Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism


I. Introduction

  1. Today we live together with people whose customs and ways are, at first glance, strange to us. One reason for this is because these people do not belong to Christendom, but were brought up in a religion strange to us.
  2. If we want to understand our Asian immigrants we first have to find out about their religion. In Pakistan and in large parts of the Orient, Islam is predominant; it was founded in the 6th century by a man called Mohammed.

II. Who was Mohammed?

  1. In 570 A.D., Mohammed was born in Mecca (in Arabia), the son of an esteemed family. At that time Mecca was a thriving city of trade upon the 'spice route' between Syria and India, and was therefore the centre-point for many different religious trends, e.g. Jews, Christians, and the Bedouinic religions. Mohammed, therefore, had the opportunity to get to know many different religions.
  2. Mohammed was of a very contemplative nature. He often went alone into the mountains and became absorbed with religious problems (=meditation). He was most impressed by the 'One God belief' of the Jews and Christians, in contrast to the belief in many gods of the Bedouins. One day, during these meditations, the archangel Gabriel supposedly appeared unto him, and told him to write down all these revelations. They are now written down in the Koran, the holy book of the Muslims.

Mohammed Starts to Preach

Encouraged by his wife Chadidscha, Mohammed soon started to announce the revelations of the archangel Gabriel in Mecca. He was soon to find disciples there.

But as Mohammed condemned idolatry which was common amongst traders, he was forced to flee to the city of Medina which was 35O kms away. This happened in the year 622 A.D. In Medina, Mohammed was soon accepted as a political and religious leader. The date of migration, July the 16th, 622 A.D. was declared the beginning of Islamic Chronology.

Mohammed's Fight For Acceptance

The disciples Mohammed found in Medina, organised themselves into a military group which marched back into Mecca with Mohammed. In 630 A.D. Mohammed finally entered Mecca triumphantly after a short battle. He destroyed the idols, but pronounced the Kaaba, which according to heathen legends fell from the heavens as a black meteorite, as his main relic. Mohammed increasingly developed from being just a prophet to a general and politician.

Mohammed died in 632 A.D. There was heavy fighting for his succession. The Kalif Abu Bekr became the victor of this struggle. From this time, Mohammed's successors have been called Kalifs (Arabic for successor).

The Teachings of Islam

  1. Islam stands for subjection, i.e. the Muslim believer is subject to Allah. Mohammed declared that Allah was the highest and the only God and that Mohammed's words were the last divine revelation to mankind. They were written down in the Koran to complement the Bible. According to Mohammed, the Bible also declares the revelations of God, but not completely. Mohammed sees himself as the last and greatest of the prophets. He also recognised Jesus, but only as one of many prophets and not as the Son of God.
  2. Mohammed declared Mecca as the Holy City. Today, it is the spiritual centre of Islam. To go on a pilgrimage to Allah is a special privilege. It is the duty of every Muslim to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his life-time, if the way is safe. The Kaaba, the main symbol of Islam, is also in Mecca.
  3. The teaching of Islam is simple, clear and life-accepting. In Islam the human is imperfect, and needs to be redeemed. Through faith and good works he will be saved. There is a resurrection and judgment. The fate of the people is decided by Allah (=Kismet).

The Commandments of Islam

The demands Mohammed put to the people were minimal. Every Muslim (the followers of Islam) has to keep to the most important ones:

  1. Confession to the only God.
  2. Praying to Mecca five times a day.
  3. Giving offerings.
  4. Fasting in the month of Ramadan.
  5. One pilgrimage in their life to Mecca.

In addition to these, there are some complementary demands in the Koran (e.g. the abstention from every unclean thing: pork, alcohol). The fasting in the month of Ramadan lasts from dawn until dusk. The law of Islam depends principally on the Koran.

The Koran

The holy book of Islam is the Koran, which the believing Muslim reads only in the Arabic language. The Koran includes many biblical and Arabic traditions.

The Koran describes Allah as the highest god who, as the judge on judgment day, rewards the good and punishes the bad. Paradise and hell are vividly represented in countless colourful pictures.

The Role of the Woman

Mohammed accepted the Arabic customs, but introduced some improvements to the benefit of women. For example, he limited the number of wives to four. However, after the death of his wife Chadidscha, he himself had nine wives who he was allowed through a particular revelation. The fact that Islamic women had absolutely no rights for a long time, cannot be traced back to Mohammed's time, but to later Islamic legislators.

