Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
I just googled and searched in Encyclopedia Britannica to find the definition of the terms, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh. Britannica defined only one of these terms or religious group. For others I had to go to Wikipedia. It says about a Jew:
Jew, Hebrew Yĕhūdhī, or Yehudi, any person whose religion is Judaism. In the broader sense of the term, a Jew is any person belonging to the worldwide group that constitutes, through descent or conversion, a continuation of the ancient Jewish people, who were themselves descendants of the Hebrews of the Old Testament. In ancient times, a Yĕhūdhī was originally a member of Judah—i.e., either of the tribe of Judah (one of the 12 tribes that took possession of the Promised Land) or of the subsequent Kingdom of Judah (in contrast to the rival Kingdom of Israel to the north). The Jewish people as a whole, initially called Hebrews (ʿIvrim), were known as Israelites (Yisreʾelim) from the time of their entrance into the Holy Land to the end of the Babylonian Exile (538 bc).
Wikipedia defines a Christian:
A Christian ( pronunciation (help·info)) is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. “Christian” derives from the Koine Greek word Christ, a translation of the Biblical Hebrew term Messiah.
Central to the Christian faith is the gospel, the teaching that humans have hope for salvation through the message and work of Jesus, and particularly, his atoning death on the cross. Christians also believe Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. Most Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity (“tri-unity”), a description of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This includes the vast majority of churches in Christianity, although a minority are Non-trinitarians.
The term “Christian” is also used adjectivally to describe anything associated with Christianity, or in a proverbial sense “all that is noble, and good, and Christ-like.” It is also used as a label to identify people who associate with the cultural aspects of Christianity, irrespective of personal religious beliefs or practices.
Wikipedia defines a Muslim:
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the Qur’an—which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad—and, with lesser authority than the Qur’an, the teachings and practices of Muhammad as recorded in traditional accounts, called hadith. “Muslim” is an Arabic word meaning “one who submits to God”.
Muslims believe that God is eternal, transcendent, absolutely one (the doctrine of tawhid, or strict or simple monotheism), and incomparable; that he is self-sustaining, who begets not nor was begotten. Muslim beliefs regarding God are summed up in chapter 112 of the Qur’an, al-Ikhlas, “the chapter of purity”. Muslims also believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed at many times and places before, including through the prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Muslims maintain that previous messages and revelations have been partially changed or corrupted over time, but consider the Qur’an to be both unaltered and the final revelation from God—Final Testament.
Most Muslims accept as a Muslim anyone who has publicly pronounced the Shahadah (declaration of faith) which states, “I testify that there is no god except for the God [Allah], and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Their basic religious practices are enumerated in the Five Pillars of Islam, which, in addition to Shahadah, consist of daily prayers (salat), fasting during Ramadan (sawm), almsgiving (zakat), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) at least once in a lifetime.
So, far so good. It is reassuring to note: Most Muslims accept as a Muslim anyone who has publicly pronounced the Shahadah (declaration of faith) which states, “I testify that there is no god except for the God [Allah], and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Wikipedia defines a Hindu:
Hindu ( pronunciation (help·info)) refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word “Hindu” is attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion (i.e. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism or Sikhism). In common use today, it refers to an adherent of Hinduism.
The core beliefs of Hinduism that are generally accepted by many of its practitioners are Avatar Vada, Ekeshwaravada (One Supreme Divine Reality), Veda Praman (Authority of the Vedas), Atman, Karma, Yoga, Ahimsa, Four Puruṣārthas, Varnashrama dharma and Punarjanma (Reincarnation) .
Wikipedia defines a Sikh:
The Sikh religion was founded by a man called Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It is stated in the Sikh texts that Guru Nanak while in deep meditation by a river was called to the court of God where he received direct revelations from God for three days. It is stated that God asked Nanak to drink from the cup of Naam (Path/Essence of God) and then promoted Nanak to the highest of all status. From there on he was known as Guru Nanak so that he could teach the world that there is one God, that all humanity is one, and that religious divisions are manmade. The Guru spread his many taught revelations wherever he travelled and demonstrated many miracles when necessary. Near the end of his life the Guru had many followers from many walks of life and religions. The Guruship was consecutively passed down to nine other Gurus, who were stated to have the divine light of God with them. These Gurus strengthened and expanded the Sikh religion and the revelations of God. The final and last Guruship was given to the total combined teaching of the Gurus known as the Sikh holy book/guide The Guru Granth Sahib Ji. .
