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Divine rites - Uncovering the faiths

Abena Bridge Freelance Writer

FOUNDED MORE than 100 years ago, the Baha'i faith is the youngest of the world's religions. Baha'i means a follower of Bahullah, the founder of the faith. Bahullah means the glory of God.

The Baha'i era was inaugurated in 1844 with the declaration of the Bab, the messenger of God who proclaimed the closing of the present era and promised the coming of one who would open the next era, fulfilled in the person of Bahaullah, the prophet for this age.

Hence, followers believe the second advent of Christ has already taken place. They believe the second advent is spiritual, not physical, and that eventually a new world order will take over.

The Baha'i movement in Jamaica began about 50 years ago when a doctor from Portland, Dr. Malcolm King, brought the teaching from the United States to the island. There are now 4,000 believers in areas such as Montego Bay, Port Antonio, Ocho Rios and May Pen. The national centre is located on Mountain View Avenue in Kingston.

The Baha'i faith is different from other religions in that Bahullah has given important new teachings for the building of a new world civilisation.

Bahaullah taught that Jesus the Christ was the Son of God and that before becoming a Baha'i one must recognise Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Bab and Bahaullah as messengers of God.

Baha'is believe in daily prayer and meditation. As it relates to baptism, they believe only in spiritual baptism, saying baptism by water is no longer applicable. The sacrament of marriage is also upheld, although divorce is allowed after a year.

The Baha'i year begins on March 21 and the Baha'i day begins at sunset.

Other Baha'i beliefs:

The oneness of mankind and world unity.

Equal rights and opportunities for men and women.

Superstitions and prejudices should be eliminated.

Universal compulsory education.

Solving economic problems by spiritual means.

A world tribunal to settle international disputes as well as the establishment of a world government and commonwealth.

ISLAM

THE ISLAMIC faith in Jamaica dates back to the first slave who was imported from West Africa several hundreds years ago.

Today there are about 3,000 followers, called Muslims, scattered across the island. There are mosques in Kingston, Spanish Town, St. Catherine; Albany and Port Maria, St. Mary; Newell, St. Elizabeth; and Three Miles River, Westmoreland. The umbrella organisation, Islamic Council of Jamaica, is located on South Camp Road in Kingston.

The Islamic calendar began with the migration of the Holy Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina more than 1,400 years ago. However, the creation of Islam predated that event by 10 years. Muslims worship only one God (Allah).

Followers pray five times a day, facing Mecca. Friday is their day of worship and at midday all Muslims are expected to face the east to Mecca and pray.

By custom, every Muslim is expected to marry before sexual intercourse. The men can marry up to four wives. Divorce is allowed under special circumstances, but the women have to be maintained by their former husband for up to 90 days.

The Muslims have a very strict dress code where the women must be completely covered, except for their faces and hands. Men are required to wear clothing that is loose and have their heads covered.

Other beliefs and customs:

Muslims are guided by the scriptures of their holy book, the Koran.

Islam teaches nothing happens by accident.

Muslims fast from dawn to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

Muslims believe everything we do is being recorded, from the moment we awake to the moment we fall asleep and that no one will be short-paid on judgement day.

JUDAISM

JUDAISM is the religion of the Jews.

Abraham, its founder, is believed to have left Haran in northern Mesopotamia for Canaan (roughly modern Israel and Lebanon) in the mid-20th century BCE (Before the Common Era). From there, his semi-nomadic descendants of Abraham and his sons Isaac and Jacob - by then 12 Hebrew families - migrated to Egypt, where they were enslaved for several generations before the Exodus in the 13th century BCE and the return of the Israelites to Canaan.

Despite a common religious basis, two branches of Jewish culture evolved during the Middle Ages. The Sefardic (Andalusian-Spanish) community traced its cultural affiliation to Babylonia and was influenced by its Arabic-Muslim surroundings.

The Ashkenazic (Franco-German) community developed within the Latin-Christian culture of Europe and traced its background to Rome and Palestine.

In Jamaica the Jewish community is about 500 years old.

The community, which numbered more than 2,000 a century ago, is down to a 10th of that number, and disappearing fast. An article in The Gleaner last September noted the young were leaving, mainly for the US and Britain. On a recent Sabbath only nine elderly people came to services - one less than required by Jewish tradition, said the article.

The High Holidays - Rosh Hashana and 10 days later, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement - are the only times when a significant number, perhaps 70, still gather at the 100-seat Shaare Shalom synagogue, built in 1888. The name means Gates of Peace.

Judaism holds that God's presence is experienced in human actions and history.

Jewish beliefs and customs include:

The basic belief that it is the ability to make ethical choice that defines man.

Mankind has a dual nature of obedience (good impulse) and disobedience (evil impulse) to God's law.

Sin is a deliberate disobedience of the Law.

Saturday worshipping.

BUDDHISM

BUDDHISM is one of the oldest religions in the world. It was started in the sixth century BC by a young man called Siddharta.

He preached a new way of life to obtain nirvana - freedom from the suffering of life.

Buddhists believe there is an eight-fold path to good life consisting of right conduct, right motive, right resolve, right speech, right livelihood, right attention, right effort and right mediation. Following this path allows one to achieve nirvana, they believe.

There are various schools and tradition that make up international Buddhism:

Early Buddhism (Theravada), known in Burma, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Thailand and parts of Vietnam.

Later Buddhism (Mahayana), found primarily in China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Tibet.

Buddhist texts also refer to past and future Buddhas (Bodhisattvas) which have attained special importance in different Buddhist countries. There is also a female Bodhisattvas of mercy with a thousand hands.

The Dalai Lama, well known in Western countries, is spiritual leader and monarch of Tibet.

Events related to Gotama Buddha may be celebrated at different times in different temples, but the full moon is commonly recognised as the most important day for celebration.

Information gathered from the Multifaith Calendar of the Affili-ation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC (British Columbia, Canada), the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Gleaner archives, among other sources.

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