Religion Archives

What is Karma? – An Brief Introduction to Karma

We’ve all heard the phrase karma thrown about. People talk about having good karma and bad karma. But exactly what is karma? Well there really are a few different definitions. In its most simple form karma can be thought of as spiritual consequences. This means that good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished. 

In its most basic form karma is just an action. It doesn’t hold spiritual weight in and of itself. Instead it’s the intent of the wielder who determines whether an act is for good or ill. 

The four basic types of Karmic actions are:

  •  The words we speak
  • The thoughts we have
  • The actions we take for ourselves
  • The actions we take for others.

 If you look at these four items its easy to see how any one of them can influence for good or evil. Bad thoughts and speech towards another will often result in animosity towards the speaker of those words.

In more new age thinking Karma is often expressed as a compounding influence known as threefold return. This means that for every deed you do you can expect the same returned to you at 3 times the weight. So good is rewarded with greater good and ill is punished with greater ill. 

Several different religions use Karma in their teachings including:

  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Neo Paganism
  • Sikhism 

The biggest idea that separates Karma from other religions is its practicality. Karma is an assumed consequence. It does not matter whether a person is a believer or has faith in a god. The actions of the individual will be accountable to the individual. 

A few short paragraphs aren’t nearly enough to delve into the different religious and social implications of Karma. Instead it’s meant to be a brief overview.

If you simply remembers that Karma is a matter of cause and effect then you are well on their your to inner peace.

Understanding Scientology

Scientology is one of the most argued-over religions in the World.  It is often in the public eye because of the number of Hollywood stars who practice it.  To understand why it’s so controversial, we’ll start by taking a look at the astonishing life of the man who founded it.

L. Ron Hubbard

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was an American, born in Nebraska in 1911.  He died from a stroke in 1986 leaving an estate valued at $600 million.  He was a controversial figure, even during his own lifetime.  Scientology biographies have portrayed him as an expert in many fields although some former scientologist and independent researchers dispute these claims.  Let’s just pick out some of the highlights:

Blackfoot Indian Blood Brother?

Hubbard’s father was in the Navy and so the family moved constantly.  While living in Montana, Hubbard claimed to have made friends with a medicine man and become a blood brother of the Blackfeet Indians.  However, a Blackfeet historian has reported that the Blackfeet never performed blood brother ceremonies. 

Youngest ever Eagle Scout in the USA?

This was reported in the Washington Evening Star in 1930 and yet the Boy Scouts of America say that their records were kept alphabetically so it would be impossible to tell who was the youngest.

Hubbard learns about Freud

Between 1927 and 1929, Hubbard’s father was posted to Guam.  There, Hubbard met Navy Commander Joseph ‘Snake’ Thompson who had recently studied with Sigmund Freud in Vienna.  He passed on some of Freud’s teachings to Hubbard.

Studies with Holy men?

Several Scientology biographies state that Hubbard studied with Holy men in China, India and Tibet.  Hubbard claimed that he was made a lama priest in China.  However, his diaries of those years were used as evidence in a trial and no mention was made of any form of Eastern Philosophy.

Education

Hubbard majored in civil engineering at George Washington University.  However, he was put on probation after poor exam results.  After another year of failures, he left without completing his degree.

During WWII, Hubbard attended a short course at the Naval Training School at Princeton.  The course, which he failed, offered some teaching on molecular and atomic physics.  Hubbard later claimed to be a nuclear physicist and co-authored a book about radiation and its’ effects on the human body in 1957.

The ‘Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition’

After leaving University, Hubbard became a writer.  In 1932, he led this 5,000 mile voyage on a schooner with over 50 college students.  They were to collect flora and fauna and document pirate activity.  However, they only visited 3 of the 16 ports that they had planned to see.

The Explorers Club

Hubbard became a member in 1940 and gained a licence to drive steam and motor ships.  In 1961, he completed the ‘Ocean Archaeological Expedition’ and in 1966 was awarded the Club flag for the ‘Hubbard Geological Survey Expedition’

Ph.D for Dianetics

In 1953, Hubbard received an honorary Ph.D. from Sequoia University, California, for “…his outstanding work and contributions in the fields of Dianetics and Scientology.”  In 2009, The Times newspaper (UK) obtained documents from the National Archives which said that Hubbard and [some other people] had rented premises in Los Angeles, registered them as a university called Sequoia and then awarded each other doctorates.”

