Tag Archives: Abraham

Very Basic Introduction to Islam

Information/terms to assist you with the reading (I created this brief summary for my NRM students who needed some supplemental background information regarding why many American NRMs were invoking terms sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and what these concepts signified for the older “mother” traditions.)

A. Quick Introduction to Islam: Islam (the root word) means “submission” or “surrender”. Islam requires surrender to the one god, Allah, the god of Abraham. Muslims are those who submit to Allah and follow His prophets .Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of God’s prophets, the seal of the prophets.

Not all Muslims are Arab, not all Arabs are Muslims, Muslims live all over the world.  Muhammad, according to Islam, came to re-establish the monotheism of Abraham. Muhammad, although greatly revered, is just the messenger … he is human, not divine, he is the instrument through which the word of God… the Qur’an came to earth. Muslims believe that Allah (Arabic name for the one creator God) sent revelations (in Arabic) to Muhammad, just as Allah had sent previous messages. These revelations are referred to as The Qur’an (also spelled Koran) and it is thought to be the literal voice of Allah speaking to mankind. The Qur’an contains references to important individuals in other Abrahamic religious traditions… such as Moses, Abraham, Jesus, and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The Prophet Muhammad (570-632 c.e.) was born in Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia). He was born into a powerful tribe in that area called the Quraysh. Mecca was a site of pilgrimage for many tribes around Mecca, the tribes would come to Mecca to worship their idols in the Kaaba, a large rectangular building believed by many Muslims to have been built by Abraham. Mecca was a powerful and wealthy trading center due to its religious significance. Muhammad accompanied his uncle on trade routes and became a well-respected merchant and caravan driver. His nickname was al-amin (the trustworthy). He worked for a wealthy widow who later became his 1st wife, Khadijah. Muhammad was a monotheist, he often spent time on spiritual retreat on Mt. Hira. During one of these retreats, when Muhammad was 40 years old, he has a vision of the angel Gabriel (Jibril, in Arabic). Gabriel tells Muhammad that he has been chosen by Allah to be a prophet to his people. This is the beginning of the transmission of the revelations of the holy Qur’an in Islam. These revelations come to Muhammad over 22-23 years until the time of his death.

Muhammad begins telling close friends and relatives about the revelations. He builds up a small group of believers around him. Muhammad preached monotheism… and as his small group of believers grew… the more the Quraysh, the large tribe of tribes, worried that if this monotheism spread the less the surrounding tribes will come to Mecca to worship idols in the kaaba. In 619 c.e. , Muhammad’s wife, Khadijah, and the uncle who had raised him and protected him from the wrath of the Quraysh, Abu Talib, both died (this year is known as the “year of sorrows”). Muhammad and his followers faced intimidation, rejection, and out right assault from powerful Meccans that saw Muhammad and his followers as threats to polytheism in Mecca and the money that came from the various pilgrims visiting the Kaaba to worship their tribal gods. Muhammad and his community receive an invite to a small own called Yathrib… he decides to leave Mecca due to the hostility his followers faced.

The hijrah (emmigration) from Mecca to Yathrib (later called Medina which means “city of the Prophet) takes place in 622 c. e. and this marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. In 630 c. e., Muhammad and the Muslims of Yathrib retake Mecca. Muhammad “cleanses” the Kaaba of idols and rededicates the Kaaba. Two years later (632 c.e.) Muhammad dies in Medina and the ummah (community of Muslims) elect Abu Bakr as the new community leader, according to Sunni Muslims (roughly 80% of the Muslim population). Abu Bakr becomes the first rightly-guided Caliph (leader of the Muslim community). The Shia (the other 20% of the Muslim community) believe that Muhammad had previously endorsed Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, before his death.

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Very Basic Introduction to Judaism

Information/terms to assist you with the reading (I created this brief summary for my NRM students who needed some supplemental background information regarding why many American NRMs were invoking terms sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and what these concepts signified for the older “mother” traditions.)

This summary written by Katherine Daley-Bailey.

