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The religion of Islam is often thought of as beginning with Muhammad, who was born in Mecca in 5770 CE. Forty years later the word of God was revealed to him by the angel Gabriel, and this revelation was the first of many which were collected and came to constitute the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book. But Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last in a line of prophets and that the message given to him was the final one. Thus they do not see him as the founder of the religion, but believe that Islam has its origin in the very creation of man.
In the time before time, God was. And when God wants to create something, all he needs to say is "Be", and it becomes. So it was that God created the world and the heavens. He made all the creatures, which walk, swim. Crawl and fly on the face of the earth. He made the angels, and the sun, moon and the stars to dwell in the universe. And consider, as the Qur'an says, how God poured down the rain in torrents, and broke up the soil to bring forth the corm, the grapes and other vegetation; the olive and the palm, the fruit trees and the grass.
Then it was that God ordered the angels to go to the earth, and to bring seven handfuls of soil, all of different colours, from which he could model man. God took the seven kinds of earth and moulded them into a model of a man. He breathed life and power into it, and it immediately sprang to life. And this first man was called Adam. God took Adam to live in Paradise. In Paradise, God created Eve, the first woman, from out of Adam's side. God taught Adam the names of all the creatures, and then commanded the angel to bow down before Adam. But Iblis, one amongst the angels, refused to do this, and thus began to disobey God's will.
God place the couple in a beautiful garden in Paradise, telling them that they could eat whatever they wanted except the fruit of on forbidden tree, But the evil one tempted them to disobey God, and eat the fruit. When God knew that Adam and Eve had disobeyed him, he cast them out of Paradise and sent them to earth. But God is merciful. The earth was created to give food, drink and shelter to the human race. The sun, moon and stars give light. It is a good world, where everything has been created to serve people. And people, the Qur'an teaches, should serve God and obey his will. For those who submit to the will of God will be saved, and taken to live forever in Paradise.
The Muslim creation story is found in the Qur'an, and further explained in various teachings given by Muhammad, which were collected and are known as the Hadath. At the heart of the creation story is something which Muslims all over the world hear every day in their Call to Prayer - God is great. For Muslims believe there is only one God who created everything. God's world is a good world, and when people obey or submit to God then life is good. The word 'Islam' means submission. Although God made humans superior to the rest of creation, Muslims believe that this means humans have been given everything on earth to care for and look after. The world is not ours to do with as we want. The Qur'an teaches that Muslims should be thankful for all living things, for God is the creator of all life.
The Jewish calendar is dated from the supposed year of the Creation. This is indicated by the letter 'AM' after each year - meaning 'Anno Mundi', Year of the World. For Judaism sees its origins in the Act of Creation and its own inceptions as being part of the Divine plan. In the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and later in the Talmud (a collection of commentaries on the Torah), the pattern and purpose of Creation is revealed and the important role assigned to humans is spelt out.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Some say that God also created the Torah at this time, and a mighty voice crying, "Return, you children of men". God said, "Let there be light". And there was light. And God saw that it was good, God divided the light from the darkness, naming them ' day' and 'night'. Evening and morning came - the first day. God said, "Let the waters be divided". And God made the arch of the sky to hold back the waters from the earth. He placed some above the arch and some below. Some tell of the waters arguing about this division, and thus disagreement entered the universe. Of this day God did not say, "It is good". Evening and morning came- the second day. God said, "Let the waters under heaven come together, and dry land appear". Thus the earth arose, and [plants and trees grew, and God saw that is was good. Evening came and morning came - the third day. God said, "Let the great light and the small light appear in heaven to govern day and night. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came - the fourth day. God said. "Let the waters fill with creatures and the sky with birds". God saw that it was good, and blessed them. Evening came and morning came - the fifth day.
God said "Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature". God saw that it was good. Then, last of all when the earth was ready God said. "Let us take dust and create man, Adam, to be master over all creatures". So Adam was created in God's own image.
God saw that Adam needed a friend - woman. Some say that the earth was worried and asked. "How shall I feed all her children?" God replied, "Fear not, together we shall find food". So Lilith was made from the dust, also in God's image. But Lilith would not live with Adam and went her own way. So God made a woman before Adam's eyes, but Adam turned from her. Finally, putting Adam in a deep sleep, God took one of Adam's ribs and made Eve, and placed the couple in Paradise.
On the seventh day, God finished his work and rested. And Paradise was blissful, until Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden them to do. God punished them, and cast our parents out of Paradise to struggle in this earthly life.
The Break in the relationship between God and first humans is however not seen as a final one. Through the Covenants with Abraham and Moses, the Jewish people have a close relationship with God; they are to act as a model of the way God wishes people to live and to use the world. The world is a larder full of good things but it is ours on trust and we must care for it as well as use it.
Christians believe that God created the world and all living things. They picture God as having three forms or aspects: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit, who carries out God's will on earth. They believe that God sent Jesus to tell people about God's love, and that Jesus died to forgive humanity's sins. They also believe that Jesus will return at the end of time, when there will be a New Creation. The following creation story is found in Genesis 1 and 2 in the Old Testament section of the Bible, the Christian holy book.
