Major Religion Of The World – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism
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- Christianity has the largest number of adherent in the world and is globalized religion practiced over 235 countries.
- It was founded by Jesus Nazareth (Palestine) at the beginning of the Christian era about 2000 years ago. Jesus was later accepted as the Christ, the Messiah by their disciples.
- Christianity originated as a movement within Judaism which was an ethnic religion based primarily on birth. Jesus was a Jew and his follower accepted him as the Christ, a chosen one, sent to fulfil god’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Pagan practices like the worship by the Romans of the Ceasure (king) conflicted with monotheism and led to persecution of the Christians.
- The basic foundation of Christianity is the New Testament (the Bible) which deals with the life of Jesus Christ. It recognizes Jesus as the son of God who has descended on the earth to save the humanity.
- The Bible is divided into two parts: Old Bible/Old Testament, and New Bible/New Testament.
- Greek educated Paul was responsible for founding and spreading Christianity as a gentle religion and the Roman Empire helped much in its growth.
- The demand to reform the Church had been common to all Roman Catholic countries since 12th century but such reforms succeeded only in limited areas until 16th century.
- A significant division of Christian religion occurred in the 16th century with the reformation movement of Protestantism. Later on Protestantism itself, divided into many dominations, such as Anglican etc.
- The Christians bury their dead in a specially designated area called cemetery.
- The Christians particularly the Catholics, have a highly developed spatial hierarchy system.
- Christianity is the most widely distributed religion in the world. According to an estimate made in 2001, the total population of Christians was about 2000 million which was 33% of the world population. Christianity is universal religion which has the largest number of followers in Europe followed by Latin America, Africa, Asia, etc.
- According to an estimate made by Philip Jenkins (2002) by the year 2050 the Christian population of the world will be 3000 million but only 1/6th of these will be non-Hispanic Caucasian.
- The missionary activities of the Christian colonized in Asia and Africa during 19th century also led to large scale conversion to Christianity.
- Islam is a universal and the second largest religion of the world.
- It was founded by Prophet Mohamed in the century A.D. It is a monotheistic religion which has its faith only in one God, Allah. It is based on the Holy Quran which is a collection of the saying of the Prophet Muhammad.
- Islam literally means submission or total surrender to God, who is absolutely unique, omnipotent, omniscient and merciful.
- Prophet Muhammad lived in Mecca, a place in the desert of Arabia. He had to move to Medina, a place north to Mecca in 622 A.D. where he began his mission, though the place of origin of Islam is Mecca where Prophet lived previously.
- The Holy Quran is written in Arabic language which contains not only the principles of religious doctrine but also rules of worship and various pronouncements on worldly matters.
- The followers of Islam (Muslims) are bound by a common faith and a sense of belonging to single community.
- The Muslim community consists of five articles of faith:
- Belief in God
- Belief in Angels
- Belief in Quran
- Belief in Prophet
- Belief in the day of judgement
- Accordingly, each Muslim is enjoined to practice the following five pillars of Islam:
- There is only one God, Allah and Mohammad in his Prophet.
- Pray five times a day.
- Fasting (rozas) during the month of Ramzan from dawn to dusk.
- Paying alms (zakat) for the support of poor’s.
- Performing pilgrimage (Haj) to the holy place Mecca (Kabaa) at least once in one’s adult life time.
- Islam is one of the most actively proselytizing (spreading) faith in the history of religion which was carried across Africa and Asia within short time of 100 year.
- There are two main sections within the Muslim community:
- Shia, and
Shias are claimed that they are the partitions of Ali, prophet Mohammad’s cousin and son in law and two his descendants. The Sunnis constitute about 90% of the total Muslim population of the world. The total population of Muslims in 2001 was about 1186 million (about 20% of the world population). The major concentrations of Muslim population are in Asia and Africa having a population of about 600 million and 260 million respectively.
There are about 50 million Muslims in Europe and nearly 3 million in North America. Latin America and Oceania each has Muslim population below 1 million.
- The largest (about 2/3rd) concentration of the Muslims is in Asia (south-west, central, south and south-east Asia) followed by North Africa and Europe.
- There are two holiest city of Muslims:
Mecca and Medina both in Saudi Arabia. The city of Mecca is the birth place of Prophet Mohammad and the highest aspiration of every Muslim is to perform Haj. Each year millions of Muslim from throughout the world make Haj to Mecca. All pilgrims (Hajis) are dressed alike to emphasize the common loyalty to religion and the equality of people. The second most holy city in Islam is Medina is about 250 km to the north of Mecca. Prophet Mohammad received his first support from the Ansars of Medina and which constructed in Medina and which also enshrines the grave of the Prophet.
- The mosque is the focal point of Islamic religious life and the primary imprint of the religion on cultural landscape.
- The Muslims bury their dead in cemeteries. In south-west Asia they sometimes used cemeteries on Public Park in congested urban areas for the purpose.
- Today Islam has undergone some considerable modifications in different countries per their cross-cultural contacts. In India the Hindu caste system has left its impress on the adherents of Islam.
- Hinduism is the oldest religion of the world which was founded about 3000 B.C. in India.
- At present it has above 340 million followers in the world in the 114 countries with highly concentration in Asian countries: India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.
