Buddhism Confucianism Hinduism Jainism

Mythology or Religion?

40 The Review of Religions – March 2005 And We did raise among e v e ry people a Messenger p reaching: ‘Worship Allah and shun the Evil One.’ Then among them were some whom Allah guided and among them w e re some who became deserving of ruin. So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who treated the prophets as liars! (Ch.16: V.37) When does mythology become religion, and vice versa? The verse quoted above is in the Holy Q u r’an, the religious text of Muslims, and gives a clear mandate to Muslims to travel the earth and study the religious development of all races on the planet. It commences by declaring that Messengers were sent to all peoples on the earth. In conducting such a study, we should find evidence of Prophets and religious development in every tribe or race, and also clues of the subsequent punishment inflicted on those tribes where a Messenger had been rejected or mistreated. Global vs Local Religion Some global faiths are treated more seriously because they have a written Book or heritage, and a greater following and political power. On the other hand, some beliefs and faiths are relegated to the realms of mythology because their followers are largely in the developing world and their beliefs have been transmitted orally rather than in a written form. But is this a sensible basis upon which to determine which faiths are Divinely-guided and which are not? Certainly, the M Y T H O L O G Y or By Fazal Ahmad – UK R E L I G I O N ? 41The Review of Religions – March 2005 Qur’anic verse quoted earlier is clear that religion was taught to every race, and in all parts of the world. So our study should start to uncover the evidence to support this claim. Have Global Faiths lasted the test of time? Let us take a look at a few examples. In Christianity, from an early time (within 300 years of the time of Jesus(as)), a written account existed of the life and works of Jesus ( a s ). Christianity grew in political and global strength on the back of first the Roman Empire, and then the dominance of European colonial powers that were able to spread their message around the world. Even now, Christianity has the largest following worldwide. Yet, if we look at the first four books of the New Te s t a m e n t (Bible) which are known as the Synoptic Gospels and cover the same set of events around the life and works of Jesus(as), we find elementary differences between them. This is well-documented and is too broad a subject to cover here, but the main point is that if four individuals had captured t h e i r own version of events and these had been transmitted orally to their own communities and eventually put to paper, then there would not be a surprise to find such d i fferences. What is striking despite the differences, is the strength of the character and teachings of Jesus( a s ) that still shine out of the Bible. Yet, if it were claimed that the Bible is the infallible truth from God and was Divinely revealed, then the inaccuracies have either evolved over time, or the claim to Divine revelation cannot be true. Even Christian commentators accept that the Bible has changed over the centuries, and more recent discoveries such as the Codex Sinaiticus in Egypt show that there are verses missing or added from copies of the Bible dating back to the 4th Century CE. Hinduism has hundreds of millions of adherents. It has a folklore built up of characters around Krishna( a s ) and others from a specific period of MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? 42 The Review of Religions – March 2005 antiquity based exclusively around the Indian culture. These traditions were captured in their holy book, the Bhagavad Gita. It is not easy to use this Book as a history manual and often the language used is symbolic rather than literal, yet the sense of the faith still emerges. Judaism also has a religious Book in the shape of the Torah. Again, the Torah (or a version of the Torah) is claimed to be Divinely revealed to Moses( a s ) e x c l u s i v e l y for the 12 Hebrew tribes. Ye t some of the events covered include the death of Moses ( a s ) which presumably not revealed to him in that state. Actually, the Torah also suffered a similar fate to the Bible in that it was transmitted orally and later put to paper following the Diaspora (dispersion of the Jews from the Middle East after the Babylonian and Roman con-quests of Palestine) at which point it was necessary to capture the text such that it would not be lost to later generations. Again, an in-depth study of the Old Te s t a m e n t ( Torah) shows anom-alies in the stories of the Prophets. So does this mean that the Torah is inaccurate and wrong, or that elements of the story have become distorted by man over t i m e ? In each of these cases, it can be a rgued that Divine religion had become distorted in some aspects and it now seems more like m y t h o l o g y, whereas the main concepts still appear coherent. J e s u s( a s ) described himself as the true vine (John 15:1), or that his body was like bread (1 Corinthian 11:24), yet clearly that was not MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? The Aborigines, Native American Indians, Yoruba, Scandinavians, Incas and many others held and often still hold very strong beliefs about the Creator, man’s status in the universe, life after death and cataclysmic events. Their teachings around a flood story will often resonate with versions of similar events in the global religions related to Noah( a s ). ‘ ’ 43The Review of Religions – March 2005 physically the case. Krishna( a s ) was described as having wings, yet again that was not physically the case. These were religious metaphors signifying traits such as protection which are exhibited by Prophets. Can we uncover Divine Truth in Mythology? In the opposite extreme are the various cultures around the world that hold a native or local religion. In the vast majority of these cases, it is hard to pinpoint a specific time or Prophet associated to their teachings. The Aborigines, native American Indians, Yoruba, Scandinavians, Incas and many others held and often still hold very strong beliefs about the Creator, man’s status in the universe, life after death and cataclysmic events. Their teachings of a Flood story will often resonate with versions of similar events in the global religions related to Noah(as). Yet these stories and beliefs are called mythology because they do not conform to our fundamentals of a traditional religion which are: • A named and known Prophet sent to a specific race; • A message for a specific time and people; • A Book capturing a Divine message; • An understanding of life after death and the status of the soul. In the latter case, it could be legitimately argued that the tribal beliefs are the opposite to the ‘global religions’ in that there is no written form of the original faith, but in some cases, we can piece together a view of the original religion from the clues we have today in the form of oral traditions. Scholars such as Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell did a lot of pioneering research on this subject in their time. Other characteristics of Prophets are that they invariably came at a time of spiritual decline when they were needed to oppose popular myths and beliefs, and to move people towards true religion. This made MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? 