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ISLAM

Introduction In the seventh century A.D. Muhammad--thought to be the last prophet in a line that includes Abraham, Moses, the biblical prophets, and Jesus--founded a strict, monotheistic religion in reaction to the polytheism and lawlessness of the existing Arab culture. Within a century Islam had conquered an area greater than the Roman Empire at its height. Today Islam is almost the sole religion of all Arab countries and has major communities in Africa as well. Muslims reject the title "Muhammadanism," for Muhammad is thought to be only a carrier of the truth and not divine in any way. The Koran, for the most part a series of short teachings, is intensely revered by Muslims as the final word of God, the culmination of what was only begun in the Bible. The wordIslam refers to the peace that comes from surrender to God. Shi'ites believe that religious leaders should also be political rulers, whereas the majority of Muslims, the Sunnites, believe in a separation of the two realms. Sufis form the mystical branch of Islam, teaching an arduous path of self-denial culminating in union with God. God Allah means "the God"--indicating the radical monotheism of Islam. "We shall not serve anyone but God, and we shall associate none with Him" (Koran 3.64). Any division of God is rejected, including the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. The majesty and might of Allah is often portrayed in the Koran, and it is emphasized that his purposes are always serious. Justice is Allah's most important feature for Muslims. Allah is also merciful and compassionate, but that mercy is shown mainly in his sending messengers who proclaim the truth of man's responsibility to live according to Allah's dictates. Man and the Universe Muslims see the universe as created by the deliberate act of a personal, omnipresent God. The universe is not considered an illusion in any way and is basically good, being given for the benefit of man. Muslim respect for the world order led to the development of sciences in Arab countries long before developments in Europe. Muhammad did not produce miracles but simply proclaimed the message of Allah. Thus the presence of God in the world is seen not through supernatural signs but through the wonderful order of nature and the one great miracle, the Koran. Muslims generally do not expect miraculous deliverance from suffering in this life but believe that good deeds will be rewarded in the next life. Man is considered a sort of vice-regent, in charge of creation under the authority of God. His purpose--and the goal of Islam--is to make a moral order in the world. Man is endowed with taqwa, a sort of divine spark manifested in his conscience that enables him to perceive the truth and to act on it. Conscience is thus of the greatest value in Islam, much as love is the greatest value to Christians. But Islam is in no way pantheism. Man may cultivate his taqwa and so live according to the way of Allah, or he may suppress it. Man thus deserves or is undeserving of God's guidance. Salvation and the Afterlife The Koran rejects the notion of redemption; salvation depends on a man's actions and attitudes. However, tauba ("repentance") can quickly turn an evil man toward the virtue that will

save him. So Islam does not hold out the possibility of salvation through the work of God but invites man to accept God's guidance. The final day of reckoning is described in awesome terms. On that last day every man will account for what he has done, and his eternal existence will be determined on that basis: "Every man's actions have we hung around his neck, and on the last day shall be laid before him a wide-open book" (17.13). Muslims recognize that different individuals have been given different abilities and various degrees of insight into the truth. Each man will be judged according to his situation, and every man who lives according to the truth to the best of his abilities will achieve heaven. However, infidels who are presented with the truth of Islam and reject It will be given no mercy. The Koran has vivid descriptions of both heaven and hell. Heaven is depicted in terms of worldly delights, and the torments of hell are shown in lurid detail. Muslims disagree as to whether those descriptions are to be taken literally or not. Morals Islam presents a "straight path" of clear-cut duties and commands. Islamic morals are a combination of genuine acts of love and justice on the one hand and legalistic performances on the other. Muhammad is pictured in the Koran as a loving person, helping the poor and slow to take revenge. Nevertheless the firm belief that Muslims possess the one truth has led to much violence on the behalf of Allah through the ages. Although the Koran actually worked to elevate the horribly degraded position of women in Arab society, women continue to be regarded more as possible temptations to sin for men than as human beings with their own responsibilities before God. Many modern Muslims take the Koran's approval of multiple wives to be applicable only to ancient times. Worship Muhammad is not worshiped: only God is. Because of strict rules against depictions of human forms in art there is a strong impetus against idolatry or saint-worshiping in Islam. Allah is extolled in hymns that depict his power and majesty. But even Allah cannot be ultimately leaned on for salvation, because salvation is man's responsibility. Thus his guidance, in the form of words rather than persons, is emphasized. For that reason the Koran is revered as perhaps no other book. It is probably the most memorized book in the world. Acts of worship in Islam are embodied in the "five pillars": A Muslim must (1) recite the basic creed, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet"; (2) recite prayers in praise of Allah five times daily while facing Mecca; (3) give money to the poor; (4) fast for one month a year; and (5) make a pilgrimage at least once during his lifetime to Mecca, the city where Allah revealed the Koran to Muhammad.