Today, women are breaking away more and more from the shadow of the men. They succeed in stepping out in public in many Islamic countries, in the professions of science and politics. Often women can attend schools of further education, can take part in elections, and for economic reasons, monogamy prevails more and more in the Orient.

In Islam, the husband can divorce his wife at any time, with or without her consent. He can forbid her to leave the house without his permission. If the husband is a Muslim, the children born in the marriage will automatically be Muslims. In court, the statement of one man is equal to that of two women.

According to Islam, men should have more privileges than women (as they are responsible for them), because Allah endowed some people with advantages and these people were men. Righteous women should be obedient, faithful and discrete, so that Allah protects them. However, women whose attitude upsets men are to be withdrawn from, locked in their rooms and punished.


The Origins of Hinduism

Hinduism is the oldest of all the major religions. Around 4000 - 3000 B.C. near the river Ganges in India, a collection of religious songs and proverbs were developed called the Vedes.

The holy book of the Hindu is therefore called the Veda. Within the Veda many gods are praised and worshipped.

India's gods of today evolved from an immense number of gods of nature; family and tribal gods. The highest god of the Hindus is an impersonal IT, called the Brahman. This highest of the Hindu gods always appears as different creatures, gods, humans and animals. This continual rebirth is known as reincarnation. Therefore, Hinduism has an incredible number of gods numbering about 330 million.

The most important forms, Brahman appears as, are:


The Worship of the Gods (Cults)

In all things, especially in all living things - humans, animals, and plants, the Hindu sees the Brahman, the highest god. From this the deep worship of animals, especially the cow, originates. For centuries the cow has rendered good services of an inestimable value to the people: as a draught animal to plough the fields, as a supplier of milk and combustible materials (today, dried cow dung is India's major fuel).

The most widespread cults are that of Vishnu and Shiva. The high number of gods and the infinite ways of worship have not brought about any rigid commandments: there are no guidelines such as the Ten Commandments.

This led to the development of many sects (=religious splinter groups). These sects practice a great tolerance towards other sects and religions. Due to this, Hinduism also includes elements of Buddhism, Christianity and Islamic faith.

The Teachings of Hinduism

The Hindu believes that all soulful life is subject to the becoming, the passing away, and the steady change to a higher form of being. The soul always enters into a new form of being whether it be a plant, animal, human, or god. Every deed a person does has either a positive or a negative influence upon his soul: good or bad Karma. These deeds are decisive for their next life. The Hindu hopes for final redemption and the merging with Brahman.

Therefore, death is the greatest event for every Hindu, because it could be his redemption from reincarnation if he becomes one with the Brahman. At the end of their life every Hindu tries to journey to the holy city of Benares, which cleanses them and leads them at last to the Brahman.

The structure of Hinduism is the simplest of all religions. In contrast to Christianity, Hinduism misses out on some essential points which often make our Christian belief difficult.

  1. One highest God (Brahman is not a central authority).
  2. Direct revelations from God (e.g. Christ, Bible).
  3. Set commandments.

The Religious Life of the Hindu

1. The aim:

The aim of the Hindu is to become one with the Brahman as often and as long as possible. This unity with the Brahman could be the redemption form rebirth for the Hindu. There is an ideal for a Hindu, which is asceticism, i.e. abstinence.

2. The way:

Through yoga the Hindu tries to cut out all impressions of the mind, and to reach unity with the Brahman (yoga = physical exercises).

The people who do yoga are called yogi. The faithful yogi relaxes in these old and often very difficult exercises; he frees himself from caste and family, he ignores all outward things in order to get closer to God. This is called meditation. Meditation is an important part in the life of a faithful Hindu.

The Castes

The classification of the Indian society into castes has two reasons:

a) Historical:

In 2000 B.C., white-skinned people marched through the Indu valley and forced the dark skinned population of India to submit to their rule and to be divided into four social groups.

b) Religious:

The castes are the result of the rebirth. Only through his death can the Hindu belong to another caste. His way of life decides whether he will rise or fall in caste in his next life.

The main divisions of castes are as follows:

  1. Priests = Brahman.
  2. Aristocrats and Warriors.
  3. Farmers, Craftsmen and Tradesmen.
  4. Labourers.

The rest do not belong to castes and are cast out of normal society. These are outcasts, called the parias.

Today, the castes have developed a great social meaning. The individual castes live in their own residential areas, strictly separated from the other castes. It is almost impossible for the outcasts to be promoted in their jobs, even though any discrimination of castes is, by law, strictly forbidden.