44 The Review of Religions – March 2005 them unpopular among their own people. So we should look for similar traits in other candidate Prophets. There is a grey area today between cults or local faiths that yield clues to their origins, or global faiths that have become distorted over time. Why are the man-made gods and goddesses of the Hindus today any different to the deities of the Greeks and Romans of two thousand years ago? They too had a sophis- ticated culture and excelled in arts and sciences just like us today. There are other religions that fall into the grey area between religion and mythology. The Ancient Egyptians are such an example. They had a strong religious identity. Although it is not possible at this time to pin- point a prophet or line of prophets, and there is no ancient Egyptian Bible, we do have a range of clues in the shape of temples, hieroglyphics and artefacts that provide ‘evidence’ of the beliefs of these ancient people. Could their Book of the Dead be seen as their religious text? The text describes a scene similar to our understanding of the Day of Judgement. It would be arrogant to consider their beliefs to have been anything less than a religion for them at their time, any less than our own faiths represent to us in this age. Again, the version of Egyptian religion presented in that text was d i fferent to what was being practised hundreds of years later at the time of Moses(as). The Qur’an describes how some races that rejected God and the Messengers sent to them, were utterly destroyed. Even here, scientists and archaeologists are trying to unearth remains related to the people of Noah(as), Sodom and Gomorrah, the tribe of Ad and numerous others. A sobering thought is what men will make of our current beliefs in two thousand year’s time. Wo u l d they plough through the rubble of London and New York and suggest that as these were two of the major population centres of MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? 45The Review of Religions – March 2005 the world, they must also be the centres of global religion in the year 2005? I wonder if the evidence they will uncover can lead them to believe that: • A message from heaven reached New York on September 11th, and thereafter, this became a sacred date in the world calendar. • Some of the most worshipped local deities included a global female singer and a male sportsman who played f o o t b a l l . • The singer wrote poems for her followers which they recited at mass worship sessions. • Man regularly visited the angels Apollo and Soyuz. This all sounds absurd, but consider the way archaeologists have to piece through fragments of evidence to discern the truth t o d a y, and you will see how plausible this could be for the archaeologists of the 23rd century if war destroyed much of the evidence of our modern culture. The only difference is that we now have such a volume of textual evidence, that it would be highly unlikely that they would not have some of this archive available to them. Known and unknown Messengers We cannot simply refer to the ‘known’ Prophets of the Bible and Qur’an and claim that they had exclusive rights over Divine origin, as the Qur’an itself explains: And We sent some MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? Our challenge is to search the books, traditions and temples of the ancients to uncover this lost treasure trove of religious knowledge. If we do this with an open mind, we will be guided to the truth and will be able to distinguish between the designs of mankind, and the Designs of God. ‘ ’ 46 The Review of Religions – March 2005 Messengers whom We have a l ready mentioned to thee and some Messengers whom We have not mentioned to thee… (Ch.4: V.165) And: Verily, We have sent thee with the truth as a bearer of glad tidings and as a Warner and there is no people to whom a Warner has not been sent. And if they treat thee (Muhammad) as a liar, those who were before them also t reated their Prophets as liars. Their Messengers came to them with clear Signs, and with the Scriptures, and with the illuminating Book. (Ch.35: V.25-26) A literal reading of these verses would indicate that there are many Prophets that we do not know about in detail. There were many Judaeo-Christian Prophets in the line of Abraham(as). There were thousands of Prophets sent to mankind, and of course, we only know of a handful of them. The truth is that any truly Divinely guided Prophet or Book stands out. Despite inaccuracies in various texts today, the beliefs, morals and brave actions of great Prophets such as Abraham( a s ), N o a h( a s ), Moses ( a s ), Jesus( a s ), K r i s h n a( a s ) and Muhammad( s a ) stand as a living guidance for us today. The Qur’an is the only Book which claims to have retained its authenticity 100%. There is ample evidence suggesting that the text has been preserved through time. Followers of Islam can easily adopt the wisdom of other Prophets who all seem to have a consistent belief-system. There can only be one God, because if there were multiple deities, they would be competing with each other, and this would be evident in universal events. If there is only one God, He may easily send messages in different forms to his creatures across the world, but the root messages could never be inconsistent with each other. While this is true for the great world faiths, it is equally true MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? 