The crescent moon, (hilal) is the accepted symbol of Islam, and this particular form of the moon has a religious significance. It is the symbol of rebirth, because it possesses both an open and closed form, like a person caught in the throes of death, before opening up and reviving. Thus the crescent is an image of heaven and a symbol of revival.
Apart from pork, blood, alcohol and narcotics, everything is permissible. Muslims are forbidden to eat the meat of any animal that dies of natural causes instead of being slaughtered in the prescribed manner. Traditionally, animals are slaughtered after first pronouncing the name of Allah and then the blood is drained, a method similar to that used by the Jews.
Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men, but Muslim men are permitted to marry other “Peoples of the Book”, i.e., Christians and Jews.
Like Jewish males, Muslim males are circumcised, but Muslim circumcision is performed on no fixed date just before reaching puberty and is a festive occasion, with special clothes for the boy, and entertainment provided. Islam forbids usury.
In Islam, conduct and practices which are in accordance with the words of the Prophet Mohammed are known as Sunna. The branch of study which organises this learning is called Hadith. SUNNISM is the collective name for the doctrines based on the form of belief determined and practised by the disciples according to the Prophet Mohammed’s Sunna. Sunni Muslims regard the first four Caliphs as the true successors of the Prophet. In Sunnism it is held that the Caliphs should be chosen through decisions of the Islamic community. They may be chosen from people of any race or region.
The four schools of law that have survived in Sunni Islam are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali. The Hanafi is the most followed and which was accorded official recognition by the Ottoman Empire. Most Muslims in central Asia, India and Turkey, and many throughout the Middle East, follow Hanafi. The Maliki School prevails throughout northern and western Africa, in the Sudan and parts of the Persian Gulf, The Shafi’I is found mostly in eastern Africa, parts of Arabia and throughout southeastern Asia, and the Hanbali, now the least followed among the Wahhabis of central Arabia and parts of the Persian Gulf.
There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world that is one person in every five. 20% of Muslims are from the Arabic-speaking world. 5% of Arabs are not Muslims. 83% of Muslims are Sunni, 16% Shi’ite and 1% other sects.
Crucifixion was used from the 6th century BCE on, by Persians, Seleucids, Jews, Carthaginians and Romans as a punishment for pirates, slaves and political or religious dissenters. In 337 CE, Constantine I, the first Christian emperor, put an end to the practice of crucifixion within the Roman Empire, out of deference for Jesus Christ.
The crucifixion of Jesus took place the day before the Jewish Sabbath at the time of the Passover, at a place called Golgotha just outside Jerusalem. Jesus had refused to acquiesce to the demands of the High Priest, so was considered guilty of an offence punishable by death. Therefore He was delivered into the hands of the Roman authorities as a threat to the state. At the age of about 32 He was crucified by order of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
As recounted in the Gospels of the New Testament, the story of Christ’s crucifixion is as follows: first He was scourged, stripped by Roman soldiers and given a scarlet robe to wear. Then a crown of thorns was placed on His head and He was mocked as the King of the Jews. As He was led away to be crucified, a man called Simon from Cyrene was compelled to help Jesus carry His under whose weight He was about to collapse. He was stripped of His robe and given back His own garments, and, at the third hour, He was nailed to the cross by His hands and feet. Above His head was the inscription, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”. The soldiers at the foot of the cross divided His clothes among them and again derided Him saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and save yourself”. There were two thieves on either side of Jesus, also being crucified. One of them addressed Jesus saying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom”, and Christ answered, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. At the ninth hour, Jesus gave up the ghost. A centurion who stood watching said, “Truly, this man is the Son of God”. When one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, blood and water poured out from the wound. When Jesus was taken down from the cross His body was given to Joseph of Arimathea who buried it in a tomb recently hewn from the rock and a great stone was rolled across the entrance.
Christians believe that Christ’s is a reconciling or atoning death that it is a means of atonement, or “at-onement” with God. The early Christians did not depict the crucifixion realistically until the 5th century, but usually described the event using symbols. The picture of a lamb and a cross adorned with precious stones were the symbols of the crucifixion. The first paintings showed the crucified Christ alive, open-eyed, and triumphant over death, His face showing no sign of suffering. In the 9th century, Byzantine art for the first time depicts Christ dead, with eyes closed.
