World Religions Very Basic

As we enter into this weeks study there is conversation regarding different world religions.  I have minimal training in this area, but I have gone back through my seminary notes and bounced around the internet and I would like to share the following which is my understandings at a most basic level of these four religions.  I know that, like Christianity, all of these religions have a number of different groups within them.  I can try to answer questions you may have about these so ask.  I do not claim any real expertise in this area, so if you see problems with my understandings let me know and we can try to get them straightened out. So with no further babble I give you my “Ron’s notes” of world religions:

Islam is a religion that believes there is only one god.  Their major text is the Qur’an, a text considered by its followers to be the word of god verbatim, it 114 chapters long.  They believe that the Prophet of Islam Muhammad’s teachings are normative example and he is god’s messenger. Islam literally means “submission (to God). Muslim is the word for an adherent of Islam.

Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable and that the purpose of life is to worship God.  They regard their religion as the completed and universal version of a faith that has been revealed many times and places before, including, notably, to the prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus.  Tradition holds that previous messages and revelations have been changed and distorted over time.  Religious practices include the Five Pillars of Islam, which are five obligatory acts of worship.  Islamic law touches on virtually every aspect of life and society.  The majority of Muslims belong to one of two denominations, the Sunni and the Shi’a.

In traditional Islamic theology, God is beyond all comprehension; Muslims are not expected to visualize God but to worship and adore Him as the Protector.  To those following this life the purpose of life is worship of god.

The Five Pillars of Islam are: (1).The shahadah, which is the basic creed of Islam that must be recited under oath with a specific statement that can be translated as “I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” All other beliefs flow from this statement.  (2). Ritual prayer, which must be performed five times a day. The prayers are recited in the Arabic language, and consist of verses from the Qur’an. (3). Fasting during the month of Ramadan. Muslims must not eat or drink (among other things) from dawn to dusk during this month, and must be mindful of other sins.  (4). Alms-giving, which is giving by those who can afford it to help the poor, and also to assist the spread of Islam.  (5). A pilgrimage during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah to the city of Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime.

Judaism does not have a formal set of mandatory beliefs.  The most accepted summary of Jewish beliefs is Rambam’s 13 principles of faith, even these basic principles have been debated.  Judaism focuses on the relationships between the Creator, mankind, and the land of Israel.

The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely accepted list of Jewish beliefs is Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith.  These principles of faith, which he thought were the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, are: God exists, God is one and unique, God is incorporeal, God is eternal, Prayer is to be directed to God alone and to no other , the words of the prophets are true, Moses’ prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets, The Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings now contained in the Talmud and other writings) were given to Moses, There will be no other Torah, God knows the thoughts and deeds of men, God will reward the good and punish the wicked, The Messiah will come, The dead will be resurrected.  These are very basic and general principles. Yet as basic as they may seem, the necessity of believing each one of these has been disputed.  The liberal movements of Judaism dispute many of these principles.

There are a total of 900 million Hindus worldwide, making Hinduism the third largest religion (after Christianity and Islam). While the term “Hinduism” includes numerous traditions, they are closely related and share common themes but do not constitute a unified set of beliefs or practices.  Hinduism has no founder or date of origin. The authors and dates of most Hindu sacred texts are unknown.   Scholars describe modern Hinduism as the product of religious development in India that spans thousands of years. 

Hinduism is not a homogeneous, organized system.  Many Hindus are devoted followers of Shiva or Vishnu, whom they regard as the only true God, while others look inward to the divine Self (atman). But most recognize the existence of Brahman, the unifying principle and Supreme Reality behind all that is.

Most Hindus respect the authority of the Vedas (a collection of ancient sacred texts) and the Brahmans (the priestly class), but some reject one of both of these authorities. Hindu religious life might take the form of devotion to God or gods, the duties of family life, or concentrated meditation.  Given all this diversity, it is important to take care when generalizing about “Hinduism” or “Hindu beliefs.” In the 20th century, Hinduism began to gain popularity in the West. Its different worldview and its tolerance for diversity in belief made it an attractive alternative to traditional Western religion.

Buddhism was founded by an Indian prince named Siddharta Gautama around the year 500 BCE.  According to tradition, the young prince lived an affluent and sheltered life until a journey during which he saw an old man, a sick man, a poor man, and a corpse.  Shocked and distressed at the suffering in the world, Gautama left his family to seek enlightenment through asceticism.  But even the most extreme asceticism failed to bring enlightenment.  Finally, Gautama sat beneath a tree and vowed not to move until he had attained enlightenment.  Days later, he arose as the Buddha – the “enlightened one.” He spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching the path to liberation from suffering (the dharma) and establishing a community of monks. 

Today, there are over 360 million followers of Buddhism. Although virtually extinct in its birthplace of India, it is prevalent throughout China, Japan and Southeast Asia.  There are now over one million American Buddhists.  Buddhist concepts have also been influential on western society in general, primarily in the areas of meditation and nonviolence. 

Buddhist beliefs vary significantly across various sects and schools, but all share an admiration for the figure of the Buddha and the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth.  Theravada Buddhism, prominent in Southeast Asia, is atheistic and philosophical in nature and focuses on the monastic life and meditation as means to liberation.  Mahayana Buddhism, prominent in China and Japan, incorporates several deities, celestial beings, and other traditional religious elements.  In Mahayana, the path to liberation may include religious ritual, devotion, meditation, or a combination of these elements. Zen, Nichiren, Tendai, and Pure Land are the major forms of Mahayana Buddhism.

Hopefully this was helpful to your understandings of some of the religions that are written about here.




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