Welcome to The Mad Logophile. Here we explore words; their origins, evolution, usage. Words are alive. They are born, they evolve and, sometimes, they die. They are our principal tool for communicating with one another. There are millions of words yet only an estimated 171,476 words are in common current use. As a logophile, I enjoy discovering new words, using them and learning about their origins. Please join me and other word lovers as we delve into the wonderful world of words.
In dictionaries, religion is defined as any specific system of belief, worship, or conduct that prescribes certain responses to the existence (or non-existence) and character of God. The words we use in describing religion and in practicing it have roots in the most ancient cultures on earth. From ancient Assyria to Egypt, from Hellenic Greece to modern sects, the words we use to speak of our relationship with the Divine still invoke a feeling of awe and sacredness and a connection to something... bigger.
This diary will cover words and phrases from all religions. I am not here to judge if one is better than another or if one is better than nothing at all. As a comparative theologian, I find beauty and truth in all faiths.
This week we look at the three Abrahamic religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all began in the Middle East. They are all interrelated, even with the differences there are just as many similarities.
First though, let's get some words about religion in general.
Faith, a wise man once said, consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. Things that are taken on faith do not need to be proven. Those things are often spiritual, of the spirit and soul, having to do with our deepest feelings of the sacred. We often speak of these as being holy, therefore imbuing them as sacred by religious use or authority or consecrated. By their nature, the things and people we hold sacred are entitled to veneration and reverence.
A religious tradition is a body of scripture, laws, doctrines and teachings that have been handed down from generation to generation either through writings or orally. Oral tradition is somewhat less reliable than written tradition but is an accepted as a valid method of transmission. The study of God and religious truth, the study or religion, is theology. One branch of theology is cosmology, which deals with the beginnings of the Universe and mankind. On the opposite end is eschatology, which concerns the end of things from a religious point of view. There is also natural theology or theodicy, an argument for the justification of God, concerned with reconciling God's goodness and justice with the observable facts of evil and suffering in the world.
Most religions have sacred text or scriptures, usually in book form. Scripture with a capital "S" refers to the sacred writings of the Old or New Testaments or both together. With a small "s," it refers to any sacred writing or book or a passage from such a writing or book. One place where we tend to run into disagreement is in the exegesis or critical explanation and interpretation of these sacred writings. The branch of theology that deals with exegesis is known as hermeneutics.
Doctrine is the body of principles of a religion. Dogma is often seen as more autocratic than doctrine. Sometimes dogma, which is an authoritative principle, belief or statement of ideas/opinion (especially one considered to be absolutely true), is expected to be accepted without proof. A creed is a formal statement of religious belief; like the Nicene Creed, the Shema or the Shahada. It is often part of a religion's liturgy, the collection of worship rites and rituals. Prayer, often part of the liturgy, is a spiritual communion with and/or petition to God. Meditation and contemplation are often used with or in place of prayer, and are methods of spiritual introspection.
Almost every religion has a symbol associated with it. This can be a material object used to represent that particular faith, such as a cross or wheel. Symbolic items can include relics, ritual objects, amulets and talismans. The belief in their sacredness can imbue a symbol with special meaning. Some religions have a tradition of prophecy (a divinely inspired utterance or revelation) and even divination (foretelling future events).
Most religions have a sacred space where they worship. This is a place set aside from the mundane and everyday, where the psyche understands it is there to commune with the Divine. This can range from a cathedral to a grove of trees.
By its nature, religion involves many kinds of beings both mortal and spiritual. Nearly all religions have a deity, a being of divine character or nature. This can be a God or a Goddess or both. A religion which recognizes only one God is monotheistic. If it affirms more than one, it is polytheistic. Some religions acknowledge gods in everything living and not and are known as pantheistic. Some faiths believe in lesser beings both good (angels) and evil (demons). There are a few religions that believe that pure evil exists in the form of a transcendent satan, a being outside of time and space. Others think that evil is a human constraint, that it is immanent, that is, within us. There are many kinds of persons involved in a religion. Monks and nuns dedicate their lives to the service of their God or doctrine. They usually live in monasteries (monks) and convents (nuns). The principle leader of the religious services is a priest or priestess, and have many titles. Some faiths hold that very holy people become saints. These people could be mystics (someone who gains insight by communing with the Divine), ascetics (someone who dedicates their life to a pursuit of contemplative ideals and practices extreme self-denial), sages (a profoundly wise person), disciples (followers of a holy person) and apostles (first missionary to an area). People who died in the defense of their faith are martyrs and are often elevated to sainthood.
Some religions have had a schism, a formal division within, or separation from, its body usually over some doctrinal difference. This has led to different denominations, or groups, especially within Christianity. A denomination is organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy. A sect is usually smaller and can often be regarded as heretical. They usually have very strict qualifications for membership, as opposed to the more inclusive groups. A cult is bound together by veneration of the same thing, person or doctrine. Many religions are dismissed as being cults when they are nothing of the sort. One good way to tell is via Issac Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame.
When someone deviates from the dogma of a religion, they are known as heretics. Quite often, the author(s) of a schism are seen as heretical by the main church body. If someone has followed a religion for a time and then rebukes it, they are an apostate. Such people are often excommunicated from the group, banished from ever receiving their rites again. Sometimes, one can be banished for blasphemy. Since blasphemy can be anything from an impious utterance or action to assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God, it is very much objective.
Some religions seek to convert others to their faith. They may send out missionaries into an area to proselytize. Some people find this insulting and wonder at the desire to persuade or convert others while some accept is as part and parcel of the belief system.
The holy days of a religion are their liturgical calendar. On these days, special rituals and/or rites are performed. Sometimes these are solemn and sometimes the are festive, depending on the meaning of the day.
Now that we have a general understanding of religious terms, let's look at the three major monotheistic religions.
I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit. ~ Kahlil Gibran
The main sacred text of Judaism is the Old Testament, known as the Torah or Pentateuch. When the the words and Writings of the Prophets are added, it is known as the Tanakh (tun-ach). In addition, the Talmud (a collection of Jewish law and tradition) and the Midrash (a Jewish interpretation of and commentary on Biblical text) are accepted as supplemental writings. For Christians, the Bible (consisting of the Old and New Testaments) is the primary source of scripture. In Catholicism, writings of the church fathers and church councils along with papal decrees are also important. In Islam, the principal sacred text is the Qu'ran. The verses in the Qu'ran are called suras and are numbered similarly to the Bible. In addition, the Hadith, a collection of things said or done by Muhammad or his companions, is considered sacred. The Tafsir is an exegesis of the Qu'ran.
The symbols of the "Big Three" are very well known: the Star of David (or Magen David) for Judaism, the Cross for Christianity and the Star and Crescent for Islam. There are additional symbols associated with these faiths. You may see a chai necklace worn by a Jewish woman or a menorah as a decoration. The Hebrew word Chai (living) consists of the two Hebrew letters Cheit and Yod attached to each other. The menorah is not just used during Hannukah, there is always a flame burning in synagogues to represent Israel and its mission to be "a light unto the nations." In Christianity, you may see the ichthus, symbolic of both the Greek spelling of Jesus (IHESUS) and his role as "fishers of men." The Chi Rho is one of the earliest cruciform symbols used by Christians. It is formed by superimposing the first two letters of the word "Christ" in Greek, chi = ch and rho = r. Many animals are symbolic to Christians, among them the lamb (symbol of Christ as the Paschal Lamb), the dove ( symbol of the Holy Ghost) and the pelican (a symbol of the atonement). Certain words or characters in Arabic script can be regarded as visually representing Islam. One such symbol is the character for Allah. A Shi'ite symbol is the sword, which is identified with Iimam Ali, who they believe fought with this sword and his life for Islam. The color green has a special place in Islam, and is often used to represent it among other world religions.