JUDAISM
Introduction Never great by world standards, the small nation of Israel was repeatedly defeated and finally dispersed throughout the world. But the Jews are unique in that they maintained their identity in the midst of a large number of diverse cultures. Thus, although a religion closely tied to one ethnic group, Judaism has had a profound effect on beliefs and practices throughout the West and the Near East. There is a bewildering variety of Jewish groups and nationalities, many of whom are strange to each other. One loose way of dividing modern Judaism is into four groups: Orthodox Jews maintain strict adherence to traditional customs; Reform or Liberal Jews attempt to apply broadly Judaic notions to contemporary culture in a humanistic manner; Conservative Jews try to forge a middle way between the previous two, hoping to maintain strong Jewish identity; and Hasidic Jews follow a mystical path, although many Hasids are little other than the right wing of Orthodoxy. Jews hold a large number of writings besides the Old Testamant as authoritative. The Holocaust, in which over six million Jews were killed under Nazism and other forms of antiSemitism, has become a major theme of Judaic thought in recent years. God The complete unity of God--both as a powerful, just ruler and as a merciful, loving deliverer--is central to Judaism. That means that Jews do not flinch from confronting the problem of the existence of pain and suffering, although they freely admit that it is a mystery. Somehow God is Lord even in the midst of a painful and evil world. God is not merely some supreme force but is a person, one with emotions of anger, sadness, and joy. He is above all a person with whom one can have a relationship; He desires to share the full gamut of emotions with men. At the same time God has a certain remoteness. He is above the world, and His ways are often inscrutable to man. The tension between God's nearness and farness is a recurring theme of Judaism, leading to passionate appeals by Jews for communication with Him. God is seen as continually active in a creative way, constantly working in the world to offer men the opportunity to fulfill their obligations toward Him and toward fellow men. Man and the Universe The material world is considered on the whole "very good" (Genesis 1:31), and man has a unique responsibility to order it according to God's purposes. Some Jews go as far as to say that all people, animals, and things contain a "divine spark," which man is assigned to call forth to completeness through loving action. The personhood of God and His need for relationships form an analogy for man's most pressing need: to live in harmony with other men. History is the arena of God's purposeful activity, and Jews often look for signs of His approval or judgment in historical events. The great responsibility of man as well as his frailty and wickedness are emphasized. The distinguishing mark of humans is their ability to make ethical choices; it is to those choices that Judaism most often addresses itself directly.

Salvation and the Afterlife One's eternal existence in the hereafter is determined by moral behavior and attitudes. Although there is no Christian notion of saving grace in Judaism, it is taught that God always offers even the most evil men the possibility of repentance (teshuva, "turning"). After such repentance one can atone for one's rebellion against God's ways by positive action. But the notion of individual salvation and heavenly existence is not prominent in Judaism. In fact many Jews criticize Christianity for being a "selfish" religion, too concerned with personal eternal rewards. The notion of an afterlife is not well developed in the Old Testament. Later writers speculated unsystematically about a final day of judgment. Jews still hope for the coming of the Messiah, who will hand out eternal judgment and reward to all. This hope is largely communal; the entire Jewish race and the whole of creation is in view more than individual men. In the end the moral life of man here on earth is considered the most proper concern of man; final judgments are best left to God. Morals Torah ("to point the way, give direction"), often translated "law," refers in Judaism to a total pattern of behavior, applicable to all aspects of communal and individual life. It is to be found not only in the Old Testament Scriptures but also in a wide variety of oral traditions, rituals, ceremonies, stories, and commentaries on Scripture. Jews have often tried to develop rules of behavior to cover each situation encountered in their various cultures. Thus a gigantic literature covering codes of conduct has arisen. From time to time movements have emerged that have tried to cut through those rules and get back to the original meaning of torah, but legalism has been a perennial problem of Judaism. As can be seen in the Ten Commandments, much of Jewish morality is related primarily to the good of the community. The Jewish prophets were perhaps the first strong proponents of social justice in the ancient world, and concern with economic justice continues to be an integral part of Judaism. But material possessions are generally not considered bad in themselves, even the prophets did not denounce wealth as such, but wanted a greater number of people to have more. Marriage and children are held in high regard by Judaism. Singleness is looked down on even for religious leaders, and much time is spent teaching children the precepts of the faith. Worship Ritual and ceremony are still important within Judaism. The purpose is to hallow all life, to share one's life with God. Jewish writings say, for instance, that to eat or drink without praying is like robbing God of His property. Thus Jews have a full calendar of daily, weekly, and yearly celebrations. A major part of such celebrations is the remembrance of sacred history. Stories, both biblical and nonbiblical, relating God's deliverance of Israel are retold countless times. There is sometimes a certain boldness mixed with piety in Jewish worship, as can be seen in the story of the Jews in a Nazi concentration camp who put God on "trial" for allowing the Holocaust: they found Him guilty and then resumed their humble prayers of worship and praise.