Judaism: (Jews) This religion is an ancient tradition spanning thousands of years. Jews see themselves as descendants of the Hebrews (a nomadic people), the ancient Israelites (belonging to the kingdom of Israel dating to around 1000 b.c.e), and the people of Judah (people of Judah= Jews). For Jews, this religious history, documented in their Bible, tells the story of their ancestors and explains their unique relationship with the God of the Hebrews. The Bible tells of a relationship between the God of the Hebrews and the patriarch Abraham. God promises Abraham many descendents and a special land if Abraham will worship only Him. Jews view themselves as descendents of Abraham and thereby heirs to this promise and land. The “promised land” that Jews believe was given to them is roughly the same space as the current nation of Israel.

Texts: Jews are often referred to as “the people of the book” because of the central role sacred texts play in their religion. The core of these sacred texts is called the TaNaKh (an acronym which stands for Torah (“the Law”, the 1st 5 books in this text), the Nevi’im (the Prophetic texts), and the Ketuvim (the other writings). (To be continued)

Leaders: The Bible speaks of a time when the Jews had a temple in the city of Jerusalem. This temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 c.e. and has never been rebuilt. The temple had been run by temple priests, specially trained officials. After the temple was destroyed, Judaism no longer needed a priesthood and the religion became dominated by very wise, learned, Jewish men named Rabbis. After the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, more emphasis was placed on the local community centers of Jews, called synagogues.

Time: Judaism has been credited with pioneering the concept of linear time (meaning that time has a definitive beginning and will have a definitive end). Prior to this concept, most scholars believe that a majority of people worshipped nature gods and goddesses and believed time was cyclical (modeling the agricultural cycle). Believing that their God acts in history, when they fell on hard times and they saw no way out, Jews have historically believed that God would intervene on their behalf in some way.

Identity: Just as Jews believe that their God gave them a “promised land”, they also believe that their God has picked them as His “chosen people.” This means there are special laws (behavioral- diet, ritual, etc.) that they must follow. Sometimes Judaism is described as a religion and an ethnicity… and a way of life. Some Jews believe you must have a Jewish mother to be Jewish, although this is a matter of debate.

References to this “promised land”: Zion, Israel, Judah, the “land of milk and honey”, etc.

Exodus: After many generations, the descendents of Abraham, known then as the Hebrews ended up as state slaves in Egypt. The God of the Hebrews heard of their suffering under slavery and called upon a man name Moses to help liberate them. After much back and forth with the Egyptian ruler, the pharaoh, Moses was able to lead the “children of Israel” out of slavery in Egypt. However, as they were traveling, the pharaoh changes his mind and sends chariots after the slaves. Moses is left leading the Hebrew slaves into a barren wilderness with the Egyptian chariots at their back. They come to the Red Sea and Moses calls upon God to help them. The Hebrew God parts the Red Sea, allowing the Hebrew slaves to run through to the other side and then He lets the sea crash upon the Egyptian chariots. The Hebrew slaves are now free but they are tired, hungry, and not sure where this “promised land” is that they are supposed to find. Moses is leading them but they grumble against him. While Moses is talking to the Hebrew God on Mount Sinai, the slaves decide to make an idol to worship. This makes God and Moses extremely upset because their agreement with God is worship only Him. The Hebrew God kills some of those who participated and tells the rest that because of their sin, they will spend 40 years in the wilderness before they can enter the land he promised them. After 40 years, Moses dies, and Joshua, his successor, leads the Hebrew slaves into the “promised land.” However, there are other people living in this land. Joshua and the Hebrew slaves must drive out the other inhabitants. This is referred to as the “conquest for Canaan.” This land will become the ancient kingdom of Israel and the center of the kingdom will be Jerusalem. These ideas and images will be invoked again and again by Jews and Christians. Each group will depict themselves as the “chosen ones of God”, “the children of Abraham”, the true Israel, and will believe this story to be THEIR story. For American movements often the “promised land” is not Jerusalem but there is a NEW Jerusalem, America itself.

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