wishes to guide, He opens his heart to Islam.
Islam is the fastest
growing religion in the world.
faith originated in the mid-19th century in the area of present-day Iran. It
is based on the belief that the man born as Mirza Husayn Ali in 1817 was the
prophet sent by God to the present age. He is now known as Bahaullah—“the
Glory of God.”
Bahais believe that there have been revelations from God appropriate to each
era, including the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the words of the
Buddha and the Hindu god Krishna. Bahais maintain that these revelations
have been superseded, although not contradicted, by the writings of
Bahaullah and his successor Abdul Baha. These writings form the main body of
Bahais believe that humanity is constantly evolving and growing more adult
in its understanding and behavior, and thus gradually becoming capable of
forming one world rather than diverse nations, races, and religions. Bahais
also believe in One God, creator of all, and that humanity is a special
creation, essentially good.
The Bahai teachings stress economic justice, equal rights, and education for
all, and the breaking down of traditional barriers of race, class, and
creed. These are seen as flaws that will disappear as the Bahai faith
The Bahai international headquarters is in Haifa, Israel, and includes an
International House of Justice in preparation for the time when there will
be one world government, guided by the Bahai faith. The Bahai community meet
in local spiritual assemblies whose structure is democratic and
participatory, intended as a model for universal government.
There are 5 million Bahais worldwide in more than 175 countries, with the
largest concentrations in the United States (approximately 300,000) and
Africa (approximately 1 million). The claim that the Bahai sacred texts are
the successor to the Koran has led to criticism of Bahais in many Muslim
lands, including Iran, where the faith began, and most Bahais today are not
Buddhists follow the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, given the title of the
Buddha—the “enlightened” or “awakened” one. He was born the son of a
nobleman in northern India in the 6th century BCE. He grew up in a palace
protected from the harsh realities of life, but when he eventually
encountered suffering, old age, and death, he left the palace to search for
understanding of suffering and the way to end it. When he reached
enlightenment, he began to teach the Four Noble Truths:
Suffering exists; There is a reason for suffering; There is a way to end
suffering; The way to end suffering is through the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path consists of Right Views, Right Thoughts, Right Speech,
Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right
Concentration. By learning and practicing this path one can eventually
escape the cycle of birth and death. Buddhists believe that all beings are
reborn into many different forms because of the ties of desire. When desire
is allowed to cool like a fire going out, the attachment to the cycle of
birth and death is loosened. Buddhists try to perfect the qualities of
wisdom, compassion, and harmlessness in order to achieve enlightenment, or
Buddhahood, leading to the highest peace and freedom, which is nirvana.
According to Buddhist tradition, there have been other Buddhas both before
and since Siddhartha Gautama.
The teachings of the Buddha were handed down orally and eventually written
in the first century BCE in a collection of writings called the Tipitaka—“three
baskets.” Different versions survive in Chinese, Tibetan, and Pali (an
ancient south Indian language), and they are now translated into hundreds of
languages worldwide. There are also important Buddhist scriptures written by
later sages and scholars, many of them in the ancient Indian language
There are three main branches of Buddhism: Theravada, found mainly in
southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and India; Tibetan Mahayana; and Chinese/Japanese
Mahayana. There are also a wide variety of new Buddhist movements.
Each branch of Buddhism has its own festivals. The most common is Wesak
(May/June), which celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the
Buddha, all of which happened on the same day in different years.
It is impossible to estimate the numbers of Buddhists worldwide, as there is
no central organization. The majority of Buddhists live in Asia, although
Buddhism is growing rapidly beyond Asia, particularly in the United States
and UK. More than 85 percent of the population of Myanmar (Burma) and
Thailand are Buddhists, and more than 70 percent in Cambodia, Laos, and
Japan. Buddhism is the state religion in Thailand and Bhutan. There is no
central authority in Buddhism, each school having its own teachers and
spiritual guides, although figures such as the Dalai Lama have raised the
worldwide profile of Buddhism and voiced a Buddhist viewpoint on world
believe in one God who created the universe, and created human beings to
have a special relationship with him. Through human willfulness, exemplified
in the story of Adam and Eve, this relationship was broken. Christians
believe that because of his love for humanity, God took on the form of a
man, Jesus, in order to bring them back into a relationship with him. The
Gospels relate that Jesus was conceived by a virgin, Mary, through the power
of God, and was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Modern scholarship now puts his
birth around 4 BC. Christians take their name from the title given to Jesus:
“the Christ,” meaning the anointed one (of God). After three years of
teaching, Jesus was crucified and died, but Christians believe that through
the power of God he came to life again. This belief was spread by Jesus's
closest followers, the Apostles, and Christianity grew rapidly in the first
three centuries AD.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament, originally written in
Hebrew, and the New Testament, originally written in Greek, which contains
accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus, and letters from early
Christians. The Bible is translated into many different languages.
