the gapanese invasion is nigh!

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Monday, January 07, 2008

of history and religion

Judaism, Islam and Christianity are somewhat interrelated religions despite their differences. Their interconnection stems from the fact that they, as three of the world’s major religions, share commonalities in many aspects. Firstly, all of them emerged from the Middle East. Judaism evolved from the beliefs of Jews regarding God’s plan for them since the Judah nation split from Israel. On the other hand, Islam was founded in Mecca in the midst of idol-worshiping Arab tribes. Meanwhile, Christianity rose first as a sect then as a new religion at a time when Roman-ruled Jewish Zealots were engulfed in turmoil in Palestine. Secondly, all these religions are monotheistic, or having belief in one God. At a time when polytheism or multiple-god divination was widespread, Judaism and Christianity believed in an all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present God while Islam believed in that one God too, named Allah. Thirdly, all three passed through some periods of persecution, lasting even up to this day and, ironically, conducted by one to the other. The Jews still suffer their lack of homeland as they have suffered in the past for breaking away from Israel . On the other hand, the Muslims did not get immediate welcome in Mecca (hence, the Hegira or flight to Medina) when the prophet Muhammad preached among the Arabs there—the polytheists feared displacement of their religion while the merchants feared loss of business from devotees visiting the previously polytheistic Kaaba shrine. In a contemporary update on the homefront, the 2006 Religious Freedom report by the United States State Department says that Filipino Muslims get discriminated ethnically, religiously and economically by Filipino Christians, resulting to unceasing conflict in southern Philippine provinces. Meanwhile, Christians anguished before the persecuting Roman Empire for several instances before being tolerated and declared as official imperial religion. Lastly, all three honor Abraham, Moses and the prophets and preach ethical worldview developed by the Israelites.
However, these similarities among the three are also bereft with differences that often sprout tension-filled issues. Firstly, the three base their religions on a holy book: Torah for the Jews, Bible for the Christians and Quran for the Muslims. What is controversial is the Quran’s claim to have the final, complete revelation from God while the first two, only partial revelations. Sometimes, the issue also boils down to whose prophet are the God’s words truly revealed: Muhammad of Islam, or Jesus of Christianity? Lastly, the three commonly hold sacred the Israeli capital of Jerusalem , but for different religious motives that cause deep-seated conflict. For one, the Israeli government has taken refuge of Jews, to the chagrin of feeling-displaced Muslim Arabs. The British Balfour Declaration started the decades-long deepened strife in the region, with both Palestinian Arabs and Jews claiming historical right to the land.
Jerusalem is sanctified to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jews hold it holy in that the Biblical homeland Zion and Jerusalem are practically synonymous—it is not beyond the Jews struck with the Jerusalem consciousness to refer to this home as a Zion for the people that they are. There is also what remains of a great wall which the Jews visit in Jerusalem , which in the past was turned into cultural and political seat by Israeli Kings David and Solomon. On the other hand, Christians hold it holy in that the mystery of incarnation and redemption has occurred there, alluding to the proximity of Jesus Christ’ birthplace to the city. Also, since Israel on which Jerusalem is found is the Biblical Promised Land, Christians view the capital as earthly as well as heavenly city of God . Meanwhile, Muslims hold it holy in that it is the site of the Dome of the Rock, believed to be the spot where Muhammad ascended into heaven. As it is one of the holiest places for Muslims, feeling-discriminated Arabs insist that the status of Jerusalem be part of any final peace pact in spite of the Israeli annexation that resulted to the claiming of the entire city as undivided capital and, therefore, a Jewish- and Christian-prejudiced holy land. Now as Jerusalem get intersected among the three religions, it is rather ironic that what is spiritually regarded as city of peace has suffered bloodshed, warfare, hatred, conquests and strife than any other city existing. Jerusalem has been dragged into spiritual and symbolic debates promoting political propaganda and clash of nationalisms, most begging of which is the current-day Jewish quest for homeland in war-torn Palestine and the Christian sense of spiritualism in Israel at the expense of Islamic marginalization of the Palestinian Arabs. The religious mixture in the streets of Jerusalem is always frayed with tension because of the slow-to-progress peace negotiation between the conflicting Arabs and Israelis.
As Judaism, Islam and Christianity have been given a sweeping overview above, let me discuss briefly one other major religion, Buddhism, and the culture enveloping it. The foothills of the Himalayas saw the rise of Buddhism when Prince Siddharta Gautama of Nepal became severely disturbed by the anguish brought about by old age, sickness and poverty. After a bedeviled meditation, he became enlightened as to the Four Noble Truths, namely: life is full of sufferings, desire causes these sufferings, the cure to these sufferings is overcoming desire, and overcoming desire means following the eightfold path to nirvana. This eightfold path is the counterpart of Islam’s Five Pillars, and Judaism’s and Christianity’s Ten Commandments. All these moral-ethical worldviews toward God and toward fellow humans seem to have wedged devotees from one another. While they all preached obedience in order to achieve paradise and to escape a hellish afterlife, outsiders to their religion get discriminated, as in the Palestinian Arab’s case with the Jew-populated Jerusalem , or the Muslim’s marginalization in Christian-dominated Philippines . This is so much unlike some Buddhist practitioners who can concurrently believe in Christian God (as may be gleaned in the case of not a few Chinese families like mine in the Philippines ) or Muslims who respectfully refer to Jews and Christians as People of the Book, or fellow religious whose faith must be tolerated. Because of the oppressive stance of seeming-dominant Christians, Islamic extremists give an eye for an eye, as may be explained by the 9/11 US tragedy, or the forced conversion of war prisoners in Arab countries like Iran , Afghanistan and Iraq . Learning the diversity of these major religions may bring about initial confusion and tension among fundamentalist believers, but if only each one were more tolerant and respectful of the learned culture, principles and practices of one another, then Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhist can blissfully coexist in this earthly dimension. What diversity matters when the faithful execute the humanitarian love commanded of them by their religion?

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