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Four Major World Religions

Judaism

Worldwide Population: 14.1 million*

Place and Date of Origin: Israel, 1440 B.C.

Founder: Moses (?)

Organization/Authority: Judaism has no official organizational structure. Jewish life centers around individual synagogues led by Rabbis who are teachers trained in the Jewish Scriptures and the Talmud. For orthodox Jews, the Torah (first five books of Moses) is the ultimate religious authority.

Background/History: Judaism as we know it today has it s origins in the rise of Rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. The Rabbis are the spiritual descendent s of the Pharisees and they emphasize the proper interpretation of and obedience to the Law of Moses. Jews see their roots, however, extending back to the Hebrews exodus from Egypt under Moses.

Major Doctrines:
God: Jews are strict unitarians, believing that there is only one God and denying the Christian concept of the Trinity.

Creation: Jews, like Christians and Muslims, believe that God created the physical world out of nothing and that He providentially governs the course of history.

Man: Created in Gods image. Man, though fallen, is born innocent and capable of obedience to God.

Salvation: For orthodox Jews, to be born a Jew is to be born into a covenant relationship with God which, as long as one does not break that covenant, guarantees one eternal life.
Jesus: Jews uniformly reject Jesus as Messiah. In earlier days, they considered Jesus to be a blasphemer and sorcerer, but modern Jews will likely acknowledge him to be a good moral teacher and social reformer.

Major Practices/Holidays:

Sabbath: Refraining from work each Saturday.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement): A special day of personal repentance.

Passover: Commemoration of the Exodus.

Hanukkah: Celebration of the purification of the temple by the Maccabees in 166 B.C.

Bar Mitzvah: When a Jewish boy becomes of age.

 

Islam

Worldwide Population: 1.1 billion*

Place and Date of Origin: Arabia, A.D. 610

Founder: Muhammad

Organization/Authority: Sunni Islam has no official organizational structure. In each mosque, however, the imam (leader) functions as the spiritual leader of the congregation. In Shiite Islam, A yatollahs serve as authoritative teachers and political leaders. The ultimate authority for all Muslims is the Koran, which is supplemented by the haddiths (sayings and deeds of Muhammad), and sharia (traditional Islamic law).

Background/History: In A.D. 610, Muhammad, an Arabian merchant, allegedly received visions of the angel Gabriel who dictated to him the messages that would become the Koran. Inspired by these messages, he began to preach against traditional Arabian polytheism, calling people to follow Allah, the one, true God. His followers called their new religion Islam (submission), and were known as Muslims (those who submit).

Major Doctrines:
Oneness of God: Muslims are strict unitarians. Angels and Jinn: Muslims accept the existence of angelic beings, as well as evil spirit s called jinn..

Prophets: God has sent many prophets to man in history, the last and most import ant of which is Muhammad.

Inspired Books: Muslims recognize that God has inspired many books which man has subsequently corrupted, but the Koran is the last and only perfect revelation of God.

Judgment: There will be a final Day of Judgment in which God will judge each person according to his deeds.

Major Practices (The Five Pillars):
Confession (shahadah): There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.

Prayer (salat): Five times daily facing Mecca.

Fasting (sawm): No food, water, or sex in daylight hours during month of Ramadan.

Almsgiving (zakat): Regular charitable contributions (2.5% of one’s net income).

Pilgrimage (hajj): Visit Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

 

Hinduism

Worldwide Population: 781 million*

Place and Date of Origin: India, 2000 B.C.

Founder: None

Organization/Authority: Hinduism has no official organizational structure. Hindu religious life centers around community temples and family shrines.

Background/History: Hinduism began c. 2000 B.C. when the original religion of India was replaced by the nature gods of the invading Aryans. The worship of these gods gradually developed into belief in one all-pervasive and unknowable God/reality called Brahman, who manifested himself/it self as the individual deities of Hinduism.

Major Doctrines:

Brahman: The supreme Hindu God. Though some understand Brahman as personal, many do not. Rather, it is an all-pervading reality of which everything that exists is a part.

Maya (Illusion): Hindus believe that the physical, phenomenal world is unreal; it is an illusion that breeds ignorance.

Atman (self): Refers to ones personal, individual consciousness. Atman is ultimately unreal, being created by maya. In reality, atman is Brahman.

Karma: The doctrine that what one does in the present life determines ones circumstances in the next life.

Samsara: The cycle of rebirths. The Hindu believes that because of karma he will be reincarnated many times.

Moksha: Release from the cycle of rebirth and reunion with Brahman. Moksha can be achieved by becoming detached from the concerns of this world either through meditation, devotion to the gods, or disinterested devotion to duty.

Major Practices/Holidays:
Four Stages of Life: Hindu men progress through the stages of student, householder, forest-dweller, and wanderer.

Divali (Festival of Light s): Annual festival in honor of the goddess Lakshimi.

Temple Worship: Most Hindus seek moksha through participation in the worship of particular deities.

Yoga: Meditation practices designed to achieve an altered state of consciousness, resulting in detachment from worldly concerns.

 

Buddhism

Worldwide Population: 324 million*

Place and Date of Origin: India, c. 528 B.C.

Founder: Siddhartha Gautama

Organization/Authority: The organization and authority within Buddhism varies widely from one school or branch to another. Most Buddhists worship in temples or community shrines maintained by monks and other leaders.

Background/History: Buddhism began when an Indian prince named Siddartha Gautama (b. 563 B.C.) apparently found enlightenment (Buddha means enlightened one). During an episode of meditation, being dissatisfied with both the indulgent lifestyle of his royal upbringing and the asceticism of Hinduism, he discovered the middle way between these extremes, which he summarized in the Four Noble Truths. Subsequent to this enlightenment, he gathered disciples and began to spread his message. Since Siddharthas death, Buddhism has split into many diverse branches, holding conflicting interpretations of the founder s teachings. All Buddhist s, however, subscribe to the following doctrines and practices.

Major Doctrines/Practices :
The Four Noble Truths : In his enlightenment, the Buddha believed that he had discovered that (1) to live is to suffer , (2) suffering is caused by desire (or attachment), (3) suffering can be eliminated by eliminating desire, and (4) desire can be eliminated by following the Eight-fold Path (see below).

The Eight-fold Path: A system of mental and physical disciplines which, if followed, will supposedly result in losing one s attachment to the physical world and thus overcoming desire.

Sunyata (emptiness): The belief that all reality is empty or void. Nothing really exists.

Reincarnation and Karma: Like Hindus, Buddhists believe that attachment to the world results in karma, which in turn causes one to be reincarnated into a world filled with desire and suffering.

Nirvana: The state in which all desire has been eliminated, usually understood to mean the extinction of one’s self.

 

*These statistics were current at time of publication in July 2002

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