Modern Judaism has five different denominations and derive from the interpretation of Jewish scriptures either a progressive/liberal or a traditional/conservative ways rather then from theological differences. The Orthodox Jews believe that God gave Moses the whole Torah (Written and Oral) at Mount Sinai and strictly observe Jewish Law. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, which includes Chasidic Jews, strictly observe Jewish laws and do not integrate into modern society. Conservative Judaism maintains that the Torah comes from God, but was transmitted by humans. They generally accept Jewish Law but believe that the Law should adapt. Reform Judaism believes that the Torah was written by humans and do not follow the Law but retain much of the values and ethics of Judaism as well as some of the practices and culture. Reconstructionists do not believe in a personified deity or that God chose the Jewish people. Humanistic Jews believe in creating a meaningful Jewish lifestyle free from supernatural authority.
Christianity had quite a famous schism about 500 years ago. Protestantism originated in the 16th century Reformation, and most modern Protestant denominations can trace their heritage to one of the major movements that sprung up in the 16th century. But there had been one before then, in the 11th century; the Eastern Orthodox Church is prominent in Russia, Greece and nearby areas. The split was due to significant religious, cultural, and political differences between the Eastern and Western churches. The Western part is Roman Catholicism and is the largest Christian group that exists today, with more than a billion adherents. In 1534, Henry VIII decided that he really needed to divorce his first wife. When the Pope would not allow it, Henry split from Rome through the Act of Supremacy and formed the Anglican church or Church of England. There are now many denominations of Christianity.
Members of one Islamic group do not usually recognize members of other groups as fellow Muslims, and open conflict between sects is not uncommon. The vast majority of the world's Muslims are Sunni and have their historical roots in the majority group who followed Abu Bakr as Muhammad's successor instead of the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law Ali. The Shi'ites are those who followed Ali, as he was the closest male relative of Muhammad, as Muhammad's successor. Sufism is a "mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God." The famous Whirling Dervishes are members of the Mevlevi order of Turkish Sufis, based on the teachings of the famous mystic Rumi. Their spinning is a form of meditation in which they seek to abandon the self and contemplate God, sometimes achieving an ecstatic state. Ahmadiyya Islam was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in Punjab, India. Doctrinal differences, along with the teaching that Ahmad was a prophet like Muhammad, have led Ahmadiyyas to be denounced as heretics by most of orthodox Islam. The Druze are a religious group who are viewed by some as Muslims, but are viewed as entirely distinct by most major Islamic branches since they believe that an 11th century Caliph was a prophet and expect him to return as a Messiah.
The G-d of the Jews is called by them Yahweh or Elohim and sometimes Adonai ("my lord"). This G-d (Jews do not write that word out completely out of respect) liberated the Jews from slavery, gives them a path of life and provides them with a Promised Land. His role is to give divine revelation and forgiveness. The Christians also follow this God but, further, they worship Him as a Trinity; God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. They believe in predestination, and that one can be saved through various forms of God's grace. Muslims call their version of God Allah, which is Arabic for god. There are traditionally 99 names, or attributes, that Muslims use to describe Allah's nature. Allah is a name that is neither feminine nor masculine, and it cannot be made plural. All three religions believe in angels. In Judaism an angel is a spiritual entity in the service of God. In the New Testament, angels appear frequently as the ministers of God and the agents of revelation; and Jesus speaks of angels as fulfilling such functions. In Islamic tradition, angels were created from light before human beings were created and they are beautiful beings with wings.
The Hebrew word Satan means "Hinderer." G-d created Satan to make things difficult for us, so we can overcome our evil temptations. To the Jews, Satan is an angel whose purpose has been determined by G-d. Christianity sees Satan as a transcendent being of pure evil. He is a fallen angel who has gone to war with God. He is also known as Lucifer or the Devil. His minions are demons. Islamic theology holds that the Devil is a being who tries to lead people into sin. Muslims refer to him as Shaytan (Shaitan) or Iblis. Islamic teaching holds that angels don't possess free will and are incapable of disobedience to their creator. So, though Iblis was originally in the company of angels, he was a jinn not a fallen angel. Demons also appear in Islamic scripture.
The main leaders in the Jewish faith are teachers; rabbi means teacher. There is a priestly class but it has significantly diminished since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The priesthood is an inherited position. There are two lineages of priests; the Kohanim and the Levites. Today, a Kohen (or Cohen) is the first one called up at the reading of the Torah and performs the Priestly Blessing, among other duties. A Levi is always called forward second to the reading of the Torah. Jewish congregations have two kinds of "leaders", the rabbi and the hazzan (cantor). The rabbi is a scholar and handles the groups' questions, legal and otherwise. The cantor is the singer and recites the prayers; a group need not have a dedicated cantor. Some activities are performed by a minyan, a presence of ten adults.
