Other World Religions

This section will introduce you briefly to the major world religions other than Christianity.


Hinduism—the religion of most of India—is highly complex and could be described as a family of religions rather than a single one. It has given rise to a large number of sects who worship different Hindu gods. Nirvana, reincarnation and the various forms of Yoga are all expressions of basic Hinduism.



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Other world religions

Hindus have a very large collection of holy writings, the oldest being the Vedas. Others include the Upanishads, the Puranas and, most sacred of all, the Bhagavad Gita.

Reincarnation is basic to Hindu belief. A person's present state of existence is determined by his performance in previous lifetimes. This is linked with the concept of karma, which means 'action'. One's present actions have consequences that govern one's state in any future existence, and the performing of righteous acts is the key to eventual liberation from the cycle of rebirths into eternal bliss.

Hinduism is responsible for the Indian caste system which, though now outlawed by the Indian government, continues to be an integral part of the social order. It is responsible, too, for the revering of the sacred cow, which is allowed complete freedom of movement and action.

To a Hindu, Christ is merely one of many great teachers. The supreme being is Brahman, impersonal and indefinable—a philosophical concept rather than a personal being—and man is a manifestation of Brahman, with no true individuality and no intrinsic worth. Sin is simply the expression of ignorance, and salvation may be achieved in one of three ways: the way of knowledge (knowing oneself to be a part of Brahman and not a separate entity), the way of works (following ceremonial ritual), or the way of devotion (obedience to a particular one of the many Hindu deities).

Yoga, Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation are all forms of Hinduism that in recent times have become popularised in the Western world.


Islam (the word means 'submission') is the main religion of the Middle East, North Africa and Western Asia.

It revolves around the figure of Mohammed, who was born around 570 AD in the town of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Religion at the time was largely polytheistic (many gods), but it is likely that contact with Jews and several varieties of Christians inclined him towards montheism (one god). His one god was Allah.

At the age of 40 Mohammed had the first of many visions, which are recorded in Islam's holy book, the Koran (or Qu'ran). The Koran is in Arabic, and translations are frowned upon. He continued to receive revelations until his death in AD 632. In his capacity as the receiver of these revelations, Muslims see him as the last and greatest of the prophets.

IslamMohammed's wife became his first disciple, but general opposition led him to leave Mecca for Medina. Later, he returned to Mecca in triumph and the new faith spread rapidly among the Arab people, helped along by Mohammed's militant approach. Religion and state became one, the new faith defining a way of life for individual, family and nation.

Islam is not united. Several sects maintain different emphases. The majority of Muslims are Sunnis, the two other major groups being the Sufis, whose approach is more mystic than mainstream Islam, and the Shi'ites (dominant in Iran), but there are also many smaller sects. The practice of Islam is highly legalistic, based on the Koran and the Shari'a (Islamic law).

Islam recognises Jesus as a prophet, but inferior to Mohammed. Where the New Testament accounts differ from the Koran, the latter is to be believed. Muslims deny that Jesus was the Son of God and that he rose from the dead. In fact many deny that he was crucified, or maintain that, if he was, he did not die. Certainly he achieved no atonement.

Allah alone is God. He is a complete rigorist, lacking in love or grace, and is totally transcendent. To call him 'Father' is considered blasphemous. He is the predestinator of all things and therefore the author of both good and evil. The popular phrase, 'It is the will of Allah', expresses the fatalism of Islam.

Allah rules by inspiring fear, not by grace. Salvation is by adhering legalistically to the requirements of Islam. Those who make the grade will, at the last day, enjoy Paradise, while the rest will be tormented in hell.


Buddhism began around 500 BC as an offshoot of Hinduism. Its founder, born in India, was Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, meaning 'enlightened one'.

From a wealthy background, he chose to forsake the good life for that of a beggar and, having experienced nirvana (total God-consciousness) under a fig tree, he began to pass on his teachings to a group of disciples. From this small beginning the movement quickly expanded.

One variety of Buddhism—Mahayana Buddhism— found wide acceptance outside India, chiefly in China and Japan, and it is with these countries that Buddhism today is chiefly associated. It has a huge collection of sacred writings, with no clear limit to the canon.

The aim of Buddhism is to achieve nirvana. This is a difficult term to define, but it focuses on losing touch with all consciousness of the material world in order to become lost in an awareness of the divine.

But it is chiefly monks and other serious devotees who pursue this goal with fervour. The ordinary Buddhist aims to live by the five precepts: kill no living thing (including insects); do not steal; do notBuddhism commit adultery; tell no lies; and do not drink intoxicants or take drugs.

In the last half-century a Japanese variety of Buddhism has gained popularity. This is Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, and its surge in popularity can be traced back to the founding in Japan in 1930 of the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society). It has a much more restricted canon, believing that only one work, the Lotus Sutra, contains the true interpretation of the words of the Buddha. Worship centres around a small black wooden box, the gohonzon, which is in effect a personal altar, a tiny replica of a shrine at the base of Mount Fuji, Japan. This movement has been very missionary-minded.

The variety of Buddhism best known in the West, however, is Zen Buddhism. 'Zen' means 'meditation'. This is a form of the religion that recognises no particular sacred writings but focuses instead on non-verbal activity, chiefly meditation techniques. It requires rigorous self-discipline and emptying oneself of unhelpful interests. Meditation is done in the classical seated position that has become the movement's trademark, and is usually carried out under the supervision of a Master.

The aim is to experience enlightenment, known as satori. This is expected to come suddenly and to be of brief duration, but it may be experienced repeatedly. Logical thought and evaluation are considered hindrances to its achievement.

There is no personal god in Buddhism and therefore no divine person to sin against. Jesus Christ has no status at all.


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Christian Witness

In Western society today intolerance is the worst sin. No-one, people believe, has the right to claim exclusivity for their religion. Instead, everyone is free to choose and practise their own faith—provided they don't try to press it on others.

While this view may at present be politically correct, it stands opposed to the teaching of the Bible (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:5) and the command of Jesus to preach the gospel everywhere (e.g Matthew 28:19-20).

How, then, should we go about witnessing to those of other faiths, and those in the cults?


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