Hinduism (part 1 of 4): What is Hinduism?
Description: A brief overview of Hinduism in a series of articles discussing it from a comparative religions perspective.
By Aisha Stacey (© 2011 IslamReligion.com)
Published on 16 May 2011 - Last modified on 16 Oct 2011
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> Comparative Religion
This 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.
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
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
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. According
to the tenets of Hinduism, God is one as well as many. Hindus
believe in monotheistic polytheism, rather than polytheism. Even
though Hinduism is mistakenly regarded by many as a religion having many gods
namely, polytheism, yet truly speaking Hinduism is a monotheistic religion.
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.
Hinduism (part 2 of 4): Idol worship and Reincarnation
Description: Two big differences between Hinduism and Islam.
By Aisha Stacey (© 2011 IslamReligion.com)
Published on 23 May 2011 - Last modified on 11 Sep 2011
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> Comparative Religion
Hinduism is the third largest religion in the
world. There are approximately 950 million adherents, most of them in India or
Nepal. Central to Hindu worship is the image or icon, and central to Hindu
belief is the concept of rebirth or reincarnation. These two fundamental
convictions in some ways make Hinduism and Islam polar opposites.
Monotheism versus Polytheism
The most fundamental belief in Islam is
the concept of One God. He has no sons, daughters, associates or
intermediaries. He does
not have partners or underlings; therefore, there are no demi gods or minor
deities inherent in the concept of God. He is not part of His creation and God
is not in everybody and everything. Praying to images, icons,
statues, animals or stones is a grave sin. Believing that someone or something
other than God alone is able to affect your life or future is a grave sin. Worshipping something or
someone along with or instead of God and not sincerely repenting before death
is considered to be the only unforgiveable sin in Islam. The
belief in more than one god is called polytheism and the pure monotheism of
Islam is directly opposed to it.
Polytheism is the worship of many gods, demi gods or
deities and in the modern world it is epitomised in the eastern religions,
particularly Hinduism. Hindus believe that
everything is god or contains the energy of god therefore is worthy of worship,
be it icons or symbols or nature itself. The multiple heads or limbs often
seen in Hindu iconography represent divine omniscience or omnipotence, and the
use of animals represent qualities associated with that particular animal, such
as wisdom, agility or power. It is not difficult to see that the idol worship
imbedded in all branches of Hinduism is very far away from the beliefs of Islam.
Hundreds of millions of people worldwide believe in
reincarnation, or cyclic rebirths based on the transmigration of the human soul
from one physical body to another. One of the principle beliefs in Hinduism is
that the soul reincarnates again and again until it becomes perfect and
reunites with the source – Brahman. The soul enters many bodies, assumes many
forms, lives many lives and has many experiences.
Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts on new
clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and puts on new ones. (2.22 Bhagavad
Reincarnation is refuted by all the main Monotheistic
religions of the world. Reincarnation is against the basic teaching that the
soul inhabits one human body, whose life is finite and upon which he or she
will be judged, and punished or rewarded accordingly. The religion of Islam
unequivocally rejects the concept of reincarnation.
Until, when death approaches any of them, he prays:
“O my God! Let me return [to life], so that I might act righteously in whatever I
have failed [aforetime]!” Nay, it is indeed but a [meaningless] word that he
utters: for behind those [who leave the world] there is a barrier [of death]
until the Day when all will be raised from the dead! (Quran 23:99-100)
The words of God, in the Quran are clear. When a person
dies, he or she is unable to return to his or her old life. The soul stays in the grave
and the person experiences torment or bliss based upon his/her beliefs and
deeds until the Day of Judgment. Islam
teaches that the purpose of life is to worship God, no matter how short or long
the life may be. The soul is part of each unique created individual, it does
not move from one body to another and it will never become part of God, who is
separate from His creation.
The reasons why human beings are not sent to the world over
and over again is also explained in the Quran, when God says that if that were
to happen they would just do the same things and commit the same sins.
