees are protected.


Rites of membership initiation are only performed by Orisha – worshiping priests and priestesses. These rituals are ordinarily not performed within the institution, except when a priest or priestess from the community is present. Rituals may never include blood or monetary offerings. Monetary or barter fees may not be charged for performance of rituals.

Nevertheless, there is great significance attached to the gathering of the household to honor Oludumare, the transcendent, one, great God who rules and sustains the universe. Worshipers also honor the Orishas, the demigods or saintly manifestations of Oludumare, and their deceased ancestors. Orisha worshiping religions are religions of practice rather than belief. In the wider community these gatherings would generally occur within households or small communities of practitioners and visitors.

Divination rituals and drumming ceremonies will be the ones most commonly observed in detention centers. Many individuals practice these divination rituals and are subject to possession trances even though these rituals are usually performed by an Orisha-worshiping priest.

Orthodox Christianity

Orthodox Christians must occasionally make sacramental confession to an Orthodox priest. During Lent, Orthodox should attend special seasonal services, if available. If seriously ill, they should be anointed by an Orthodox priest.

Protestant Christianity

Protestantism differs sometimes significantly from denomination to denomination, culture to culture, and yet holds in common the basic tenets of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. While not mandated as days of religious observance, the liturgical calendar (the lectionary) highlights several seasons that are significant in the life of the church and are worthy of consideration for special services, remembrances, etc. These seasons would include the season of Advent, Christmas Day, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent, Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter), Pentecost, Ascension Day, and All Saints’ Day.

Because Protestantism believes that God has had an active role in human life and in human history, there are many days of observance which, because of their very incipience, suggest that they be commemorated in a celebratory response to God’s intervention and interaction. Other days of occasional observance traditionally fall on Sundays during the calendar year and, therefore, normally are observed or recognized within a denomination’s calendar year or lectionary. These days include (although not exclusively) Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, National Day of Prayer, Earth Day, Reconciliation Day, Veteran’s Day, AIDS Awareness Day, World Wide Communion Sunday, Bible Sunday, Race Relations Sunday, Missions Sunday, Anointing Service, Labor Day, and Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.


The most important meeting for Rastafarians is the Nyabinghi which involves members from many areas. This meeting is comparable to a convention, general conference, or synod. The meeting may last up to a week.

Roman Catholicism


The normal minister for the sacrament of baptism is the priest or deacon. Water needs to be poured over the head of the one being baptized while the priest or deacon says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Those being baptized Catholic do not need to be immersed in water. The normal time for baptism is at the Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday night. A person should normally have completed his or her preparation through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. One who has been previously baptized in another Christian denomination does not need to be baptized again, but would normally make a profession of faith at the Easter Vigil service. There is no rebaptism in the Catholic Church; those who are separated by sin or lapse are reunited with the faithful through the sacrament of Reconciliation.


One who is being baptized at the Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday may also be confirmed by the priest who baptized him or her. Otherwise, the bishop is the normal minister of confirmation. The chaplain may request the bishop to come to the institution for the Sacrament of Confirmation after detainees have been suitably prepared.

Reconciliation (Confession)

The Sacrament of Reconciliation may be celebrated communally in a penance service. Penance services should be scheduled at least seasonally. Normally, individual absolution is given to penitents, even in the context of a communal celebration of reconciliation. However, the local bishop may give permission for general absolution for those attending. The sacrament of reconciliation celebrates and affirms God’s forgiveness of the penitent. The sacrament, then, celebrates that reconciliation between God, the penitent, and the community which has already occurred. Participation in the sacrament and the act of absolution by the priest is an outward sign of the graces of repentance and forgiveness that God gives to those who repent.

Anointing of the Sick

See Burial Rituals


Most Sikh religious days of observances commemorate events in the early history of the faith. The festivals are determined through use of a traditional lunar-solar calendar and a solar calendar. Since two calendars are observed not all holidays are fixed.

The sixth day of each month is observed. The day holds in memory the June 6, 1984, attack by the Indian government on the Akal Takhat, a Sikh fortress representing the temporal authority of Sikhs. Adjacent to the Akal Takhat is the Golden Temple, the Harmandir, in the town of Amritsar. The Golden Temple is the center of Sikh spiritual authority. These two sites are considered to be the holiest places in the Sikh world.

Each of the birthdays of the ten Sikh Gurus are celebrated throughout the year: Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan, Guru Teg Bahadur, and Guru Gobind Singh.

Several additional days are observed by the Sikh.

Maghi in January

This day, observed on the first day of the tenth month of the solar year, commemorates a battle in which 40 Sikhs (the immortal ones) laid down their lives for their Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev in May/June

Arjan was the first Sikh martyr and fifth Guru.

First Parkash in August/September

This day commemorates the installation of the Adi Granth, the first edition of the Sikh Scriptures.

Bandi Chor Divas in October/November

Bandi Chor Divas, which means the day of the release of the prisoner, commemorates the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar, the holy city, after his release from detention. This celebration coincides with the Hindu festival of Diwali.


All information in this section has been compiled from the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Technical Reference for Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices.