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Hinduism (part 1 of 4): What is Hinduism?

 

Hinduism1.jpgThis is the first article in a series discussing Hinduism
from a comparative religions perspective.  Although as Muslims we believe
wholeheartedly that there is only One God and Mohammad is His messenger, and
that Islam is the religion of those who are submitted to God, these articles
are not intended to denigrate other religions or their followers. Our intention
is, as the title suggests, to compare religions.

Hinduism[1]
 is the religion of the majority of people residing in India and Nepal. There
are also large numbers of adherents scattered across the globe. Hinduism is the
third largest religion in the world with approximately 950 million followers
behind Christianity and Islam. It is sometimes thought of as the oldest living
religion with elements that stretch back thousands of years, many scholars
suggesting that it began more than 4000 years before the Common Era.

Hinduism which derives its name from the Persian name
for river, originated in the Indus river valley. It is a collection of
practices and beliefs with no single founder, no single scripture and no single
set of beliefs. Hinduism is also closely conceptually and historically
associated with the other predominantly Indian religions Jainism, Buddhism and
Sikhism.

Central to Hindu worship is the image, or icon, which is
worshipped either at home or in a temple. Worship to them is primarily an
individual act rather than a communal one, as it involves making personal
offerings to the deity and chanting or repeating  the names of favourite gods
and goddesses. Water, fruit, flowers and incense are  offered and pilgrimage to
various stones, rivers, mountains and temples is thought to be seen by the
particular deity being worshipped.

Hinduism is frequently described as a polytheistic
religion due to the vast array of gods and deities, often based on needs or
regions, and worship that almost always focuses on sculptures and images.
However there are many who define Hinduism as monotheistic because of the
belief in the supreme God – Brahman, whose qualities and forms are represented
by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. Brahman is a Sanskrit word
which refers to a transcendent power beyond the universe often translated as
God whom it is said, can have unlimited forms and expressions.

There are also those who view
Hinduism as
 Trinitarian because Brahman is simultaneously visualized as a triad.
The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation,
upkeep and destruction of the world.  They are Brahma,(who should not be
confused with Brahman, the supreme god energy), Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is
responsible for the creation, Vishnu is the preserver of the universe, while
Shiva’s role is to destroy it in order to re-create.

Hinduism has many scriptures; the Vedas, the Upanishads,
and the Bhagavad-Gita are considered the most important. Most Hindus believe
the soul, or atman, is eternal, and goes through a cycle of birth, death, and
rebirth (samsara) determined by one’s positive or negative karma, or the
consequences of one’s actions. The goal of religious life is to learn to act so
as to finally achieve liberation (moksha) of one’s soul, escaping the rebirth
cycle.

It is difficult to answer the question, is Hinduism
polytheistic, pantheistic or monotheistic? We arrive at various answers from
various sources, all equally correct according to each understanding of
Hinduism. Hinduism worships multiple forms of the one God.[2]  According
to the tenets of Hinduism, God is one as well as many.[3]  Hindus
believe in monotheistic polytheism, rather than polytheism.[4]  Even
though Hinduism is mistakenly regarded by many as a religion having many gods
namely, polytheism, yet truly speaking Hinduism is a monotheistic religion.[5]

Religion Facts[6]
 tries to make sense of the differing definitions by saying that, ‘Although
“monotheism” literally means belief in the existence of one God, the
term has come to denote belief in a God who created and is distinct from the
universe. Pantheism is the view that God is essentially identical with the universe
and totally immanent in the world: God is the universe and the universe is God.
Thus pantheism seems to be the most accurate label for Hinduism. The “with
polytheistic elements” qualifier is added because the Supreme Being of
Hinduism is most often worshipped in the form of multiple deities. However, it
must be noted that this is a generalization that does not describe the beliefs
of all Hindus. Some regard the universe as created by and essentially distinct
from God, and are therefore “monotheistic” in the traditional sense.’

In just a few short paragraphs we have attempted to sum
up thousands of years of traditions that have come about via freedom of belief
and practice.  There are ten basic human values inherent in Hinduism; however
there are several entrenched practices that completely go against the tenants
of Islam. These include the caste system and the devaluation of women. As
mentioned above, Hinduism involves the belief in reincarnation and this too is
unable to be reconciled with the teachings of Islam. Until recently Hinduism
was considered the world’s most religiously tolerant faith. However mass
conversions to other faiths has resulted in incidents of intolerance.

In part two we will discuss the status of women in
Hinduism, the painful legacy left by the caste system, officially outlawed in
India in 1949, and two glaring doctrinal differences between Hinduism and
Islam, the worship of something other than God and the belief in reincarnation.


Footnotes:

[1] Except for specific quotations the majority of the information about
Hinduism is obtained from the following web sites. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/ataglance/glance.shtml
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2122.html
http://www.religioustolerance.org/hinduism4.htm

[2] OM, an American Hindu organization

[3] HinduWebsite.com

[4] The Hindu Universe

[5] Sri Swami Chidanda

[6] http://www.religionfacts.com/about.htm

 

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