Islam believes in the Torah as revealed to Moses, in the Psalms of David and the New Testament. The Koran repeats many sacred stories from the Old and the New Testament, such as that of Adam and Eve, the adventures of Joseph, and accounts concerning Abraham and Ishmael.
Islam acknowledges all the prophets who appeared prior to Mohammed, of whom twenty-five are mentioned in the Koran. These include Moses, David, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary. 10 pages are devoted each to Adam, to Abraham, to Shit, and 30 to Idris. The Virgin Mary appears in the Koran much more often than she does in the New Testament. According to Islamic doctrine, all the prophets, including Jesus, were human. In the Koran, Jesus does not claim to be divine, but anticipates the advent of God’s ultimate messenger. Concerning Jesus, the Koran states, “They (the Jews) did not kill Him or crucify Him, as it appeared so to them… but God raised Him to Himself” (Sura 4 .157-8).
The fifth element of the Muslim faith is the belief that after death, the soul lives on in another state of being. The Day of Judgment marks the end of the world, when all deeds will be reviewed and judged. Their position in the next world will be determined by the verdict regarding their deeds in this world, according to which they will either enter paradise or be condemned to hell. According to Muslim belief, only those who deny the existence and unity of God, those not of the Islamic faith will remain for ever in hell, while believers who have sinned will be taken up into heaven once they have served out their punishment. It is an obligation for Muslims who have sufficient wealth to sacrifice an animal at the Festival of Sacrifice.
During the development of Islamic dogma, belief in God’s predetermination of good and evil was added. This is the topic of most discussion in the world of Islam and does not derive from the Koran. While Muslims preserve the concept of God’s absolute omnipotence by claiming that He is the progenitor of good and evil, disputes concerning the role of fate began early in the development of Islamic doctrine. There are many who strive for a compromise between the two opposing views: “Humanity has no freedom of choice, fate is supreme” and “Humanity is free to choose but has responsibility.”
The Prophet Mohammed, born circa 570 CE in Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia), was a member of the Hashimi branch of the Quraysh tribe. Orphaned at the age of six, He was brought up by His grandfather and paternal uncle. At the age of 25 He found employment with a 40-year-old wealthy widow, Khadija, who was engaged in trade. Later He married her. In 610 when He was 40, He received the call to prophethood. At Mount Hira He was called to proclaim the worship of the one God, and the first of His revelations was brought to Him from God by the angel Jibra’il.
At first He spoke of His experience only to a few close friends, but from 613 onwards He preached to all the people of Mecca. He and His followers were persecuted but in 619 He was taken by the angel Jibra’il on the Night Journey to Jerusalem, from where He ascended to the throne of God,
(Mi’raj) from the rock on the Temple Mount, now notable for the sacred shrine of the Dome of the Rock, which is said to contain the Prophet’s footprint. From this Rock, the angel Israfil will blow the trumpet announcing the Day of Judgment and, according to some traditions, the Ka’ba will come there like a bride. It is believed that He ascended at night to the heights of Allah on His horse, Buraq, and returned to Mecca by morning. In 622 still suffering from persecution and now a widower, Mohammed was obliged to flee from Mecca to Medina. This journey is known as the Hecira (the migration) and marks the beginning of the Islamic era. The Islamic calendar, which is lunar, dates its Years from the Hecira.
The Muslims of the time who followed Mohammed are known as Muhajirun and those who supported Him in Medina are called Ansar (the helpers). The descendants of both these groups are honored in Islam. It was in Medina that Mohammed established himself as a religious and political leader, and it was there that in 630 He defeated the opposing forces of Mecca. The ancient sanctuary there was purified, rededicated to God, and became the central shrine of Islamic pilgrimage. At the age of 62, Mohammed went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, where He died after having organized His many followers and Arab tribes as an Islamic community. He chose to be buried in Medina where the wives He had married after the death of Khadija lived. He left no male successor, it was not clear who was to succeed Him.
Many religions use symbols and many of them are common to several religions. SYMBOLS Immediately after the cross, the most widely used Christian symbol is the fish. In ancient Greek, the word ‘fish’ is composed of the initial letters of words meaning Jesus, Son of God, and Saviour in the same language. The New Testament tells how Jesus calls to some fishermen by the Sea of Galilee to follow Him, saying,
“I will make you fishers of men”. Wine made from grapes represents the blood of Christ and bread symbolizes His body. Grapes were also a symbol in the services of Dionysius or Bacchus of the ancient world.
The dove symbolises peace, fertility, purity, love, innocence and the Holy Ghost.
In Taoism, the deer represents long life and good fortune and in Christianity it symbolises eternal life and the soul of one who has drunk from the Fountain of Life and been cured.
In Christianity the cock is the symbol of wakefulness, daybreak and prophecy. The white cock is held to bring good fortune, while the black represents evil. It is believed that the crowing of the cock drives away evil spirits, and for this reason the figure of a cock is placed on the spires of many churches. The cock also plays a part in the Gospel story. Jesus predicted the exact time when the cock would crow, after Peter had denied Him three times.
The peacock symbolizes Doomsday, the Resurrection of Christ and Christ encompassed in radiance. In India and in ancient Greece the peacock is sacred.
In Christianity the lion is the symbol of victory and salvation, the rabbit of sexuality, the devil and magic spells, the palm tree of everlasting life and vital energy, an extension of the Tree of Life of eastern cultures.