Major festivals are Christmas (December 25), which celebrates the birth of
Jesus, and Easter (March/April), which celebrates his resurrection from
There are nearly two billion Christians worldwide, especially in Europe,
North and South America, southern Africa and Australasia. Christianity has
many different branches, referred to as churches or denominations.
Catholicism is the largest with 958.4 million followers under the leadership
of the Pope, who is based in Rome. Other major branches are Orthodox and
Protestant. The Orthodox churches are self-governing, each led by a
Patriarch. There are a large number of Protestant denominations, each with a
different organization and authority. The World Council of Churches provides
a forum for dialogue among the major Protestant Churches.
Confucianism, major system of thought in China, developed from the teachings
of Confucius and his disciples, and concerned with good conduct, practical
wisdom, and proper social relationships. Confucianism has influenced Chinese
attitudes, life patterns, and social values. It also has provided the
background for Chinese political theories and institutions. Although
Confucianism became the official ideology of the Chinese state, it has never
existed as an established religion with a church and priesthood. Chinese
scholars honored Confucius as a great teacher and sage but did not worship
him as a personal god. The temples built to Confucius were not places of
worship, but public edifices designed for annual ceremonies.
The principles of Confucianism are contained in the nine ancient Chinese
works handed down by Confucius and his followers. These writings can be
divided into two groups: the Five Classics and the Four Books. The Five
Classics, which originated before the time of Confucius, consist of the I
Ching (Book of Changes), a manual of divination; the Shu Ching (Book of
History); the Shih Ching (Book of Poetry); the Li Chi (Book of Rites), a
book on proper conduct; and the Ch'un Ch'iu (Spring and Autumn Annals), a
historical account of feudal China. The Four Books, compilations of the
sayings of Confucius and his disciple Mencius and of commentaries by their
followers, are the Lun Yü (Analects), the Ta Hsüeh (The Great Learning), the
Chung Yung (The Doctrine of the Mean), and the Mencius (Book of Mencius).
The keynote of Confucian ethics is jen, a supreme virtue representing human
qualities at their best. In human relations, jen is manifested in chung, or
faithfulness to oneself and others, and shu, or altruism. Other important
Confucian virtues include righteousness, propriety, integrity, and filial
piety. Politically, Confucius advocated a paternalistic government in which
the sovereign is benevolent and honorable and the subjects are respectful
and obedient. For schooling Confucius upheld the theory that “in education,
there is no class distinction.”
After the death of Confucius in 479 BC, his teaching experienced a brief
period of eclipse in the 3rd century BC, but during the Han dynasty (206
BC-AD 220) the Confucian works were restored to favor, becoming the basis of
later civil service examinations. Candidates were appointed to government
positions based on their knowledge of classic literature. Confucianism thus
secured a firm hold on Chinese intellectual and political life.
Following the fall of the Han dynasty, Confucianism was overshadowed by the
rival philosophies of Daoism (Taoism) and Buddhism. With the restoration of
peace and prosperity in the Tang (T’ang) dynasty (618-907), Confucianism
returned as an orthodox state teaching. The intellectual activities of the
Song dynasty (960-1279) gave rise to a system of Neo-Confucian thought based
on a mixture of Buddhist and Daoist (Taoist) elements. During the Qing
dynasty (1644-1911) scholars advocated a return to the earlier Confucianism
of the Han period, when it was still unadulterated by Buddhist and Daoist
ideas. Toward the end of the 19th century, Confucian scholars took an active
interest in politics and formulated reform programs based on Confucian
doctrine. However, the reform movements failed, and in the intellectual
confusion that followed the Chinese revolution of 1911, Confucianism was
branded as decadent and reactionary. With the collapse of the monarchy and
the traditional family structure, from which much of its strength and
support was derived, Confucianism lost its hold on the nation.
encompasses a wide variety of beliefs originating in India. No precise dates
can be given for its origins, although the Vedas, the earliest texts of
Hinduism, arose from a culture that was probably established in India during
the second millennium BCE.
