Study of Religions
Study of Religions
An Example: Manichaeism & Islam
By Abolfazl Irannejad
Study of Religions
Generally there are two view points about religions and their study: the first one is that religions are inspirations from heaven, the second one deals with religions as a human process in the history of civilizations. The first one leads to the conclusion that from the beginning, god inspired and spoke to some prophets to guide people about essential subjects such as deity and maybe the idea of another life and resurrection. The second leads to comparative study of religions, i.e. study of the roots and origins of religions as a developing process in the history of human life. To accept any of these viewpoints, we need some evidence as support. This needs a glimpse to the trend of human civilizations and religions throughout the world. For the sake of simplicity and also to speak to the point, the case of primitive religions is not discussed here and I go over the case of advanced religions.
If we are to accept the first viewpoint, as it is usually expressed by clergies, we encounter some problems: the history of human life and civilizations contradicts with it! It is quite absurd to think about primitive religions as inspiration from god, moreover advanced religions formed in some societies not all of them, also there was no prophet inspired from God in some nations, even in advanced ones such as Greece. Also those religions proved to be ancient are not perfect, even in essential subjects. An outstanding example of this matter is that there was no idea of another life and resurrection in early Judaism and Moses, the great Jewish prophet did not know anything about it, even we have some points mentioned in Torah and other books of the old testament (Hebrew bible) that tell us they believed to its opposite, i.e. the only life is the present one! It is a proved fact that these ideas originally did not exist in Judaism and they came to it under the influence of Iranian religion, the one we call Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrianism itself has its roots in early Iranian religion that has a lot in common with Indian Vedic religion. The Vedic religion itself experienced a development process that can be deduced by investigating the books or hymns that remained from ancient times, regarding their chronological order.
From the illustrations made above, we may accept the second point of view, the view that was accepted by the most academic authorities in the world. From this point of view, we understand that as civilizations proceeds in development, the religions may be born, grown and completed.
But what is a religion, considering the above facts? We may say that a religion is an intellectual and also emotional process that moves toward perfection in civilizations. It is intellectual since it deals with reasoning about the existence of god and the necessity of a future life and although the discussion is polemic and controversial, we may accept these things; but these are only the backbone of a belief, and their interpretation and description requires an emotional process that really deals with inspiration. Religion is also emotional since the universe and even human life are so complicated that we cannot analyze it thoroughly, so we may use our inspiration to give an overall interpretation of the universe and our life and of our destiny. There were a few people who declared great ideas about religion and then their pupils completed the task so that a great religion formed. This is the case of Zoroaster & Zoroastrianism, Buddha & Buddhism, Jesus Christ and Christianity and at last Mohammad and Islam. After an overview about religious studies, I want to speak about Manichaeism and its similarity to Islam.
An Example: Manichaeism & Islam
In Sassanid Iran, a man named Mani from now day Iraq (Babylon) that had the experience of living in several religious communities came to the conclusion that since every great religion has great ideas of its own, the best thing to do is to combine them into a single religion and declare a unique universal religion. He wrote about 7 books including a gospel, one of his books that was named “Shapurgan” was in Persian and he dedicated it to Shapur I the second Sassanid Emperor. Some fragments of this books have been found in Turfan in central Asia. He said in this book: “the wise lord, the one who gave wisdom and knowledge to the first man, from time to time and age to age sent wisdom and knowledge to mankind, once in India and by Buddha, once in Iran and by Zoroaster and once in the west by Jesus Christ. Now it is Mani’s teaching that shows the real interpretation of the older doctrines”. His religion was a mixture of ideas from Great religions plus some novel ideas to bring the different doctrines into an agreement. He declared his religion as universal and himself as the seal of prophets and the one whom Jesus had promised to come after him (it is written in the Gospel of John, chapter 14:16,17 that Jesus promised someone to come, but actually Jesus meant no specific person, from the context we may conclude that he meant the holy spirit).
The place that he started his career was really a crossroad of cultures and religions and the world center for the exchange of cultures and religions. His religions looked vey promising and might have brought about peace in the world if it succeeded to become widespread, but after a while the Zoroastrian clergies that felt their position in danger, executed him and by this his movement was not stopped. However for about a thousand years it was an important religion that inspired other religions and was spread from china to Spain, the whole domain of the civilized world, although it did not have any power as its support.
Now we may talk about Islam, from the above description we can see that there are some astonishing similarities between Manichaeism and Islam. Islam like Manichaeism is a kind of combination of religions with novel ideas, but in the case of Islam, only Christianity and Judaism were considered as the source and as great religions and this is primarily because of the conditions of Arab peninsula. Mohammad had contact only with Jews and Christians. Also note that Arabs had only acquaintance with Judaism rather than Christianity and Arabs considered respect for them as civilized people, that is why Islam’s main source is Judaism. Mohammad declared himself as the seal of prophets as the murdered Mani did, he declared his religion as universal as Mani did (at least from ideological point of view, otherwise we do know that legally Islam is a national religion for Arabs). Also the attitude toward Christianity in the two religions is the same; apart from the point mentioned above about Jesus promise, Mani believed that Jesus was not actually crossed and it was someone else similar to him that was crossed, and in fact Jesus went to heaven; exactly the idea about Jesus in Quran. There are some other similarities about good and evil and in the case of eschatology. in case of rites, there are also some similarities. For example Mani’s Religion included some rituals among them was ablution before prayer, the one that transferred to Islam.
The interesting point is that what was the source of these similarities? We may answer that it might be Salman the Persian, the one who is claimed to come from Iran and joined Mohammad. Disregarding the stories about him in Islamic books, Salman is actually an unknown person; he might not be an Iranian, but a Christian Syrian that lived in Sassanid Persian empire (that was why he was called Persian) and might convert to Manichaeism, and since Manichaeism had different versions in different countries, a Christian version of Manichaeism; the version that deals primarily with Christianity rather than Zoroastrianism or Buddhism. This hypothesis may solve the problem that although there are some similarities between Manichaeism and Islam, there is no mention of Iranian and Indian religions in Quran and Quran world is limited to Jewish and Arab society and to the most to Christian society.