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What Does It Mean to Be Religious

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Module two - Name of Trainee: Sharonjit Kaur Bassi

What does it mean to be religious? Discuss with specific reference to Buddhism, Judaism and Islam

Religious behaviour can often seem strange to the outsider. Why should people meet together for an hour or so on a Sunday morning, and stand, sit or kneel at predetermined intervals, sing hymns, perhaps burn incense and light candles and do many more things that would be regarded as downright bizarre if an individual performed them outside the context of organised worship. As we shall see different people are religious for different reasons. Some believers feel that their everyday lives are enhanced by worship. Other believers may hope for more definite benefits, like healing or coping with a disappointment or bereavement. Some feel like religion offers guidance for life in the form of moral code, and hence improves their way of living. Others may have concerns such as what happens after they die, and how they can achieve salvation or liberation, attaining whatever hope their religion offers.

Intrigued by Rudolf Otto’s (the idea of the holy, 1917) concept of ‘Holy’ as a key to understanding religion; Ninain Smart found this too constricting. As an alternative, he suggested that religious experience can be either numinous or mystical. Smart examined what he considered to be key religious concepts, such a revelation, faith, conversion and knowledge and analysed what these meant to religions. As a result, Smart developed the ‘six dimensions of religion’ model, ‘The religious experience of mankind’ (1969). Smart’s original six dimensional compromised of practical and ritual, narrative and mythological, doctrinal and philosophical, experimental and emotional, ethical and legal and social and institutional (1969; 15-25). Smart later added the ‘material’ to the dimension in ‘the world religions’ (1989). However, Smart equally recognised “there are religious movements or manifestations where one or other dimensions are so weak as to be virtually absent.”

In this essay I aim to apply Smart’s seven dimensional model to the following world religions, Buddhism; Islam and Judaism.

The ritual or practical dimension is the aspect of religion which involves such activities as worship, meditation, pilgrimage, sacrifice rites and healing activities. Although the mediation is not regarded as a ritual, however it is often strictly patterned, (Evans-Pritchard, 1965).

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Reasons for its popularity are quite simple, it is extremely sophisticated religion. The basic tenets can be easily grasped by anyone; it avoids needless paradox and mystery, and it is responsible for one of the truly prodigious civilizations in the world.

Muslims have religious duties which are laid down for them, in addition to ethical and social duties. The religious duties have been given to shape Muslim practices through time, and assists to justify for significant unity of movement which has not required a hierarchy of priests. They are established by the ‘five pillars’ of Islam. These are the repetition of the creed (shahadah) of Islam, La ilaha illa Allah: Muhammad rasul Allah, prayer, almsgiving; fasting and pilgrimage. These pillars are paramount and to be upheld by each Muslim to gain………………..

Prayer is core of the Muslim religious life. The collective rule for Muslims is to pray five times a day. The Qur’an does not lay this down as a rule, but it is believed that the practice goes back to the Prophet Muhammed. A Muslim is expected to pray at dawn, noon, in the mid-afternoon, at sunset and at the onset of darkness. This obligation to pray at least five times a day is the minimum, as they are opportunities to remember God where each devotee serves, compassion; mercy and justice.  During the time of prayer Muslims will unroll their prayer mat and bow down towards the direction of Mecca. The prayer mat is often decorated with flowers and birds like a garden as this resembles what paradise is like. So symbolically the Muslim make a little oasis, a little heavenly place where they can pray. As they unroll their rug, they mark off their holy space from the impious space around them wherever they maybe. Prior to commencing prayer, a Muslim will wash themselves to prepare to get in a state to communicate with Allah. They will bow down and touch their forehead on the ground, this allows them to expresses their humility through their body to God. This also resembles Allah’s vast, infinite superiority. Bowing towards Mecca is the centre of the universe and the place most charged with power and holiness. The city of Mecca is where Allah revealed himself primarily to Prophet Muhammed, so the connection between heaven and earth had its most energetic expression there. Furthermore, bowing towards Mecca the Muslim aligns themselves with more than the place of revelation but their solidarity with all others who face mecca. The prayer allows them open up a path to heaven.

Moreover, Friday is a special day to set aside for observances. Congregational worship is central at the mosque, which, though simple and unadorned with images in accordance with the Muslim perspective of images as idolatrous. There is a semi-circular adjournment known as the mihrab; this allows Muslims to face towards Mecca. Prayers are led by a prayer leader, imam and the congregation will prostrate at the appropriate times. In addition, it is common practice that the imam will preach, clarifying Muslim doctrine.

The Qur’an clearly states that fasting is paramount and beneficial during the month of Ramadan, as it was when the Koran was sent down to be a guidance to the people and as clear signs to the guidance and salvation. Those who are able to fast should do so and those who cannot due to health or other commitments should fulfil the fast at an appropriate time as you will also reap the fruit of God’s guidance and be grateful of this. Sura 2: 181, p.24.

The ritual of fasting helps overcome the human tendency to shut God out of our lives. the obligation to keep such ritual ensures that God remains our top priority. It allows Muslims to remember the compassion of the creator during Ramadan. During the daylight hours of Ramadan, no food or drink should be consumed. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, it allows Muslims to fast and celebrate the rhythmic turning around compassion of the creator.



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