I. Who is Buddha?

a) His origin

Many stories about his origin are legend. The following course of his life might be true. He was born Siddharta Gautama in 560 B.C. in what is now Nepal. With regard to his religion, Gautama was a Hindu. As the son of a chief he belonged to the Aristocrat cast and was brought up in prosperity and wealth.

Gautama: "I owned three palaces; one for autumn, one for winter, and one for summer. I spent the four autumn months at the autumn palace, surrounded by invisible music and I did not descend from my balcony."

b) Discontent with his life

Gautama was not satisfied with all his prosperity at home and left the palace against his father's will. During his journey he was confronted with human suffering for the first time in his life. He saw sick and old people as well as the dead. After this he returned home again, but from then on he had constant unrest within him. Therefore, one day he left his family and started life as a begging monk. At this time, Gautama was 29 years of age. (One can still recognise these begging monks today by their appearance: they have close-cropped hair and wear a saffron-coloured garment.)

c) His aim

Gautama wanted to discover the meaning of life and find out about the so-called 'world mystery'. That 'world mystery', which all religions try to resolve, involves the question about suffering in the world: Where does the suffering and misery come from? Why is there good and evil? Gautama practised strict asceticism together with five Hindu saints to the point of near starvation. Because he did not receive an answer to his questions, he abandoned asceticism, and in revolt the five saints left him.

Gautama now searched for the middle way between asceticism and the luxurious life. Through meditation he waited for the so-called 'illumination'. First of all he had to resist many temptations, but then he received the enlightenment he had hoped for and since then has been called Buddha, which means the 'Enlightened'.

Buddha then moved to Benares, the largest Indian place of pilgrimage and there he met the five saints. He told them of his enlightenment and won them over as his first disciples. Together with these saints he founded a monastic order at the beginning of his work. For fifteen years Buddha travelled throughout India, preaching the redemption of man through enlightenment. Then, after he explained to his pupils once again about the passing away of all earthly things, Buddha died as a result of food poisoning.

"Avoid every evil; multiply the seed of good works; continually purify the spirit; this is the way, which Buddha shows."

II. The Message of Buddhism

Buddhism was a rebellion against the ancient religion of Hinduism (India's main religion). Buddha wanted to help mankind that was longing for redemption from the suffering and misery of this world.

He also refused to accept the classification of castes as well as total abstinence (=asceticism). To him all people were equal.

a) The doctrine of the four noble truths

Here Buddha shows the cause and cure for human passion. To remove this passion is Buddha's main task:

  1. Passion is everywhere.
  2. The cause for passion is egoism.
  3. The elimination of passion through the elimination of egoism.
  4. The way to achieve this is shown in the eight-fold path.

b) The doctrine of the eight-fold path

These paths show the Buddhist practical directions for their correct behaviour in life:

  1. The right faith.
  2. The right will.
  3. The right speech.
  4. The right performance.
  5. The right life.
  6. The right aim.
  7. The right remembrance (memory).
  8. The right meditation.

Parts of these directions will be better illustrated later. The supreme principle is love towards humans and animals alike. No living creature should suffer. Strong emphasis to love your enemy!

III. Nirvana - The Aim of the Believers

  1. To break the wheel of reincarnation and to reach 'Nirvana' is the aim of every faithful Buddhist. He has to exert himself and go through many lives until he achieves that aim. All earthly things are subject to change, and so Buddhists renounce most bonds to this world.
  2. 'Nirvana' is not equal to 'Heaven' in Christianity. The Christian understands that heaven is personal fellowship with God, while Nirvana is only an impersonal state without pain and suffering; a state of rest and peace.

IV. Buddha - Man or God?

Buddha is rarely honoured as God. For most Buddhists he is a common man who entered into Nirvana and due to this became an idol. They do not honour his person but an impersonal principle, which became reality. Therefore, you will not find any natural representations of Buddha. Buddha became the saviour of mankind only to some. Many relics are worshipped in Buddhist sanctuaries. To be allowed to pray and sacrifice is a special honour. These temples are kept and looked after by monks.

V. The Monk - The Ideal Man

The monk lives an exemplary life. He can do without all the luxuries of life, which shows that only the way of salvation is of importance, and therefore spends all his life in the seclusion of the cloister. Besides the common directions are three special commandments:

  1. He has to be pure.
  2. He is not allowed to harm any creature.
  3. He has to remain unmarried.

The monk has only one garment and is not allowed to buy food. His income is what he receives from people. To give alms to a monk is a great honour. In some countries (Thailand, Burma) almost all young men spend time in cloisters for several weeks. It is part of their education.