Military Life 

Mysterious submarine attack

In 1943, Hubbard was performing poorly as a Junior Grade Lieutenant in the Office of Naval Intelligence.  This continued when he was assigned to test the performance of the PC-815, a ‘submarine chaser’ ship on a voyage to San Diego, Hubbard attacked two enemy submarines.  The battle went on for two days and Hubbard involved at least four other ships plus two blimps to resupply the ship.  After the action, Hubbard wrote in a Naval report that he had “definitely sunk, beyond doubt” one submarine and critically damaged another one.  However, in a memo to the Fleet Admiral, Vice Admiral Frank Fletcher noted “…there was no submarine in the area…unable to obtain any evidence of a submarine except one bubble of air…due to a depth charge explosion…The Commanding Officers of all ships except the PC-815 state they had no evidence of a submarine and do not think a submarine was in the area.”  Fletcher also implied that Hubbard and his crew were not operating the PC-185’s SONAR correctly as the ‘submarines’ were actually million year old deposits of magnetic ore on the sea bed.   

Unauthorized Gunnery Practice

The following month, Hubbard anchored off the Mexican Coronado Islands without permission and ordered unauthorized gunnery practice.  He was ordered to return to base but didn’t.  The Mexican authorities lodged an official complaint.  This led to a Board of Investigation chaired by Vice Admiral Fletcher who wrote “Consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results…”  Hubbard was relieved of command.

Four years later, Hubbard wrote to the Veterans Administration asking for psychiatric help.  His letter was ignored.

Aleister Crowley criticizes Hubbard

In 1945, Hubbard met John Parsons and subsequently lived in a trailer in his yard.  Parsons was obsessed with the British Occultist Aleister Crowley’s ‘Sex Magick’ and was a member of Crowley’s Ordo Tampli Orientis international group.  Parsons had a girlfriend called Sara Northrup who ditched him for Hubbard.  Sara subsequently became Hubbard’s second wife, with one catch – he was still married to his first wife at the time.  He later tried to persuade Sara to kill herself to save him the trouble of a divorce.  The three formed a business partnership and Hubbard eventually absconded with all of the money.  Prior to this, Parsons and Hubbard regularly performed a homosexual ‘sex magick’ ritual, with the aim of calling up ‘Babylon the Great’ from the Bible – an abominable character.  Parsons frequently updated Crowley on their  progress and Crowley wrote to a colleague in New York “I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts.”  

Hubbard the writer and Dianetics, the birth of Scientology

Hubbard had already published many science fiction and adventure books and aviation novels and wrote for magazines.  In 1950, he (with several other people) began the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  This was to coordinate the work on Dianetics.  In 1950, the first article, called Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science appeared in a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction.   Around that time, Hubbard also completed Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health allegedly finishing the 180,000-word book in only six weeks.

The book brought in a large amount of money, which Hubbard used to start Dianetics centers in six American cities. However, the book was received with a mixture of bemusement, concerned alarm and some hilarity by Medical and Scientific reviewers. Complaints were made against Dianetics practitioners for allegedly practicing medicine without a license which led to advocates of the practice disclaiming medical benefits to avoid prosecution.

Hubbard responded to the critics by saying that they were involved in a plot conceived by the American branch of the Communist Part.  Years later, he claimed that the psychiatric profession (who he believed were secretly in control of most of the Governments in the world) had initiated the criticism of Dianetics.

What is Dianetics?

Hubbard invented the word from the Greek dia, which means though and nous which means mind.  Dianetics addresses the relationship between mind, body and spirit.  It postulates that the mind has three parts.  The conscious ‘thinking’ mind, the subconscious ‘reacting’ mind and the somatic (to do with the body) mind.

Scientology ‘Auditing’

Scientologists believe that the reactive mind stops people from becoming more ethical, happier and more sane.  Their goal is to remove the reactive part and to do this, they use a method called ‘auditing’.  The ‘auditor’ asks a series of questions which are designed to rid the ‘patient’ of painful past experiences – which they believe cause the mind to be reactive.  This has been reported to be quite a traumatic process with the person being audited often suffering a form of breakdown.

Hubbard loses ‘Dianetics’

Dianetics continued to attract cautionary and hostile reviews with Consumer Reports magazine calling it ‘the basis for a new cult’ and said it contained generalizations not backed up with scientific evidence.  However, it sold well.  Despite this, the foundations ran out of money, in part due to proceedings against them for teaching medicine without a licence.  Some supporters left.  Hubbard later told the FBI that these ‘deserters’ were ‘communists’.  Hubbard sold the rights to ‘Dianetics’ to avoid bankruptcy but it remained the basis for today’s Scientology.

