Islam in Brief

Islam (1.6 billion) – monotheistic with Allah as God, considers itself the true religion with Muhammad as its Prophet.  Muslim beliefs are in the Five Pillars – repeating the creed, reciting prayers in Arabic, giving to the poor, fasting from sunrise to sunset, and making a pilgrimage (hajj) in one’s lifetime to Mecca.

Muhammad (570–632) was born in Mecca in Western Saudi Arabia.  So Mecca is the site of the Great Mosque and in its courtyard lies the most sacred shrine called Ka’aba- a stone building that contains a Black Stone that Muslims believe was sent from Heaven, by Allah.  When Muslims pray five times a day they face the Ka’aba, and declare the “shahada,” the Islam Creed –  “I bear witness that there is no god but (the One) God (Allah), and I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s messenger.”  Muslims profess there is one transcendent, supreme being Allah.  The Qur’an Muslims’ holy book is arranged in 114 sections called “suras” which literally  means word of God.

Shia Muslims

Shia Muslims account for approximately 15 percent of the total Muslim population in the world. Shiaism has the greatest influence in the contemporary world in Iran where nearly 90 percent of Muslims are Shiite, but Shia are also the majority in Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. The division between the Shia and Sunni is rooted in disputes over the proper succession of leadership after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E. The Shia maintain that the rightful successor of the Prophet was his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. Shia especially revere a succession of scholars (called Imams).

Sunni Muslims

The followers of Sunni Islam … make up approximately 80 percent of the Muslim population in the world. The Sunni are the majority in most Islamic countries outside of Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain. Sunna—translated variously as the “trodden path,” “the way,” “example,” or “habitual practice”—refers to the example or path of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers….The Sunni maintain that the Muslim community was to select the Prophet’s successor (caliph) to lead…Sunni are typically seen as putting more emphasis on the power of God and his determination of human fate, and are often understood to be more inclusive in their definition of what it means to be a Muslim. The Sunni tradition has placed great emphasis on the role of religion in public and political life, with great weight placed on the Shariah (Islamic law) as the standard of a broad range of social issues—marriage, divorce, inheritance, commerce, and so on.

The Islamic interpretation of the Bible overlaps in many cases with those of Judaism and Christianity, and some accounts in the Qur’an are almost similar to those  in the Bible.

Reference

Library of World Religions and Faith Traditions

https://www.patheos.com/library

 

 

Christianity in Brief

Christianity (2.2 billion) – Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  God the Father and Holy Spirit complete the Trinity.  This religion major problem is “sin.”  Christ came to earth, died, and resurrected to save mankind.

Christians learned in the New Testament that the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary telling her that she would give birth of a son, who would be called Jesus.  Joseph to whom Mary was betrothed was about to put her way privately since he never had a relationship with her.  But an angel appeared in a dream telling him he should not do so because Mary’s pregnancy was by the Holy Spirit.  Joseph obeyed this advice and continued to be with Mary.  Jesus entered the world by being born in a manger of a stable, for there was no room at the inn in Bethlehem.  While at the stable Three Wise Men followed a star in the east to his birth place bringing him gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.  But they didn’t return to Herod because they too were warned not to do so.  Since Herod wanted to slay this new born child whom he saw as a threat to his kingdom, so they fled to Egypt.

Not much more is known about Jesus’ early life.  Later his parents brought him to Bethlehem for the census. As a young child of twelve at Passover they went to Temple. Unknown to his family he was left for three days behind.  Joseph and Mary discovered he was missing, and returned to the Temple to find him disputing with Doctors, who were alarmed at his knowledge for such a young child.  There’s little else known about how he was raised.  But Christians were again introduced to him at 30 – the start of his ministry, when he was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist in the River Jordan and the sky opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.

Jesus chose Twelve Disciples to follow him. He was an iterant preacher who went around preaching the coming of God, forgiveness of sins, healing the sick, raising the dead, and refuting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  He was met with opposition from the Roman officials and leaders of the Temple because his teachings undermined the status quo of the society.  Jesus was deemed an outcast, arrested by governmental officials, tried, and crucified during the reign of Pontius Pilate.  He is believed to have risen from the dead.  And this is the foundation on which the Christian faith is based.  Christianity therefore teaches about the perils of sin, judgement, resurrection, and salvation.  Roman Catholics believe in purgatory, heaven for those saved, and hell for sinners whose sins aren’t forgiven by God.