According to Article I of the “Rehat Maryada” (the Sikh code of conduct and conventions), a Sikh is defined as “any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being; ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Sri Guru Gobind Singh; Sri Guru Granth Sahib; the teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru; and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion”. Sikhs believe in the equality of humankind, the concept of universal brotherhood of man and One Supreme God (Ik Onkar).
Study of definitions was reassuring, but, for a Muslim happiness is fleeting, as soon as he or she reads that in a recent Pew Forum poll many a Sunni Muslims consider Shia Muslims as non-Muslims. These Sunni Muslims have continued to harbor prejudices from medieval times, against Shia Muslims that are completely counterproductive in this day and age of our Global village. In this Poll, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has defined, what joins and separates the Muslims. There is a 164 page report of the poll that took 38,000 face to face interviews. Let us review how the Sunni Muslims perceive their Shia brethren and sisters in faith in different countries:
The survey asked Muslims whether they identify with various branches of Islam and about their attitudes toward other branches or subgroups. While these sectarian differences are important in some countries, the survey suggests that many Muslims around the world either do not know or do not care about them.
Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa tend to be most keenly aware of the distinction between the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia.2 (See text box for definitions.) In most countries surveyed in the region, at least 40% of Sunnis do not accept Shias as fellow Muslims. In many cases, even greater percentages do not believe that some practices common among Shias, such as visiting the shrines of saints, are acceptable as part of Islamic tradition. Only in Lebanon and Iraq – nations where sizable populations of Sunnis and Shias live side by side – do large majorities of Sunnis recognize Shias as fellow Muslims and accept their distinctive practices as part of Islam.
Outside of the Middle East and North Africa, the distinction between Sunni and Shia appears to be of lesser consequence. In many of the countries surveyed in Central Asia, for instance, most Muslims do not identify with either branch of Islam, saying instead that they are “just a Muslim.” A similar pattern prevails in Southern and Eastern Europe, where pluralities or majorities in all countries identify as “just a Muslim.” In some of these countries, decades of communist rule may have made sectarian distinctions unfamiliar. But identification as “just a Muslim” is also prevalent in many countries without a communist legacy. For example, in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, 26% of Muslims describe themselves as Sunnis, compared with 56% who say they are “just a Muslim” and 13% who do not give a definite response.
Read further in the Pew Forum Website.
Roza of Imam Hussain
Azerbaijan came out to be most rational in this regards, where 90% consider Shia to be Muslims. Kosovo and Indonesia were the worst in this regard as can be noted in the graph. However, one of the biggest ironies was that Pakistan, a nation once founded to be the homeland of Muslims, is now bickering over who gets to be called a Muslim. Pew Research Center has exposed the depth of sectarian fault lines in Pakistan, where only one in every two Sunni Muslims accepts Shias as Muslims. While many believed that such extreme sectarian views were held only by the fanatics lying at the margin, the Pew Center’s findings reveal that such intolerant and extremist views are in fact mainstream in Pakistan. Even Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a Shia Muslim and the Founder of Pakistan, today would have been considered as non-Muslim, strictly speaking, by the blind followers of narrow minded Sunni scholars, almost half of the Pakistan population.
Yesterday, I read in the CNN that Mohammed reclaimed its place as the most popular name for baby boys born in England and Wales in 2011 – convincingly ahead of Harry, in second place, according to data released by the government this week. The government declared that Harry was the most popular boy’s name, but if you add up the five most popular different spellings of Mohammed, that name comes top. I will not be surprised if the these so called Ulema (pseudo-scholars) from Pakistan, rather than taking pleasure in this development, may want to investigate, if Shia or Ahmadi Muslims are naming their children as Mohammed and pretending to be Muslims They would rather picket to get legislation to ban such ‘unIslamic’ practices. These pseudo-scholars, indeed, have such laws in Pakistan, at least against the Ahmadi Muslims.
May Allah open the hearts and minds of all of us!
We as a nation of Muslims need to grow beyond these medieval prejudices in the 21st century and the Pew Forum is holding mirror to us. Anyone who calls himself or herself a Muslim is a Muslim and God will be the final Judge, in the hereafter. These divisions may have served some politics in the past, but, not any more! We do not have to divide and weaken the Muslims, in an age when we are trying to find what unites humanity rather than what divides us. It is a Global village and we need broader and universal perspectives.