Leadership roles in Christianity depend a great deal upon the sect. Catholicism has a Pope and a College of Cardinals who "run" the Church from Vatican City. An archbishop is a bishop of a main or metropolitan diocese, also called an archdiocese. A bishop is a teacher of church doctrine, a priest of sacred worship, and a minister of church government. A priest is an ordained minister who can administer most of the sacraments, including the Eucharist, baptism, and marriage. A deacon is a seminarian studying for the priesthood (transitional deacon). A permanent deacon can be married and assists a priest by performing some of the sacraments. In Protestantism, leaders are usually called a minister, reverend or pastor. Preacher is a casual term. Deacons are non-ordained leaders as are Elders. Anglican priests are known as vicars.
In mosques, there is no particular priestly hierarchy. With Islam, each individual is responsible for the condition of her or his own soul. There are leaders, however. An Ayatollah is a highly trained professional who completes a "college" and studies the Qu'ran and Hadith for at least 30 years. Within the context of worship, the most important role is played by the imam, who serves as the prayer leader. Most large mosques have a permanent imam while smaller ones rotate leaders from among the community. A mullah is an educated Muslim trained in religious law and doctrine and holds an official post in the community.
The sacred spaces of Judaism are known as synagogues. The Hebrew term is beit k'nesset (House of Assembly), although you will rarely hear this term used in conversational English. The Orthodox and Chasidim typically use the word shul, which means school. Reform Jews use the word templebecause they consider their meeting places to be equivalent to (or a replacement for) The Temple. Christian buildings are usually known as a church, though chapel is often used, as well. Catholics have the cathedral, which is the center of the diocese and seat of the bishop. A basilica is basically a really big or important church that may or may not be the cathedral. Muslims worship in a mosque. These always include a minaret, a tall tower from which the call to prayer is sung. The central structure will always sport a dome, in spiritual simpatico with the Dome of the Rock.
The basic Jewish "creed" is the Shema: Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, is the Lord one. (Deut. 6:4) Another creedal statement is the 13 Articles of Faith proposed by Maimonides. Other important Jewish prayers include the Kaddish (normally said at the end of a study or prayer session, one version is said for the dead), the Birkat Cohanim (the Priestly blessing given by the Kohanim), the Hallel (prayer of praise and thanks recited on Jewish holidays) and the Kol Nidre (recited by the entire congregation on Yom Kippur). Many more are detailed here.
There are several Christian creeds. The earliest of these is The Rule of Faith as recorded by Irenaeus. The Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed are very old and venerable parts of Catholic liturgy. When Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses in 1571, he gave the Protestant faith its first separate creed. There are nearly as many creeds as there are denominations. Many can be found here. Common Christian prayers include the Lord's Prayer (the Our Father), The Act of Contrition (a prayer of repentance), the Benediction (Numbers, Chapter 6) and the Rosary. Read more here. The Eucharist has enormous power associated with it. Christians throughout the ages have entered into the ritual with humility, awe, and gratitude. The taking of holy food is a spiritual nourishment in the celebration of the Lord.
The Shahada is the Islamic creed: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God (in English). Recitation of the Shahadah is the most important of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims perform it daily. The Kalimah is an oft repeated phrase for Muslims as well: There is no deity but Allah (La ilaha illallah). This phrase is the bedrock of Islam, its foundation and its essence. Muslims pray five times a day, facing in the direction of the holy city of Mecca. This is the most important matter of Islam after having the correct belief in God and His Messenger and takes precedence over other non-obligatory matters. The Adhan, or call to prayer, is heard from the minaret 5 times daily. After purification, one of five prayers is recited: Dhuhr (Noon Prayer), 'Asr (Mid-afternoon Prayer), Maghrib (Sunset Prayer), Isha' (Nightfall Prayer) and Subh or Fajr (Dawn Prayer). These prayers are known collectively as salah or salat. You can read more here.
The Jewish year is not the same length as a year on the civil calendar used by most of the western world, so the date on the civil calendar will shift. The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year). "Leap months" are added to balance this out: a year with 13 months is referred to in Hebrew as Shanah Me'uberet. The Jewish months are (starting March/April) Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishri, Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat and Adar (called Adar Beit in leap years). A current Hebrew calendar is available online. Major Jewish holidays include Rosh Hashanah (New year), Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), Sukkot (commemorating the wandering in the desert and the final harvest), Shavu'ot (a festival commemorating the giving of the Torah and the harvest of the first fruits), Passover (commemorating the Exodus from Egypt) and Chanukkah (commemorating the miracle of the lamps). More are described here.
The Christian calendar is based upon the Gregorian calendar. The major holidays in the Christian faith center around the life and death of Jesus Christ. In most Western countries Christian holidays are usually designated as general holidays, recognizing the fact that many people do not plan on working during these days. Moving chronologically, the major Christian holidays are: Epiphany (January 6; celebrates the visitation of the Magi), Ash Wednesday (40 days before Easter, the start of Lent), Lent (40 days of reflection and religious contemplation), Holy Week (commemorates the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through His crucifixion on Good Friday), Easter Sunday (the most important of Christian holidays), Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to...) and Christmas (the birth of Christ). The Catholic calendar has many Saint's days as well.
The Islamic calendar is based on the year Muhammad and his fellow Muslims emigrated to Madinah in the year 622 C.E. and is lunar. Each month must begin with the evening when the new moon is first seen by the naked eye. The names of the twelve Islamic months are: Muharram, Safar, Rabiul-Awwal, Rabi-uthani, Jumadi-ul-Awwal, Jumadi-uthani, Rajab, Sha'ban, Ramadan, Shawwal, Dhil-Q'ada and Dhil-Hijja. Major Islamic holidays include Al-Hijra (New Year), Ramadan (a month of fasting and atonement), 'Id Al-Fitr or Eid al-Fitr (three days that mark the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha (marks the completion of the hajj), Ashura (a Sunni day of fasting, commemorates the day Nuh (Noah) left the ark and the day Musa (Moses) was saved from the Egyptians by Allah - For Shi'a Muslims, rituals and observances on Ashura consist primarily of public expressions of mourning and grief) and Mawlid (Muhammad's birthday). You can read more about Islamic holidays here.
The Jewish afterlife is referred to in Hebrew as Olam Ha-Ba, the World to Come. The Olam Ha-Ba is another, higher state of being. The place of spiritual reward for the righteous is often referred to as Gan Eden. This is not the same place where Adam and Eve were; it is a place of spiritual perfection. Only the very righteous go directly to Gan Eden. The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom or Gehenna, but sometimes as She'ol. The period of time in Gehinnom does not exceed 12 months, except for the very wicked who, after 12 months, are either destroyed utterly or continue in that place forever. In Christianity, each group has based their beliefs on what they regard as true interpretations of key biblical passages, supported by church tradition. The Roman Catholic Church bases its belief on Heaven, Purgatory and Hell on biblical passages in both books and the 14 books of the Apocrypha. Protestant groups believe in only Heaven and Hell. Purgatory and/or Limbo used to be part of church doctrine but have fallen into disuse. Belief in al-akhirah (an afterlife) is so crucial to the Islamic faith that any doubts about it amount to the denial of Allah. Heaven is described in the Qur'an as an eternal afterlife of peace and bliss, where the faithful and righteous are rewarded. Jannah comes from an Arabic word which means to cover or hide something. Jannah is also called Paradise or the Garden. The Islamic hell is called Jahannam, from an Arabic word which has several meanings: a stern look, darkness, and storm cloud. Jahannam, therefore, is a place which is scary, dark, and unfriendly.