Scientology takes off…

In 1952, Hubbard moved to Arizona and worked on what he called “…the applied religious philosophy” of Scientology.  He coined the name Thetan (pronounced Thay ton) for the human soul and claimed that it could be improved with Scientology.  This was to be achieved with auditing.  In 1952 he started a Dianetics Center in London.  1953 saw the birth of the Church of Scientology in New Jersey and in 1955 he began the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington D.C.  In 1959, he bought a Georgian Manor House in Sussex which became the world headquarters for Scientology.   

‘Auditing’ continued and he introduced the ‘E-meter’, a biofeedback device which had originally been developed for use by a chiropractor.  This was said to quantify what Hubbard called ‘mental masses’.  These masses apparently prevented thetans from advancement.

He also claimed that most physical ailments were ‘all in the mind’ and that enlightened Scientologists would be free of illness.  He claimed they were just due to negative memories, which he called ‘engrams’.  These would stay in the ‘reactive mind’ of an unenlightened thetan for ‘billions of years’.

Donations

Scientologists had to give donations (at a fixed rate) for training courses, being audited, books and ‘E-meters’ to use when they became auditors.  This was extremely lucrative. 

Scientology – a Religion or a Business?

  • In a letter written in 1952, Hubbard said “…calling Scientology a religion…solves a problem of practical business…A religious charter could be necessary in Pennsylvania or NJ to make it stick.” 
  • In a further letter in 1962 he wrote that Scientology “…is being planned on a religious organization basis throughout the world. This will not upset in any way the usual activities of any organization. It is entirely a matter for accountants and solicitors.”
  • In 1948, in front of 23 members of the Eastern Science Fiction Association Hubbard allegedly said that he “…wanted to start a religion to make money…”  He allegedly repeated the same desire according to the Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and to other independent witnesses.

World Controversy

During the 1960’s, the UK, New Zealand, Victoria in Australia and Ontario in Canada all held public enquiries into Scientology.  The Australian conclusion was that Hubbard’s sanity was “to be gravely doubted”.  New Zealand held an enquiry too.  Hubbard had moved there in 1966 and claimed that he was Cecil Rhodes reincarnated.  Rhodesia had been hit by UN sanctions and although Hubbard offered to plough vast sums of money into the country, they asked him to leave.

Hubbard takes to sea

In 1967, Hubbard resigned as director of Scientology and awarded himself the title of ‘commodore’ to a fleet of ships that spent the following eight years in the Mediterranean.  The group was called ‘Sea Organization’ and became the management group for Scientology.  Hubbard was waited on by teenage girls and became renowned for having screaming fits.  Witnesses have testified in court that he also drank and took drugs and that anyone who crossed him was put into a dirty ship’s locker for weeks on end.  Others were blindfolded, tied up and thrown overboard.  This was done to both adults and children.  This ended when he was asked to leave by the Greek Government.

Other high points

  • In 1977, the FBI raided Scientology offices because the IRS had found evidence of millions of dollars taken from Churches and put into overseas banks.
  • In 1978, in a case brought against French Scientologists, Hubbard was found guilty of ‘fraudulent promises’.  He received four years in prison and a fine of 35,000 Francs.  However, Hubbard was not in France and escaped these penalties on a technicality.  However, because he refused to talk to British immigration about this, the Home Office banned him from the UK.  This was overturned in 1980.
  • In 1984, following a child custody case involving a Scientology family in London, Justice Latey branded Scientology “dangerous, immoral, sinister and corrupt.”  He added that it “its real objective is money and power for Mr. Hubbard.”
  • Hubbard introduced what he called ‘Fair Game’ against anyone who tried to ‘suppress or damage Scientology.  The ‘ENEMY – SP (suppressive person) Order’ said that these people “May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”  He withdrew the term ‘Fair Game’ in 1968 as he considered it to ‘cause bad public relations’ however, the order went on to say This does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP.”

What is the power of Scientology?

Hubbard was at best a money-driven fantasist.  At worst he was a compulsive liar, bigamist, fraudster, drug and alcohol abuser, practitioner of satanic rituals, wife beater (claimed in Divorce papers) and possibly suffering from a psychiatric disorder (as evidenced by the medicinal drugs and injection marks found on his death).  His own son, L. Ron Hubbard Jnr. said “I would say that 99 per cent of what my father has written about his own life is false.”

