“THE RELIGIONS OF ISLAM AND HINDUISM” (57)
The response to the column about Judaism and Christianity was good, and many people requested to be informed about the time and date of our session in which I have invited my friend Rabbi Marc Rubenstein of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach to further discuss Judaism. That will be this coming Tuesday, September 23 at 5:00 pm in room 109 of Heath Hall at Vanguard University. Please join us.
So now continuing our short series about some of the world’s great religions, we turn our attention to the religions of Islam and Hinduism. The religion of Islam, which is the world’s second largest religion after Christianity, is monotheistic, which is to say that there is only one God. And Islam, like Judaism, traces its roots to the prophet Abraham. Moses is believed to have descended from Abraham’s son Isaac, and Muhammad is believed to have descended from Abraham’s other son Ishmael. Consequently, due to lineage, one will find commonalities among Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The word “Islam” means “submission,” or total surrender of oneself to Allah, which is the Arabic word for God. A person who follows the Islamic religion is known as a Muslim, which means one who submits to God. Muslims believe that prophets were chosen by God, and those prophets include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among others. All of these prophets were human and not divine, though some were able to perform miracles to reinforce their claims.
Muslims strongly believe that God revealed his final message to the prophet Muhammad, who is so revered that when his name is spoken, it is almost always followed by the phrase “Peace be upon Him.” Muslims also believe that on numerous occasions during the period between 610 and the date of his death in 632 BCE, Muhammad received the Quran orally from God through the archangel Gabriel. Then Muhammad passed God’s words on to his companions who, in turn, wrote them down. Since these literally are considered to be the words of God, the Quran, which means “recitation,” is the central religious text of Islam.
Like Judaism but unlike Christianity, Islam is a religion that emphasizes faith combined with “good works” to earn God’s forgiveness and favor. Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam, which are: “There is but one God, and Muhammad is His messenger;” ritual prayer 3 or 5 times per day that is meant to focus people’s minds upon God; alms-giving; fasting during the month of Ramadan to encourage a feeling of nearness to God; and the Hajj, which is a once in a lifetime pilgrimage during a particular time of year to the City of Mecca, for those who are able.
After Muhammad’s death there was a political schism into Sunni and Shia that was caused by disagreements over who would succeed Muhammad in the religious and political leadership of the Muslim community. About 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni, and 14 percent are Shia, and 1 percent other. But there are actually few theological differences between Sunnis and Shias. Unfortunately, today when people think of Islam, they often think of violence. This is, of course, a stereotype that disturbs the overwhelming majority of Muslims because they believe that Islam completely rejects violence against innocent civilians.
Hinduism is generally considered to be the oldest of the world’s religions, having its roots back to 1500 BCE. It does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, or a single system of morality, but instead has thousands of different religious groups, and it is the dominant religion of India and Nepal. The most sacred scriptures for Hindus are the Vedas, or “Books of Knowledge,” that were written in Sanskrit from about 1500 BCE to 100 CE.
There are some bedrock concepts on which most Hindus agree. For example, like the religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, Hindus believe there is only one, all-pervasive and Supreme Being. This is a “three-in-one” God known as Brahman, who is composed of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer). But contrary to Christianity, Brahman is not a faraway God in some remote heaven. Instead this Supreme Being is inside each and every soul, waiting to be discovered. This turns the focus of Hindus inward to their own soul for Brahman, which is the ultimate divine reality.
Hindus also worship the “wives” of Shiva, such as Kali, or one of Vishnu’s ten incarnations or “avators.” But this is only the beginning, because there are literally millions of Hindu gods and goddesses, with concurrent religious festivals and holy days.
Hindus also believe in Karma, which is the law of cause and effect by which all people create their own destiny by their thoughts, words and deeds. Thus both good and bad actions come back to people in the future, which helps them to learn life’s lessons and become better people. Therefore, with good Karma a person can be reborn into a higher caste. A fundamental tenet of this is to live with a minimum of “hurt” to other living beings, because all life is sacred. This means that peace and non-violence, as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, are ingrained into the Hindu religion.
For Hindus the soul leaves the body at death, but does not die. Instead it will be reborn, or “reincarnated,” which is otherwise known as the “transmigration of souls.” Then after a soul evolves well enough spiritually, it can be released from the cycle of physical rebirth to an Enlightenment, which is attained by becoming in tune with the Brahman within. This condition is called Nirvana, and this is the ultimate goal of the Hindu.
James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.