“But if they were
returned to the world, they would certainly revert to that which they were
forbidden.” (Quran 6:28)
Hinduwebsite explains the process
of reincarnation in the following way. ‘Hinduism
speaks of the existence of heavens above and hells below. The former are sun
filled, inhabited by gods and innumerable divine souls. The latter are dark worlds
and populated by all the dark and demonic forces. The individual souls go into
these worlds according to their deeds. But they do not stay there permanently
till the end of destruction. They go there basically as a consequence of their
actions, either to enjoy or to suffer. In either case they learn the lesson
and come back to earth to start a new earthly life all over again.’
Islam, on the other hand states
categorically that the soul cannot detach from a specially designed body and
move on to another body, or upward and downward in a chain of worlds, heavens
or hells. For our life on this earth the soul and the body belong together,
they cannot be mixed and matched. There is only one soul belonging to one
body that will be rewarded or punished on the Day of Judgement, to dwell
forever in either Paradise or Hell. This is in stark contrast to Hinduism where
heaven and hell are temporary abodes and a soul regains freedom over and over
until it reaches self realisation or oneness with the eternal life force.
Hinduism is a group of religious
traditions established over a long period of time. There are many different
forms of worship, sometimes to personal deities, sometimes in the home, at
other times in a temple. Hindus believe that there are many different paths to
many different gods but all of them lead to the eternal life force or Brahman.
Islam however teaches that there is no true deity but Allah
alone. There is nothing like Him, as God says:
is nothing like unto Allah, and He is all-hearing, all-seeing. (Quran 42:11)
Hinduism (part 3 of 4): The status of women in
Description: A comparison of the rights of women in
Hinduism & Islam.
By Aisha Stacey (© 2011 IslamReligion.com)
Published on 30 May 2011 - Last modified on 10 Nov 2013
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> Comparative Religion
Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, with
more than 950 million adherents. Although Hindus live predominantly in India
and Nepal, they are scattered throughout the world. As we discussed in the
previous two articles, in some ways Hinduism and Islam can be thought of as
polar opposites. Two of the most basic beliefs of Hinduism conflict completely
with the most basic beliefs of Islam. In Islam worship is for One God, Muslims
do not worship idols, statues or representations of God. Hindus, on the other
hand worship many gods and deities.
Muslims believe that we each have one
life, upon which we will be judged, and rewarded or punished accordingly,
whereas Hindus believe in reincarnation, the process of rebirth and the
transmigration of souls. These two issues were covered in article two.
In this article we will talk about the status of women in
Hinduism and compare it with the teachings of Islam.
Women in India suffer from a wide range of
social injustices and the status of women is usually discussed on a nationwide
basis. However it is important to note that more than 80% of Indians are Hindu
and the majority of negative behaviours towards women can be attributed to
Hindu practices. Indian women rank high in worldwide statistics on prostitution,
the murder, neglect and abuse of young girls, the number
of women sold into slavery, as victims of AIDS, and living below the poverty
Infanticide, the killing of a child soon
after birth, has been prevalent in India for centuries. In 1834 it was
reported that, “in some villages, no girl babies were found at all; in a total
of thirty others, there were 343 boys to 54 girls.” One hundred and fifty years
later the killing of girl babies has been streamlined. In a 2007 article, Reuters
reported on the high level of female feticide (the practice of aborting female
foetuses) in India. According to UNICEF, ‘A report from Bombay in 1984 on
abortions after prenatal sex determination stated that 7,999 out of 8,000 of
the aborted foetuses were female.
Reuters also reports that “Around 10
million girls have been killed by their parents over the last 20 years. Female
infanticide and foeticide, although illegal, are still prevalent with boys
preferred to girls”. A 2006 government survey found that 45 percent of girls
were married before the legal marriageable age of 18. India’s adult female
literacy rate in 2004 was 47.8%, compared to the adult male rate of 73.4%. What is it about Hinduism that allows such blatant discrimination
against an entire gender?
Some argue that the Hindu scriptures allow
such practices. An obsession with sons stems from the age of Atharva Veda when
it was written “Let a female child be born somewhere else. Here let a son be
born” However Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered,
and therefore practice ahimsa or non-violence. Although this appears to not
make a great deal of sense, it does, in the sense that Hinduism is a
mixture of religious and cultural practices. The Hindu religion
calls for rituals to be conducted in honour of women yet at the same time, women
are denied any form of last rights at death or a fair share in family
inheritance. In a letter to an Indian newspaper in 2002 one woman tried to
explain the increase in foeticide.
In India marrying a girl off is very
expensive and the boy children bring home a bride and a dowry. Also Hindu law
requires that only a SON may light the funeral pyre of their mother and father.
We all know it is very costly to marry off a girl whereas the marriage of a son
brings back whatever has been spent on him since his birth. This is a fact and
unless this is addressed to, female foeticide cannot be stopped.
Baby boys are desired,
whereas, girl babies are despised. In the
Arabian Peninsula before the advent of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy
and blessings of God be upon him, and Islam, baby girls were
buried alive. This was an ignorant practice and Prophet Muhammad stated
unreservedly that female children are a blessing and that raising them to be
righteous believers is a source of great reward. In the Quran, God declares
those who despise daughters as evil.
any of them is given the glad tiding of [the birth of] a girl, his face
darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger, avoiding all people because of
the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received, [and debating
within himself:] Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he
feels for it]-or shall he bury it in the dust? Evil indeed
is whatever they decide! (Quran 16:58-59)
The traditions of Prophet Muhammad show
very clearly that raising girls is a source of pleasure both in this life and
in the hereafter. His beloved wife Aisha relates stories that demonstrate the
desirability of female babies.
A lady along with her two daughters
came to me (Aisha) asking for some alms, but she found nothing with me except
one date which I gave to her and she divided it between her two daughters, and
did not eat anything herself, and then she got up and went away. Then the
Prophet came in and I informed him about this story. He said, “Whoever raises daughters and treats them generously (with benevolence) then these
daughters will act as a shield from Hell-Fire for them.”
“Whenever a child was born among them,
Aisha would not ask if it were a boy or a girl. Instead she would ask, ‘Is
the child healthy (and without defect)?’ If she was told, ‘Yes,’ she would say,
All praise is for Allah, Lord of All the Worlds.
A common social ailment amongst the Hindus is the
practice of the bride’s family paying a dowry to her new husband’s
family. Although this practice was formerly outlawed in 1961, it is still
Islam recognises the difficulties and hardships
that dowries cause therefore has no such custom or requirement. Instead Islam
has what is known as the mahr. It is a gift of money, possessions or property
made by the husband to the wife, which becomes her exclusive property. It is
an admission of her independence, and is intended to show the husband’s willing
acceptance of bearing all the necessary expenses of his wife.
As you can see from two examples, the
status of women in Islam is very different to the status of women in Hinduism.
While one religion, Hinduism, claims to honour women, it
is up to the secular Indian government to make laws forbidding the atrocious
treatment Hinduism allows. On the other hand respect for women is enshrined in
Hinduism (part 4 of 4): More differences
between Islam & Hinduism
Description: Widows, sati and the caste system.
By Aisha Stacey (© 2011 IslamReligion.com)
Published on 06 Jun 2011 - Last modified on 10 Nov 2013
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> Comparative Religion
Further to our discussion about the status of
women in Hinduism mention must be made of sati, the burning of women on their
husband’s funeral pyre. Sati was prevalent in ancient India, when some women
deemed it a great honour to die in this way. By the 10th century sati, was
known across much of the subcontinent and it continued to occur, with regional
variations, into the 20th century. Wives would self immolate to cast away any
sins the husband had committed. This is a voluntary act; however widows were
put under a great deal of pressure to do it and were frowned upon if they did
not follow the custom.
Ibn Batuta (1333 A.D.) observed that Sati was considered
praiseworthy by the Hindus, without being obligatory. The Agni Purana declares that the woman who commits sati goes to
heaven. However, Medhatiti
pronounced that Sati was like
suicide and was against the Shastras, the Hindu code of conduct. This is
another example of Hindu scriptures seemingly contradicting each other.