The rites of passage, while differing on the surface, are all designed to help celebrate and sanction life's major events. Jewish babies go through a naming ceremony on the eighth day after birth. Boys will undergo a bris, or circumcision which is a covenant between the Hebrews and their G-d (also known as brit milah). Their ceremony is called brit milah. Although girls have no need to undergo circumcision, many parents choose to perform a formal birth ritual welcoming the newborn girl into the covenant between God and Israel; simchat bat. The name for a wedding in Hebrew is kiddushin, meaning sanctification. The wedding day is seen to be the beginning of a new life as a complete soul for both the Kallah (bride) and Choson (groom). Greeting the couple, Kabbalas Panim, involves various rituals including Tena'im (agreement to conditions of marriage), Maamar Lecha Dodi (a discourse on the significance of marriage) and Badecken (veiling of the Bride). The couple stands under a chuppah, a canopy representing the desire that their home be under the protection and guidance of G-d Al-mighty. A cantor sings the Mee Adir, a welcoming blessing. The ceremony usually consists of the Seder Kiddushin (betrothal and benediction), the reading of the Kesubah (the agreement), Sheva Berachot (the 7 blessings), breaking the wedding glass and Seudas Mitzvah (wedding feast). Jewish funeral customs begin immediately and include only seven of the closest people to the deceased in the major rites. Customs they will perform include: cutting Keriah (the tearing of a black ribbon or garment), pallbearers carrying the casket to the grave making even stops while Psalm 91 is recited, chanting the El Malei Rachamim (prayer for the peace of the departed soul) and Kevurah (the shoveling of earth into the grave). At graveside the Kaddish is recited completely by the mourners alone. The seven then will sit Shiva, a time of intense but sheltered and controlled grief, for seven days, following strict customs. Thirty days after the burial is Sheloshim and Yahrzeit is observed on the one year anniversary.
Many Christians are baptized into the Church while they are babies. This is known as christening , derived from Christ-naming, since it would be when the child would be given his/her Christian name publicly. Present at the ceremony will be the parents, godparents, relatives and friends. The Baptist church, Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches are emphatic that baptism is only for true believers. Since babies and small children are too young to have a personal belief, it would be wrong to baptize them. In Christian weddings, the bride is given away by her Father, symbolic of her leaving his household to form her own with her Groom. There are no particular actions or words, most couple go over this with their Pastor and decide what they want according to their tastes. There are always vows, however. The rings are exchanged either during or directly after the vows. Some couples light a unity candle to symbolize the joining of the two families. Then the pronouncement is made and the wedding party exits in a recessional. Funeral customs depend much upon the denomination. Roman Catholics would have received Last Rites before they died. There are generally three parts to a Catholic funeral: the rites performed at the house of the deceased and in transit to the funeral, the funeral liturgy, and the ceremony at the graveside. A Protestant funeral usually takes place as soon as possible after the death, often in a church or at a funeral home. Some families will choose to have a wake or visitation prior to the funeral, but not always. Protestant funerals are usually very quiet, solemn affairs, though some churches with a musical or more boisterous tradition of worship do incorporate those traditions in funerals. It is common for a reception to be held after the funeral, either at the church or at the home of the family where people share food and stories.
In Islam, two rituals accompany the birth of a child. First, the Adhan (call to prayer) may be recited in the child's ear. These are first words s/he hears. A few days later during the second, the child is formally given a name. This is often accompanied by other rites, such as a meal, sacrifices, readings from the Quran, and so on. One rite often practiced is that of almsgiving; the baby is weighed and an equivalent amount in silver is given to charity. Aqeeqah is the practice of shaving the child's head. Depending on the sect, the weight of this hair equals the amount of the alms. The Tahneek is believed to give the child the strength to nurse; a date is chewed until soft and given to the baby. Male babies are circumcised. Marriage is expected for all adult Muslims. Marriage is considered both a social agreement and a legal contract, so the couple will sign a nikaahnama before the ceremony. In it, is the mahr or bridal gift. This remains her own property as security in the marriage and can be cash, jewelry, property, or any other valuable asset. Different cultures have specific customs but, generally, the ceremony is the nikaah and is followed by the public wedding reception or walima . Islamic funeral customs begin, if possible, before death: a Muslim's last words should be the declaration of faith, I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. The relatives of the deceased are charge to remain calm and excessive displays of grief are frowned upon. Burial occurs as quickly as possible. The body is wrapped in a sheet called a kafan and transported to the site of the salat-l-janazah (funeral prayers). These prayers are commonly held outdoors, in a courtyard or public square, not inside the mosque and is known as musallah. The body is then taken to the cemetery for burial or al-dafin. Loved ones and relatives observe a 3-day mourning period. Mourning is observed by increased devotion, receiving visitors and condolences, and avoiding decorative clothing and jewelry. Widows observe an extended mourning period (iddah), 4 months and 10 days long.
Only Judaism and Islam have a ceremony for puberty. In Judiasm, bar mitzvah is the term for a boy coming of age and bat mitzvah for a girl. At this time, children become obligated to observe the commandments, take part in leading religious services, to count in a minyan, to form binding contracts, to testify before religious courts and to marry. The young adult Muslim goes through an initiation ceremony called the Shahada, during which a Muslim repeats the Islamic declaration of faith. From then on they are obliged to perform the religious rituals of Islam.
The tools used in rituals and rites are as varied as everything else we've learned about. The major ritual items in Judaism are candlesticks and candles (to bring in the Sabbath on Friday night), the Kiddush cup (for the ceremonial prayer said over wine), Challah plates (Challah is the bread traditionally eaten at holiday and Sabbath meals), the mezuzah (this marks a Jewish home) and the tzedakah Boxes (for saving money for charity). A headcovering worn by many Jews (predominantly males, but it depends on your denomination) during prayer, meals, and/or all the time is the yarmulke. Worn during prayer are the tallit or prayer shawl and the tefillin and phylacteries(a set of straps and boxes of Biblically inscribed parchments). Other items include the tzitzit (fringes), the kittel (a white undershirt or shroud), the yad (pointer for the Torah), the shofar (ram's horn that is blown on Rosh Hashanah), an etrog Box (for carrying etrogon Sukkot), the menorah (lamp for Hanukkah), the Megillah of Esther (scroll that tells the story of Purim) and the Seder plate (used to hold symbolic Seder foods).
Most ritual items of Christianity are used in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches. Generally speaking, Protestant items tend to be sparse; wooden crosses, plain offering baskets and Eucharistic items and non-fancy decorations. The main ritual items are a cross or crucifix (the difference is the figure of Christ; if present, the item is a crucifix), the paten or pyx and chalice (for the host), the font (vessel for holy water) and various personal items like saint's cards, rosaries, etc. Some clothing items include the cassock or soutane (the daily clothing of the priest), the amice (head covering), the alb (long tunic), the maniple (small stole) and the chasuble (a sleeveless mantle for Mass). The miter and crozier (hat and staff) are used by Bishops.
Islamic ritual items tend to be personal in nature as items are not used in most Muslim rites that take place in the mosque. Islam frowns on elaborately decorated items. The Qu'ran is displayed on a stand called a rehal. The tasbeeh is a string of 99 beads and is counted as ones recites the names of Allah. Each person has their own prayer rug, called a mehrab. Special clothing includes the hijab (women's head covering), abaya (traditional overgarment), jilbab (button-up dresses), salwar kameez (lightweight pants/top), the khimar (headscarf), niqab (face veil) burqa or chador (full length robe), smagh with a egal (men's head covering w/black headband), lungee (turban) and ihram (pilgrim's garment for hajj).
There are a few other words connected with each of these religions which I will approach in glossary form, beginning with Judaism...
Aron Kodesh: The cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept.
Ashkenazic Jews or Ashkenazim: Jews from eastern France, Germany and Eastern Europe, and their descendants. Most Jews in America are Ashkenazic.
Bimah: The pedestal on which the Torah scrolls are placed when they are being read in the synagogue.
Charoset: A mixture of fruit, wine and nuts eaten at the Passover seder to symbolize mortar used by the Jewish slaves in Egypt. This is quite yummy!
Diaspora: Any place outside of the land of Israel where Jews live. Refers to the fact that Jews were dispersed from the land of Israel by the Romans after the last Jewish War.
Dreidel: A top-like toy used to play a traditional Chanukkah game.
Essenes: A movement of Judaism that began approximately 2200 years ago. It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple.