Two symbolic details systematically mentioned in the Bible are featured in the early illustrations of the crucifixion. One is Adam’s skull at the foot of the cross, the other the wound in Christ’s side, from which blood and water flow. These two items are, iconographically, the pictorial representations of Man’s Original Sin, and Christ’s sacrifice which paid its ransom. By sacrificing His life to atone for the sin of Adam, (Adam’s skull) Jesus becomes the new Adam. The crucifixion of Christ represents the founding of the new Church, the blood and water are used symbolically in the sacraments of Communion and Baptism. In the illustrations produced for the early Church, the two thieves and the two Roman soldiers represent the Church and the Synagogue. According to the teaching of the Christian Church at this time, the repentant thief and the centurion who recognised Christ’s divinity symbolise the Church, while the thief who denied Christ and the soldier who rejected His divinity symbolise the Synagogue. After the 13th century, figures, such as the Virgin Mary (the new Eve) featured on the right hand side of Jesus are identified as the new, while those on His left are the old.
Occasionally there are cases of conversion to the Jewish faith. From the 1st century on, the Jews, relinquishing the practice of converting someone from his own to the Jewish religion, do not condone conversion if it is only to facilitate a marriage. It is only after long tests and examinations that they give their consent.
Today, if a married couple has been granted a divorce only through a court decision, and failed to have the decision endorsed in the presence of a Rabbi, they cannot remarry with their religious and traditional customs. If despite this, they remarry in a civil ceremony, they have committed a sin against the Jewish community.
The Children of Israel have many restrictions concerning what they eat and drink. Meat from sanctioned animals has to be prepared according to special rules; that is, the wind-pipe and gullet must be sliced with a very sharp knife moved forward and back without pause, so that the animal’s blood drains off. Only meat prepared in this appropriate manner, kosher, can be eaten. In Islam too, halal meat is prepared in this way. But not every part of an animal passed as healthy can be eaten. For instance, the flesh from the thigh-bone is forbidden and this ban is sometimes imposed on the whole rump joint. The most serious prohibition is against blood. In the Torah it is written that the spirit is within the blood, and it is ordained that the spirit should not be consumed with the flesh. For this reason, all the blood should be drained out of the meat. Eating suet is also forbidden; also meat and dairy products may not be served together. To avoid any possibility of mixing meat and dairy products, two separate dishes are used for cooking, two separate bowls for washing up, and the dishes are kept in two separate cupboards. This is one of the ways in which the religious purity of the home is safeguarded. Only animals that chew the cud and have cloven hooves are sanctioned for consumption, excluding pigs. When it comes to seafood, only fish that have scales and fins are permitted to be eaten, so all shell-fish are forbidden. Wine is drunk on the Sabbath, at Passover, circumcision and wedding ceremonies. Drinking wine prepared under the supervision of a Jew and from a bottle opened by a Jew is considered right and proper. Banquets attended by strict Orthodox Jews are always served by Jewish waiters, but the Reformist Jews recognise none of these prohibitions concerning wine.
Jewish burials take place as early as possible after death. Great respect is shown to the dead, but at the same time they are regarded as religiously unclean. In the face of death and after death, everyone is equal. As specified in the Talmud, the grave garments and the shroud are the same for all. After ritual ablution, the body is wrapped in the shroud and placed in a plain, unadorned coffin into which handfuls of soil are thrown or the body is laid directly into the ground. These rites are similar to those of Islam. Flowers at a funeral are not approved of. After the Jews had been driven out of Jerusalem, it was customary to throw in a handful of the soil from that city, and today there are still those who carry on this tradition. With the exception of the bodies of the Chief Rabbi and other Rabbis, no dead body is taken into the synagogue. It is placed in a grave facing in the direction of Jerusalem. In the old days, women were not expected to attend funerals. After the burial, condolences are expressed and the congregation is served with a meal. Today, the names of grandparents whose graves are unknown are inscribed on a memorial tablet and are thus preserved.