Brief Survey of World Religions
The information in this overview comes mainly from Wikipedia
(http://www.wikipedia.org/) and from a wonderful introduction to Asian religions by Paul
Laughlin, P. A. (2005) Getting Oriented: What every Christian Should Know about Eastern Religions, but Probably Doesn’t. Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA.
Two concepts of the nature of God—two families of religions
1. Family I (monotheism): God is outside the universe, created the universe but no
part of the universe is god or divine. God is not part of existence. God does not
exist as things exist. No thing (nothing) is sacred.
a. Zoroastrianism (Parsee) (700 BCE) (Persian monotheism)
b. Judaism (600 BCE)
c. Christianity (30 CE)
d. Islam (600 CE)
2. Family II (monism): God is the force, energy, substance from which the universe
is made and to which it returns. God is the life force in the universe. God is
energy (modern physics says all matter is made of energy). Everything (every
thing) is made of God stuff.
a. Hinduism (1500 BCE)
b. Buddhism (500 BCE
c. Taoism (500 BCE)
d. Confucianism (500 BCE)
Prehistoric/ Animistic period
1. Animism: Everything is alive.
2. There are spirits everywhere. There is a tree god, a god of the river, a mountain
god, a god of the wind, a god of the rain, a wolf god, an elephant god, a lion god,
a tiger god, a snake god, etc.
3. Whether the crops grow, the sick are cured, there is a drought or rain, depends on
4. If you make the spirits angry bad things happen to you.
5. If you please the spirits good things happen.
6. If you make them angry you can sometimes appease the spirits by doing things for
them – feed them, promise you won’t upset them any more, sacrifice to them
7. You can sometimes live in harmony with the spirits – usually involves ‘respect’
8. Certain talismans/ charms/ incantations can be used to control the spirits.
9. The witchdoctor/ shaman/ priest is skilled at controlling the spirits. Derives
power from his/her ability to control the spirits
10. One of the basic elements of these religions is fear. Tribe is controlled by fear.
11. Also emphasize living in harmony and respect for nature
12. Xenophobia: fear of strangers or foreigners. Our spirits help us in battle, protect
us from our enemies, and fight spiritual wars and battles against the spirits of the
Polytheistic/ Ancient Period
1. Mainly tribal religions. When the tribe was wiped out or era ended, the religion
was no longer practiced. Examples: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, early Chinese religions.
2. Emergence of gods with superhuman characteristics (Vishnu, Krishna, Zeus,
Apollo, Athena, Baal, etc.)
3. Gods had adventures, growth of myth and legend, stories with morals, stories of
courage, stories that taught important lessons and dealt with the “Hard
4. God was like Superman, or Santa Claus. Some of the people believed in the gods
when they were a child, and as an adult they recognized the important lessons
taught but didn’t take the stories literally. Others understood the gods to be literal
5. Priests respected for their wise council concerning the regulation of human
affairs, not just fear (though their power was feared as well).
6. Beginnings of religious institutions. Temple cultures emerge. Social functions of
religion emerge. (Provide prostitutes for the community, etc.)
7. Some of the gods were needful creatures.
8. Many of the gods were indifferent to human well-being. Didn’t pay attention to
humans unless they did something to make them mad or unless they needed them
Figure 1: Timeline from Laughlin (2005)
1. Gilgamesh epic: one of the oldest human writings. Dates from Polytheistic/
Ancient period (origins nearly 3000 BCE). Written long before the Bible.
2. Story of Noah as reported in Gilgamesh epic: gods upset because humans were so
noisy, disturbed their sleep, regretted having made them, decided to wipe them
out with a flood. They liked Noah so they spared him.
3. After the flood, there was nobody left to make sacrifices to the gods. As a result,
the gods were starving to death. The big main god is described as leaning against
the mountain, faint with hunger, afraid he is going to die of starvation. He regrets
having wiped out the humans. Finally, Noah gets off the ark, builds an altar and
makes a sacrifice. The gods feed on the smoke and smell of the roasting flesh.
4. Gods described as hovering around the smoke of the fire like flies around a pile of
Theological concepts emerging in the prehistoric and polytheistic periods.