Jesus is viewed as the Son of God.  He is said to have instituted the Eucharistic rite during the Last Supper with his disciples at an Upper Room in Jerusalem – the night before he was betrayed by a kiss from Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples.  He built the Church on Peter, another leading disciple and apostle.  The beginning of the Christian Church is said to be on the Day of Pentecost – 50 days after Easter, when there was the gushing of a mighty wind and tongues of fire as the disciples were huddled together in one place.  This outpouring was interpreted to be the descent of the Holy Spirit on believers to continue the Christian ministry in the world.

Limitations of Prayer

Prayer isn’t magic.

Much of life is predetermined.

The longest living land animals the bowhead whale can live for 200 years.

While the Mayfly only live for 24 hours.

The oldest birds can live to 60 odd years.

These are parrots, vultures, albatrosses, and eagles.

With conservation efforts trees will live for thousands of years.

These are trees like Prometheus, Unnamed Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, and the Jurupa Oak.

Another long lasting tree is the Sequoia of northern California and Oregon that can live up to 2700 years.

Prayer can’t change the lifespans of flora and fauna.

 

Other conditions are daunting concerning how species live.

Many species rarely approach their maximum age.

Some animals and birds die because of a high infant mortality rate.

Others die because of diseases, predators, and bad weather.

Many lifespans are cut short because of habitat destruction

And competition for food and shelter

 

Religious believers must therefore know how and for what to pray.

There are known conditions that can’t change that come and go like the seasons.

But they can pray to their deity or deities knowing that some conditions in life are the way they are.

Yes, we can pray for relief from the hazards that impact all living things.

Eternal Spirit, give us the insight concerning how to pray, and grant us relief from the hazards of earthly living.

Amen

Legacy of American Indians

The first Americans have the distinction of being a people of diversity.  They consisted of more than 500 tribes ranging from the Arctic Circle across the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard and known as the Lakota, Cherokee, Navajo, Haida, and other groups.  In the Northeast alone, there were dozens of tribes originating from three main mother groups – Algonquian, Iroquoian, or Siouan.  Around 12,000 to 20,000 years ago Indians came to the Western Hemisphere after having crossed the Bering Strait ice bridge that linked Asia to the Americas.  So, Native Americans are indigenous to the Americas.

The Indians displayed vibrant languages, cultural forms, and their political empowerment varied between tribes.  Some tribes boasted a sophisticated clan system with unique spiritual traditions, music, songs and chants.  Not all adopted to the horse as a primary tool of hunting, but they fished – catching salmon, trout, and sturgeon; farmed – raising indigenous plants, roots, berries, and nuts; hunted – catching deer, elk, bison, antelope, moose, and even caribou; inventing agricultural methods with flourishing crops of corn (maize), beans, and squash.

Tribal architecture flourished.  They made ceramics from clay tempered with sand, potted ceremonial objects, rugs, jewelry, bead works, and baskets of all sorts.  Their trading networks were spread across the whole American continent, and their sovereign authority was invested in cultural and linguistic patterns.

The American Dream

In their own way the Native Americans were living the American dream.  Marco Rubio (b. 1971), a senator from Florida said, “The American Dream is a term that is often used but also often misunderstood.  It isn’t really about becoming rich and famous.  It is about things much simpler and more fundamental than that.”  Early Indian tribes exemplified what the American dream was all about by having a diverse culture blessed with simplicity.  Billy Graham (1918–2018), an evangelical Christian evangelist wrote, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”  Our first Americans exemplified this legacy and faith while living off the land.

Joe Baca (b. 1947), a U.S. representative in California said, “Native Americans are the original inhabitants of the land that now constitutes the United States.  They have helped developed the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and separation of powers that form the foundation of the United States government.”   These first Americans were instrumental in proposing fundamental ways of governing by how they were living.