The following celebrities are known to have once followed Scientology but no longer do:  

  • Oliver Stone – film director J.D. Salinger – author of The Catcher in the Rye
  • Brad Pitt – actor
  • Christopher Reeve – actor who played “Superman”
  • Van Morrison – influential singer, songwriter, musician (lapsed)
  • Sharon Stone – actress
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov – ballet dancer
  • Patrick Swayze – actor
  • Kate Capshaw – actress, Steven Spielberg’s wife
  • Rock Hudson – actor, movie star
  • Emilio Estevez – actor
  • Leonard Cohen – songwriter
  • Ricky Martin – singer
  • Gloria Gaynor – singer 
  • Frank Stallone – actor brother of Sylvester Stallone
  • Demi Moore – actress
  • Gordon Lightfoot – singer
  • Aldous Huxley – writer
  • Charles Manson cult leader

The following are still followers:

  • John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston
  • Tom Cruise and his wife Katy Holmes (ex wife Nicole Kidman left Scientology prior to their breakup)
  • Nancy Cartwright – voice of “Bart Simpson” on The Simpsons
  • Kirstie Alley – actress
  • Juliette Lewis – actress
  • Priscilla Presley – actress and wife of Elvis Presley
  • Lisa Marie Presley – daughter of Elvis Presley
  • Isaac Hayes – musician
  • Chaka Khan – singer
  • Sonny Bono (a follower during his lifetime) – singer and ex husband of Cher

The only question is…why?

Kabbalah The Complete Idiots Guide

It is no secret that Madonna is a devotee of Kabbalah.  And she isn’t the only celebrity follower of this spiritual organization.  Here’s our guide to Kabbalah and why so many of the rich and famous are queuing up to join.

Madonna and Kabbalah

As Madonna was the first to bring Kabbalah to our attention, it seems only fair to start with her involvement.  She studies regularly with a personal rabbi from the Kabbalah Centre and no longer performs concerts on a Friday night because it is the onset of Shabbat.  Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and is a day of rest in Judaism. It lasts from when the sun goes down on Friday until Saturday night.

The Red String

Madonna also wears the now famous red string.  This is worn around the left wrist for protection and is said to bring divine protection from evil spirits as well as bringing good fortune.  Truly authentic ‘red string’ has been previously wound around the tomb of Rachel (a Biblical Hebrew matriarch) near Bethlehem.

The Malawi Connection

Madonna has worked with the Kabbalah Centre on a project called ‘Raising Malawi’ to bring aid relief to the African Nation.  Madonna has now adopted two children from Malawi.

Other Celebrities who have been associated with the Kabbalah Centre

  • Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore
  • Britney Spears
  • David and Victoria Beckham
  • Donna Karan
  • Jerry Hall
  • Lindsay Lohan
  • Lucy Liu
  • Mick Jagger
  • Naomi Campbell
  • Nicole Richie
  • Paris Hilton
  • Roseanne
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • Sandra Bernhard
  • Zac Efron

So what is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is far from some new celebrity ‘fad’.  Kabbalistic teachings were passed down orally through Jewish families and teachers and were said to have been given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai around 1300 BC / BCE.  Some believe that Kabbalah started with Adam.

The Kabbalah Centre (as followed by Madonna) in the United States was founded in 1922 by Rav Yehuda Ashlag, one of the greatest Kabbalists of the 20th century. Before he died, he passed leadership to Rav Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein, who in turn passed it to Philip (Rav) Berg (born Feivel Gruberger). Berg and his wife, Karen, spent several years in Israel and then opened a Kabbalah Centre in New York. The current headquarters of the Kabbalah Centre are in Los Angeles. Karen and their sons Yehuda and Michael are the Directors and Spiritual Leaders of the organization. There are now over fifty branches all over the world, with other major ones in London and Toronto.

The Kabbalah Centre uses Jewish and non-Jewish teachers to instruct anyone in the principles of Jewish Mysticism, whatever their religion, race, marital status or gender. It has faced some opposition from Jewish organizations who say it is essentially non-Jewish and see its’ popularity with Jews as a problem. This is because some forms of Judaism don’t allow Jews to take part in any form of religious ritual with non-Jews.

What do they teach?

Kabbalists believe that all spiritual and religious beliefs are branches of one universal wisdom.  As such, the Kabbalah Centre doesn’t offer itself as another religion – but a supplement to all others.

