About a month back a local English newspaper carried the news of a court ruling in Malaysia that only Muslims can use the word ‘Allah’. Theologians in different parts of the world have expressed differing views stating that the word means God and is not a name. One of the Ten Commandments in the Bible directs not to take the name of the Lord in vain. This presumably means that one should be satisfied by and large as the tendency is to say ‘Lord help me’ whenever one is in trouble. Not being ardently religious, I tend when starting a journey to take the Lord’s entreating to look after and protect me. Is this taking the Lord’s name in vain? This action is more likely to have originated from the tendency, when challenged, to utter: ‘I swear by God’.
But one does not take God’s name for swearing only? In Southern Germany it is customary to greet people with the phrase ‘Gruss Gott’ thereby implying that that I greet the God in you. Similar is said to be the origin of Namasakar. Khuda Hafez is a similar term implying parting with God’s blessing.
In the Bible too, God is quoted to have told Moses, “ Do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” Are we in this twenty – first Century, disobeying God’s command when our whole economy is based on these two metals?
A poser that has come down the ages is whether it was God who created man or man who created God? Those living in ancient Egypt got around by saying that their God Ra was self created and from him evolved the rest. If one does not subscribe to the Big Bang theory then God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh or Sabbath.
So Gods have come and gone with the different civilisations that evolved on earth. Thus there were Gods of Egypt, Norse Gods and those of the Greeks and Romans. The question to come to one’s mind is how many were mythological and how many were human forms which became mythological in course of time.
The fact is that many religions have rites and rituals which have to be followed. Hindus worship images of Gods whilst Islam forbids such practise. The Anglicans and the Protestant Christians have the cross as a symbol whilst the Catholics accept the Virgin Mary and Jesus as a child or as man crucified. The individual scriptures on which all religions are based are said to have been added to by the devotees down the ages.
The religions of the world were in the 19th Century divided by Western thought into four major groups comprising of:
i. Abrahamic ones: Chritianity, Mohammadism (now Islam) and Judaism
ii. Indian group: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
iii. East Asian: Taoism & Confucians in China and Do in Japan
iv. Other ethnic religions.
In the 19th Century the Western world regarded all other religions except their own as Paganism and those practicing such as ‘idol worshipers’. The world has changed now and the concept of ‘Freedom of Religion’ is something that is accepted as a basic human right.
One recalls that when Henry the VIII of England broke away from the Vatican he became the ‘Defender of the Faith’ of the Anglican Church. Some years ago Prince Charles had expressed the view publicly that in future, the monarch of the UK should be ‘Defender of All Faiths’.
Our Shah kings were said to be Avatars of Lord Vishnu. Did they take the Shree Panch and the Rana Premiers the Shree Teen to denote that they were above us all? In this situation what about the five Shankaracharyas based in different parts of India who are Jagatgurus with no less than 108 Shrees in front of their names? So who is the head of the Hindu faith? Or is it not a religion but rather a philosophy of life? How should one go about conducting one’s life on earth?
A state that does not profess a religion is known as a secular state. Many states with official religions do allow freedom of worship and thought. The old order in Nepal, which did not allow conversion as such, did allow people of different faiths to follow their beliefs. What was wrong with that, when many countries in the world today are doing exactly the same? There are many countries where the state has an official religion and act of conversion is an apostasy. The Hindu religion or philosophy was something which is said to have originated with the Aryans from Vedic times and though it had its heyday when it covered the Asian continent inclusive of Indonesia and Cambodia, it is now virtually in India and Nepal or practised by those originating from there. As the religion developed with the wanderings of the Aryans, it is supposed to have imbibed the culture of the different lands. It was not a religion spread by the might of the sword nor did it resort to crusades of any sort.
At the recent elections it appeared that except for one or two, all the parties were secular. It is surprising that in this country of 26.5 million people as per the census of 2011 and where 81% of the population are either labelled as Hindus / Buddhists that this should be so. The option to consider would be to label our country as a Hindu Rastra or alternatively a multi religious society. After all most countries in the world fall in this category and do not have the word secular in their constitutions.