47The Review of Religions – March 2005 that you can find Divine wisdom in the teachings of Prophets such as Confucius( a s ), Zarathustra( a s ), and equally in the actions of J o b( a s ), Salih(as) and perhaps Socrates(as). Similarly, a study of the beliefs of the various African tribes, Aborigines, Maoris, Native American Indians, Aztecs, Incas, Egyptians etc., will unearth fragments of m o r a l i t y, respect for family, understanding of creation and life after death. Their views may be surprisingly similar to our own even though the context may be different. So in seeking to find these other Messengers that are not specifically named in the Qur’ a n , we should look for certain characteristics. These guides would have come not to appease their people, but to create a reformation. They would never malign other prophets. They would never deviate from the Unity of God. They would have faced hostility from their people, but also created a change amongst their followers. There are examples such as Akhenaton, the Egyptian Pharoah who went against the polytheism of his predecessors and asked his people to worship one God. The sparsity of information makes it harder to confirm whether his was a lone political mission to carve out his own status in Egypt, or whether he was a revolutionary Messenger striving to wipe away the mythology and polytheism that had come to pollute the religion of the Egyptians. There are several similar characters in tribes around the world. Stages of Development Not all races at various stages were sophisticated enough to receive an advanced religious message or to accept a Divine text. Even amongst the most widely accepted Prophets, there is a progression of religion. If A b r a h a m( a s ) had attempted to preach the details of Islam to a people that still worshipped animals and stars, it may have been too hard for them to comprehend. Instead what we find is a spiritual j o u r n e y. From the earliest MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? 48 The Review of Religions – March 2005 Messengers who tried to instill a belief in God and an understanding of His Nature, to those that preached a code of morality, to the final message of the Qur’an with all its subtlety and detail, there is a gradual development based upon our ability to comprehend God and His Law. Other Prophets also acknowl- edged that their teachings fell into a line of spiritual progress, for example: Confucianism: I have transmitted what was taught to me without making up anything of my own. I have been faithful to and loved the Ancients. (Analect 7.1) Jains: On the whole twenty-three Tirthankaras have appeared, the venerable mahavira being the last of the Tirthankaras. (Kalpa Sutra 2) Buddhism: I have seen an ancient Path, an ancient road traversed by the rightly enlightened ones of former times. (Samyutta Nikaya ii.106) Hinduism: Whenever the Law declines and the purpose of life is forgotten, I manifest myself on earth. I am born in every age to protect the good, to destroy evil, and to re- establish the Law. (Bhagavad Gita 4.7-8) Christianity: I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:12-13) All of the above, taken from d i fferent parts of the world, alludes to a succession of Messengers and an evolution of message over a period of time. Even looking at the remnants that history has left behind, there are so many unanswered questions. Was there a truly religious MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? 49The Review of Religions – March 2005 element ever to the structures at Stonehenge, Giza, Pompeii, Teotihuacan, Angkor Wat or Petra? In some cases, such as Stonehenge and Te o t i h u a c a n , they may signify the start of a social upheaval, and so it is possible that an individual responsible for that upheaval was also Divinely Guided. Others, such as Pompeii and Petra, may be scenes of people that rejected a Messenger and were utterly destroyed. Conclusion We already have so many recognised Prophets mentioned in the Bible and the Qur’an, so why search for others? The Qur’an tells us to seek knowledge, and goes on to say: And all of the import a n t tidings of the Messengers, w h e reby We strengthen thy heart We relate unto thee. (Ch.11: V.121) So the accounts provided in the Q u r’an cover the important tidings, but there will be others that repeatedly show the same events and outcomes for other similar tribes around the world. For the people of South America, Africa, Northern Europe or Australasia, it is not always easy to relate to stories of Prophets in the Middle East. When they learn of religious activity in their own parts of the world and among their own races, they start to grasp the messages in their own context. This would have been part of the purpose of sending so many Messengers to mankind around the globe. Our challenge is to search the books, traditions and temples of MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION? 50 The Review of Religions – March 2005 the ancients, analyse the infor- mation to uncover the truth, and uncover this lost treasure trove of religious knowledge. If we do this with an open mind, we will be guided to the truth, and will be able to distinguish between the designs of mankind, and the Designs of God. In some cases, aspects of accepted Religion will be uncovered to be merely mythol- ogy and folklore which have weaved their way into an accepted faith, while in other cases, from out of the mists of mythology, we will uncover the gems of true Religion. And We did raise among e v e ry people a Messenger p reaching: ‘Worship Allah and shun the Evil One.’ Then among them were some whom Allah guided and among them w e re some who became deserving of ruin. So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who treated the Prophets as liars! (Ch.16: V.37) The evidence we have so far would not cover every people. Most of our information relates to the line of Prophets in the Middle East. So clearly more research is needed to better understand the development of religion in Europe, America, Africa, Australia, China and elsewhere. God did not neglect these people. So it is our duty to seek out their spiritual roots. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) conducted wide-ranging research on this subject and inspired us to do greater research in this area. He repeatedly searched for the Adam in each race – the first man of each tribe able to comprehend Divine Revelation. His book R evelation, Rationality, Know- ledge and Tru t h is a lasting legacy that can inspire and guide us all to look deeper into other cultures, and to distinguish between mythology and divinely inspired r e l i g i o n . MYTHOLOGY OR RELIGION?