Followers of Kabbalah don’t take the Bible literally but believe it to be a code which can be understood through a knowledge of the Zohar.  The Zohar is a commentary of the five books of Moses, called the Torah.  The Torah is a group of books which were written in medieval Aramaic and contain mystical discussions on (among many other topics) the origin of the universe, souls, good, evil, and the nature of God.

Some Kabbalistic beliefs

The Light – God is beyond our understanding and so it is more important to nuture a relationship with the essence of God.  In the beginning, light is all there was.  But light wanted to share and in order to do so, created man to appreciate it.

99% – Our five senses allow us to access only 1% of reality.  The remaining 99% is inacessable unless one learns wisdom from Kabbalah.  Nothing that happens in the 1% is random.  It is a result of the other 99%, which is total happiness and understanding of truth.

Restriction – When anything happens, we respond in an emotional way.  If we wish to remove the negative impact of our ego, we must control our emotional response to negative situations.  In other words, it’s not what happens to us, but how we react to it that is important.

Klippot – The concept is that we all have a direct connection to God / Light.  However, this is blockedby Klippot, which prevents the spiritual energy from entering our physical body.  To remove the block, it is necessary to meditate and study Kabbalah.  If we do not observe restriction and the 99%, then we add to the Klippot / block and prevent ourselves from becoming closer to the Divine.

Astrology – Rav Berg is an Astrologer and Kabbalists believe that everything is affected by cosmic forces.  The Centre says that Rabbis suppressed the Kabbalah almost 2,000 years ago and so astrology was dropped from Judaism.  This is not strictly true as medieval Jewish scholars are known to have studied astrology.

If you are interested and would like to know more…

…visit the Kabbalah Centre website, for information, books and classes or you can also find a variety of helpful books about  Kabbalah on Amazon.

An Introduction to the Religion of Islam

Islam is essentially a peaceful religion.  However, many people do not know that – because it is impossible to write about Islam and Muslims without recalling the terrible events of September 11th 2001.  The two seem to have become inextricably linked and that has, understandably, damaged the public perception of what it really means to be a Muslim.  So, before we take a look at Islam, let’s clear up some misunderstanding about 9/11.  The dreadful terrorist attack is believed to have been orchestrated by Osama Bin Laden, who claimed responsibility.  But is Bin Laden a Muslim and what do other Muslims really think about that tragic day?

Osama Bin Laden’s religion

Bin Laden was born to a wealthy family and was raised to be a Muslim – but his family were devout followers of Wahhabi Muslim.  This is a breakaway group that is believed to have been started by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab who wished to purge Islam of ‘unwelcome innovations’.  Wahabis didn’t just disapprove of non-Muslims – they also committed violent acts against other Muslims, who they saw as not strictly following the religion.  In 1801 – 1802, they took over the holy Iraqui cities of Karbala and Najaf, slaughtered many of the people and destroyed holy tombs.  This is the way of thinking that Bin Laden was brought up to believe in – not the peaceful path of Islam.

Muslim reaction to 9/11

Virtually all leaders of Islam and Muslim organizations spoke out to condemn the terrible events of that day.  The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (the highest official of Muslim religious law), said that  “…hijacking planes, terrorizing innocent people and shedding blood, constitute a form of injustice that cannot be tolerated by Islam, which views them as gross crimes and sinful acts.”

Reprisals

Following 9/11, there were many attacks on Muslims living in America, many who had been born there.  On September 17th, six days after the Towers fell, George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center in Washington DC and spoke out against reprisal attacks, saying “…those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.

Prince Charles speaks up for Islam

On December 13th 1996, Prince Charles gave a speech in Sussex, England, which he titled “Building Bridges between Islam and the West”.  He said “…I start from the belief that Islamic civilisation at its best…has an important message for the West in the way it has retained an integrated and integral view of the sanctity of the world around us.  I feel that we in the West could be helped to rediscover the roots of our own understanding by an appreciation of the Islamic tradition’s deep respect for the timeless traditions of the natural order.”

So what is ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’?

Muslims say that Islam itself has no concept of ‘fundamentalism’.  They say that this term was originated by the media in the west, to include those who wish to follow the ‘fundamental principles’ of Islam and live their lives according to those principles.

They go on to say that a practicing God fearing Muslim can not be a fanatic or an extremist because Islam is a religion of moderation.

What does the word ‘Islam’ mean?