Appeasement: If the gods are angry, you can do things to appease them. If you live right
the river god won’t flood your village, the mountain god won’t make the volcano
erupt, etc. If you say the right incantation over the deer when you cook it, the
deer god won’t get mad. Sacrifices are made to feed the gods.
Retributive justice: If you make the gods mad they will make bad things happen to you.
“God will get you for that.”
Substitutionary atonement: A chicken or a bull can die for your sins. If you disobey the
gods, or anger the gods in some way, something has to die. The gods will not
forgive sin unless something dies but it doesn’t have to be you. Sacrifices are
made to keep the gods from killing you.
Depravity: grew out of xenophobia (fear of strangers or foreigners). These were scary
times. Marauding strangers raid villages. Bloodthirsty enemies, unknown places,
natural disasters, etc. Gods are on our side. Foreigners are evil. We are gods
people; they are evil.
Power of talismans and incantations: Charms (talismans) and incantations can ward off
evil spirits. Talismans and incantations can be used to control the gods. If you do
the ritual just right, the gods have to obey you (you can summon the devil, force
the gods to bless you, etc.) The genie has to grant you three wishes if you
summon him. Perform a ritual or say an incantation over your fields or erect a
talisman to guarantee good crops.
Development of Perennial or Archetypal Religions (Classical Period).
1. During this period religious concepts began to mature. A more sophisticated
concept of god(s), better understanding of nature, greater understanding of human
nature, and better ability to predict events contributed to this process.
2. Emergence of religions that did not die out with the cultures that produced them,
have become classical religions that are the basis and inspiration for all religions that followed.
3. About 500 BCE was a turning point in the history of religion. Zoroastrianism,
Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, and Jainism all emerged between
600 BCE and 500 BCE.
4. Culture, civilization, commerce, transportation, and exploration had emerged by
5. All had
a. A nameable founder
b. Emphasized a Divine Unity
i. single personal God (monotheism) (Family I)
ii. non-personal Absolute, Supreme Something (monism) (Family II)
c. Had scriptures
Prolific – Alternatives Period
This period was characterized by the development of thousands of sects,
denominations, and alternative religions.
Islam (sometimes seen as the last of the classical religions to develop)
Theological Concepts emerging in the Classical Period
•Natural justice/ Karma: good behavior has good consequences and bad behavior has bad
consequences. Justice will be served, if not in this life then in the next.
•Greater emphasis on love and caring: less about fear, more about living in harmony with
each other and with nature.
•Emphasis on plurality/ inclusiveness: a universal God is God over all people, all
countries, all places, all times. We must try to understand and accept God’s entire
domain not just our tribe or village.
•Justice supercedes moral laws: Creating a just society is more important than obeying
•God does not “need” people, people need God. God is in control, God cannot be
•Asceticism: The idea that this life, this world, is incompatible with spiritual life and
spiritual goals. One way to become more spiritual is to deny this world and the
pleasures of this world. By suppressing the body, you enhance the soul.
Sometimes suppressing the body involves extreme measures, celibacy, fasting,
and poverty. In some traditions it can involve self-inflicted pain, and body
mutilation. Many religions have an ascetic tradition. It is almost always a minor
part of the tradition.
Survey of Major World Religions
1. Iranian religion (ancient Persia). Also known as Parsee (in India). Probably
originated 600 – 700 BCE but some evidence that some of the scriptures may be
from 1500 BCE (or earlier).
2. First of the monotheistic religions (Family I). There is one God who is constantly
battling the evil God called Satan.
a. Yes that is correct. It is monotheism but there are two Gods, one good and
b. This is the same idea sometimes found in Christianity today.
3. The teachings of Zoroaster are presented in seventeen liturgical, texts, or "hymns", the yasna which is divided into groups called Gāthās.
4. If basic precepts of Zoroastrianism are to be distilled into a single maxim, the
maxim is Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta (Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good
5. A cosmic struggle between Aša "The Truth" (Pahlavi Ahlāyīh) and Druj "The
Lie" (Pahlavi Druz) is presented as the foundation of our existence. This is often
related to a struggle between good and evil in a Western paradigm. This may also
be conceptualized as a battle between Darkness and Light. The two opposing
forces in this battle are Ahura Mazdā (Ohrmazd) (God) and Ahriman (The Devil).
