Humans are social beings who are in constant need of being affiliated with groups that serve their emotional, spiritual, financial or educational dispositions. It is upon this premise that communities are formed, and they are not just limited to family and ethnic links (Tonnies, 2002).
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It is against this backdrop that this piece of literature, seeks to demystify the religious facet of the community and its bearing in society, the similarities and differences of the major world religious communities, and the crisis of continuity after the death of the founders.
Definition of a Religious Community
Religion has been credited with the attempt to mould humanity into a near perfect society devoid of ill-mannered individuals, who were always wayward and tent to deviate from the decorum which society expected everyone to subscribe to.
A religious community is, therefore, a societal unit that subscribes to doctrines which are set out by the religion that it holds dear with unwavering faith, which defines the moral code of conduct that its followers are expected to adhere to. By and large, such a community intermingles with followers of other religious communities (Benedict, 2006; Campbell, 2005).
Incidentally, certain members of a religious community may deem it fit to live a life of isolation, where they devote their lives to prayer and serve to the community, unlike the ordinary members who choose to merely fulfil the bare minimum requirements that the community doctrines stipulate (Ward, 2000).
These may involve daily or weekly visits to the places of worship which can either be temples, mosques or churches depending on the religion. Religion is taken very seriously in certain communities, to the extent that it has led to the formation of theocratic states with single religions recognized by the states, like Saudi Arabia and most countries within the Arab Emirates.
For the most part, punitive measures are usually taken against people who flout the commandments that are prescribed by the state, with regard to conduct in some of these states, to ensure that everyone in the country is a virtuous person. On the flipside, within the Christianity circles, the Vatican is an example of a theocratic state that is catholic in nature, with the pope flanked by his cardinals as the rulers.
The Islamic Community
In Islam, the community, or umma, is not based on racial or ethnic ties, but instead pivots around the submission of the congregation to the one and only God or Allah (Elsaie, 2004). Additionally, of critical importance is that Islam does not derive its name from its founder like other religions (Elsaie, 2004).
All the members within the confines of the Islamic faith are considered to be answerable to their maker on everything that they do. It is the duty of everyone to ensure that they correct individuals who seem to be straying from the religious and societal expectations (Elsaie, 2004). In a nutshell, the community is expected to set the moral precedence for all and sundry to follow.
Nevertheless, it is the prerogative of both Allah and the community to ensure that there is always continuity of the religion (Elsaie, 2004).
According to Elsaie, God will ensure the continuity of Islam by following three methods: protection and preservation of the Quran which their holy book and the source of all wisdom, restoration of a nation’s leadership if the leaders act contrary to its expectation and Allah’s stern warning, which promises to overhaul an entire society that is wayward, replacing it with that which cherishes the doctrines of Islam (2004).
Caste in Islam
The basic unit of the Islam community is the family which is hinged on marriage which is considered a very holy union and a religious duty (Elsaie, 2004). The family in Islam consists of a husband with a wife, although polygamy is allowed, and a man can marry up to four wives provided he can take care of all their needs.
Children are expected to be respectful to their parents, and should be initiated into the community at the earliest possible age. The man is the head of the household and is subordinated by his wife, and both are expected to live in peace and harmony as intimated by the holy book, Quran.
It is worth mentioning that there exists a male cleric or an Imam, who conducts prayer sessions in the mosque and is allowed to marry like other Muslims.
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Unlike other religious communities where certain members choose to live lives of commitment to God and praying, by staying at monasteries and convents so that they can keep away from earthly distractions, including marriage and sexual relations, Islam takes into account all the human desires, and directs the community on how they should be fulfilled.
Of equal importance is that there is no caste system in the Islamic religion, in the sense that there is no social stratification in the community with regard to economic, cultural, or racial superiority (Abdul-Nasr, 2007). A Muslim is at liberty to marry from any social sphere, unlike the Hindu religion, where significance is attached to the social class where people are expected to marry people of their social classes.
However, when a Non-Muslim man wants to marry a Muslim woman, he is expected to convert to Islam for ratification of the union to take place. However, Christians put no emphasis on the religion of a spouse who is non Christian.
Continuity of Islam
Without a shadow of doubt, the community plays a colossal role in the continuity of Islam. It is through the community, that every Muslim takes cognizance of the fact that whatever race one belongs to, there is always homogeneity in the Islamic world that is attributed to the uniformity in the language that the Quran is written, which is Arabic.
Therefore, Islam owes its preservation as pertains to practices and doctrines, to the community that existed back in the day, and the current generation that future communities rely on.
