Salvation in Hindu and Islamic Traditions
One of the main components of most religious traditions is the idea of some type of release or rebirth that comes with death. For most Christians and Westerners this notion is defined by the idea of heaven and everlasting life, but it is a concept that is found in almost all world religions. For Hindus, the final state is something both more and less than heaven; it is a release from the cycle of death and rebirth that is referred to as moksha (Kinsley 1982, p.110). There are a number of different ways that Hindus can reach salvation. Likewise, there are different Islamic traditions that can shape the path to salvation. Even more critical is the fact that these religions have developed largely in overlapping regions of the world, so that they have existed in tension and in harmony, helping shape cultural and religious traditions, including opinions about salvation. What it means to be Islam or Muslim “are implicitly defined in relation to other religions and human communities” (Gottschalk 2006, p. 202). Therefore, the cultural influence may impart similar elements to the religious traditions, despite the fact that Hinduism is not one of the Abrahamic religions, with which one would expect to find overlap with Islam.
Generally, Muslims believe that they will go to Paradise on judgment day, if they have lived a righteous life. The determination of whether life has been righteous is a posthumous one, but the behavior that is considered spans a person’s entire lifetime. This Paradise is similar to traditional concepts of Heaven, although not identical. Muhammad’s night journey on a winged horse, in which he traveled to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and ascended a multi-layer ladder into Paradise, was a precursor to what many Muslims believe will occur, not at their death, but at sometime after their death. Instead, worldly events have to occur to trigger this day of judgment. These events are outside of the control of the individual and cannot be considered a self-directed part of the journey to salvation, though they are important to salvation. In most Shia and many Sunni Muslim religious traditions, a spiritual leader known as a Mahdi will return to earth to lead the faithful after the Earth has fallen into a decline (Gottschalk 2006, p. 210). Then a dajjal or deceiver will come and try to lead the people astray. The Madhi will reveal the deceiver and then Jesus will return. It is then that the individual’s behavior in life will become critical to the person’s salvation. “Those whose good deeds outweigh their bad enjoy an eternal paradise; those who do not, face one of the seven levels of the inferno” (Gottschalk 2006, p. 210).
How one determines good deeds is something that varies tremendously in the Muslim community. In many instances, Muslims are expected to live as separately from non-Muslims as possible. These societies are more likely to be conservative and follow traditions that one may anticipate from Muslim stereotypes, such as requiring women to wear a headdress or other form of religious clothing, requiring Muslims to live separately from non-Muslims (Desker 2002, p.385). Critics suggest that this is an emphasis on form rather than the substance of the religion, and that this behavior is not the type of meaningful behavior that impacts the relative morality of one’s actions. However, the Wahhabis subscribe to the view that Muslims should be complete
(kaffah) because Islam encompasses all aspects of life and a totally Islamic outlook is required. They advocate the establishment of an Islamic state, the implementation of sharia law and the imposition of state-sponsored codes of dress and public behaviour”(Desker 2002, p.386). Because Islam encompasses a wide range of beliefs, influenced by cultural norms as well as religious beliefs, Muslims clearly are going to differ in what type of behavior is considered moral and what behavior is considered immoral. However, the majority of them still believe that their life will be examined and their good and bad deeds will be evaluated in order to determine whether they have been found worthy of salvation.
The Hindu tradition is very different from the Muslim tradition because good and bad deeds in one’s lifetime has one minimal bearing on whether the individual will reach Moksha. Some of the most important components of Hindu tradition are found in the Vedas.
“The Vedas had such a central place in Hindu thinking that allegiance to them as revealed literature, in some sense at least, is one of the few central dogmas of present-day Hinduism” (Hawkins 2004, p.22). Part of this Vedic tradition involves tradition, and these daily rituals are an important part of the Hindu path to salvation. However, it is also critical that these rituals be incorporated into daily life. “The goal of the spiritual quest, Krishna says, is to make of one’s whole life a continuous act of worship and in doing so to transcend one’s attachment to ego and individuality and wake up to one’s eternal identity as Brahman” (Kinsley 1982, p.105).
In fact, in some traditions, it is this daily worship that is critical to the achievement of Moksha. “In essence, common worship is a ritual through which the worshiper is deified. Ritually undertaking his own death and dissolution, the adept then recreates the world and himself” (Kinsley 1982, p.121). This ritual rebirth breaks down the delineation between the worshipper and the deity, so that they become one, which is the goal of salvation in the Hindu tradition. “The Kalika Purana states that this ritual enables the adept to have every wish fulfilled and that after living a long and fruitful life he will dwell with the Goddess in her heaven for a long time before being reborn” (Kinsley 1982, p.121). Therefore, even for those Hindus who are unable to achieve Moksha in this lifetime, the rituals become an important component in the cycle of rebirth and help move the practitioner towards the final unity with the deity. This differs from the morality of behavior that determines salvation from a Muslim perspective.
Desker, B. 2002, ‘Islam and society in South- East Asia after 11 September” Australian Journal
of International Affairs 56(3), 383-394.
Gottschalk, P. 2006, ‘Indian Muslim tradition’ in Mittal, S. And Thursby, G.R., eds., Religions of South Asia: an introduction, Routledge, London, pp.201-245.
Hawkins, B.K. 2004, ‘The beginnings of South Asian religions’ in Introduction to Asian
religions, Pearson Longman, New York, pp.12-28.
Kinsley, D. 1982, ‘Worship in the Hindu tradition’ in Hinduisim: A cultural perspective, Prentice
Hall, New Jersey, pp. 105-121.