Religion 21st Century

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  • Islam the most recent of “world religions.”

    Islam is the most recent of “world religions.” Islam emerged from the teachings of the Arab prophet, Muhammad in the 7th century. Islam means "submission to God.”The Quran, the revered text of Islam, is said to be Muhammad's record of instructions from God. As with Jesus in Christian doctrine, the identity of Muhammad as a real, historical person is in doubt. The Quran developed over centuries with many contributors. What remains is a text of the religious, social, and political tenets that became the foundation of Islam and Islamic civilizations.

    Muslims believe that Muhammad restored the monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. They believe that Jews and Christians distorted God’s instructions by altering the original texts and introducing false interpretations. Muslims believe their central text, the Quran is the true word of God. Islamic law (Sharia) was derived from the Quran and expanded into a common law based on interpretations and rulings of Islamic courts that govern all aspects of Islamic society. Two major denominations are the Sunni (85%) and Shia (15%). Fighting between the two Islamic groups began in the 7th century and continues today. Other Islamic groups have retained their ethnic identities and continued with regional conflicts based on tribal identities, which often supersede Islamic identity.

    In terms of a 21st century outsider’s view of Islam, Jihad is the most disturbing of Islamic concepts. To Islamic fundamentalists, Jihad describes military exertion against non-Muslim combatants in the defense or expansion of the Islamic state, the ultimate purpose of which is to establish the universal domination of Islam. Jihad is both history and a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Arab Empire

    Arabs mounted military campaigns with the goal of creating an Arab-Islamic empire. Rodenbeck stated: “Few events in history have had so swift, profound and far-reaching an impact as the arrival of Islam. Within a mere 15 years of the Prophet Muhammad’s death, in A.D. 632, his Arab followers had conquered all the centers of ancient Near Eastern civilization. They had erased a great and enduring regional power, Persia; reduced its brilliant rival, Byzantium, to a rump state; and carved from their territories an empire as vast as that of Rome at its height. Within 100 years, Muslim armies were harrying the frontiers of Tang dynasty China in the east, while 5,000 miles to the west, they had charged across Spain to clash with the Merovingian princes of what is now France. Arab armies created an empire based entirely upon a single faith, bound by its laws and devoted to its propagation. It uprooted long-embedded native religions, like Zoroastrianism in Persia, Buddhism in Central Asia and Hinduism in much of the Indus Valley. It transformed Arabic from a desert dialect into a world language that, for centuries, supplanted Latin and Greek as the main repository of human knowledge.”

    Ottoman Empire

    The Arab empire was eventually replaced by a Turkish-Islamic empire. The Ottoman Empire began in the 13th century and was finally disbanded in the early 20th century. The Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 after extending their military domination of the eastern Mediterranean to southeastern Europe. Over several centuries the Turkish armies fought with rival armies and occupied states to defend their interests in Europe and North Africa. The Ottoman navy secured ocean trade routes. During the 19th century, ethnic nationalism emerged in many occupied countries with revolutionary political parties challenging Ottoman governance. Greece declared its independence in 1829. Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Wallachia and Moldova later declared their independence. Russians battled the Turks in 1877. The Turks sought new alliances with Britain and Egypt. After the First World War ended, the Ottoman Empire finally dissolved. Forty new countries emerged as the empire was divided. The worldwide extent of Islamic influence, initiated by Arab armies, and then Turkish armies persists into the 21st century and promises to grow in years to come.


    The Sufis were more free-thinking, smart, nice people who managed to co-exist with a dogmatic Islam for several centuries. Sufi teaching (Nasrudin) stories have become popular in the west. Writing about the Sufis, Indries Shah suggested: ”Mohammed did not claim to bring any new religion. He was continuing the monotheistic tradition, which he stated, was working long before his time. He inculcated respect for members of other faiths and spoke of the importance of spiritual leaders of all kinds…The Koran maintains the unity of religions and the identical origin of each.”

    Sufis were more philosophers and anthropologists who saw the details of how humans actually behaved and their stories reveal the discrepancies between theory and action and the contradictions involved in all human beliefs. An important Sufi understanding is that truth is relative to the observer and ideas of good and evil are decided by local groups. The notion that truth and common reality are simply local versions of a bigger story was easy for Sufis to understand. They also sensed that there was a transcendent order of the really real that required keener perception, extra effort and extra intelligence to know what is really going on.

    Women Suppressed

    Maureen Dowd wrote: "When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had tea and sweets with a group of educated and sophisticated young professional women. I asked why they were not more upset about living in a country where women’s rights were strangled, an inbred and autocratic state more like an archaic men’s club than a modern nation. They told me, somewhat defensively, that the kingdom was moving at its own pace, glacial as that seemed to outsiders. How could such spirited women, smart and successful on every other level, acquiesce in their own subordination? I was puzzling over that one when it hit me: As a Catholic woman, I was doing the same thing. I, too, belonged to an inbred and wealthy men’s club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity (the Roman Church). I, too, remained part of an autocratic society that repressed women and ignored their progress in the secular world. I, too, rationalized as men in dresses allowed our religious kingdom to decay and to cling to outdated misogynistic rituals, blind to the benefits of welcoming women’s brains, talents and hearts into their ancient fraternity. To circumscribe women, Saudi Arabia took Islam’s moral codes and orthodoxy to extremes not outlined by Muhammad; the Catholic Church took its moral codes and orthodoxy to extremes not outlined by Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus is surrounded by strong women and never advocates that any woman — whether she’s his mother or a prostitute — be treated as a second-class citizen. "

  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as printed books and an eBook download. 332 Pages, The book is intended for an educated reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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    I and Thou
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    Human Brain
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