Introduction It is very clear from the Bible's own testimony and that of Jesus Christ and the Old Testament prophets that Scripture is to be regarded as the authoritative word of truth on all matters of basic doctrine. The following is a list of just the most significant verses that support the Word of God's claim to authority. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-I 7). God For even if there are so called gods whether in heaven or on earth as indeed there are many gods and lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However not all men have this knowledge (I Corinthians 8:5-7). For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Man and the Universe In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Thou alone are the Lord. Thou hast made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. Thou dost give life to all of them (Nehemiah 9:6). For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). Salvation and the Afterlife For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe (Galatians 3:21-22). For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

Morals I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20). For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age (Titus 2:11-12). Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8). Worship I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images (Isaiah 42:8). You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5). The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things (Acts 17:24-25). Christianity traces its beginning to the miraculous birth, adult ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, known as Jesus Christ. Over 2000 years ago in Palestine (today's Israel), Jesus was born into a humble Jewish family. His mother was a young peasant woman named Mary. Christians believe that his father was the Holy Spirit of God, making Jesus both fully human and fully divine. His earliest followers came to believe that he was the Messiah, or messenger, sent by God to free God's people from slavery, sin, and death. God sent his son Jesus in human form so that people would better understand God as a caring and loving parent. Jesus lived and experienced the suffering of humans. Jesus healed the sick and told stories, or parables, and preached sermons that taught what God wanted people to do to love God with all their hearts and love their neighbors as themselves. Jesus taught by example. By being loving and forgiving himself, Jesus taught others to be loving and forgiving especially toward those who were considered outcasts in society. This is the central message and style of Jesus' teaching. During his adult ministry, Jesus built up a loyal following, led by his twelve disciples. But Jesus also made enemies among the religious and political leaders of his time. In the end, these powerful leaders were so threatened by Jesus' growing following that the Roman governor sentenced Jesus to death and had him crucified. The third day after Jesus' death, his followers found his tomb empty and discovered that he had been raised from the dead. Christians believe that the painful sacrifice of Jesus' life on the cross shows how much God loves God's people. Jesus paid with his life on Earth for the sins of the world. Christians believe that in

raising Jesus' from the dead, God showed that Jesus' message of love and forgiveness was more powerful than death, and that believing in Jesus and following the example of his life and his teaching would lead to eternal life after death. The resurrection (rising from the dead) is the sign of God's salvation offered to all people. After his resurrection, Jesus Christ's followers spread his message throughout the world, creating the Christian Church. Today there are about two billion Christians living all over the world. Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God fully human and fully divine and that through believing in him and following his teachings they can inherit eternal life. Christians believe that Jesus died for humanity, that God raised him from the dead, and that Jesus will come again at the end of time. In addition, Christians believe in the Trinity, or the three parts of God: God the Father or Creator, God the Son (Jesus) or Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit or Sanctifier. The Holy Spirit is God's presence in the world. The essence of Jesus' teaching comes from his summary of the Jewish law he grew up with: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Christians also seek to follow the ten commandments God gave Moses to give the Israelites: Worship no other God but me. Do not make images to worship. Do not misuse the name of God. Observe the Sabbath Day (Sunday, for Christians). Keep it Holy. Honor and respect your father and mother. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not acuse anyone falsely. Do not tell lies about other people. Do not envy other's possessions. The sacred text of Christianity is the Holy Bible. The Christian Bible has two parts: the Old Testament which is essentially the Hebrew scriptures of Jesus' time; and the New Testament which contains writings about Jesus Christ and about the early church. The four gospels (a word meaning good news') of the New Testament are accounts of Jesus' life and teaching, of his death and resurrection. The New Testament also contains the Acts of the Apostles, which describes the early growth of the Christian church; the letters of Paul and other important leaders in the early church; the Letter to the Hebrews; and the Book of Revelation. The New Testament teaches that salvation comes through believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in following his teachings. It teaches that salvation is a gift God extends freely through Jesus Christ to all people. From its beginning with a tiny group of Jesus' followers, Christianity has spread all over the world. Today, it is practiced by two billion people. As with any large group, Christianity has experienced many different interpretations, disagreements and struggles for power over the centuries. These have led to the growth of many different branches of Christianity interpreting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in different ways. There are three basic streams of Christianity: Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic.