Tag Archives: Islam

Religious Tolerance: find the beauty in every religion

In more recent years, religions across the world have been on the decline. According to the Washington Post, in the 1950s those who identified with no religion was at about 2 percent of the entire population. In 1970, this percentage grew to 7 percent. Now, the percentage has swelled to almost 20 percent of the population.

According to Pew, 74 percent of those who don’t identify with a religion grew up without a religious belief.

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It’s hard to locate the source of the problem. With the younger generations it seems religion and faith have taken a back seat. More children are being raised faithless in the United States than every before. The decline in religion dates to the 1990s when trust in religious institution became questionable. Scandal is no stranger to religion, including sexual scandals of church leaders and the church’s opposition of same-sex marriage.

1worldI’ve noticed the decline of religion in my life. My great-grandparents were straight off the boat Irish, strict Roman Catholics. Both my grandparents and my parents were raised Roman Catholic, but me? Well, I was raised Roman Catholic too, but not in the same sense they were. My upbringing was not strict. We did everything the normal Catholics did. My siblings and I have all been baptized, confessed, communed and confirmed. We used to always go to church on Sundays until there was some controversy with my mom’s favorite priest, and we stopped going after he left the parish.

Over the years I’ve grown apart from the religion I was raised in. Learning about other religions and understanding what others believe in has made me more accepting of other ideas. Maybe Catholicism isn’t the only important religion out there? Maybe I think there’s more than one God? Maybe I don’t even believe in God?

I have always been one to question religion and I think I always will. There will never be a way to really known and that’s why we have faith. As I’ve grown up, I’ve lost the faith I had in the Catholic church. I like to think that I’ve developed a syncretic religion that is all my own.

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Here is what I know…

  1. I love the Amish life of simplicity.
  2. I love the Taoist idea of the Tao. The feeling inside of you that cannot be described in words. The source and the driving force behind everything. When you have to make a decision and something instinctively tells you to make a certain decision, that’s the Tao working inside you. The Tao will always keep you on the path meant for you.
  3. I love that marriage is a central notion for Mormon life. They believe God ordered them to get marriage and have children. Mormons believe that the family continues on together to salvation after death and I hope that’s true.
  4. I love all of the ideas behind Sikhism. They believe that the way to lead a good life is to keep God in your mind, to live honestly, to work hard, to treat everyone as an equal and to be generous to the less fortunate. I think if we could all learn to live like the Sikhs the world would be a much happier place.
  5. I love the Wiccan quote “If you take the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible is the wind and the rain.” Like me, the Wiccans believe in the very world they see right before their eyes.
  6. The unity and push for equality that surrounds the Unitarian Universalists is beautiful. I hope one day all religions can be this accepting.
  7. I like that Scientology seeks to base their beliefs in something concrete.
  8. I love the Buddhist idea of reincarnation. For me, reincarnation is the explanation for déjà vu. Why do I feel like I have been here before? Because you have been. Why do I know exactly what he is about to say? Because you’ve heard it before.
  9. I simply love the Rastafarian dreadlocks.
  10. I love the Jain idea of bad karma accumulating on the human soul and that the human has to spend their life “chipping away” that karma. It gives us a reason to live for the good.
  11. I love the Bahá’í belief that greater good will prevail when humanity works together in unity for the benefit of not themselves, but others.
  12. I love that Zoroastrians pray facing the sun because it symbolizes God’s divine light.
  13. I love that Spiritualists believe that every soul lives past physical death and that all souls are reunited.
  14. I love that Santeria was born because the African slaves felt so strongly about their religion they refused to completely convert, but instead blended religions.
  15. I love that Atheists believe in humanity rather than a higher being and that they believe the real reward is living a good life now while you’re here to live it.
  16. I love Islam’s Five Pillars of Faith and that they are required to help the less fortunate.
  17. I love that Hasidic Jews live together in tight-knit communities where they really care about each other.
  18. I love the Shinto notion that there are kamis there to guide us. Everyone can use a helping hand now and then.
  19. I love that Candomblé doesn’t believe in good or bad. Just that one person should live their life in order to fulfill their own destiny as best they can.
  20. I love the creativity of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
  21. I love that Confucianism teaches that human nature is “teachable, improvable, and perfectible.”
  22. Interfaith marriage is beautiful.

And let’s face it… I have nothing nice to say about the Westboro Baptist Church.

When you take a chance to open yourself to others beliefs you might be surprised. You might end up believing in something you weren’t raised to believe in. You might learn to tolerate others in a new way. There is something beautiful in every religion if you take the time to find it.

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Westboro Baptist Church: the ultimate hate group

Westboro Baptist Church always finds its way into the middle of controversy. From picketing the vigil for the victims of the Newtown shootings to claiming that the Boston Marathon bombings were God’s retaliation, the Westboro Baptist Church always finds someway to make a statement.

The Westboro Baptist Church claims that their beliefs are similar to the primitive Baptist tradition, a conservative branch FredPhelpsdeveloped in the early 19th century that follows the King James version of the Bible. The Westboro Baptist Church is described by most as a hate group. Most of the Westboro Baptist beliefs are similar to other Christian schools of though. The big difference between the Christian teachings and the Westboro Baptists teachings are their stance on homosexuality.

Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church said, “The modern militant homosexual movement poses a clear and present danger to the survival of America, exposing our nation to the wrath of God as in 1898 B.C. at Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Phelps believes that America’s new openness to homosexuality will be the downfall of religion and of our country. “They were raised on a steady diet of fag propaganda in the home, on TV, in church, in school, in mass media – everywhere – the two pronged lied. One, it’s okay to be WestboroBaptist4gay. And two, anyone saying otherwise, like Westboro Baptist Church, is a hatemonger who must be vilified, demonized and marginalized,” Phelps said in response to America’s children growing up with an open mind about homosexuality.

The rituals at the Westboro Baptist Church are similar to other religions including a weekly church meeting. However, the WBC has been centered on picketing and protesting since the early 1990s. WBC picketing has become more widespread including homosexuality, the Holocaust Memorial, September 11th, 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China, Pope Benedict XVI, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Catholic priests, Catholic church, Hinduism and Islam.

tumblr_m81v6myBeE1qk2dsto1_1280One thing that has become popular is the “counter protest” which started gaining popularity after the September 11th attacks. The Westboro Baptist Church showed up to picket the tragedy and one young man, Jared Dailey, stood across the street with a sign that read “Not today, Fred,” calling out Phelps on his insensitivity. After a few days, nearly 100 other people joined Dailey with American flags and anti-hate signs. When the WBC decided to picket the funerals of the Newtown shootings, people took to the internet to fight back at the church, writing letters to government officials and releasing a membership list with personal contact information of all of the WBC members.

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The Westboro Baptist Church is not affiliated with any particular denomination and has actually been rejected by many religions. The WBC mainly claims to have ties to the Southern Baptists because Phelps was ordained by a Southern Baptist Minister in 1947.

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Although there are no exact numbers, it is estimated that there are less than one hundred followers of the Westboro Baptist Church and the majority of the members are family. Phelps and his wife have 13 children together and those 13 children have married and have children of their own. Many of these offspring live in the family compound, while some do not except the WBC teachings and have moved away. The family compound is located in Topeka, Kansas where Phelps lives with his large family.

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Although the Westboro Baptist Church receives mainly backlash for their conservative views, the church was defended on the grounds of free speech by the American Civil Liberties Union. Even though the church has found an ally in one Union, most others are still disgusted by what the WBC’s actions and what it stands for. The federal government has made some moves to control the WBC. In 2012, California and the federal government set a 300 foot parameter around funerals the the WBC cannot protest within.

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Islam: living through the teachings of the one and only Allah

boston-magazine-marathon-coverIn the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings Islam is all over the news. Many question the religion as a while while the terrorist acts that are often linked to the religion are carried out by Islam extremists.

The word Islam is translated to “submission to the will of God.” Islam is the second largest world religions with one billion followers following Christianity. Muslims believe that there is only one God and that the one God is called Allah. Muslims teach that God sent prophets to humans to shows us how to live in accordance with his teachings. These prophets include Jesus, Moses, Abraham and the final prophet, Muhammad. The sacred text of the Muslims is the Qur’an.

The five Pillars of Islam are central to the Islamic faith. These Pillars of Faith are:

  • Shahadah: declaration of the faith
  • Salat: praying fives times per day
  • Zakat: paying alms/ giving money to charity to benefit the needy and poor
  • Sawm: fasting during Ramadan (Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during this month Muslims must give up food, drink, smoking, and sexual activity during the daylight hours)
  • Hajj: a pilgrimage to Mecca

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Islam has six main beliefs:

  • belief that there is one God named AllahIndian-Muslims-praying-ed
  • belief in angels
  • belief in the holy books
  • belief in the prophets (Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Muhammad)
  • belief in a Day of Judgement
  • belief in predestination (Allah has knowledge of everything, but that humans have free choice)

Allah is omniscient and omnipotent. Allah cannot be seen or heard, he is just. Muslims connect with Allah through prayer and reciting the Qur’an. The Qur’an is meant to be sung.

One Islamic term that gets thrown around in the media whenever Islam is discussed is Jihad which means holy war. The term Jihad is used in three different references:

  1. a Muslim’s inner struggle to live a proper Islamic
  2. the struggle to build a good society
  3. a “Holy War,” the struggle to defend Islam

crescent-200Islam has guidelines when it comes to war. War is only allowed in self defense, when other nations attack Islam, and if another state oppresses Muslims.

Another characteristic of the Islam faith is hijab which is the covering that is worn by women to cover everything but the hands and face.

Muslim worship takes place in a place called a mosque. Outside of the mosque Muslims must take off their shoes and carry out a ritual washing before prayer. Inside, everyone sits on the floor to create equality among everyone. One wall in the mosque called the mihrab shows the direction of Mecca which all worshipers must face while they pray. Women and men must sit separately to prevent distraction, but most women stay home to pray.

Muslims-Praying

Muslims take firm stances on many ethical issues:

  • against abortion unless it harms the mother’s life
  • capital punishment is exercised, but forgiveness is preferred
  • against euthanasia
  • no central belief in stem cells (Islam does not have a central authority)
  • all living creatures were made by Allah and should be respected
  • no sexual acts are permitted outside of marriage and contraception is allowed between husband and life
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Sikhism: living the good life through service and charity

Sikhs_on_the_move!

Although you may not know much about Sikhs, this religious group was wrongly targeted by many Americans after the September 11th terrorist attack because of their use of turbans. The most recent attack on this group occurred last August when six Sikhs were killed in a Wisconsin shooting.

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Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century in the Punjab region which is now India and Pakistan at a time when Hinduism and Islam were the dominant religions. Early Sikhs were persecuted for their beliefs, but today Sikhism is practiced by 30 million people worldwide and it is the fifth most popular organized religion. Most Sikhs live in India or England, but there are more than 700,000 practicing Sikhs in the United States.

Punjab_map.svgNine other gurus followed Guru Nanak who further shaped Sikhism into what it is today. The fifth guru, Guru Arjan, made Amritsar the capital of the Sikh world and assembled the first Sikh scripture called the Adi Granth. Guru Arjan was seen as a threat by the state and was executed for his beliefs in 1606. The sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, militarized the Sikh followers so that they would be prepared to resist oppression. Sikhs have fought many battles in order to preserve their faith. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, made the military structure more apparent by forming the Khalsa, a military group of men and women in 1699. The purpose of the Khalsa is to defend the faith. Guru Gobind Singh also created Sikh baptism and the 5 Ks which is are the characteristics that make up the Sikh appearance. This was the last guru. The Sikhs now treat their scripture as gurus and now called the scripture Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that stresses good actions over ritual. They believe that the way to lead a good life is to always keep God in your mind, to live honestly and work hard, to treat everyone as an equal and to be generous and serve the less fortunate. Sikhs believe religion is practiced by living in the world and coping with everyday problems. Sikhs believe in one God who no form or gender. They believe that everyone is equal before God and that everyone has direct access. Sikhism stresses service to others and living a good life. They believe that the three duties in life are to pray, work, and give:

