A place of worship is a specially designed structure or consecrated space where individuals or a group of people such as a congregation come to perform acts of devotion, veneration, or religious study. A building constructed or used for this purpose is sometimes called a house of worship. Temples, churches, synagogues and mosques are examples of structures created for worship. A monastery, particularly for Buddhists, may serve both to house those belonging to religious orders and as a place of worship for visitors. Natural or topographical features may also serve as places of worship, and are considered holy or sacrosanct in some religions; the rituals associated with the Ganges river are an example in Hinduism.
Under International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions, religious buildings are offered special protection, similar to the protection guaranteed hospitals displaying the Red Cross or Red Crescent. These international laws of war bar firing upon or from a religious building.
Religious architecture expresses the religious beliefs, aesthetic choices, and economic and technological capacity of those who create or adapt it, and thus places of worship show great variety depending on time and place.
The word church derives from the Greek ekklesia, meaning the called-out ones. Its original meaning is to refer to the body of believers, or the body of Christ. The word church is used to refer to a Christian place of worship by some Christian denominations, including Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Other Christian denominations, including the Religious Society of Friends, Mennonites, Christadelphians, and some unitarians, object to the use of the word "church" to refer to a building, as they argue that this word should be reserved for the body of believers who worship there. Instead, these groups use words such as "Hall" to identify their places of worship or any building in use by them for the purpose of assembly.
There are strict and detailed requirements in Sunni jurisprudence (fiqh) for a place of worship to be considered a masjid, with places that do not meet these requirements regarded as musallas. There are stringent restrictions on the uses of the area formally demarcated as the mosque (which is often a small portion of the larger complex), and, in the Islamic Sharia law, after an area is formally designated as a mosque, it remains so until the Last Day.
Many mosques have elaborate domes, minarets, and prayer halls, in varying styles of architecture. Mosques originated on the Arabian Peninsula, but are now found in all inhabited continents. The mosque serves as a place where Muslims can come together for salat (? ?al?t, meaning "prayer") as well as a center for information, education, social welfare, and dispute settlement. The imam leads the congregation in prayer.