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Compararive Religions, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1592

Essay

 

1 Description of Field observation

According to the global hostilities that we witness everyday between the Islamic world and the Western world, I decided to choose as subject the Islamic religion. I centered my field observations upon two distinct events in the Islamic calendar. One was an observance of the Islamic Ashura festival, in December of 2011. The second field observation was centered on a normal Friday “day of assembly” at the Mosque, which delineates a time for shared prayer in the Islamic community, otherwise known as Jama Masjid. Hence, the two particular events denote, in the case of the former, a holiday and thus a special day in the Islamic calendar, while the latter is essentially a bedrock of normal life within the Islamic community, dictating the tempo of belief and worship. The two thus provide an excellent juxtaposition to compare the religious norm and the religious holiday exception in which faith takes on a more pronounced status that resembles that of an event: such a juxtaposition aids in the understanding of two extremes of the given tradition, so as to better understand it from a the standpoint of religious worldviews and how individual members of religion experience their respective faiths in all its diversity..

2 Field Notes

Ashura: In 2011, the Islamic ceremony of Ashura was held on December 5. The yearly date of the ceremony varies according to the Western calendar, insofar as the dates for the ceremony are determined by the Islamic lunar calendar. Such a detail is important to underscore, since it emphasizes some of the presuppositions that we have about the basic structure of our everyday lives: the calendar we and the world operate on is merely an accepted calendar, one that even within the Christian tradition has changed. Hence, other ways of marking the passing of the year and the important ceremonies that occur throughout the year continue to subsist to the present day, showing the diversity of human experience of the world.

Being unfamiliar to the Muslim faith, the tradition of the Ashura and the particular way in which it manifests the Muslim worldview is important to underscore. The holiday is a commemoration of the death of Husayn Ibn Ali, a grandson of Mohammed, who died a martyr’s death in a battle in Arabia in 680 A.D. Husayn Ibn Ali possesses a religious significance for the Muslim faith, as his death symbolizes a certain undying fidelity to the precise religious words conveyed by the prophet Mohammed. In other words, a celebration of the life of Husayn Ibn Ali is a celebration of the defense of the Islamic faith, as Hussayn is seen as protecting the tenets of the Qu’ran against the transgression of its divine commandments.

Being in a non-Muslim country, the ceremony of Ashura was much somewhat subdued. In researching my planned field observation, I looked at video footage from Ashura festivals from predominantly Muslim countries, such as Iraq, where the ritual of zanjeer or self-inflicted whipping, is a predominant feature of the ceremony. Such ceremonies were absent in the ceremony I attended. Rather, the ceremonies were marked by an almost funereal tone for the martyred Hussayn, as traditional prayers from the Muslim repertoire of texts dominated the event, providing a very somber atmosphere. Nonetheless, the event of Ashura is primarily, from the worldview of the Muslims, a celebration of the commitment to the Islamic faith, such that there was also free food and meals available to those who attended the mosque, an act traditionally known as Niazz. Accordingly, the Ashura ceremony was a vivid synthesis of somber recollection of religious history with a celebratory communal gathering that demonstrated the convictions of those who belong to the Islamic faith.

In contrast to the exception of Ashura, the Jama Masjid or day of Assembly on Friday at the mosque took on a much more regular air that the exceptionality of the previous ceremony. The Friday prayers do not mark only an opportunity to show a commitment to faith, but also show close bonds amongst the Muslim community and an opportunity to meet after a long work week. As for the prayers themselves, when the service in the Mosque itself was carried out, pleasantries were placed aside and a deep attentiveness to the faith was demonstrated by all those involved. Despite being an outsider, some remembered me from when I attended the Ashura service, and when I explained my particular reasons for attending the service, I was cordially welcomed. In summary, the Jama Masjid prayers demonstrate how a religious practice can provide a deep foundation for social and community gathering

3 World View Analysis

The religious experience is inevitably something deeply subjective and personal. Whereas entire communities are constructed around the religious traditions and institutions of the vast number of the world’s great faiths, in the last instance such faiths attempt to communicate the importance of the individual’s personal relationship with the transcendent or the divine. The world is to essentially be looked upon not from a “profane” perspective, but rather a “sacred” perspective, so that we can understand or rather strive to understand the meaning of the world from a divine position that is entirely non-worldly. From this perspective or worldview, it is therefore best when making field observations of religious ceremonies to not take an outsider’s perspective, which inevitably judges and measures the ceremonies of another faith according to the presuppositions of the observer, but rather to assume an immanent perspective, in which one truly tries to understand the religious experiences taking place. While for a first time observer of a religious event foreign to one’s own tradition, the observer will inevitably not be able to assess the depth of the experience, such a suspension of judgment provides a valuable first step to approaching such religious events. In this case, the tradition of Islam – when one encounters it from the outside – may seem radically disparate to the norms of the observer. Yet when one begins to strive to understand and experience the shared communal experience that ultimately conveys the desire for a close relationship to God, one notices the underlying harmony between all of the world’s great faiths.

Worldviews of religions themselves can exhibit themselves in different ways through the particular calendar divisions of the tradition. Hence, holidays and regular ceremonies may assume basic different forms, although the message is the same: a relationship between community and God, as the individual subject within the place of worship is drawn closer to his or her friends and family, while also being drawn closer to the divine. A traditional Islamic service, such as the Friday day of prayer of the Jama Masjid, marks the regularity with which religious ceremonies shape the structure of everyday life. The day of prayer is certainly a day of rest after a long week’s work. At the same time, it is an opportunity to reflect upon what is truly important in one’s life. The gathering of the shared community of Muslim believers on a Friday strengthens the bonds of the greater social group. It is a time to exchange ideas and anecdotes within a greater religious context. Concomitantly, there is an underlying sense of a greater purpose that underlies this social gathering, as all those who attend are committed to a particular world-view regarding what the divine means. The divine thus operates during these prayer days on both subjective and inter-subjective levels. One who experiences the prayer ceremonies attempts to listen to the words, so as to become closer to the divine. This religious experience is nonetheless carried out in a communal setting, in which the believers are brought together because of the particular way in which the Divine Word of the respective tradition has shaped them.

This fundamental way in which the Jama Masjid structures the routines of the faithful can be contrasted with the evental, holiday character of the Ashura festival. As an exception in the yearly Muslim character, demarcating the martyring of the grandson of Mohammed, the festival marks a celebration of the commitment and historical endurance of the Muslim faith. While the festival is essentially somber in character, insofar as it marks a tragic date in the Islamic calendar, it is nevertheless a time for gathering and remembrance. The marked contrast between the solemnities of the prayers carried out in the Mosque, based on traditional Islamic prayers, and the communal gathering of those who affirm their faith, convey the importance of this particular holiday for Muslims, and moreover underscore the importance of religious holidays for believers from all different faiths and worldviews. There is a sense in which a ceremony such as the Ashura highlights the basic tenets of religion in general: a combination between the orientation to a divine goal that transcends everyday life and the close bonds that religion forms between the community.

The attending of a religious ceremony of a particular faith of which one has never been a part lets one reflect on how religious worldviews operate in their particularity. The attendance of the aforementioned Islamic religious events evinces the traditional beliefs and tenets of the community: that is, how they socialize and how they worship. At the same time, the experiencing of such events demonstrates the universality that cuts across all different religious faiths, in the form of a commitment to a transcendent divine essence that gives life a greater purpose and the community of believers that support each other and find support in their faith. The religious worldview, irrespective of a distinct tradition, demonstrates a remarkable synthesis of our everyday lives and a simultaneous belief in something greater.

 

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