  • Nam japna: always keep God in your mind
  • Kirt Karna: earn an honest living, seek to live in honesty, avoid crime, gambling, begging, and working in the alcohol and tobacco industry
  • Vand Chhakna: give charity and care for others, especially those who have less than you

To live a good life, Sikhs also stress the avoidance of the five vices that make people self-centered:

  • lust
  • greed
  • attachment to material objects
  • anger
  • pride

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Sikhs worship in the Gurdwara, which means “residence of the Guru” or “the door that leads to the Guru.” The Gurdwara has four main purposes:

  • a place to learn spiritual wisdom
  • a place for Sikh ceremonies
  • a place where children learn about Sikhism
  • the place that functions as a community center that offers things like food and shelter to the needy in their community

Because Sikhs believe in one God with no physical form there are no statues or idols inside of the Gurdwara. The focal point of the service is the Guru Granth Sahib which is kept in its own room and brought down the main aisle during the procession before the worship. It is placed on a raised platform called the Manji Sahib which means “throne.” The Gurdwara also features four doors: the Door of Peace, the Door of Livelihood, the Door of Learning, and the Door of Grace. These four doors symbolize that all are welcome. Every Gurdwara is also attached to a Langar. The Langar is a kitchen that serves food to the community at no charge. There is a communal meal served at services that consists of vegetarian food. Sikhs are not required to be vegetarian, but these foods symbolize that all are welcome.

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Before entering the Gurdwara, you must remove your shoes and cover your head. Upon entering you bow to the Guru Granth Sahib and touch your forehead to the floor as a sign of respect and place offerings like money or food in front of the scripture. These offerings are used later for the Langar. If you cannot offer anything, you must offer your thanks for charity. Once inside, everyone sits on the floor to create equal status and men and women sit on opposite sides. Sikhs do not have religious leaders. Every Gurdwara has a Granthi who organizes the daily service, but any Sikh can lead the daily worship. The only requirements are that they must be able to fluently speak Gurmukhi and must know how to properly handle the Guru Granth Sahib.

82758-004-5E1BE45DThe most important day is the Sikh New Year called Vaisakhi. This festival is celebrated on April 13th or 14th and it includes parades, dancing, and singing. Many Sikhs also choose to be baptized on this day.5ks

The Sikh baptism is called Amrit Sanskar. There is no age limit on baptism, but the person must be old enough to fully understand the commitment they are making. The ceremony takes place in the Gurdwara in front of five baptized Sikhs. Those being baptized must drink amrit which is a mixture of sugar and water. Everyone drinks from the same bowl and some is splashed on the eyes and hair. Everyone must recite the Mool Mantra which explains the fundamentals of Sikhism. The ceremony ends when the candidates eat karah parshad, a sweet tasting food made of semolia, sugar, and ghee. Once baptized, the Sikh takes on the 5 Ks as a symbol of their baptism and faith:

  • Kesh: uncut hair (regarded as s symbol of holiness and strength, shows adoption of the simple life and rejects pride in one’s appearance
  • Kara: a steel bracelet (a symbol of god having no beginning or end, a symbol that all Sikhs are linked to the Guru)
  • Kanga: a wooden comb (symbolizes a clean mind and body, helps to maintain the body which God has created
  • Kaccha: cotton underwear (a symbol of chastity)
  • Kirpan: steel sword (kept in a sheath and can be worn under clothing, symbolizes defense of the goof and week, the their struggle to maintain their beliefs and religion)

Another celebration is the Sikh marriage called the Anand Karaj. Both people entering the marriage must be of Sikh faith. The marriage takes place in the morning and any Sikh can perform the marriage. Sikhs practice monogamy, believe widows and widowers can remarry, and view the husband and wife as equals within the marriage. An example of a Sikh marriage:

Sikhs believe in a life cycle: birth, life, and rebirth. Other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism share this similar belief. Sikhs believe that your food deeds on earth determine your next life. This concept is called Karma. Karma decides your next life based on how well or how poorly you acted in your previous life.

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