Most Hindus believe that God takes many forms and is worshiped by many
different names, so the multitude of gods and goddesses in Hindu belief are
aspects of the same godhead. God has three main male forms, Brahma the
Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. Each of these has a
female counterpart: respectively Sarasvati, Lakshmi, and Parvati. God may
also come to earth in human form: the best known of these are Krishna and
Rama, both incarnations of Vishnu. Each person and each animal embodies a
spark (atman) of the universal soul, which is God. After death the atman is
reborn in a new body. Therefore God is in every object in the universe, and
everything that exists is part of God.
Hindus believe that every action, good or bad, has an effect (karma) on this
life and on future lives. By accumulating positive karma one can eventually
break free from the cycles of birth and death to achieve liberation or
moksha, which is complete union with God.
There are many sacred books, all written in the ancient Indian language
Sanskrit. The oldest are the Vedas, first written in the second millennium
BCE, followed by the Upanishads, more philosophical writings. Two great
epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, existed in oral form long before
they were written around 2,000 years ago. The Mahabharata contains the
best-loved Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, or “Song of the Lord,” the
Festivals vary in different parts of India. Two almost universally
celebrated festivals are Holi (March/April), a time of games and pranks with
several different associated stories, and Divali (October), a new-year
festival that celebrates the story of the god Rama and his wife Sita.
There are nearly 750 million Hindus worldwide, almost all living in south
Asia. In India there are 650 million Hindus, and other large Hindu
communities live in countries where colonial or trading ties encouraged
migration from India: the UK, Guyana, Kenya, South Africa, and Indonesia.
of Islam are summed up in the Declaration of Faith: “There is no god but
God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God.”
Islam means “peace” or “submission,” and a Muslim is “one who submits” (to
the will of God). In Islam there is one God (Arabic Allah), who is creator
of the universe and the only absolute power. According to Muslim belief, God
has sent many prophets, from Adam onward, to give his message to humanity,
but their message was partially lost or misunderstood. The complete message
is believed to have been given by the Prophet Muhammad, who lived in Arabia
in the 6th century CE. Although this message marked the beginning of a
formal religion, Muslims believe that all previous prophets were Muslims,
and that Islam is the primordial faith. Muslims regard Muhammad with deep
love and respect as God's final prophet, and seek to follow his example, but
worship is due only to God.
Muslims believe that the Koran was dictated to the Prophet Muhammad by the
angel Jibra'il, a messenger from God, and, because it was committed to
memory and written down almost immediately, that it is the final and
complete revelation from God. The Koran is believed to have been written by
God, in Arabic, before time began. Muslims point to the beauty of the
language as evidence of its divine origin, and it is always recited in
Muslim festivals are dated according to the lunar calendar. The main ones
are Eid-ul-Fitr, celebrating the end of the month of fasting, and
Eid-ul-Adha, celebrating the obedience of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), and
the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Arabic Makkah).
There are over a billion Muslims worldwide, especially in the Middle East,
North and West Africa, southeastern Europe, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In 19
countries of the Middle East and North Africa, more than 90 percent of the
population are Muslim. There are two main branches of Islam: Sunni, who make
up 80 percent of all Muslims, and Shi'a, who are found mainly in Iran, Iraq,
Yemen, and Bahrain. There is no overall world organization of Islam, but
several bodies have been set up to promote contact and to give Islam a voice
in international affairs. These bodies include the World Muslim Congress,
the Muslim World League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Rest your pointer over below
Jain means follower of the Jinas—“those who overcome,” in the sense of
achieving discipline over one's own desires, thoughts, and actions. There
were 24 Jinas, also known as Tirthankaras (“bridge-builders”), the last of
whom was Mahavira who lived in India in the 5th century BCE. The first is
believed to have lived millions of years ago and to have invented human
culture. The example of the Jinas helps others to achieve freedom from
reincarnation. The belief in nonviolence, ahimsa, is central to the Jain
tradition, and Jains try to avoid violence to life in every form, including
animals and plants as well as humans. Jain monks and nuns wear a cloth over
the mouth and nose to avoid harming any flying insects, and sweep the ground
in front of them to avoid treading on any creature. This central teaching of
nonviolence has had a powerful effect on Indian culture and thought and was
highlighted by the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi.
The main festival is Paryushana (August/September), an eight-day period of
confession and fasting.
There are 8 million Jains worldwide, over 98 percent of them in India. The
two largest Jain communities outside India are in the United States and the
The Jain tradition is divided into two groups: Svetambaras, who are
concentrated in northeast India, and Digambaras, who mainly live in southern
India. There are Jain temples in all the main Indian cities.
in one God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe. They believe that God
made a Covenant, or agreement, with Abraham, who is regarded as the father
of the Jewish people, and is believed by some scholars to have lived around
1900 BCE. Keeping the law is the Jewish people's part in this Covenant. Jews
look forward to the coming of the Messiah, a leader from God, who will bring
peace, fruitfulness, and security to the whole world. At the Messiah's
coming, the dead will be brought back to life and judged by God.
The Hebrew Bible consists of the Torah (Five Books of Moses), the Prophets,
and other writings, including the Psalms. It was originally written in
Hebrew, and is still read in Hebrew. The Torah tells the early history of
the Jewish people, and contains laws and guidance on one's way of life.
Study of the law is an important part of Jewish life. The fifth commandment
lays down that no work must be done on the seventh day of the week, the
Sabbath, or Shabbat. Since Jewish days are reckoned from nightfall to
nightfall, the Sabbath begins as it gets dark on Friday evening, and ends at
dusk on Saturday evening. Jewish food laws (called kashrut) relate to what
is eaten, and how it is slaughtered, prepared, cooked, and eaten. Food is
either kosher(permitted) or terefah (forbidden).
Major festivals are Rosh Hashanah (New Year—September/October), Yom Kippur
(the Day of Atonement) which is a major fast within the new-year period, and
Pesach (Passover—March/April), which celebrates the escape of the Hebrews
from slavery in Egypt.
Jews have no overall religious authority, but questions of belief and
practice are debated by Rabbis who are trained in Jewish law and its
interpretation. The most traditional form of Judaism is known as Orthodox.
Orthodox Jews use only Hebrew in services, and interpret the laws quite
strictly. Conservative Judaism, mainly found in the United States, seeks to
interpret the law in the light of changing circumstances, while remaining
true to tradition. Reform, or Liberal, Judaism arose in the 19th century and
observes fewer dietary laws, as well as holding services in the vernacular
rather than in Hebrew. Bodies such as the World Jewish Congress, which
represents around 70 percent of all Jews, provide a forum for debate and a
Jewish voice in world affairs.
There are approximately 12.8 million Jews worldwide, in the sense that a Jew
is the child of a Jewish mother, although not all are religious Jews who
follow the laws given by God to Moses. Approximately 48 percent live in
North America, 30 percent in Israel, and 20 percent in Europe and Russia.
the traditional religion of Japan, and means “the way of the gods.” Shinto
religion is closely tied up with the landscape of Japan and with family
ancestors. Shinto ceremonies appeal to kami, the mysterious powers of
nature, for protection and benevolent treatment. Kami are associated with
natural features such as caves, rocks, streams, trees, and particularly
mountains. Communal festivals and personal landmarks are celebrated at
Shinto shrines, some of which are linked to particular aspects of life such
as a trade, or old age.
Major festivals are New Year's Day and the Cherry Blossom Festival in early
It is difficult to estimate numbers of Shinto followers, since the majority
of Japanese follow Shinto ceremonies and practices for particular occasions
or because of a family tradition, but many combine this with another
religion, especially Buddhism. Since Shinto worship is so intimately linked
with the land of Japan, it is only found there or in émigré communities.
faith began in the Punjab in India in the 15th century. Guru Nanak, the
founder of Sikhism, taught this new faith that rejected both Hindu and
Muslim religious and social practices of the time. The Punjabi word Sikh
means “follower” or “disciple.” Guru Nanak was succeeded by nine further
Gurus, or teachers, each of whom was chosen by his predecessor, and each of
whom made a distinctive contribution to the development of the Sikh faith.
In 1708 the collection of Sikh writings was instituted as the Guru for all
time to come. Sikhs revere their scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, as they
would a living teacher.
The Guru Granth Sahib contains hymns written by some of the Sikh Gurus.
These were collected by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, who also added hymns and
poems written by devout Muslims and Hindus, saying that God's revelation is
not confined to Sikhs. This collection was known as the Adi Granth, or
“first book.” Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, instituted this collection
as the Guru for the Sikhs for all time. It is written in Gurmukhi, a form of
Sikhs believe in one God, described as “timeless and without form,” creator
and director of the universe. He cannot be found by religious practices, but
makes himself known to those who are ready, as they seek him through prayer
and service to others. Sikh teachings emphasize equality, service, and
protection of the weak against injustice.
Sikhs wear five distinctive marks of their faith, known as the “five Ks”
because their names in Punjabi all begin with K:
Kesh—uncut hair. Devout
Sikhs do not cut their hair or beard at any time.
Kanga—a comb to keep the
hair in place. The hair is also kept tidy under a turban in imitation of the
great Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh.
Kara—a steel bangle, a
complete circle symbolizing one God and one truth.