The Islamic Mughal Empire of the 16th
& 17th centuries was the first to try to officially outlaw the practice of
sati. At first women were encouraged to leave the practice by offering gifts
and pensions to widows. Many obstacles to the practice were put in place but
sati continued, particularly outside the large cities. In 1663, an order was issued that
in all lands under Mughal control, officials should, under no circumstances,
allow a woman to be burnt. Despite attempts to eradicate it, the practice of sati
continued, especially during periods of war and upheaval. Sadly isolated
incidences of sati continue to exist, even though it was officially banned in
1829 and governments since then have continued to make the practice illegal.
Even without the pressure of sati generally Hindu widows
are faced with a number of taboos; the higher their caste, the more
restrictions a widow faces. When a man dies, his widow is expected to renounce
all earthly pleasures. She should no longer look attractive, and is expected
to wear a simple white sari for the rest of her life. On news of their
husband’s death, widows are expected to break their bangles and can no longer
wear jewellery or use sindhoor - the red powder women wear in their hair parting and on their
foreheads to denote their married status. Some are expected to cut their hair
or even shave their head. A widow from the south of India may not even be able
to wear a blouse under her sari.
This is in
complete contrast to what Islam says about the treatment of widows. Prophet
Muhammad, may the mercy and
blessings of God be upon him, said that those who take care of
the widows and the poor are like those who spend their days fasting or nights
praying. Widows are able to remarry and continue
to lead a full and complete life after a mourning period of four months and ten
“And those of you
who die and leave wives behind them, they (the wives) shall wait (as regards
their marriage) for four months and ten days, then when they have fulfilled
their term, there is no sin on you if they (the wives) remarry.” (Quran 2:234)
The caste system exists throughout India, despite
being officially banned by India’s secular government in 1949. It still
permeates Indian society affecting the people both directly and indirectly. The
caste system is responsible for the often low status of women in Hinduism, and
the current level of violence between Hindus and other religions, particularly
In the beginning, perhaps as early as 1000
BC, each Hindu belonged to one of the thousands of communities or sub-communities
(Jats) that existed in India. These communities were originally defined by a
person’s profession and they were organised into four social castes (Varna). A
fifth group called the “untouchables”(dalits) were outside the caste system. A
person’s caste determined the range of jobs or professions from which they
could choose. Marriages normally took place within the same caste or even sub
caste. Typically, parents passed on their professions to their children.
Originally people were able to move from
one caste to another. However, at some time in the past (estimates range from
about 500 BCE to 500 CE), the system became rigid, so that people lived and
died in the same group, with no possibility of upward mobility. “The caste
system splits up society into a multitude of little communities, for every
caste, and almost every local unit of a caste, has its own peculiar customs and
The Rigveda, a collection of ancient Vedic
Sanskrit hymns dedicated to the gods, defined four castes as, in descending
order; Brahmins (the priests and academics), Kshatriyas (rulers, military),
Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants), the Sudras (peasants, servants,
and workers in non-polluting jobs). The untouchables, not even considered part
of the caste system, work in what are considered polluting jobs and are
untouchable by the four castes. In some areas of the country, even a contact
with the shadow of an untouchable is considered polluting.
untouchability or discriminating against a person because of their caste is
illegal. Due to repeated and enforced government warnings and education the
caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas; however the tradition is
largely unchanged in some rural districts. The secular government of India has
instituted positive discrimination in order to help the untouchables and lower
Many untouchables have converted to Islam,
in recent years. This has often been motivated by a desire to escape the caste
system. Islam is not founded on race,
nationality, locality, occupation or kinship. Muslims are bound together by faith and brotherhood. Islam
understands that whatever happens in one section of the community will affect
all and thus equality is nourished and fostered. In his final sermon Prophet
Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him,
said, “Know that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. You are all
equal. Nobody has superiority over other except by piety and good action”.
According to Gospel for Asia, untouchables
feel that: “The only way for our people to find freedom from 3,000 years of
slavery is to quit Hinduism and (the caste system) and embrace another faith.”
This has generated massive anger and even instances of violence and murder, directed
at other religions, particularly Islam.
Hinduism and Islam differ in the most
basic concepts; we have discussed some of the most obvious
differences, including the belief in One true God as opposed to belief in an assortment
of gods, and the differences between the status of women in Islam and Hinduism.
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