Q 1. Briefly define and discuss Streng’s concepts of ultimate dimension and ultimate reality. Choose one of these concepts and explain how it manifests in one of the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity or Islam – and give an example to back up your explanation.
According to Frederick Streng (1985), the ultimate dimension of religious expression is achieved when a person reaches a deep sensitivity of the ultimate reality and has an action plan to continue seeing that reality. The ultimate dimension is where a person belongs when he is working toward his ultimate transformation. The ultimate dimension can be the reality that a person sees as he develops his frame of reference to distinguish between what is right and what is significant for him. The ultimate reality is one of the common experience or expression of the ultimate dimension as it is the process for people to establish their values of life. When people decided what is right and what is significant for them, they build their identity and an understanding of the reasons behind their behaviours (Streng, p.6) . In turn, this ultimate frame of reference, which we called “wisdom”, allows them to further develop themselves into greater beings. The ultimate reality can be seen differently according to different people’s perceptions. One of the means to reach ultimate transformation is through religion as it helps people to be aware of the cosmic order by performing scared rite or an ethical act. In Islamic traditions, Muslims need observe the Five Pillars of Islam which are to bear witness, to pray, to do almsgiving, to fast during Ramadan and to do a pilgrimage to Makkah. Those rites of worship are to train the mind into understanding God’s sacred laws through practicing the way of living like the Prophet Muhammad. The sacred laws, which were revealed by God through His chosen prophets, are to guide humanity to not fear or grieve (Ayoub, p. 69). They were first transmitted orally for centuries until they were written and organized into the Qur’an. Different interpretations of Qur’an and sunnah have encouraged the development of various religious schools such as Islamic mysticism. In extreme cases, some followers have proclaimed their direct relationship with God through rigorous asceticism and divine love. For example, in Rabi’ah’s ultimate reality, the only way to understand God’s sacred laws is to love God so passionately that her entire focus is on Him and not in desiring for paradise or fearing hell. This method allowed her to distinguish what is real for her and what is not. This connection with the reality allows Rabi’ah to live beyond her limits and away “from the destructive forces of everyday existence” (Streng, p.3). No one has the right answer to what is the ultimate reality, but everyone builds their own definition when they reached the level of ultimate dimension. However, we know that seeing the ultimate reality can be a source of “joy, goodness, balance or power” (Streng, pp.7-8).
Q 2. According to Streng, the cultural dimension of religion includes historical conditions. Briefly define cultural dimension and then discuss some of the historical conditions during the time of Jesus, as well as those during the rise of Islam and the life of Mohammed.
All religions have been marked by their historical past The cultural dimension of religion plays an important role in influencing the development of a person and community’s expression of their ultimate values because it is the basic framework of references of a person or community’s historical, social ,economical and political systems at a given time and place. Those underlying contextual references affect how people organize the expressions of their beliefs, values and behaviours.
During the time of Jesus, he was known to teach about God and heal people. He was referred to as the Messiah, which is defined as a figure, who helped the Jews overcome the national captivity and religious persecution they were suffering under the Roman Empire (Cox, 34). Romans had power over Jewish people because they were the ruling empire. Religion was absent in the society they were living in. The Romans held pagan views and did not accept a variety of religious traditions. Jesus challenged their tradition, and with that became an influential leader and an icon to humanity. He challenged the upper class people and told them that they did not have sympathy for the less fortunate of people. Therefore, the Romans eventually persecuted Jesus and his people. For instance, the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed holy temples and places of worship, causing numerous Jews to flee the city, known as the Diaspora. Due to the fact that Romans held a superior militaristic force, they killed anyone who was seen as a threat to their society. For example, Jesus’ crucifixion was ordered by the elites since his message of a new kingdom threatened the Roman political reign. Jesus’ righteousness towards women, prostitutes, and the poor were viewed as unacceptable by the Roman Empire, causing him to be condemned. To this day, Jesus’ struggle is admired and appreciated by many.
Another example of historical events impacted on cultural dimension is the story behind the rise of Islamic faith. Islam flourished in the city of Makkah where it was a busy crossroad for trade and exchange of ideas. This cultural openness allowed the worshipping of various deities and acceptance of pre-existent Jewish and Christian cultural values or practices. The pre-Islamic Arabs viewed Allah as the supreme creator, but he was one of the many deities that Arabs worshipped. In addition, they “believed that time was synonymous with death or fate”; therefore, Arabs did not believe in afterdeath experiences and enjoyed life materialistic pleasures instead to live their lives to the fullest (Ayoub, p. 66). Politically, the country was divided among the leadership of numerous tribes. Therefore, a membership to a tribe is very crucial in gaining protection from persecution. It was under those circumstances that Muhammad was born and lived. Due to the initial influence from Christian and Jewish faiths, Arabs were already acquainted with the idea of monotheism and expectation of a prophet’s arrival to save humanity. Therefore, it was not surprising for those people to hear about his disapproval of idol worship of his people and experience of God’s revelation. However, Muhammad’s new ideology demanded religious, social and moral changes that challenged the tribes’ powers. Since his uncle passed away, Muhammad was also persecuted until he arbitrated between two feuding tribes and reunited them into one new Muslim community. Afterwards, this event marked the start of the growth of Islam and transformed many customs of the Arab community.
Q 3. Define Streng’s concept of the personal dimension of religion. As an example of this, discuss the Five Pillars of Islam, giving a brief description of each. Which Pillar does M. Ayoub associate with granted the status of “protected peoples” to non-Muslims? Explain why.
According to Streng, the personal dimension of religion is defined as a person’s own interpretation of a religious life. This internal process demands a person to form reactions, decisions and meanings towards the different aspects of religion from his life experiences(4). For example, Islam traditions recognize that humans can choose to totally submit to God’s will or to reject this faith. Therefore, it is a choice to recognize God and Muhammad’s way of life as a guide to God’s kingdom. There are Five Pillars of Islam, which are rites of worship representing the stepping stones of Muhammad’s transformation to a faithful servant of God. The first pillar is to declare that there is only one God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. The second pillar is to perform obligatory prayers five times a day. The prayers followed a prescribed structure and wording originated from the opening surah and Qur’an. Ritual washing is performed before each prayer to remove impurities. Almsgiving is the third pillar which consists of offering money or other gifts to the poor and needy. This rite of worship is “to purifies a person from greed and attachment to material possessions” (77). The zakat is an obligatory welfare tax of 2.5 per cent applied on the surplus of income earned by Muslims. The fourth pillar of Islam is fasting during Ramadan to honour the special month when the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. During this month-long fast, Muslims must not eat food, drink, smoke and have sexual relations until sunset in order to devote their mind to the worship of God. Finally, the fifth pillar is to do a pilgrimage to Makkah in remembrance of the experience of Abraham, whom the Qur’an recognizes as ” the father of all prophets and the first true Muslim “(78).
The pillar among the Five Pillars of Islam that is associated with granted the status of ” protected peoples’ to non-Muslims is Shahadah or bearing witness. This rite of worship consists of declaring that there is only one God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are shared the common view that there is one God who is the “sovereign Lord, creator and sustainer of all things”(Ayoub, p.65). Therefore, everyone who is Christian or Jew is also considered as “People of the Book” and is allowed to obtain the status of protected people if they make a declaration of the shahadah to become Muslim (Ayoub, p.75). Muslims believe that the only one who can judge a person’s faith in God is God himself and that people will only discover the truth on the Day of Judgement. Islam is characterised by its inclusive nature as it recognizes prophets from the Old and New Testament and believes that Muhammad was another messenger of God to give the final revelation. Muslims believe that God uses prophets and messengers to transmit His intentions through scriptures and implement his sacred laws in the communities(Ayoub, p.69). According to the Islamic tradition, there are differences between prophets and messengers. Prophets are the ones who need to transmit a message from God to his people while messengers are prophets who need to transmit God’s message and implement a set of sacred rules to help his people to be aware of “their obligations to the one and only sovereign Lord and warn them against heedlessness and disobedience” (Ayoub, 69) . The five main prophets are Noah, Abraham , Moses, Jesus and Muhammad . Therefore, the second declaration of Muhammad as the Messenger of God is important to assert a person’s commitment to Islam.
Q 4. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are often referred to as Biblical faiths. Define the origins of and describe the sacred text of each of these religions. Refer to the shared concepts of Creation, Revelation, Redemption and Covenant to discuss the differences and similarities among the three scriptures.