Differences between Islam and other religions
Islam has a holy book that was written in Arabic in the beginning, and still uses that language to convey its message and carry out its religious rituals. On the other hand, Christianity has undergone a string of transitions from Jewish founders who converted to followers of Jesus, the Christ, to whom the word Christianity is coined, to Catholicism that spilts to Protestantship.
Through this evolution, the original language in which the Bible was written (Hebrew) lost its clout in the Christian community. Consequently, there are many translations of the Bible tailored to accommodate all the varied languages that are part of the Christian community.
As hinted earlier, the word Islam does not owe its origin to the name of the founder who was Prophet Mohammad. The name Islam depicts a follower, giving in to the doctrines of Islam and the creator of the universe. Christianity, on the other hand, owes its name to the founder who is Jesus Christ, while Buddhism owes its name to its founder who was Buddha.
The Christian community
The Christian community is a religious outfit that is diverse in nature, in the sense that all denominations that fall under this umbrella believe in its founder who is the Christ, though the ways of worship are different. It was originally one community, the Roman Catholic Church, but due to dissent by various quarters some years within its founding, splinter groups were formed and were called Protestant communities.
The Catholic community has a different way of conducting prayers, which Protestants do not identify with themselves and deem it unnecessary and questionable. An example is putting up the statues in churches, and praying while kneeling down before them, even though the statues are only symbols of spiritual beings used as agents of intercession in prayer.
The Catholics form the largest proportion of the Christians, and they are a community that spots the institutionalization of convents and monasteries that instil on their followers the imperative of celibacy, partial seclusion from society and prayers as the avenues to having a pure soul.
Convents are usually availed by the church, and are typically for ladies who are called nuns, and affirm their commitment to prayer and service to God and the society for the rest of their lives. The priests, on the other hand, live in monasteries, and they are the only ones mandated with the task of conducting prayer sessions in church. Both priest and nuns are expressly prohibited to engage in sexual relations and marriages.
The catholic faithful owe allegiance to the Pope, who is the head of the church and is situated in the Vatican City within Rome, and is assisted by cardinals from various parts of the globe. A huge chunk of Catholics hail from South America, where almost 90% of Christians over there are Catholics (Campbell, 2005).
Protestants, on the other hand, do not enforce celibacy regulations on their pastors, and also allow women to conduct prayer sessions without any reservations.
Though the Christian society seems to be a polarized and an overly secular community, all its denominations gravitate towards a society that is pro-Christ in its mannerism and spirituality. A perfect example is the Lord’s Prayer that both Protestants and Catholics recite in and out of church in a move to emulate Jesus, as a way of daily communication with God.
The caste system in Christianity
The Christian community like Islam does not have a caste system, since the community does not put emphasis on superiority of human beings over each other. Jesus is depicted as a poor man living in squalid conditions, with few belongings while on earth. Therefore, prime focus is instead put on spiritual wealth and not material wealth, even though we live in a material world.
The Importance of the Christian community
The importance of the Christian community can be traced to the role it played in the enlightenment of the developing world. This was particularly in South America and Africa, where missionaries who travelled far and wide to spread the gospel, taught the natives in these continents the new found religion, which necessitated the reading of the Bible.
This culminated in the teaching of the new recruits, how to read and write and this encouraged literacy and departure from traditional forms of worship that were perceived to be backward, like the worshiping of mountains by certain tribes in Africa.
The gospel routinely talks of the free will of human beings to decide whether to do right or wrong, and thus Christianity has been credited with the secularization of the world. Christianity accepts that people are intrinsically different, and have the choice of doing what is right and to desist from doing things that are despicable.
Furthermore, Christianity accepts change where it acknowledges that certain sections of society feel aggrieved, and always allows the aggrieved to seek redress. A perfect example would be the Anglican Church that has been in the spotlight for ordination of priests who were homosexuals, by avoiding prejudice which is against the teaching of Christ.
Much as homosexuality is abhorred by all and sundry in society, the church does not condemn people of unconventional sexual orientation, and recognizes that they are human beings with rights like heterosexuals. In this regard, many constitutions all over the world have hitherto acknowledged the rights of homosexuals, and accorded them the rights that heterosexuals are entitled to.
In the same breath, the significance of women has also been put into focus by the Christian community, where women do not just play second fiddle to men. Women in the community are at liberty to do anything that a man does, unlike other religions like Islam where women are under strict instructions on matter of dressing and property ownership, inheritance and leadership.
The continuity of Christianity has been dwindling, because after the death of Christ and his apostles, the church has witnessed a metamorphosis from Catholicism to Protestantship.
With many break- away factions, a lot of barbs have been thrown at the Catholic Church on its tough stand of celibacy, despite the cases of child molestation that have cast aspersions on the need for this policy. Formation of the secret societies within the Catholic domain, especially in Africa, that ordain priests who are allowed to marry have also been proliferating.