In the yasnas, Zoroaster refers to these forces as "the Better and the Bad."
6. Zoroaster describes Ahura Mazdā in a series of rhetorical questions, "Who
established the course of the sun and stars? ... who feeds and waters the plants? ...
what builder created light and darkness? Through whom does exist dawn, noon
and night?" (Yasna 44, 4-6).
7. Judaism was much influenced by Zoroastrianism. After the exile the captives
brought many Zoroastrian ideas back with them.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religious traditions. It grew out of the Vedic
religion that developed during the polytheistic/ancient period (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Periods of Hindu History (from Laughlin, 2005)
During the Vedantic period, a philosophical system developed to explain the
origin of all the gods (see figures 3 and 4).
Figure 3: Brahman manifests existence (from Laughlin, (2005))
The Vedas depict Brahman as the Ultimate Reality, the Absolute or Universal
Soul (Paramatman). Brahman is the indescribable, inexhaustible, incorporeal,
omniscient, omnipresent, original, first, eternal, both transcendent and immanent,
absolute infinite existence, and the ultimate principle who is without a beginning, without
an end , who is hidden in all and who is the cause, source, material and effect of all
creation known, unknown and yet to happen in the entire universe. Brahman (not to be
confused with the deity Brahmā) is seen as a panentheistic Cosmic Spirit. The
personality behind Brahman is known as Parabrahman (The superior Brahman). Brahman
may be viewed as without personal attributes (Nirguna Brahman) or with attributes
Figure 4: The main Hindu gods (from Laughlin, 2005)
Some Hindus are followers of one of the gods, some are followers of another.
Which one you follow, depends on which village you are from, which family, and what is
going on in your life. You may go to one temple when you are pregnant, a different
temple when you are sick. No one path is seen as better than another, no one god is more
true than another. Hindus teach that there are many paths to Brahman. Each person must
choose his or her path and then do his or her best to walk that path. The paths are
described in the scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.
What can be said to be common to all Hindus is the belief in Dharma (duties and
obligations), Samsara (Reincarnation/rebirth), Karma ("actions", leading to a cause and
effect relationship), and Moksha (salvation) of every soul through a variety of paths, such
as Bhakti (devotion: the way of the heart, focused on faith and love, devotion to one of
the gods), Karma (action: the path of ethical action and duty – good works) and Jnana (knowledge: the way of insight, study of doctrine, scriptures, and divine truth), and of
course, belief in God (Ishvara/Bhagavan) (see Figure 5).
Reincarnation or the soul's transmigration through a cycle of birth and death, until
it attains Moksha, is governed by Karma. For almost all Hindus, reincarnation is non-
personal. Your life force lives on after you die but your memories and experiences, your
personality, dies with you. The idea of remembering “previous lives,” is mostly a
western distortion of Hindu belief.
Figure 5: Paths to Enlightenment (from Laughling 2005)
The philosophy of Karma lays forth the results of free-willed actions, which leave
their imprint on the soul or the self, called as ātman. These actions determine the course
of life and the life cycle for the soul in its subsequent life. Virtuous actions take the soul
closer to the Supreme Divine, and lead to a birth with higher consciousness. Evil actions
hinder this recognition of the Supreme Divine, and the soul takes lower forms of worldly
Hindus believe that every living being is an eternally existing spirit (the soul or
the self)(atman). (This includes insects, rodents, snakes, and cows. While cows are
respected and protected, they are not worshiped.) Upon physical death, this soul passes
from one body to another in accordance with the laws of Karma and reincarnation.
Atman is neuter (has no sex), non-personal (has no memory of events or relationships in
earlier lives). Atman is not imortal, it is eternal. Atman is not in the image of Brahman,
it is Brahman.
All existence, as per Hinduism, from vegetation to mankind, are subjects to the
eternal Dharma, which is the natural law. Even Heaven (Svarga Loka) and Hell (Naraka
Loka) are temporary. Liberation from this material existence and cycle of birth and death,
to join (absorbtion), reach or develop a relationship with the "universal spirit" (depending
on belief), is known as moksha, which is the ultimate goal of all Hindus.
Asceticism and Indulgence: One of the paths available to Hindus is the path of
asceticism. It is actually pretty rare but some Hindus decide, very early in life, to
renounces society, in order to pursue a life-long ascetic path. They will take on a very
demanding discipline that sometimes includes extreme body piercings, sleeping on
thorns, refusing to sit or lie down for decades, covering their nude bodies with the ashes
of the dead, etc. Tourist stops in India are frequented by people dressed up as ascetics
who pose with the tourists for photographs for a fee.
Another path available to Hindus is the path of Tantrism who believe that spirit and flesh
are not at odds but in continuity. Indulging the flesh, for example, by extreme sexual
practices, is actually a path to spiritual realization. The Kama Sutra is a Tantric manual
that is popular in the West as well.
1. There is controversy among scholars of religion concerning whether Buddhism
constitutes a religion. There are no “gods” per se in Buddhism, though the
“Grand Ultimate” is directly analagous to the Hindu Brahman. With
approximately 708 million followers, Buddhism is a major movement. Its
adherents are called Buddhists.
2. Buddhism was spread through missionary zeal and is now far more common
outside India than in the country where it was founded.
3. Founded by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha or “Enlightened One.”
a. Son of a wealthy king
b. Sneaked out of the Palace in search of enlightenment and encountered
poverty and suffering of the masses.
c. Enlightened while meditating under the Bo tree “Tree of Enlightenment.”
d. Once enlightened he spoke only eternal truths.
4. The Buddha traveled around the country teaching, working miracles, starting
5. Died of food poisoning. At his death he achieved nirvana (union with the Grand
Ultimate similar to moksha).
6. Buddhist scripture
a. Tripitaka – “Three Baskets” – contains the teachings of the Buddha
b. Sutras – discourses or lessons (there are a great many of these, some are
7. Buddhist teachings (see Figure 6).
a. There are Four Noble Truths
i. Life is painful or unsatisfactory (dukkha). We’re never satisfied or
completely happy, evern – and perhaps especially – when we get
exactly what we want. We never stop wanting. We are all,
therefore, in deep dukkha.
ii. The cause of suffering/unsatisfactoriness is craving (tanha – desire
or clinging). We forever desire what we don’t have, and if we get
it, it is never as good as we imagined or as something else we think
is better. The “grass is always greener” and “be careful what you
wish for.” Stalking, abductions, insecurity, greed, envy, jealousy,
murder, hate, war, all arise from these two principles.
iii. There is an end to suffering/unsatisfactoriness. It is called nirvana– the bliss of non-attachment (letting go) that brings an end to
craving and therefore suffering.
Figure 6: Buddhist Teachings (from Laughlin, 2005)
iv. The way to this end is the Eightfold Path.
1. right vision,
2. right intention,
3. right speech,
4. right action,
5. right livelihood,
6. right effort,
7. right mindfulness, and
8. right meditation.
v. A person will normally go through these steps in order.
1. The first two have to do with getting wisdom
2. The next three have to do with morality
3. the last three with concentration, emptying the mind, and
b. Ultimate Reality = Shunyata – Nothingness, the Void, Emptiness
c. Temporal Reality = samsara – all things as interconnected and
d. Human spiritual essence: anatman – the no soul or not self
e. Human spiritual goal: nirvana – bliss, the extinguishing of self
8. Buddhist branches/ sects/ schools
a. Theravada: more conservative. Buddha’s words and deeds should be
followed to the letter. Mostly found in the southeast (Sri Lanka, Thailand,
Myanmar). Only monks can achieve enlightenment. Laypersons job is to
support the monks. If layperson does well, they may be reincarnated as a
monk. Monks beg for food, live simply, meditate in small communities.
b. Mahayana: more liberal. Buddha’s words should be followed in principle
but must develop new forms to meet the needs of different cultures.
(China, Korea, Japan, Tibet). Pure Land, Tibetan, Nichirin, and Zen are
branches of Mahayana Buddhism.
c. Pure Land: emphasis on devotionalism. Exhibits much the same dynamic
as evangelical Protestant Christianity, which emphasizes “loving the
Lord” and trusting God’s mercy to secure a place in a heavenly paradise.
There is a celestial Buddha named Amida with infinite compassion
pictured as the warming rays of the sun. If you believe in Amida you will
be reborn in the Pure Land, a paradise in the Western sky. Pure Land
Buddhists are encouraged to utter the mantra “Namu Amida Butsu” (I
revere the Amida Buddha) all day long – prayer should be ceaseless.
There are also compassionate beings called bodhisattvas (bosatsu in
Japan). Images of these appear in temples. Prayers are left with the
images. Kannon (female bodhisattva) very popular in Japan. Kannon has
a helper named Jiso (Jeez-OH) who takes care of the souls of dead babies.
d. Tibetan Buddhism: emphasis on ritualism, practicality, and activism.
Priests with colorful vestments, sacraments, candles, symbolic gestures,
chants, and striking visual art. Reminds one of Eastern Orthodox
e. Nichirin Buddhism: emphasis on social and political ethics and personal
success of a worldly sort.
f. Zen Buddhism: emphasis on using the mind and intellect to pursue clarity
and mental discipline. Work out your own spiritual liberation by engaging
in regular and rigorous meditation. Try to empty your mind by focusing on
a nonsensical Koan or on pain or on a sound. Reminds one of Shakers or
Quakers emphasis on mystical spirituality.
1. Grew out of the ancient Chinese religion.
2. Lao-tsu was the founder.
3. Tao Te Ching is the classic Taoist text
4. I Ching is the classic book of divination.
5. Originally not thought of as a religion – more a worldview.
6. Named after the Tao (always pronounced Dow) which means path or way.
7. In the beginning, everything was One, the great void, the great nothingness. All
things were undifferentiated. Infinite energy moving infinitely fast in all
directions. As lines of interference developed, the One became differentiated into
the two, the Great Ultimate (T’ai-Chi): Yin and Yang. As the energy slowed
down further (by running into other energy), everything else formed.
8. Emphasis on going with the flow.
9. Be yourself
10. Live in harmony with nature
11. Religious Taoism (Tao-chaio) was founded by Chan Tao-ling about 150 CE.
Involves belief in and worship of deities. This is very different from Lao-tzu’s
worldview. Religious Taoism involves a lot of shamanistic chants, spells, dances,
alchemy, talismans, magical techniques, for warding off evil or strengthening
your chi. There is an order of priests, the head of the order is like the ruler of the
religion. There are temples with incense and sacrifices, etc.
1. Not a religion in the usual sense.
2. Collection of wisdom writings encouraging moral behavior, self reliance, logic
and common sense.
3. Emphases on how humans can, if they work at it, create a stable and healthy
social structure in which to live and raise their families.
4. Emphasize discipline and hard work.
1. The first of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
2. Much confusion over what is a Jew. Is it a race, a nationality, or a religion?
3. There is no single accepted Jewish doctrine or catechism. Different sects interpret
the scriptures differently.
4. Judaism was founded by Abraham who left his home town of Ur (a seaport town
in what is now southern Iraq), rejected idolatry, and taught monotheism.
Abraham went in search of a “promised land.”
5. Basic beliefs of Judaism
a. God is one - strict unitarian monotheism, in which the eternal creator of
the universe is the source of morality. Judaism holds that God created, and
cares about, humankind. In polytheistic religions, humankind is often
created by accident, and the gods are primarily concerned with their
relations with other gods, not with people.
b. God is all powerful (omnipotent), as well as all knowing (omniscient), and
the different names of God are ways to express different aspects of God's
presence in the world.
c. God is non-physical, non-corporeal, and eternal. All statements in the
Hebrew Bible and in rabbinic literature which use anthropomorphism are
held to be linguistic conceits or metaphors, as it would otherwise be
impossible to talk about God.
d. One may offer prayer to God alone — any belief in an intermediary
between man and God, either necessary or optional, has traditionally been
e. The Hebrew Bible, and much of the beliefs described in the Mishnah and
Talmud, are held to be the product of divine revelation. How revelation
works, and what precisely one means when one says that a book is
"divine", has always been a matter of some dispute. Different
understandings of this subject exist among Jews.
f. The words of the prophets are true.
g. Moses was the chief of all prophets.
h. The Torah (five books of Moses) is the primary text of Judaism.
i. God will reward those who observe His commandments, and punish those
who violate them
j. God chose the Jewish people to be in a unique covenant with Him.
k. There will be a moshiach (Jewish Messiah), or perhaps a messianic era.
l. The soul is pure at birth, and human beings have free will, with an innate yetzer ha'tov (a tendency to do good), and a yetzer ha'ra (a tendency to do
m. People can atone for sins through words and deeds, without
intermediaries, through prayer, repentance, and tzedakah (dutiful giving of
charity), if accompanied by a sincere decision to cease unacceptable
actions and if appropriate amends to others are honestly undertaken,
always providing a "way back" to God.
n. As a matter of practical worship (in comparison to other religions)
Judaism seeks to elevate everyday life to the level of the ancient Temple's
worship by worshipping God through the spectrum of daily activities and
actions. Judaism maintains that this is how the individual will merit
rewards in the afterlife, called gan eden (Hebrew: "Garden of Eden") or olam haba ("World to Come"), though Judaism does not have a single
concept of the afterlife, nor is the afterlife the focus of Jewish practice.
6. Judaism does not have a specific concept of salvation. Jews are in a covenant
relationship with God and that is enough. The responsibility of the Jew is to be
faithful to the convenant in both spirit and practice.
1. Christianity started out as a Jewish sect around the followers of Jesus Christ, but
was opened up early to gentiles and gradually parted from Judaism.
2. Christianity is characterized by a tremendous diversity in beliefs. Within
Christianity, numerous distinct groups have developed, with diverse beliefs that
vary widely by culture and place. Since the Reformation, Christianity is usually
represented as being divided into three main branches:
a. Eastern Christianity, includes the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the
Assyrian Church of the East, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, all with
a combined membership of more than 240 million baptized members;
b. Catholicism: With more than 1 billion baptized members, this category
includes the Roman Catholic Church, the largest single body -- which
includes several Eastern Catholic communities -- as well as certain smaller
communities (e.g., the the Old-Catholics);
c. Protestantism: The category includes numerous denominations and groups
such as: Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed, Evangelical, Charismatic,
Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists, and Pentecostals. The
oldest of these groups separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the
16th-century Protestant Reformation. The later groups typically formed as
separations from the older ones. Some Protestants identify themselves
simply as Christian, or born-again Christian. Others, particularly among
Anglicans and in Neo-Lutheranism, identify themselves as being "both Catholic and Protestant." Worldwide total is just under 500 million.
3. Basic Beliefs.
a. The Trinity: The belief that God is a single eternal being who exists as
three distinct, eternal, and indivisible persons: Father, Son (Divine Logos,
incarnated as Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).
b. Jesus Christ as God: Jesus Christ is both fully God (divine) and fully
human: two natures in one person.
c. Jesus Christ as Salvation: The belief that salvation from "sin and death"
is available through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Protestants,
Catholics, and Orthodox Christians have arrived at several explanations as
to exactly how this salvation occurs. Many Christians interpret salvation
to mean being able to enter heaven (and escape hell) after death, though
some theologians have lamented this tendency. The question of "who is
saved" has long been considered a dark mystery by many theologians,
though some Protestants consider it a relatively simple issue of whether
one has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior (salvation by affirming certain
statements or beliefs).
d. Crucifixion and Resurrection: The belief that Jesus Christ died on the
Cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven after appearing to his
disciples, most notably the Apostles.
e. The Second Coming: The belief in the "General Resurrection," in which
all people who have ever lived will rise from the dead at the end of time,
to be judged by the returned Christ.
f. The Afterlife: Christian views of the afterlife generally involve heaven
and (somewhat less frequently) hell, with Catholicism adding an
intermediate realm of purgatory. Except for purgatory (whose denizens
will ultimately enter heaven, after "purification"), these realms are usually
assumed to be eternal. There is, however, some debate on this point, for
example among the Orthodox. It is generally unclear how the afterlife fits
together with the doctrine of the General Resurrection--i.e. whether eternal
life begins immediately after death, or at the end of time; and whether this
afterlife will involve the resurrection of one's physical body (perhaps in a
glorified spiritual form). Most Christians hold that one's consciousness,
the soul, survives the death of the physical body, although the Jehovah's
Witnesses, among others, reject this, saying that those who practiced good
things will be resurrected to life and those who practiced vile things to a
resurrection of judgement.
