Option 1: IslamIslam is one of the world’s major religions that spread rapidly after the birth of the last prophet, Muhammad. Muhammad was a merchant born in Mecca in 570 AD at a time where many of the people surrounding him were polytheistic. The holy scripture, the Qur’an, tells that one night as the prophet was meditating in a cave, the angel JIbreel ordered him to recite. The prophet was illiterate but when Jibreel mentioned the name of Allah, he began to recite Qur’an which he believed were the words of God. Muhammad began to preach words that God had revealed to him. Muhammad’s popularity threatened the people in Mecca so he left his birthplace and took his followers with him on a voyage from Mecca to Medina. This journey is known as the Hijrah meaning migration and it marks the year the Islamic Calendar begins. Muhammad gained many followers who saw him as Allah’s prophet as well as their ruler and he assembled an army that was able to return and conquer Mecca and destroy idols that were put in the Kaaba, a holy shrine believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham better known in Islam as prophet Ibrahim. Prophet Muhammed lead his followers and community and advised them on earthly matters as well as spiritual ones until his death in 632. Proceeding the death of the prophet, the community was under strain as instructions were not given on who should be the leader. Eventually, Muhammad’s companion, Abu-Bakr, was chosen to be the caliph, meaning successor. Over the next two years of his ruling, Abu-Bakr lead the ridda wars which united all of Arabia into a single nation under Muslim authority. The next caliph was Umar ibn al-Khattab who used the army as a tool to expand Islam across the Middle East. After some time some Muslims disagreed on who should lead the community and an obvious division was made between two groups of Muslims now known as the Shiites and Sunnis. Option 2: BuddhismBuddhism is a religion that originated between 600 and 500 BC. It began when a prince, Siddhartha Gautama, was kept in his palace by his father for many years with his wife and son. This was because his mother had a vision of a white elephant descending from heaven which was interpreted to her son growing up to become a holy man and his parents opposed that idea. The prince left the palace and saw the outside world and in his journey, he saw an old man, a sick man, and a dead man. These encounters made him realize that in all life, there is suffering. After leaving his family at home, the prince meditated for 48 days hoping to understand ‘the realm of life where there is neither suffering nor death’. After that period of meditation, he suddenly realized the root of suffering as well as the cure. He spent the rest of his life teaching people what he learned. What he believed he mastered was that in life there is suffering, pain, and sorrow which stem from desire, and the one way to overcome suffering is by getting rid of all desires. He believed the one way to overcome desire was by following a set of steps called the Eightfold Path. Through his practices, Buddha believed people could reach nirvana which is a union with the universe and a release from the cycle of rebirth. Buddha acquired many followers over his lifetime when he preached his teachings throughout northern India. After Buddha’s death, his followers accumulated his teachings and gathered them into a holy text, the Tripitaka. Although Buddhism spread across Asia, it made a slow decline in India. Hinduism took in some Buddhist ideas and made Buddha another Hindu God. Option 3: JudaismJudaism was a religion different from many others at the time because it was monotheistic meaning they worshipped only one God. Much of the history and information on the religion can be found in their holy book, the Torah. The book speaks of prophets who were selected by God to interpret the text and spread the religion and commands. The founder of Judaism was Abraham, who moved with his family, in 2,000 B.C to a land called Canaan. It was believed that God told him to go to move there and in time the land would become a powerful, successful nation. After a while, a long drought affected Canaan, causing Abraham’s descendants to move to Egypt. As the Hebrew population grew, the Egyptian king became afraid of the Hebrews gaining too much power and enslaved them. God then instructed Moses, another prophet, to free the Hebrews in a journey named the Exodus. They returned to Canaan after the death of Moses and there they became known as the Israelites. Israel became a powerful nation ruled by King David who unified the tribes into one nation. David’s son Solomon turned Israel into a powerful nation with an impressive capital dedicated to God. His work required forced labor and taxes and after he died, revolts erupted and divided the nation into Israel in the south and Judah in the north. The nations became weak and Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and Judah by the Babylonians. Their great temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and during this period of Babylonian captivity, the Israelites became known as the Jews. Years later, the Persian ruler, Cyrus, conquered Babylon and freed the Jews from captivity. They returned to their homeland and built a more modest version of Solomon’s temple, and lived under Persian rule. Option 4: ChristianityChristianity is an Abrahamic religion that followed the teachings of a man named Jesus. Before Jesus was born and during most of his lifetime, all of the Mediterranian was controlled by the Roman Empire. Jewish people did not accept being under Roman rule and they believed a Messiah would come and liberate them. This was when Jesus was born. Much of what we know about Jesus’s life was written years after he died. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in 4 B.C. He was a Jewish carpenter who began preaching at the age of thirty and continued until he turned thirty-two. During this two year period, he performed miracles and traveled to deliver a moral message. The message entailed peace, justice, and service to others. He had twelve main followers better known as his disciples or apostles. Jesus began to face trouble when he got to Jerusalem and started to refer to himself as the Messiah and the Son of God and proclaimed that he would save the souls of all of his believers. His preaching became threatening to the Jewish leaders as well as the Romans who were worried his preaching would cause riots and overthrow their leadership. Judas, one of his disciples, betrayed him and traded him to the Roman leaders. They crucified Jesus, and Christians believe he rose from the dead after 3 days. This is the origin of the Easter celebration. After he rose, he demanded his disciples to spread his teachings around the world. A few years later, the whole Roman empire was Christian and had a pope in Rome to spread the religion. Some people didn’t believe the pope and Roman beliefs so the East-West Schism happened in 1054 where they broke into the Eastern and Western Orthodox church. Protestants also became another group of Christians who followed Martin Luther in his protest against the Catholic Church in Germany.Option 5: HinduismHinduism is a religion with no definite starting point, and its early history is difficult to date. It embraces many traditions that may go back several thousand years. It’s origins mainly comprise of practices from the Indus Valley as well as the Aryan people. The Indus Valley religion and modern day Hinduism have similarities . The religion in the Indus Valley involved temple rituals, ritual bathing in the ‘great bath’ and possibly animal sacrifice as well as goddess images. The Vedic period was significant in the Hinduism religion. Vedas were the most ancient Hindu scriptures which are the Hindu’s definition of truth. Vedas were passed from teacher to student through oral tradition. The Vedas were first memorized by the priests and then recited to people in different social groups. The Gods were a community of powers who were associated with natural events or phenomena. Vedic Gods lived in three realms of the universe: the earth, atmosphere, and sky. Through most of the Vedic period, Brahmins or priests were the central place of power and oversaw the sacrifices made to the Gods. During 320 – 500 CE, the Gupta Empire rose and 3 great traditions developed, each centered around one of the 3 Gods: Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi. In the medieval period, devotion to the major deities rose. Great temples were built devoted to a deity and became centers of political and religious power.
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