The Claim of a Supernatural Origin of the Founder
Buddha, in some later scriptures which abound in the marvellous is represented as a pre-existent heavenly being who, in connection with a prophetic dream of a queen, became her first-born child when she was forty-five years old.
Lao Tzu in documents dating a thousand years after his day is represented as having been born a fully matured Wise Old Boy or Philosopher, with white hair, who had been carried in his mother’s womb for seventy-two years, or for eighty-one years, according to different traditions.
Mahavira in a Jain document is represented as a pre-existent being who, in fulfilment of fourteen prophetic dreams, was supernaturally placed in his royal mother’s womb.
A virgin birth seems to be intimated in the case of Zoroaster. His mother was supernaturally glorified when she was an unmarried young woman of fifteen. Three future saviors in Zoroastrianism are predicted to be born of a mother who, similarly, is to be a virgin fifteen years old.
In the canonical New Testament of Christianity there are varying data concerning a divine origin of Jesus. Jesus represented himself as having come from God, whon he called father.
The Claim of Divine Revelation
The following may be specified as outstanding revelations of truth:
Hinduism - The immanence of the divine in the world; human society, a divinely ordained structure; union with the divine, the goal of existence.
Jainism – Self-renunciation, the condition of salvation; the ideal of a liberation of the spirit with subjugation of the flesh.
Buddhism – Selfishness as the root of misery; salvation through inner purity and self-discipline.
Confucianism – The essential goodness of human nature, as divinely implanted; religion as exercised in proper social relationships.
Taoism – Religion as exercised in humbly following the divine Way.
Zoroastrianism – Religion as involving active co-operation with a cosmic power of goodness in a struggle against evil.
Shinto – Nature to be recognized as a beautiful divine creation; religion as involving purity and also loyalty to the supreme authority.
Sikhism – Religion as discipleship of the One True God, with trust in His Name.
Christianity – The supreme power in the world is a perfect person; that He may best be conceived of and lived with as a Father-God; that He has been presented by His Son Jesus Christ; and that the supreme satisfaction of every human being consists in loving obedience to Him and in loving service to brother man.
Islam – Superlative satisfaction to be obtained through submission to an omnipotent God, who is not only a sovereign, but also a judge and rewarder.
The Claim of an Inspired Scripture
Living religions do possess definite sets of documents which are regarded unique divine truths which need to be known for salvation. For all of them claims have been made as pre-eminent above the rest of literature.
Hinduism – Vedas, book of knowledge.
Jainism – Angas, bodies of knowledge.
Buddhism – Tripitaka, three baskets of of teachings.
Sikhism – Granth.
Confucianism – The Five Classics and The Four Books.
Taoism – Tao-te-Ching, the canon of reason and virtue.
Shinto – Ko-ji-ki, the records of ancient matters and Nihon-gi, the chronicles of Japan.
Zoroastrianism – Avesta, the knowledge.
Judaism – The Old Testament.
Christianity – The New Testament.
Islam – Koran.
There are differing views as to when the schism between Sunnism and Shi’ism, the two major sects, took place. The main differences between them can be summarized as follows:
The mosque is not essential for worship, but provides space for meetings, study and worship, and Muslims gather there to pray, especially on Fridays. The principal officials are: the muezzin, who calls the faithful to prayer, the imam who leads the prayer, and the preacher (Khatib). It is important to be correctly dressed for prayer. Men should cover their bodies from navel to knees; women may show only their hands, face and feet. Clothing for both sexes should be plain. Traditionally, men and women pray separately, and special areas in the mosques, usually upstairs are reserved for women, although women generally pray at home. Because Muslim prayer involves standing, kneeling and prostration, an open space is provided, without chairs or benches, and a large space is required for the crowds who attend on Fridays. The direction of Mecca (qibla) towards which Muslims face when they pray is indicated by the mihrab. The raised pulpit (minbar), which the preacher mounts to deliver his Friday sermon (khutba), is the most important piece of furniture in the mosque. Every mosque has at least one minaret; though some have two or four and each minaret has one or more balconies from which the muezzin utters his call to prayer, five times daily. The mosque has no altar. For many Muslims the dome is the symbol of the oneness of God. Some mosques are decorated with beautiful wall-tiles, often bearing calligraphic designs based on verses from the Koran.
Traditionally, images are not used, and in place of these, miniatures, flower-and-leaf designs and calligraphy were developed. In the Koran as in the Torah there is no verse which clearly forbids representative art. Later in the Hadith, depiction is clearly forbidden. To make representations of Nature is considered to be a turning aside from the truth. The Hadith says that those who depict living beings are presuming to imitate God’s creation and will be punished in the afterlife. Embellishment of the Koran, which sometimes takes years to complete, is widespread. Abstract and geometric designs and many different calligraphic styles of Arabic script are used as decoration, regarded as appropriate to adorn the Word of God. From the 10th century onwards, special academies or seminaries were established to teach religious and legal doctrines.
Charity or almsgiving (zakat) is required of every Muslim who possesses the means for the relief of the poor, and for other social and charitable causes. The preferred amount is usually two-and-a-half percent of the annual income.
In the Islamic lunar calendar, the 9th month is known as Ramadan, the month of fasting. For the whole month, Muslims do not eat, drink or engage in sexual intercourse during the hours of daylight. The aim is to demonstrate the physical will-power involved in the service of God and to share the suffering of the world’s many hungry people. Towards the end of the month of Ramadan, the most sacred night (Kadir, Laylat al-Qadr), when the Koran was first revealed to Mohammed, is commemorated. Ramadan ends with a feast called “Id al-Fitr”.
The 12th month of the Islamic calendar is the month of pilgrimage (Hajj), which involves a visit to Ka’ba, the sacred place in Mecca. A visit made in any other month is called “umra”, the Lesser Pilgrimage. At least one pilgrimage is expected of every Muslim who is capable of undertaking it. The Prophet himself only once undertook the Hajj, and that was in the last year of his life. Men wear two seamless pieces of white cloth (ihram), one round the waist and the other draped over the left shoulder. Women wear garments which show only their face and hands. This apparel is usually put aside to be used later as a shroud. Almost two million people go on a pilgrimage each year. Ka’ba is the most holy shrine, perhaps the first sanctuary, on a site many believe to have been first consecrated by Adam; and then by Abraham, who rebuilt it at God’s command with Ishmael, his son by Hagar. Muslims believe that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at a site near Mecca, and the three pillars that stand at Mina are said to represent the three times that Satan attempted to dissuade Abraham and was repulsed. The Ka’ba was once a shrine to 360 Arabian deities in pre-Islamic times, but all its religious images were removed by Mohammed. He purified it and rededicated it to the one true God. A pilgrimage involves many ceremonies, the first being the seven anti-clockwise circuits (tawaf) of the Ka’ba, on each of which the pilgrim tries to touch the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad), or at least point in its direction. Muslims believe that this stone was given by the angel Gabriel to Adam and later to Abraham. Then pilgrims process seven times between the two hills of al-Safa and al-Marwa. This reminds them of the mother of Ishmael, Hagar’s (Hajar) search for water for her son. It was at this point, that holy water, known as Zam-Zam gushed out from the ground. The pilgrim visits the well and takes holy water from it. On the eighth day, the pilgrim must stand on Mount Arafat and ask for enlightenment and salvation. This is the most sublime act of worship. After this, stones are thrown at Satan, representing his punishment for trying to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrimage ends with the slaughter of a sacrificial animal, in remembrance of Ishmael, the meat of which is shared out among the poor. Pilgrimage forms a strong bond between all members of the whole Muslim world.