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Five Major Religions

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Religion has played an important part in the history of our world. Religious teachings have shaped the lives of people since prehistoric times. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have been major influences in the formation of Western culture. They have also played an important role in the development of Middle Eastern life. Asian civilizations have been affected by Buddhist teachings.

Religion has been a major source of inspiration for the arts. Houses of worship are some of the world's most beautiful buildings. A lot of great music is religious. Many paintings, sculptures, books, dances, and motion pictures have been created with religious themes.

The five religions summarized in this story have a combined membership of 3 1/2 to 4 billion people. This is about 80 percent of the world's total population.

JUDAISM is the world's oldest, a religion of just one people: the Jews. They were the first to teach belief in only one God. Two other important religions developed from Judaism: Christianity and Islam.

Jews think that God will send a Messiah (a deliverer) to unite them and lead them in His way. Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jewish people do not agree; they anticipate His arrival in the future.

Judaism teaches that death is not the end and that there is a world to come. Precise details of the afterlife are not part of Jewish belief.

The "Torah," the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, is the most important Jewish scripture. It contains the basic laws of Judaism. Another important book is the "Talmud," serving primarily as a guide to the civil and religious laws of Judaism.

The Jewish house of worship is called a synagogue. Rabbis (spiritual leaders) conduct services, act as interpreters of Jewish laws, and deliver sermons. Assisting with Jewish services is the cantor; he chants the prayers and may also direct a choir.

Today there are over 18 million followers of Judaism scattered throughout the world. A large number of those people live in the Jewish nation of Israel. Over six million live in the United States.

CHRISTIANITY is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Followers are called "Christians." They believe in one God who created the universe and continues to care for it. Their God sent his son Jesus (called the "Messiah") into the world to save humanity from sin and to make eternal life possible for them. That son died to accomplish this purpose. This is the same God that followers of Judaism worship.

Christians believe they can be delivered from sin through their belief in Jesus. If they repent their sinful ways, they will be forgiven; after death, they will be judged and either rewarded or punished.

The sacred book of Christianity is the "Bible." It consists of two parts: (1) The Old Testament describes life before the birth of Jesus; parts of this scripture is identical to a sacred book of Judaism; (2) The New Testament describes the life and teaching of Jesus, how the early church developed, and explains what faith in Jesus means.

Christianity is divided into a number of individual denominations. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination with over a billion followers worldwide. Protestants number nearly 400 million; they include such churches as Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian.

Christianity is the major religion in Europe and the entire Western Hemisphere (all of the Americas).

ISLAM is the name given to the religion preached by the prophet Muhammad in the 600s A. D. He was an Arab born in Mecca who believed he had been sent by God (Allah) to guide his people and be their messenger. People who believe these ideas are called Muslims. Islam in Arabic means "submission," and Muslim translates to "one who submits" (to God). There is only one religion which has more followers worldwide than Islam: that religion is Christianity with its many denominations.

The holy book of Islam is the "Koran." Muslims believe its words to be those of Allah himself, spoken to Muhammad by an angel. Parts of the Koran resemble the Christian Bible. It contains stories about the prophets who appear in the Old Testament and stories from the New Testament about Jesus.

Muslims learn that life on earth is a period of testing and preparation for the life to come. Angels record good and bad deeds. People should behave themselves and help others, trusting in Allah's justice and mercy for their reward.

Muslims pray five times daily in their mosques (churches). While praying, they face the holy city of Mecca (in Saudi-Arabia) and sometimes kneel with faces to the ground.

All Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage (trip to a sacred place) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

HINDUISM is one of the world's oldest religions. It was named for the Indus River in India where it began over 4,000 years ago. Over 2/3's of the world's Hindus live there; large numbers reside in Africa also. Hindus believe



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