Kirpan—a small sword or
dagger, a reminder of the need to fight injustice.
Kacchera—short trousers or
breeches, indicating readiness to ride into battle.
festivals are Baisakhi (April) which celebrates the founding of the Khalsa,
the community of committed Sikhs, and the birthday of Guru Nanak (November).
There are approximately 15 million Sikhs worldwide. Most of them (around 13
million) live in India, mainly in the Punjab in northwest India, but Sikhs
have migrated to many parts of the world, and there are sizeable communities
in the UK (up to half a million), the United States (over 250,000) and
Canada (50,000), and smaller ones in East Africa, Europe, Malaysia,
Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. The Sikh World Council was formed in
1995 to provide a forum and an international voice for Sikhs.
emerged in China around the first century CE and is named for the Chinese
word Tao (Way or Path). The Tao is a natural force, the Way of the Universe,
which guides all life. Living in harmony with the Tao brings peace and
happiness; struggling against it brings suffering.
The balance of the universe is created by the forces of yin and
yang—opposite forces in continual interaction and change, giving order to
all life. Yin is heavy, dark, moist, earthy, and is associated with the
feminine. Yang is airy, light, dry, hot, heavenly, and associated with the
masculine. All forms of life are either predominantly yin or yang, but never
exclusively so. The well-known yin/yang symbol represents the two forces in
balance, but each containing a speck of the other.
From the 5th to the 3rd century BCE, much was written on the significance of
the Tao, most significantly the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu, the Book of the
sage Chuang Tzu, and the writings of Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius). They are still
influential to this day, but there are also hundreds of other Taoist texts.
By the 14th century CE, over 1440 of these had been collected together to
form the Taoist Canon.
Traditional Taoist practices include the exorcism of evil spirits and
ghosts, divination in various forms, and the worship of deities, many of
whom have specific roles such as help in childbirth or different illnesses.
The art of feng shui, or geomancy, is also practiced in order to build in
accordance with the Tao of the landscape.
Major festivals are Chinese New Year (January/February) and the mid-autumn
Because of the repression of religion in China, it is impossible to estimate
the number of Taoists. However, the number of male and female Taoist priests
in China is growing rapidly, and now stands at around 15,000. New temples
are being opened and old ones restored. Taoist traditions are followed by
members of Chinese communities throughout the world, and Taoist thought,
literature, and philosophy is becoming increasingly popular with non-Chinese
followers. The China Taoist Association promotes Taoism in China, although
its function is partly political rather than religious.
religion founded in ancient Persia by the prophet Zoroaster. The doctrines
preached by Zoroaster are preserved in his metrical Gathas (psalms), which
form part of the sacred scripture known as the Avesta.
The basic tenets of the Gathas consist of a worship of Ahura Mazda (the
“Lord Wisdom”) and an ethical dualism opposing Truth (Asha) and Lie, which
permeate the entire universe. All that is good emanates from Ahura Mazda.
All evil is caused Angra Mainyu (the “Fiendish Spirit”) and his assistants.
Upon death each person's soul will be judged at the Bridge of
Discrimination; the follower of Truth will cross and be led to paradise, and
the adherents of Lie will fall into hell. All evil will eventually be
eliminated on earth in an onslaught of fire and molten metal.
Zoroaster apparently combined two religious systems. The first is the
monotheistic worship of Wisdom and his emanations including Asha, outlined
in the Gathas. The second system describes a cult that worships Lord Ahura,
the custodian of Asha. This system is described in a portion of the Avesta
called the Liturgy of the Seven Chapters, which was composed after
Zoroaster's death. The Gathas and the Seven Chapters form part of the larger
liturgy called the Yasna. Other parts of the Yasna are the Yashts, which are
hymns to individual deities, and the Vendidad, or Videvdat, a codification
of ritual and law.
Probably the first Persian king to recognize the religion proposed by
Zoroaster was Darius I. Artaxerxes II (reigned 409-358 BC) also venerated
Zoroastrian deities; in his reign the first Persian temples were probably
built. Under the rule of the Greek Seleucids (312-64 BC) and Parthian
Arsacids (250? BC-AD 224), cults of foreign gods flourished along with
Zoroastrianism. The new Persian dynasty of the Sassanids (AD 224-641)
established Zoroastrianism as the state religion of Persia. Persia was
gradually converted to Islam after its conquest by the Arabs in the 7th
century. Zoroastrianism survived, however, in the mountainous regions of
Yezd and Kerman. About 18,000 still live in Iran. Zoroastrians, called
Parsis, are numerous and prosperous in India.
Spiritual & Religious Terms