The Hindu perspective
Hinduism has been quite a mysterious religion to many, because it is complex and often considered to be a polytheistic religion with no clear cut on the allegiance to a supernatural being.
The major tenet of this religion postulates that man should always be immaculate and one with the universe, with mental and physical purity that should be practiced in rituals articulated in the Vedas, which is sacred literature on moral conduct (Jayaram, 2010).
In a nutshell, it affirms that human beings have places in society assigned to them by the universe or karma, and one should not try to go against the directive of the universe, but instead strike a balance of mind body and soul.
The caste system
Caste is deeply seated in the Hindu community, because it is perceived to be the will of the creator of the universe that the society should be stratified into classes that people inherit through birth.
The community acknowledges that people are of different races, skin tones, and economic empowerment. The community puts so much emphasis on caste such that, it even affects the way people elect their leaders to power. The lower the caste the more unclean the member is perceived to be.
There are five caste classes within the Hindu community:
- Brahams– This is the highest class of people who are affluent or priests, worship in temples, perform religious rituals, study the Vedas, serve dharma (sacred tradition) and act as an intermediary between God and humans (Jayaran, 2010).
- Kshatriyas– These are warriors who shield the community from attacks by hostiles, settle disputes within the community, study the Vedas and offer sacrifices to God (Jayaran, 2010).
- Vaishyasf– This is a class of peasants who are agriculturalists, provide the community with food through farming. They also offer sacrifices, study the Vedas but are prohibited from marrying with people of higher caste (Jayaran, 2010).
- Shudras– This is the class that provides the community with labour, by serving the three aforesaid classes, but are not compelled to observe sacred rituals and are not allowed to read the Vedas (Jayaran, 2010).
- Chandalas– This lowest class considered the most unsanitary class. In fact, the members are considered to be an eyesore by the upper classes, and their mere presence is bad omen to them. They live on the margins of society and are mostly hunters, and are not obliged to follow sacred rituals either (Jayaran, 2010).
Caste is something that the Hindu community epitomizes, and Hindu adherents understand that cross-caste marriages are loathed especially when a man marries from a lower cast to a higher caste.
Continuity of Hinduism
Much as Hinduism has maintained its continuity over the years through heredity and marriage fostered by the caste system, its proliferation worldwide has been dwindling, because of caste which is seen as discriminating in nature. In fact, most adherents of this religion converted to other religions because of violence, in protest of preferential treatment that caste accords some classes at the expense of others (Jayaran, 2010).
Buddhism is a religion that was founded by Gautama Buddha, slightly over two millenniums ago and was incepted with the philosophy of relieving humans from the clutches of earthly oppression, and which advocates for total mental control (Demand Media, 2011). It emphasizes on the need for people to be simpletons, and aspire to achieve the highest forms of knowledge of the universe possible.
Like Hinduism, it is also a polytheistic religion with gods that have human features. At the helm of this religion are monks, who are mostly seen donning yellow gowns and living isolated lives, either in forests or in temples, which are managed by donations from the community.
The community in turn benefits from teachings and guidance, which they get from the monks and nuns. Celibacy is practiced by the monks and nuns who have limited earthly possessions.
Similarities between Hinduism and Buddhism
Hinduism and Buddhism were incepted in South Asia, and both are: polytheist and philosophical in nature, believe in reincarnation and emphasize on community more important than the self (Demand Media, 2011). Buddhism can be viewed as a break-away faction of Hinduism, the way Protestantism is a break-away group of Catholicism (Demand Media, 2011).
Just the way Protestants seceded from the Catholic Church, due to misconduct and oppressive doctrines instituted by the church, so did Buddhists break away from Hindus, as a means to find a better and fulfilling way of worship (Demand Media, 2011).
Differences between Hinduism and Buddhism
Hinduism is society obsessed, dwells into social classes and caste, while Buddhism focuses more on the growth of the individual, but depends on society for penultimate growth. Buddhism employs fewer rituals in expression of faith, while Hinduism is more ritualistic with a sacred book called the Veda.
Hinduism degrades women while Buddhism puts women on a pedestal, and gives them the same treatment with regard to prayer, in the sense that they have nuns that are equal to monks.
Religion is quite an emotive issue since it defines the community and determines how it relates to other communities (Fagan, 2006).
Human beings need spiritual nourishing, and will always yearn to affiliate themselves with a religious group, from which they draw solace whenever they feel aggrieved, by the unpredictability of events in the course of life. It goes without saying that no religion is superior to any other, and that it is the fundamental right of anyone to join any religion they so wish, without any reservations (Friedner, 2007).
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