4. Scriptures: Christians accept selected Hebrew scriptures as well as selected
writings of the Jewish prophets as part of their scriptures. In addition, a collection
of writings known as the New Testament which consists largely of writings
attributed to Jesus apostles and early Christian writers is accepted as scripture.
There is disagreement about how many and which of the jewish apocryphal
writings should be included.
5. Substantial disagreement exists on the relative importance of the various
scriptures. Most Christians give precedence to the New Testament writings.
6. Most Christians believe the Scriptures to be Divinely Inspired. There is much
disagreement on the nature of that inspiration. Most Christians believe the Bible
is a collection of inspired writings. Others believe that God actually wrote the
1. Islam is a monotheistic faith, one of the Abrahamic religions and the world's
second-largest religion. Followers of Islam are known as Muslims. Muslims
believe that God revealed his divine word directly to mankind through many
prophets and that Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam.
2. The basis of Islamic belief is found in the shahādatān ("two testimonies", Arabic: لا إلﻩ إلا اللﻩ محمد رسول اللﻩ ): lā ilāhā illā-llāhu; muhammadur-rasūlu-llāhi—
"There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." In order to
become a Muslim, one needs to recite and believe in these statements under
witness. One who wishes to convert must be truly willing, and must have given
thought to the meaning of the shahāda before reciting the words (in Arabic) and
becoming a Muslim.
3. Muslims believe that God (or, in Arabic, Allāh; also in Aramaic Alaha) revealed
his direct word for mankind to Muhammad (c. 570–632) and other prophets,
including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Mainstream Muslims believe
that Muhammad is the last or the seal of the prophets. Thus, his preachings for
humankind will last until qiyamah (The Day of the Resurrection). Muslims assert
that the main written record of revelation to humankind is the Qur'an, which they
believe to be flawless, immutable, and the final revelation of God to humanity.
Muslims believe that parts of the Gospels, Torah and Jewish prophetic books
(though originally divine in their nature) have been forgotten, misinterpreted,
incorrectly edited by humans, or distorted by their followers and thus their
original message has been corrupted over time. With that perspective, Muslims
view the Qur'an as a correction of Jewish and Christian scriptures, and a final
4. Muslims hold that Islam is essentially the same belief as that of all the messengers
sent by God to mankind since Adam, with the Qur'an (the text agreed upon by all
sects of the Muslim faith) codifying the final revelation of God. Islamic texts
depict Judaism and Christianity as derivations of the teachings of the prophet
Abraham and thus acknowledge common Abrahamic roots. The Qur'an calls Jews
and Christians (and sometimes people of other faiths) "People of the Book."
5. Islām is described as a dīn, meaning "way of life" and/or "guidance".
6. Six articles of belief: There are six basic beliefs shared by all Muslims:
a. Belief in God (Allah), the one and only one worthy of all worship
b. Belief in all the prophets (nabi) and messengers (rasul) sent by God.
c. Belief in the books (kutub) sent by God:
i. The Suhuf-i-Ibrahim (Scrolls of Abraham)
ii. The Tawrat sent to Musa (Moses)
iii. The Zabur sent to Daud (David)
iv. The Injil sent to Isa (Jesus)
v. The Qur'an sent to Muhammad
d. Belief in the Angels (mala'ika).
e. Belief in the Day of Judgement (qiyama) and in the life after death
(heaven and hell). (Note: Sometimes these articles are listed separately,
thus resulting in 7 articles of faith.)
f. Belief in Fate (predestination) (qadar)
7. The Muslim creed in English:
a. "I testify that there is no god but Allah Almighty; and I testify that
Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is His
b. "I believe in Allah; and in His Angels; and in His Scriptures; and in His
Messengers; and in The Final Day; and in Fate, that All things are from
Allah, and Resurrection after death be Truth.