A Legacy Impacted

European diseases – small pox, measles and influenza devastated many Native American communities.  These natives became victims of brutal massacres, murder, and rape that dampened the American spirit.  Native Indians though continued to have rights, and the American government had no authority on Indian land without an act of Congress.  The 19th century witnessed the impounding of Indians to reservations.  Philipp Meyer (b. 1974), an American fiction writer wrote, “When you start to look at the native American history, you realize that very far from being peaceful, morally superior people, Native Americans were not that different from the Europeans.”  Meyer must have been thinking about the atrocities and broken promises committed by America on the American Indians.  Alberto Gonzales (b. 1955), an attorney general of the United States wrote, “I will be the first to admit I am not perfect and I make mistakes.”  The Europeans who settled America were imperfect men and women, and although some critics felt their actions against the American Indians were motivated by power, greed, and religious zeal they surely committed big mistakes.  Despite these atrocities the American Indian culture still exists, and adds to the spiritual richness of the nation.

Thanksgiving for Creation

A pediatric surgeon Bernie Siegel (b. 1932) said, “God wants us to know that life is a series of beginnings, not endings.  Just as graduations are not terminations, but commencements.  Creation is an ongoing process, and when we create a perfect world where love and compassion are shared by all, suffering will cease.”  Inevitably Siegel was putting his trust in mankind to create a perfect world.  But our world is broken because of sin.  Christians believe it will only be transformed when Jesus Christ comes again.  This has been alluded to time and time again in the Old and New Testaments.

How should people navigate this this perfect world?  We have to use our imagination and ask God to guide us to it.  George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), an Irish playwright and critic wrote, “Imagination is the beginning of creation.  You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”  Believers come to know their God by meditating on his Word.  They are touched by God’s divinity, and realize they must seek his forgiveness.

People’s Perception

An actor and producer James Cromwell (b. 1940) said, “Often we are recreating what we think we’re supposed to be as human beings.  What we’ve been told we’re supposed to be, instead of who we authentically are.  The key about creation of full self-expression is to be authentically who you are, to project that.”  Such gift comes by faith.  With this knowledge people walk in godly ways by doing what’s right.

Wise men and women have pondered the role of nature in God’s creative process.  Luigi Pirandello (1867–1936), an Italian dramatist and novelist wrote, “Nature uses human imagination to lift her work of creation to even higher levels.”  With the glorious displays of trees, mountains, and streams in our environment we reflect on the grandiose nature of a loving God.  Our minds and hearts leap in the sublimity of these gracious blessings first imagined in the Garden of Eden.

Testament of Life

Nevertheless life is such a powerful testament of the gifts of God.  An attorney and Freemason Albert Pike (1809–1891) said, “One man is equivalent to all Creation.  One man is a World in miniature.”  People see this phenomenon in God who is all in all.  According to scripture people were born in his image and are spiritually like him.

How can we make a difference in the world?  There might be some confusion about our life’s mission.  A French poet and novelist Victor Hugo (1802–1885) wrote, “One is not idle because one is absorbed.  There is both visible and invisible labor.  To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do.  The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act.  The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation.”  It’s good to remember that everyone works differently.  How could we determine who is working the most?  How do we see the role of contemplation to that of hard labor?  Yet contemplative meditation is necessary for fostering justice, dignity, and peace in our world.

How do you view creation?  Who is ultimately responsible?  Joseph Franklin Rutherford (1869–1942), a second president of the incorporated Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania said, “Jehovah created the earth and therefore it is his by right of creation.”  Every aspect of life which exists is God’s gift to us.  He controls everything, and is the greatest gift of all living, and non-living beings.  We have to always give thanks for his creation.

The Sacred Elephant

For thousands of years

A majestic giant has graced our lands

It’s the gigantic elephant known to all peoples

We find its symbol in India, China, Africa,

And even America, as the Republican Party

 

In India the elephant is known to Buddhists

And Hindus as the god Ganesha –

defender and maintainer of good fortune

China, this symbol brings good luck, protection, and fertility

And in Africa the elephant is the mighty one

Because of its strength and power

 

But this gentle giant that exists in mythology – is patient,

responsible, wise, clever, and smart

In the wild it cares for the herd and offspring

And nestles its young in loving ways

 

Let’s elevate this admirable giant

To a greater place of prominence in our world

For this animal’s symbol continues to grace the earth

With divine, pure, and secular gifts

Depicted in artworks, sculptures, and paintings

 

Indians pay their elephant-god Ganesha homage with gifts

The Chinese sing praises with its happiness

Africans see the elephant like a fortress in the jungle

And Americans embrace this symbol as a political party

By the cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly magazine

 

 

 

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897)

St. Thérèse of Lisieux in her autobiography Story of a Soul translated by John Clarke, taught believers “the little way” of trust and absolute surrender to God.  The first 15 years of her life was spent as a devout Catholic and for nine years she lived a cloistered life as a Carmelite nun.  She wrote the story of her brief life in ink with no thought that it would ever be published.  On Good Friday, April 13, 1896 she suffered her first hemoptysis (coughing up blood due to a lung hemorrhage).

