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Religion in Personal, Cultural, Historical Dimensions

Personal Dimension of Religion

Streng defines the personal dimension of religion as the element of religion that is applicable in the life of the person practicing the particular religion (5). The personal dimension points to how a religion influences the life of the individual. These influences emerge from the interpretation of the particular religion and such interpretations guide the internal reactions, decisions, and meanings for the individual. The dimension specifically affects the life stance of the faithful and influences his/her attitudes and actions in life. Streng also notes that the personal dimension determines how the devotee views and relates to people of different religious commitments (5).

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The Five Pillars make up the most important practices in Islam and they are the foundation upon which the religion rests. The First pillar is the Shahadah and it is a creed, which is expressed verbally affirming a person’s commitment to the basic ideals of the faith. The Shahadah declares, “I bear witness that there is no god except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God” (Ayoub 360). Reciting this creed in the presence of a Muslim witness is the only requirement for a non-Muslim to join the Muslim religion. This pillar is a statement of a person’s Islamic identity and his/her commitment to live by Islamic laws.

The second pillar is the Salat, which is the mandatory Muslim prayer offered five times each day. The first prayer is offered at dawn while the last is offered between sunset and midnight (Ayoub 361). The Salat is a unifying ritual since it is performed by Muslims universally.

The third pillar of Islam is Zakat and it involves being charitable by giving alms. This practice frees the devotees from greed and attachment to material possessions (Ayoub 364). It also emphasizes Muslim brotherhood and responsibility for the need in the society. Zakat is obtained annually by taxing the wealth of all adult Muslims and distributing the proceeds to the poor.

The fourth pillar is “Fasting (Sawm) during the Holy month of Ramadan” (Ayoub 365). All adults are required to participate in this universal form of worship by refraining from eating, drinking, smoking or sexual activity during the fasting hours (Ayoub 365). Fasting is mandatory for all Muslim adults who are in a fit condition to carry out the fast. The sick, travelers, and pregnant women are not required to fast due to their physical conditions. In addition to being an act of worship, fasting strengthens the spirituality and self-discipline of the Muslim.

The fifth pillar of Islam if the Hajj which is the annual pilgrim to Mecca. While making the pilgrimage is not compulsory, it is desirable that a Muslim makes the journey to Mecca at least one time in their lifetime (Ayoub 366). The Hajj offers purity and freedom from attachment to material and vain pleasures to the pilgrim. The journey also strengthens the bond among Muslims.

Ayoub associates the first pillar, Shahadah, with granted the status of “protected peoples” to non-Muslims. The creed affirms the oneness of God and expresses the universal nature of Islam. Ayoub reveals that according to this pillar, every child is born in this original state of faith (Ayoub 360). The parents of the child convert the child into other religions and therefore turn him/her into a non-Muslim. Every person therefore enjoys some status of protected people since they are born in an original state of faith and they can revert to it by reciting the Shahadah. Reciting the Shahadah in earnest will convert the non-Muslim and enable him to become a devotee.

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Cultural and Historic Dimensions of Religion

Islam

Islam was first introduced to the Arabs in Mecca by the Prophet Mohammed. The Arabs before Islam worshiped many gods and built shrines for them (Ayoub 342). They also had a large number of idols, which were placed in a shrine and worshiped by the people. The Arabs in this time did not believe in an afterlife and this led to a life governed by hedonistic pleasures and lacking in moral consciousness. Tribe and kinship solidarity were of great importance in the pre-Islam years and these often led to deadly feuds between tribes (Ayoub 343). While the Arabs did not have a religion of their own, they were exposed to diverse cultural and religious influences (Ayoub 345). Jewish and Christian ideas were the most prevalent ones and practitioners of these faiths influenced the Arabs with their ideas.

Mohammed began to teach Islam in his home city of Makkah. This was a caravan station and trade and revenues played a huge role in the economy of the city. Significant revenue was generated from the Ka’bah, which is an ancient building that contained idols and images of gods and goddesses (Ayoub 342). Pilgrims came from all over to the site and this provided the city with great revenue. The Makkans therefore rejected Mohammed’s teachings since they feared the consequences it would have on their social customs and the economic status of the ka’bah. Mohammed was forced to migrate to Abyssinia and only after he had gained a considerable following was he able to conquer Makkah (Ayoub 345).

Islam tried to decrease the tribe and kinship solidarity and instead substitute it with brotherhood of faith. While this attempt was not fully successful, Mohammed was able to use Islam as a unifying factor for tribes and therefore reduce the tribal interests and conflicts that plagued the society (Ayoub 346). Through Islam, Mohammed was able to consolidate the diverse states and establish Islam as the dominant religion in the Arab world.

Christianity

Christianity was begun by Jesus as a splinter group of Judaism in the Roman Empire. The religion was first introduced to the Jewish people (Ayoub 352).The Jews already had a monotheistic religion, Judaism and a holy book, the torah. However, Christianity did not ask for an abolishment of this old religion and its cultural implications. Instead, the new religion claimed to be a fulfillment of Judaism and Jesus declared that he was the promised messiah. The members of the community were therefore able to continue observing their Jewish religious and cultural practices while at the same time ascribing to the teachings of Jesus.

Streng asserts that the historical conditions influence the shape of a religion (5). Jesus was born at a time when the Romans had started occupying Israel. The Jews were forced to pay tribute to their Roman rulers and serve under a ruler installed by the Roman Empire. Heavy taxation of labor and natural resources by the Romans led to a lot of resentment by the Jewish people. Some Jewish leaders were interested in restoring the political sovereignty of Israel by freeing the nation from Roman rule.

Jesus challenged the political rulers and the tax collectors who increased the economic burden on the impoverished population (Ayoub 352). Christianity as preached by Jesus promised to reclaim sovereignty and free the people from Roman rule. Jesus also condemned the injustices perpetrated on the people by the rulers (Ayoub 352). The Christian movement sought to restore balance in human life by promoting equality and communal peace.

Full mobilization efforts of Christianity began following the crucifixion of Jesus. This event led to the spread of Christianity beyond the Jewish settlements of Galilee and Judea. The message of Jesus was spread to Jewish people in the Diaspora as well as the non-Jewish Community.

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Works Cited

Ayoub, Mahmoud. “The Islamic Tradition.” World Religions: Western Traditions. Ed. Willard G. Oxtoby, 2nd ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2002. 342-455. Print.

Streng, Fredrick, “The Nature and Study of Religion.” The Nature and Study of Religion. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2000. 1-18. Print.

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