- About 837 million Hindus are concentrated in India. They constitute about 80% of the population of the country.
- Nepal is the only Hindu nation in the world but India believes in secularism and has no state religion.
- All through 5000 years of its history, Hinduism remained confined mainly to the centre of its origin, the Indian sub-continent.
- It is polytheistic religion as it believes in many gods and goddesses, all of whom are regarded as manifestations of the one divine spirit. It believes in spiritual peace and happiness and universal brotherhood.
- Its origin may be traced back in the time of Indus Valley Civilization as early as about 3000 B.C.
- The historic evidences of Hinduism date back to Vedic period around 5000 years ago.
- The term Hindu thus originally had a geographical origin and hence territorial significance rather than creedal significance.
- A large variety of different communities inhabiting different gods and practicing different rites got bound together as Hindus having common binding force divinity of soul or force of spiritual unity. The sacred books of Hindus include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Bhagavat Gita. The oldest literary monument is the collection of religious poems and hymns called the Vedas. The Vedas are four in number: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.
- The Hinduism believes in many gods and goddess. It believes in the trinity of Brahma (the creature), Vishnu (the sustains), and Shiva (the destroyer) whose spouses are serially Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parwati, the most important goddesses.
- A number of the other gods and goddesses are also worshipped by the Hindus including Indra, Surya (sun), Agni (fire), Durga, etc.
- There are a chain of pilgrimage centres in different parts of the country . Main pilgrimage centres of Hindus are Dwarka (Gujarat), Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu), Puri (Orissa), Badrinath and Haridwar (Uttarakhand), Prayag (Allahabad), Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya (U.P) etc.
- The chief distinguishing characteristic of Hindu religion and social life is the institution of caste.
- Caste is much more complex than the division of a nation into social or economic classes, even when their classes are hereditary.
- Typically, a person must marry with his or her caste and should not accept food from a member of a lower caste. Caste is anti-thesis of democracy.
- It is a vast hierarchy, exalting the Brahmans at the top and degrading the untouchables or the outcastes at the bottom of the social pyramid.
- The prevailing caste system in Hindu society has been instrumental for conversion of the lowest castes (schedules castes) to Christianity, Islam or Buddhism.
Buddhism is one of the oldest religion of the world. Buddhism as a reformist movement of Hinduism, originated in northern India in late 6th century B.C. It was founded by Gautam Buddha around 525 B.C. The substance of Gautam Buddha’s teachings has been better preserved than the facts of his life. Some scholars considered him the most intellectual of all the founders of the world’s great religions. He had no intention of establishing a religion, and his ideas, although considered by the Hindu religious background, were not sectarian. The basis of his philosophy was materialism.
- He held that nothing exists except matter and denied the actuality of the soul and said that all things are impermanent.
- Buddha’s psychological principles followed locally from his materialist metaphysics. He affirmed that not only the soul but the self is an illusion. In his ethical teachings Gautam’s emphasis was positive rather than negative. He proclaimed the ideal of universal love, to be exemplified by service and helpfulness.
- However, Buddhism flourished in India for 1000 years after the life of its founder.
- The basic tenets of Buddhism rests on four cardinal truths:
- The world is full of suffering and misery.
- Suffering is the result of one’s desires.
- The renunciation of desire in the path of salvation, and
- Salvation can be achieved by following the eight fold path civilization.
These eight paths or virtues of Buddhism include:
- Right knowledge
- Right resolve
- Right action
- Right means of livelihood
- Right effort
- Right memory
- Right concentration, and
- Right speech
The moral teachings of Gautam Buddha had a great impact upon their Hindu society.
- Various sects of Buddhism arose as the movement spread. The two principle schools representing a cleavage which apparently begun after Gautam’s death are the Hinayana (lesser vehicle) and the Mahayana (Great vehicle). Of the two, Hinayan was older and was associated with the original percept’s of Buddhism. Hinayan is known as the southern school of Buddhism. The term Hinayan was first applied reproachfully because the members of this group were bent upon their own self-perfection, claiming that it was possible for the diligent individual to attain nirvana in their lifetime.
- The Mahayana tradition became more corrupt than the Hinyana as time went on. It came to include the worship not only to Buddha but his several supposed reincarnations, and it also transformed the concept of nirvana into a conventional paradise of bliss.
- Buddhism received widespread acceptance only after Ashoka, the great king of Magadh who adopted it after the battle of Kalinga. He took upon himself the task of spreading the great message of Gautam Buddha both within and outside the country. Consequently, Buddhism spread soon beyond the Indian sub-continent through prevailing trade-routes.
- Buddhism established its foot hold in China by the end of 5th century, from where it reached Korea, Vietnam, and many other South-East and East Asian countries.
- Today Buddhism is the fifth largest religion of the world with about 360 million followers.
- About 99% Buddhists are concentrated in East, South-East and South Asia. Its maximum concentration is in Sri Lanka, Tibet (China), Japan, China, Korea, etc.
- It is also interesting to note that while Buddhism continued spreading to the countries of East & South-East Asia until atleast 7th century A.D., it lost its foot hold in India where it got its origin.
- At present there are only three areas in India where Buddhists are found in considerable numbers. These areas are Sikkim, Maharashtra and Ladakh region (Jammu & Kashmir).
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