8. Sunni: The Sunni are the largest group in Islam (80%– 85% of all Muslims are
Sunni). In Arabic, as-Sunnah literally means principle or path, while in
terminology, Sunnah is the set of sayings or practice by Prophet Muhammad.
Sunnis believe that Muhammad was, when he was acting as a prophet, a perfect
human being, and that they must imitate the words and acts of Muhammad as
accurately as possible. In fact, the Quran states that the character of the Prophet
Muhammad was a good example to follow. Because of this reason, the Hadith in
which those words and acts are described are the main pillar of Sunni doctrine.
9. Shi'a: Shi'a Muslims, the second-largest sect, differ from the Sunni in rejecting
the authority of the first three caliphs. They honor different traditions (hadith) and
have their own legal traditions. Shi'a scholars have a larger authority than Sunni
scholars and have greater room for ijtihad or interpretation. The Imams play a
central role in Shi'a doctrine. The Shi'a consist of one major school of thought
known as the Ithna 'ashariyah or the "Twelvers", and a few minor schools of
thought, as the "Seveners" or the "Fivers" referring to the number of infallible
leaders they recognize after the death of prophet Muhammad.
10. Sufism: Sufism is a spiritual practice followed by both Sunni and Shi'a. Sufis
generally feel that following Islamic law or jurisprudence (or fiqh) is only the first
step on the path to perfect submission; they focus on the internal or more spiritual
aspects of Islam, such as perfecting one's faith and fighting one's own ego (nafs).
Most Sufi orders, or tariqa, can be classified as either Sunni or Shi'a. However,
there are some that are not easily categorized as either Sunni or Shi'a, such as the
Bektashi. Sufis are found throughout the Islamic world, from Senegal to
11. The Qur'an is the sacred book of Islam. It has also been called, in English, "the
Koran" or (archaically) "the Alcoran". Qur'an is the currently preferred English
transliteration of the Arabic original (قرﺁن); it means “recitation”. To understand
the notion of "variants" within the received Qur'anic text, one must understand
that Arabic had not yet fully developed as a written language. The Qur'an was
first recorded in written form (date uncertain) in the Hijazi, Mashq, Ma'il, and
Kufic scripts; these scripts write consonants only and do not supply vowels.
(Imagine an English text that wrote the word 'bed' as "BD," and required the
reader to infer, from context, that the reference was to "bed" - and not to 'bad" or
"bide."). Most Muslims regard paper copies of the Qur'an with extreme
veneration, wrapping them in a clean cloth, keeping them on a high shelf, and
washing as for prayers before reading the Qur'an. Old Qur'ans are not destroyed
as wastepaper, but burned or deposited in Qur'an graveyards.
12. Most Muslims memorize at least some portion of the Qur'an in the original
language. Those who have memorized the entire Qur'an are known as hafiz. This
is not a rare achievement; it is believed that there are about millions of huffaz
(plural) alive today.
13. From the beginning of the faith, most Muslims believed that the Qur'an was
perfect only as revealed in Arabic. Translations were the result of human effort
and human fallibility, as well as lacking the inspired poetry believers find in the
Qur'an. Translations are therefore only commentaries on the Qur'an, or
"translations of its meaning", not the Qur'an itself. Many modern, printed versions
of the Qur'an feature the Arabic text on one page, and a vernacular translation on
the facing page.
14. Islamic eschatology is concerned with the Qiyamah (end of the world) and the
final judgment of humanity. Like Christianity and some sects of modern Judaism,
Islam teaches the bodily resurrection of the dead, the fulfilment of a divine plan
for creation, and the immortality of the human soul. In Islamic belief, the
righteous are rewarded with the pleasures of Jannah (Paradise), while the
unrighteous are punished in Jahannam (a fiery Hell, from the Hebrew ge-hinnom or "valley of Hinnom"; usually rendered in English as Gehenna). A significant
portion of the Qur'an deals with these beliefs, with many hadith elaborating on the
themes and details.