To fully appreciate the religion of Islam and to be able to explain its excellences to other people, Muslims must learn something about the beliefs, traditions and history of the world’s other major faiths.
An important aspect of modern research in the area of religion has been the application of comparative methods of inquiry. Under this system of investigation, one compares the beliefs, modes of worship, ethical and moral codes, social directives, and the philosophies of two different religions. Since most of us are quite familiar with at least one religion, we can appreciate the concepts and tenets of another religion when compared with our own.
But, unfortunately, a study of comparative religions frequently deteriorates into a study of competitive religions. In most such studies the student learns little about the other faith except how ridiculous it is. And this is not the purpose of true learning.
Ahmadi Muslims believe that at the root of all major religions is the process of revelation. It is through this process that spiritual knowledge and wisdom is given to man by God. The knowledge thus received is considered to be the most authentic and truest form of learning. The founders of all major religions have either explicitly claimed to have received revelation, or their lives clearly demonstrate this fact.
While there are many aspects of earlier religions which became outdated with time due to man’s continuing progress in the fields of social behaviour, technological achievements and religion: philosophy, there are certain wisdoms expressed in all religions which are “everlasting” and of universal appeal. These gems of wisdom have an uncanny ability to survive the vagaries of time and could be unearthed even in the ruins of some of the oldest faiths on earth. For that reason, selected words of wisdom taken from their sacred books have been included under each religion.
CLASSIFICATION OF RELIGIONS
As we mentioned at the beginning of this book, there are about ten major religions in the world. In alphabetical order, these are: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism and Zoroastrianism. Although Sikhism is not considered a major religion or a revealed faith, it is included in this section for the benefit of the reader.
To simplify the study of comparative religions, the scholars classify these faiths into various categories based on certain criteria. For example, on the basis of geographic origin, the world’s major religions may be classified as follows:
Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, which originated in India
Confucianism and Taoism, which originated in China
Shinto, which originated in Japan
Zoroastrianism, which originated in Iran
Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which originated in the Near East.
Another criterion that can be used in classifying these religions is their ethnic aspect. Some religions have appeal to their own people and are, therefore, called ethnic. Preaching to outsiders and conversions in these ethnic faiths have always been uncommon. Other faiths claim to be of more universal: appeal, have been vigorous in missionary work and have actively sought conversions. Following is the division of the world’s major religions into these two classes:
Ethnic Religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, Judaism
Missionary Religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam
Another classification of these religions is based on the relative importance of “prophecy” in these faiths. Religions in which prophecy has been demonstrated to have played an important role are called “Religions of Prophecy” while all other faiths are called “Religions of Wisdom”. On this basis, the major religions could be divided into:
Religions of Prophecy: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam
Religions of Wisdom: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto
Muslims believe that God sent His messengers to all the nations in the world. For this reason, Muslims should carry out any comparative religious study with due objectivity and proper consideration for the convictions of others. Muslims should realize that for many people a religion is not simply a rational set of beliefs and worships but also a way of life in which loyalty to one’s country, ancestors, traditions and culture, all play an important role. Muslims, therefore, should treat the religions of other people with great respect and strongly refrain from ridiculing them in any way.
Now, one by one, we will study the major religions of the world. We will study their essential beliefs, modes of worship and philosophy of fife, and will frequently quote words of wisdom from their sacred Scriptures. In each case, brief comparisons will be made with the religion of Islam. The treatment of the world’s major religions in this section is intended to be informative and educational rather than competitive and contentious. It is hoped that the student will benefit from this approach.