The facsimile edition of her manuscript was difficult to read because of capitalizations, underlined words, size, position of slant letters, with occasional corrections.  Students of hers were still able to locate texts in the original manuscript.  The translated version however offered clear themes of love, abandonment to God’s mercy, and mission in the church.  She saw the way of spiritual childhood as the path which led to eternal life.

Manuscript & Readers

In fits and starts, St. Thérèse wrote in her spare time while she was ill.  The manuscript first published in 1898 in a highly edited version was praised by its readers.  It became a spiritual classic, read by millions, and was translated from French into other languages.  For over 20 years, it was a best seller.  Story of a Soul was originally the collection of three different manuscripts addressed to different persons in 1895, 1896, and 1897.

St. Thérèse’s legacy to the world was her personal message about being like “little ones.”  Her teachings came out of human experiences.  To accomplish these tasks she ascended to the summit of heroic virtue – what she described as “my vocation is love.”  She believed we must be like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and viewed God as the keeper of “little ones.”

Beatification & Canonization

During the process of beatification and canonization Pope Benedict XV, and Pius X1 endorsed her beliefs.  They hoped her teachings would be brought to the attention of the world.  St. Thérèse, who was considered the greatest saint of modern times frequently meditated on the Gospels and the Old Testament.  Her work has remained a source of deep religious inspiration, and believers think it came about through Divine Providence.  The centennial celebration of her death was in 1996 – 1997.  Story of a Soul’s translator, John Clarke, was a devotee to this “Little Flower.”

 

Saint Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

Navin Chawla, author of Mother Teresa did a remarkable job in capturing the love and sensitivity of one of Christianity’s modern icons. She was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Yugoslavia, and in 1979, as a Catholic religious sister was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa received the Call of God at the young age of 18, and decided to leave her home to become a nun in India. Her vocation was serving the poor. On January 16, 1929, she went to the mountain resort of Darjeeling, 400 miles north of Calcutta, to begin a life as a novice. Two years later, she took her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. At Loretto – Entally she was a teacher and Principal.

Early Life

By the early 1940s Chawla showed how Mother Teresa met poverty in the Great Bengal Famine which stalked India. Indians were starving, sorrowful, and lying lifelessly on the streets. And shortly after, she got another “Call within a Call,” to begin a second vocation, to serve “the poorest of the poor.” She therefore had to get permission to leave her cloistered life in the convent to work in the streets of Calcutta. The author documented struggles with her spiritual confessor Father Celeste Van Exem, her bishop, and the Vatican. Fortunately for the world, Mother Teresa prevailed, and permission was granted to do work among poor souls.

In this new vocation as advocate, healer, and provider for “the poorest of the poor,” she was joined by some young women, some of whom were formerly students, to do such work. By the 1950s with some medical training under her belt she headed the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The author described the travels of her sisters to be with the poor all over the world. They walked or took public transportation to their assignments in India. There was however a Motherhouse – a headquarter to coordinate their operations.

Mother Teresa pledged to take the unwanted babies of the world. Her Missionaries of Charity continued to give out hundreds for adoption. Her views on abortion had many detractors, for she advocated natural family planning which involved abstention of couples, and the exercise of self-control. She had implicit faith in the Roman Catholic doctrine and wanted to bring prayer back into people’s lives. Later, Chawla vividly explained Pope Paul V1, 1965 visit to India as a guest of the government. The Lincoln Continental limousine he used for his state visit was later donated to Mother Teresa’s charities. It was raffled off for a tidy sum with which she built a main hospital block in Shantinagar.

Humanitarian Activities Abroad

Mother Teresa’s humanitarian facilities presently included dispensaries, leprosy clinics, rehabilitation centers, homes for the abandoned – crippled, mentally retarded, unwed mothers, sick, dying destitute, and AIDS patients. At various schools educational activities were ongoing. There were classes in sewing, commerce, and handicraft. Sisters made prison visits, helped families, taught catechism classes, and Sunday School with activities are centered around Catholic action groups.

