Comparing Religions

1365 words | 5 page(s)

Even though the tragic events of 9/11 have increased the focus upon Islam in America and the west, most of the resulting perceptions have been negative. But a closer look at Islam and other eastern and western religions reveal that Islam is not only different from other religions but also share several similarities with them. As far as history and myths are concerned, the origins of Islam lie in the revelations Muhammad would receive from God through Gabriel, during his meditation in the cave. Islam claims that its arrival was inevitable due to the fact that the followers of previous Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism had been led astray of the right path. Islam claims that it is the most complete and final Abrahamic faith and completes those that came before it. The holy book of Muslims is Koran which is considered to be the word of God and was revealed to Muhammad in stages over a period of more than two decades. Islam says that one cannot achieve salvation until he/she has put his/her faith in the oneness of god and accepted Muhammad as the final prophet. The only religion with great number of adherents than Islam is Christianity which, ironically, considers itself the extension of Judaism and even refers to Judaism scriptures as Old Testament. According to Christianity, Jesus was the son of god whose sacrifice was necessary to cleanse humanity from the original sin. Christianity claims that one cannot achieve salvation without putting his faith in Jesus and accepting him as the savior and Messiah. Christianity also proclaims that Jewish people have gone astray and Jesus came to save humanity and reestablish the kingdom of god on earth.

As far as religious doctrines are concerned, the foundation of Islam is claimed by Muslim to be based on five pillars which are faith, prayer, fasting, charity, and, pilgrimage. Muslims believe that this world is a testing ground and everyone will be judged on the basis of his actions on judgment day. Islam claims that the life hereafter will be eternal and those will good deeds will go to heaven while the others will go to hell. In Islam, there is only one god and there is no one related to him. Relating anyone to god is one of the greatest sins in Islam. Islam also calls for role of religion in the state instead of separation of church and state which is why constitutions in many Muslim countries are influenced by Islamic body of law called ‘sharia’. In Islam, all Muslims are part of one nation called ‘ummah’ and geographical boundaries do not matter. Islamic doctrine exhibits the influence of previous Abrahamic faiths including Christianity and Judaism. For e.g. Muslims believe in Virgin Mary, just like Christians and Muslims don’t eat pork, just like Jews. In addition, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Islam. In contrast, one of the major eastern religions called Hinduism is polytheistic in nature with numerous gods including Brahma and Shiva. Instead of eternal life in heaven and hell, Hinduism preaches the continuous circle of life and death called Samsara and one’s status in current life is determined by his/her deeds in the previous life. Spirituality is an important element of Hinduism. Hinduism also promotes social stratification of the society through the caste system according to which one’s social status in society is determined at birth.

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As far as rituals are concerned, Muslims are expected to pray five times a day and men are recommended to offer prayers in mosque whenever possible. The two main annual celebrations for Muslims are Eids, the first of which follows the month of Ramadan or fasting and the second marks the end of annual pilgrimage event in Saudi Arabia. The second Eid is also known for the ritual of animal sacrifice by Muslims. Muslims also celebrate other events such as the birth and death anniversaries of prophet Muhammad and other historical events such as ascension of Muhammad to heaven. Another major religion in India besides Hinduism is Sikhism. Just as Muslims go to mosques, Sikhs go to their temple usually called Gurdwara. Sikh men often standout from others due to their traditional turbans. Sikh men are also required to grow hair and beard and many never shave their entire lives. Just as Muslims consider Mecca a sacred place, Sikhs consider Amritsar in India, their sacred place.

In terms of emotions and experiences, Islam places a huge emphasis on sense of unity and even goes on to call all Muslims the member of one nation or ummah. Muslims exhibit strong emotions in matters related to their faith and certain forbidden actions such as disrespecting Muhammad and drawing pictures of Muhammad or other holy companions often draw strong reaction from Muslim community. Muslims also believe that everything happens by the will of god, thus, they often add Insha’Allah or ‘god willing’ to their sentences. Similarly, Muslims also believe everyone has a predetermined time on earth, thus, they see death events or other natural calamities as god’s will. Similarly, some sects of Christianity such as Catholicism also place emphasis on sense of community and look towards Pope to guide the Catholics of the world. Catholics display strong sense of loyalty towards Pope and consider him god’s representative on earth. Christians also tend to interpret painful experiences including natural calamities as god’s work and seek solace in their faith. Christians see purpose in pain and sufferings and often invoke Jesus’ own life experiences as examples. Christians also display strong sense of loyalty towards spreading the word of Jesus on earth as evident by numerous Christian missionaries that target both developed and developing nations.

As far as sacred places are concerned, Mecca is the most sacred place for Muslims because it is home to Holy Ka’aba. Muslims also consider Jerusalem a holy place because it is home to the first Qibla for Muslims, the status now held by Ka’aba in Mecca. In most Muslim communities, mosques are probably the most sacred places and usually hold five prayers on a daily basis. Similarly, Muslims also tend to give sacred importance to places that have association with Muhammad, his companions, or other important historical figures in Islamic history. These places may include birth house, places where important battles took place, and final resting places. As far as Christianity is concerned, different factions may have different sacred places but arguably the most important place may be Vatican City which is home to Catholic Church headquarters. In addition, churches usually perform the same functions in Christianity that mosques do in Islam though gatherings at churches tend to be less frequent than mosque. Similarly, Christians, like Muslims, also consider Jerusalem a sacred city due to association with several biblical figures including Jesus. Christians also tend to give holy status to places associated with historical Christian figures including Jesus, saints, and popes.

As far as ethics and morals are concerned, Islam does subscribe to some of the universal truths such as not killing, treating neighbors well, and being honest. Islam prohibits consumption of alcohol and pork and also forbids adultery. Islam preaches that Quran and Muhammad’s life are perfect guidance in all matters of life. Islam also places huge emphasis on relationships such as family, relatives, and community members. Islam forbids income that has not been earned through hard work such as gambling and even interest earned on deposits or loans. Islam also believes in social welfare that’s why rich people are expected to give a certain percentage of their wealth and income to the poor. In fact, charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. One of the major religions in India is Jainism which doesn’t only prohibit consumption of pork but all forms of meat because Jainism advocates the sanctity of all forms of life. Jainism also forbids any form of violence. Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism also believes that one’s deeds in life should be pure because they determine an individual’s fate in the next life. Like Islam, Jainism also calls for charity to less well-off members of the society.

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