In Jewish, Christian and Muslim tradition, the snake epitomizes the Devil and is blamed for the temptation and downfall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Various mythologies are full of different stories of snakes. In the legends of the Sumerians, the Hittites, the Egyptians, the Scandinavians and the Slavs, in ancient Greece and Rome, countless stories about snakes are told.
The pelican is also an important Christian symbol. According to one version of the story it becomes angry with its young, devours them and then regrets its action so much that it tears open its own breast with its beak. The blood then brings the young back to life. This is thought to represent Christ’s sacrifice, when He shed His blood so that all may share in His resurrection, particularly those who drink wine as His blood during the service of Holy Communion.
The banner bearing a red cross on a white ground symbolizes resurrection and is often flown from churches on Sunday. It is also the flag of St. George, patron saint of England.
Cherubim and Seraphim Cherubim, thought of as attending the heavenly throne or guarding especially holy places, are hybrid beings having bird-wings, and human, or animal faces. Cherubim, originating from both early Middle Eastern mythology and iconography carry out important functions as intercessors in the hierarchy of angels. In the Old Testament, cherubim are accorded supernatural agility rather than intercessional propensities, and are thought to have undertaken the duty of upholding the Throne of God. In Christian belief seraphim are regarded as the highest among angels, servants of God in heaven who continually praise him. In Muslim belief, cherubim and seraphim dwell on a level of paradise which Satan cannot penetrate and offer constant prayers of thanks to God.
Easter marks the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after His death on the Cross. His disciples stated that on the third day after Christ’s death, He rose from the dead and that He appeared to them on various occasions and dwelt among them for forty days. The resurrection of Christ was the cornerstone of the ministry of St. Paul.
Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday and rose from the dead the following Sunday. Today, all Western Christians observe Easter on the same day. This falls on the first Sunday after the full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox, March 21st. Should the full moon fall on a Sunday, then Easter Day will be observed the Sunday following. This means that Easter may occur between March 22nd and April 25th. However, the Orthodox Eastern Church calculates the date in a slightly different way, so that Easter may occur one, four or five weeks later than this. Easter is a very important festival in the Christian year, around which the whole year of worship is organised. It is regarded as the Christian Passover. From earliest Christian times, Sunday, ‘little Easter”, has been kept as the weekly commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. A banner showing a red cross on a white ground, symbol of the resurrection, is often flown on Sundays from a church tower or spire. This is also the flag of Saint George, patron saint of England…
In almost all Churches, the period of Lent features as a preparation for the festival of Easter. It is a season of contrition. After Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, and before he began His ministry, he spent an exemplary period of fasting in the desert lasting 40 days and 40 nights. In the Roman Catholic Church, this period of fasting, known as Lent, begins on Ash Wednesday, Six and a half weeks before Easter and lasts forty days, not counting Sundays. In the Orthodox Church, it begins eight weeks before Easter, and fast days do not include Saturdays and Sundays. The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week, the Friday of Holy Week, two days before Easter Day is called Good Friday, and is the day on which Christ’s crucifixion is commemorated.
The Roman Catholic Easter services include renewal of the blessing of fire by lighting Easter candles, reading lessons from the Holy Bible concerning the sacrament of baptism and celebrating Easter Mass. In the early years of Christianity, the sacrament of baptism was administered only once a year on Easter Sunday. In the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, Easter begins before Saturday night worship with a procession outside the church. This is followed by the sacrament of Easter communion. When the procession is leaving the church, no lights are lit, but on its return, hundreds of candles and coloured torches are lit to symbolise the splendour of Christ’s resurrection.
On returning home after midnight, eggs painted crimson are banged together in celebration of Easter Sunday. Then a rich variety of dishes are served for the mid-day meal. The spicy Easter Loaf, woven like a plait is essential to the feast. In England, small spicy round loaves, decorated with a cross, called Hot Cross Buns, are produced at Eastertide. The proper time for eating them is Good Friday. In the Lutheran church services, and in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer there are special liturgies for Easter. In different sects of Protestant Churches, the Easter sacrament of Communion is held on different days in Holy Week.
Among Christian communities, various folk traditions have arisen within the framework of Easter celebrations. Most of these, in the context of the theme of resurrection, stem from the ancient rites of pagan spring festival and from symbols originating in Europe and the Near East. This festival may be thought to be derived from the Sumerian legends of Tammuz or the Anatolian Attis and Agdistis and the Greek Adonis. The death and rebirth of these figures symbolised the death of the year in autumn and its rebirth in spring. Eggs, a food forbidden during Lent and later gaining great significance as the symbol of new life and rebirth, have become, when painted or decorated, the symbol of Easter. During this festival, Christians present each other with gifts of eggs or egg-shaped objects. Eggs may be painted crimson or other colours, white representing the divinity of Christ, red expressing the idea of His sacrifice shows the blood of Christ spilt for the salvation of the whole world. According to a different interpretation, the egg symbolises the world, the shell being the sky, the membrane the air, the white the seas and the yolk the earth’s surface. On the day after Easter, it is customary to visit the graves of loved ones and services of prayers for the souls of the dead are offered up around this time. The rabbit, ancient Egyptian symbol of fecundity is later adopted in Europe. Especially in North America, the Easter bunny, still a symbol of human fecundity features prominently at Eastertide.
Syrian Christians celebrate Christ’s ascension into heaven forty days after His resurrection. During the ceremonies held in their churches, the congregation dip walnut leaves into holy water that has been blessed, and sprinkle each other with it, water being the symbol of the Holy Ghost.