The most important weekend of the Christian calendar may seem a strange time to offer a lesson on world religions. But I can’t help thinking that, like me, at least some of my readers sometimes wonder what the differences are. Frankly, I think it’s a great time to compare them. Besides, I’d hate to let my homework go to waste. Space allows me to provide basic snapshots of only four major religions here. Feel free to email me if I’ve gotten it wrong.
Islam is the second most popular religion in the world, begun in Arabia and revealed to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad. Followers of Islam, called Muslims, believe in only one God, called Allah. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Abraham, Jesus, and the final prophet, Muhammad, born in Mecca in 570 A.D.
The Muslim scripture is the Holy Qur’an. Muslims believe it is the unaltered word of God. The five pillars of Islam are: Shahadah (declaration of faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (giving a fixed proportion to charity), Saum (fasting during the month of Ramadan), and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca.)
Buddhism began in India and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). Buddhism is different from many other faiths because it is not centred on a belief in a personal creator God. Buddhists believe there is a cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth which goes on and on. They believe that unless someone gains Enlightenment, when they die they will be reborn. If a person can gain Enlightenment, they can break out of this cycle. Breaking out of the cycle is called Nirvana—perfect peace, free of suffering.
Buddhists try to reach Nirvana by following the Buddha’s teaching and by meditating. Meditation means training the mind to empty it of all thoughts. When this happens, what is important becomes clear.
Hinduism is often referred to as Sanātana Dharma, meaning “the eternal law.” Its holy text is the Vedas, and the Ganges River in India is one of its holy places. Hinduism has no founder, single teacher, nor any prophets.
Hindus believe in one god, Brahman, the eternal origin and foundation of all existence. All other gods of the Hindu faith represent different forms of Brahman. These gods are sent to help people find the universal god (Brahman).
Hindus believe the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived (Karma). Therefore, misfortunes in our present life are the result of acts committed in past lives. In the same way, our actions in our present lives will determine our fate in the lives to follow.
Jesus Christ is the founder of Christianity. Christians believe: Jesus Christ was the Son of God, sent to earth by God to save humanity from the consequences of its sins; Jesus was fully human, and experienced this world in the same way as other humans of his time, yet lived a perfect life without sin; Jesus was tortured and gave his life on the cross; Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his Crucifixion (the Resurrection); Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament; by believing, any human can receive eternal life with God and avoid eternal punishment for their sin.
Christianity and Judaism share the same roots. The Old Testament and the Torah (Jewish Holy Book) have the same content. The Jews are still awaiting the coming of a Messiah or Saviour, while Christians believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah and are now waiting for his second coming.
It’s easy to conclude that Christianity is the craziest of all faith systems, for it is the only one whose founder rose from the dead. Who would be foolish enough to make this up and expect to be believed?
Unless, of course, it actually happened.
Call me crazy, but I’m banking heavily on the one who walked away from an empty tomb. Happy Easter.