The three religions Christianity, Islam, and Judaism shared numerous similarities and differences in their teachings. The first similarity is that those three religions are monotheistic, which means that they believe in only One God (Epstein 24). Their holy books all somehow relate to the Christian Bible, since the Old Testament is actually the Hebrew Bible (the Torah), and Islam’s Qur’an contains many of the same holy figures, such as Abraham and his youngest son Ishmael as well as Jesus being a miracle (Ayoub 71). In my opinion, Judaism and Islam are more closely related than Christianity. For example, the rise of Judaism began with the story of Abraham and his sons, which resulted in the establishment of Israel. Also, all three faiths’ holy books, the Torah, Qur’an, and the Bible, shared the major concepts of the Old Testament and acknowledge Abraham as the founding patriarch who was the first to make a covenant with God (Epstein 12). Therefore, these religions all originated from a common source and have evolved into separate faiths, although the core of ideology of their faiths is very similar. Judaism was around for a long time even before Roman religion, but the religion of Christianity was developed from Judaism by introducing Jesus as the son of God and the Messiah. Islam seems to be a combination of both religions Judaism and Christianity, except with the addition of the prophet Mohammed, who was the founder of Islam. Judaism and Islam share common practices like fasting , almsgiving and dietary laws, such as the prohibition of eating pork. Lawful food in Judaism and Islam are the same and mainly differ by name (Kosher for Judaism and Halal for Islam.). Similarly, both religions practice circumcision for men. However, all of these three religions believe in one divine God, the Father of all creations. This causes them to each celebrate various holidays such as Ramadan , Lent and Passover, in which they must complete a series of rituals and fasting to focus in worshipping God. In addition, Christians believe that God has three personas, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but both Islam and Judaism disagree with the Christian belief in the Trinity and viewing Jesus as God because they believe that the idea of Jesus as God violates the idea of monotheism and was idolatry, which is strictly forbidden in both faiths (Ayoub, 69). Finally, all three faiths believe in the afterlife and are concerned with repenting their sins to free their souls from the Day of Judgment, when God will punish the sinners and reward those who follow his teachings(Ayoub,74) .
Q 5. In Epstein’s articles, he concludes that the cornerstones of Judaism are the belief in one God and Israel’s responsibility to God. Discuss this statement with specific reference to:
The reason why Epstein states that the cornerstones of Judaism are the belief in one God and Israel’s responsibility to God because it was believed that God share a covenant with Abraham first who had the responsibility to influenced his people to give up in worshipping many deities and to worship in one God to have salvation. From the Book of Genesis, God promised Abraham that through his offspring, all the nations of the world would be blessed. Abraham was the one who informed Jews about the importance of circumcising their male babies in order to hold a covenant with God. Judaism along with Christianity follows the life of Abraham’s oldest son Isaac. The Hebrew prophets are believed to be descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac (Ayoub 71). The Talmud contains the heart and minds of people seeking God and is founded on Scripture, which its teachings are in the direct line of development from those in the Torah, Prophets, and the Holy Writings (Espstein 24). Judaism’s mission was to free individuals from their false beliefs and worship of other Gods and to focus on a monotheistic belief. Judaism accepts that God loves all races and that he chose the people of Israel to spread his word and teachings. The practice of Jewish faith was only attainable by the people of Israel since they were believed to be the direct descendants of biblical ancestors from God and were chosen by God to spread His word. It was very difficult to convert to Judaism at this time since you had to be born into a Jewish family to be considered a Jewish person. A religious practice that cherish the worship of one God is the Passover, which is a Jewish holiday commemorating the Jews’ escape from their enslavement in Egypt. The Bible states that God had sent out ten plagues upon the Egyptians before they released their Hebrew slaves, with the tenth plague being killing of any first-born son (book of Exodus). The Hebrews were instructed by God to mark their homes’ doors with the blood of a lamb, so that the plagues would literally pass over their homes, hence the holiday’s name Passover. The Egyptian Pharaoh finally liberated the Hebrews, but they left in a very big hurry and did not leave enough time for their bread to rise. This is why during Passover, Jews eat unleavened bread, or Matza. The Jewish holiday Passover mainly stresses the component of Redemption since it bears a reminder of the salvation of the Jews and how God helped to free them by instructing them on how to avoid the plague. It shows what kind of struggles Jewish people had to endure in order for Judaism to be accepted in ancient Egypt. Today, Passover is celebrated as a holiday or festival of freedom from enslavement as well as a festival dedicated to the one almighty God, the Lord. The book of Exodus states that all generations of Jews as an eternal decree will celebrate the holiday of Passover by eating unleavened bread for seven days.