Missionaries of Charity encompassed Missionary Brothers of Charity and had additional houses established all over India.  There are international houses which presently exist in many areas of the world. These could be found in Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, the Gaza Strip, Yemen, Ethiopia, Sicily, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Panama, Japan, Portugal, Brazil, Burundi, England, USA, USSR, South Africa, and in Eastern Europe.

Chawla did much traveling to keep up with Mother Teresa’s activities, carefully described her many ventures and difficulties in establishing such homes. It started with her desire to live with the poor to understand them as equals. With an experience of the first woman who she picked up years ago lying on a street of Calcutta, her face eaten by ants and rats, she observed such a person was the abandoned Christ.

After years of dedicated service to “the poorest of the poor,” she laid ailing and millions prayed for her recovery and she came back from the precipice of death. But on September 5, 1997, a few days after her 87th birthday, she went home to be with her God. Before she died, on March 13, 1997, the Missionaries of Charity elected Sister Nirmala to be the new Superior General. The Indian government honored her with a state funeral, and her coffin was on a gun carriage which once bore the bodies of Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Chawla’s book has truly captured the spirit and life of this extraordinary woman who was declared Saint Teresa of Calcutta on September 4, 2016.

 

 

Syncing with Nature

My health is failing

But I have had a long and beautiful ride

This reality is the inevitable course of all life

For there’s a season for everything

Day follows night

While the seasons come and go

All these realities are reflected in one’s life.

 

At pivotal junctions my decline has been gradual

At 60 my doctor told me my kidneys were sluggish

This was around my birthday in the month of June

So I also celebrated this news with friends at an Italian restaurant

There began my first experience with chronic renal failure

And my determination to keep this disease at bay

 

Since then I was living with this affliction caused by Lithium

For over 15 years I’ve watched my lab work with concern

At times the results gave me hope that I wouldn’t need dialysis

But now it looks as though this would be the case.

 

I have no regrets for I have had a long ride doing what I enjoy

But the Universal Spirit knows best as I sync with nature

It looks as though by the time I get there I’ll be fully used up

For over the years I suffered with manic depression, high blood pressure,

Unitary Tract Infection, diabetes, glaucoma, macular degeneration,

And has been the recipient of a pacemaker

 

Frankly I don’t expect healing from the Universal Spirit

For I have been profoundly blessed in many unexpected ways

Over the years my physical decline has been gradual

And I have grappled with each health problem

With the challenges of living a sensible lifestyle

I pray for only good results from all suffering as I reflect

On the syncing process with nature

But only God really knows how soon my end will be.

 

Read my autobiography entitled, Life’s Passages: From Guyana to America available at amazon.com for further insights into my life.

 

The Baha’i Faith Beliefs

Baha’i teachings are a great deal like other monotheistic faiths.  They are centered on the following concepts:

  1. God is seen as single and all powerful.
  2. Religion is considered orderly and progressive as revealed by God through his manifestations.
  3. Emphasis is placed on the unity of all peoples, and the faith openly rejects racism, and nationalism.
  4. The principles that permeate are wrapped together in the unity of God, religion, and humanity.
  5. God’s will is often revealed through messengers with transforming characteristics with implications for people.
  6. God is viewed as omniscient, omnipresent, imperishable, and the Almighty Creator of all things.
  7. God’s greatness is beyond humans’ comprehension, but they understand Him through His Manifestations.
  8. It’s for Baha’i believers to learn about God through prayer, reflection, and service to others.
  9. Baha’i beliefs are often described as syncretic combinations of other faith traditions.
  10. Baha’i sees its faith as an independent world religion, and differing from other religions with the teachings of Bahaullah.
  11. Baha’i believes that human beings have a “rational soul” which allows individuals to recognize God as their Creator.
  12. It’s the duty of Baha’i followers to recognize God through his messengers, and conform to the faith’s teachings.
  13. At death a human’s soul is described as separating from the body to the next world where it is judged for its actions in the physical world.
  14. Humanity is viewed as essentially one with its diversity or race, and culture worthy of appreciation.
  15. Artificial impediments are considered as those based on the doctrines of racism, nationalism, caste, and gender-based hierarchy