Gematria: A field of Jewish mysticism finding hidden meanings in the numerical value of words.
Haggadah: The book read during the Passover Seder, telling the story of the holiday.
Kabbalah: Jewish mystical tradition.
Kosher: Describes food that is permissible to eat under Jewish dietary laws. Can also describe any other ritual object that is fit for use according to Jewish law.
L'Chayim: to life! A common Jewish toast.
Rebbetzin: The wife of a rabbi.
Rosh Chodesh: The first day of a month.
Seder: The family home ritual conducted as part of the Passover observance
Shabbat: The Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest and spiritual enrichment
Shalom: A way of saying "hello" or "goodbye."
Sidrah: A weekly Torah portion read in synagogue.
Tzaddik: A completely righteous person, often believed to have special, mystical power.
Yiddish: The "international language" of Ashkenazic Jews, based primarily on German with words taken from Hebrew and many other languages, and written in the Hebrew Alphabet. See my diary on it here.
Amen: The final word of a prayer, meaning so be it.
Apocrypha: Those books which are not included in any canon list.
Baptism: The rite of ritual immersion in water which initiated a person into the Christian church.
Ascension: When Jesus went back to heaven, 40 days after the resurrection.
Canon: Official list of individual books that make up the Scriptures.
Communion: The most important of the Christian services. It acts out the events of the last supper which Jesus had with his disciples.
Confession: Words spoken about your sins, asking God for forgiveness. In Catholicism, a session where you confess to the priest.
Epistle: A name for correspondences applied to the New Testament letters.
Free Church: A church which has no higher authority than the leaders of that church.
Gospel: Good news, especially the message of Christ and the salvation He brings.
Holy Spirit: God in the third person in the divine Godhead; God's non-corporal presence of God here on Earth; The Spirit of God.
Incarnation: When Jesus became human by being born to Mary
Last supper: The last meal that Jesus had before the crucifixion. At this meal Jesus gave a special meaning to the bread and the wine, which is remembered at the Eucharist.
Millenarian: Having to do with the expected millennium, or thousand-year reign of Christ prophesied in the NT book of Revelation.
Repentance: A term used indicate the state of sorrow and concern over sin.
Resurrection: When Jesus came back from the dead three days after he had been crucified.
Synoptic: The synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Theism: The position that affirms the existence of deity.
Transubstantiation: A belief that the wine and the bread at the Eucharist actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus.
Ahl al-Kitab: People of the Book, a term to represent Jews and Christians who were received revelations from God.
Assalamu alaikum: Greetings by a Muslim to another Muslim; Peace be upon you.
Da`wah: Refers to the duty of Muslims to invite or call others to the path of Islam. This, according to the Qur'an, has to be done with wisdom and beautiful advice, not violence.
Dhikr: Remembrance, the recitation of special invocations during and after ritual prayers.
Fatima: The daughter of the Prophet.
Fatwaa: Juridical verdict, legal opinion.
Ghusl: A bath performed in a prescribed manner and which is necessary to ensure purification after certain actions.
Jihad: Any earnest striving in the way of God, involving either personal effort, material resources, or arms for righteousness and against evil, wrongdoing and oppression. It does not mean holy war.
Khaleefah: The word khaleefah was used after the death of Muhammad to refer to his successor, Aboo Bakr, as head of the Muslim community. Later it came to be accepted as the designation for the head of the Muslim state. Anglicized as caliph.
Salaf al Saalih: The righteous forebears, refers to the early generations of Muslims
You will also see the following abbreviations in writings about Islam:
A.H. refers to the Islamic calendar (much like A.D. does)
SW stands for Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala (Glory to Him, the Exalted) and is used when writing about Allah.
SAWS means sallallahu alayhi wa salaam (may God's blessings and peace be with him) and, along with PBUH (peace be upon him) is used when writing about Muhammad.
That certainly is not all the terms used in these three faiths. There is much more to learn, if you are so inclined.
Next week, we'll cover Buddhism, Hinduism, Tao, Wicca and several other lesser-known religions. Please let me know if there is anything in particular you'd like me to cover.
And now, it's your turn....