It has two meanings, peace and a conscious and willing submission to the one Almighty God, Allah.  This submission requires Muslims to act on Allah’s Holy word (as written in the text of the Qur’an) and also on what Allah’s Prophet, Muhammad, entreated followers to do.

Peace is achieved by getting rid of one’s ego and submitting to Allah.

What about Muslim Sects?

Muslims do not have sects but there are two major ‘groups’ of followers within Islam.  These are the Shia (15% of Muslims) and the Sunni (85% of Muslims).  Both groups follow the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, pray five times a day, fast for the month of Ramadan and make the pilgrimage to Mecca, called the hajj.

How the Sunni and the Shia differ: The Sunni follow the Prophet Muhammad.  The Shia (who mostly live in Iran and Iraq) follow the Prophet Muhammad and the teachings of Ali, who was the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law.

Who was Muhammad and what is the Quran?

The Prophet Muhammad was born into a noble tribe in Mecca, Arabia, in 570 AD.  He was  descended from the Prophet Ishmael who was the son of Abraham.  Muhammad’s father died before he was born and he lost his mother at six years of age.  He was raised first by a nurse (which was customary in those times) and then by his grandfather and an uncle.  In his youth, he liked to meditate in a cave and at the age of 40, he became a Prophet because the Angel Gabriel appeared to him in that cave.  For the next 23 years, the Angel gave him the revelations which were compiled into the Quran.  This book, which Muslims believe is the word of God, has been kept in its’ original form.  Muslims say that it confirms the words of the Torah, the psalms and the holy gospels.

Do Muslims worship Muhammad?

No they don’t.  They believe in all prophets and that includes Adam, Abraham, David, Noah, Moses and Jesus.  Muslims simply believe that Muhammad was the last of all of the prophets.  They don’t worship any human being – believing that only God (Allah) is to be worshipped.

What is the Muslim opinion of Jesus?

Many people don’t realise that Jesus is held in very high regard in the Islamic faith.  Muslims believe him to be the promised Messiah, born of the Virgin Mary to bring the word of God.

What are the ‘pillars of Islam’?

There are five main pillars of Islam, which all Muslims are required to follow.  They are:

1.  The belief in one God (Allah) and the belief that the Prophet Muhammad is his messenger.

2.  Praying to Allah five times each day.

3.  Fasting during the month of Ramadan.

4.  Charity

5.  Hajj – the once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca (if one can afford it financially and one is physically fit enough to make the journey).

These are called pillars because Muslims liken them to a building, which needs all of the pillars to be of an equal height and strength.  Therefore, it is necessary to follow all of the pillars of faith.

In addition to the pillars, the moral codes of Islam demand truthfulness, honesty and many other qualities which make a ‘good’ human being.  Once all of these are in place, the ‘building’ is complete and perfect.

Are there things that Muslims can’t do?

Yes.  The Quran teaches that it is forbidden to eat pork or any product derived from pork.  Muslims may not eat meat from an animal which died before it was slaughtered.  They mustn’t eat any animal that is carnivorous or drink blood.  They are also forbidden to use alcohol or recreational (i.e. non medical) drugs.

What is Sharia?

This is the Muslim law which comes from two sources, the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad.  Islamic laws exist to protect the basic human rights of each individual.  This includes a right to life, property laws, political freedom, religious freedom and upholding the rights of women and minority groups.  In areas where Muslims are devout, there is a very low crime rate.

But isn’t Islam oppressive to women?

Muslims don’t believe that it is.  Over 1400 years ago, Islam gave women the right to divorce, the right to be financially independent and Hijab – the right to be recognized as dignified women.  Under Islam, married women can keep their maiden name.  They can also keep any money that they earn and spend it how they choose.  One of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings was “…the best among you is the one who is best to his family.”  However, it is true, that some Muslim men do oppress women – but this is not due to Islam.  It is because of cultural habits that are non-Islamic or because of an ignorance regarding their religion.

But the women have to cover up so much…

Islam believes in modesty and that no-one (women or men) should be viewed as a ‘sex object’.  For both sexes, the rule is that garments should not be too thin or too tight – to avoid showing the shape of the body beneath.  Men have to cover at least from their knee to their navel.  In general, Islamic women cover all of their body apart from their face and their hands.  However, this is due to choice and respect, not oppression.

Muslims are not all terrorists – but peaceful people with a strong faith and a good sense of morals.  It is such a pity that they are not often viewed with that in mind.  We hope that this has helped to spread a little understanding.