In the beginning, God created the universe. At first the earth was shapeless and covered in darkness, and God's spirit hovered over the waters. God said, "Let there be light". And there was light. God divided the day from the night, naming them ' day' and 'night'. This was the first day and God saw that it was good. On the second day God made the heavens to separate the water from the earth and on the third day he raised the dry land up from the waters below the heavens and commanded the earth to bring forth all plants. God saw that it was good. God then made the greater light for the day and the lesser light for the night, and he saw that it was good. This was the fourth day. On the fifth day God commanded the waters to fill with living creatures and the air to fill with birds. And he was pleased with what he saw. On the sixth day God commanded the earth to bring forth all kinds of living creatures and he saw that it was good. God then said "Let us make man in our own image". So God created man and woman in his own likeness and gave them authority over all living things. God looked at everything he had made and was very pleased. On the seventh day, God rested.
Now the first man, Adam, was created by God out of soil and given life by God's breath. Adam named all the animals and birds that God had made, But Adam had no companion of his own so God caused him to fall into a deep sleep and created woman - Eve- from one of Adam's ribs. God told them that together they could live in the Garden of Eden eating whatever they wished except the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But the most cunning animal, which God had made -the serpent -, tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. So Adam and Eve both ate and suddenly saw what they had done ant that they were naked. Covering themselves with fig leaves they tried to hide from God. But God knew of their sin and called out to them. Then he cursed the serpent and Adam and Eve, and in shame they were driven from the beautiful Garden. God told Adam he would now have to toil and sweat to work the very soil from which he had been created. Then God blocked the entrance to the Garden with a great fiery sword so that no one could enter in.
For Christians the most important part of this story is the final creation of human beings. Since they were made in God's image and given power over all living things, Christians believe that humans are the most important of God's creations. Some Christians think that this means humans can use the world as they wish, while others believe that God intended humans to care for and look after the work. Christians use the story of 'the fall' to explain why suffering and death have entered the world. But they believe that God will create a new and better world where those who have tried to live as God wants, will live forever.
Humanism is a way of life, which centres upon human values and regards human beings as part of the natural world, with dignity and worth achieved through the use of reason and scientific method. Humanists therefore believe that everything that exists is a result of natural processes, which in time, science will be able to explain. The creation story given here is the theory, which scientists believe best explains the facts that we know about the origins of the universe.
This earth, our home, is a small blue-green planet, orbiting a minor star on one arm of a galaxy called the Milky Way. A galaxy is composed of gas, dust and many millions of stars and there are some hundred thousand galaxies in the known Universe. Recent observations show that clusters of galaxies are moving apart from one another as the space between them expands and this must mean that long ago they were closer together, It is now believed that, at a certain time in the past, which can be calculated as roughly 15000 million years ago, all the matter and energy in the Universe was concentrated in a mathematical point with zero volume from which it burst out in one 'Big Bang' to create the Universe.
After the Big Bang the Universe began to cool and clouds of gas collapsed under the pull of their own gravity to form starts. About 4500 million years ago the Earth condensed out of the gas and dust swirling around our star, the sun. Fossil records show that the first signs of life appeared soon after - about 4000 million years ago. Lightning and ultra-violet light from the sun began to break apart the simple molecules of the primitive atmosphere and these fragments recombined to produce complex molecules, which could eventually reproduce themselves.
So, over millions of years, different forms of life have evolved; some species existed briefly then died out, others became extinct after millions of years. If life on Earth appeared only, then all living things must be descended from a common ancestor. Now, for the first time, one species, Homo sapiens. Has the power to destroy the world; the future of life on Earth is in our hands.
Since human beings are the only creatures with the knowledge and understanding to be responsible for their actions. Humanists believe that we should use our knowledge for the benefit of every living creature on our planet. Care for the environment is crucial because, in our ignorance, we could destroy the delicate balance, which has resulted from the process of evolution.
According to Western scholars, the religious tradition that we know as Hinduism is the product of at least 5,000 years of development, with roots stretching back to the Indus Valley civilisation, which prospered some 4 - 5,000 years ago. However, the origins of this religion are shrouded in mystery and according to Hindu scriptures may be millions of years old. There are many Hindu creation stories but the one given here helps to explain one of the major Hindu beliefs - reincarnation.
This is not the first world, nor is it the first universe. There have been and will be many more worlds and universes than there are drops of water in the holy river Ganges. The universes are made by Lord Brahma the Creator, maintained by Lord Vishnu the Preserver and destroyed by Lord Shiva. Since the universes must be destroyed before they can be recreated, Lord Shiva is called the Destroyer and Re-creator. These three gods are all forms of Supreme One and part of the Supreme One. The Supreme One is behind and beyond all.
After each old universe is destroyed nothing is left but a vast ocean. Floating on this ocean, resting on the great snake Ananta, is Lord Vishnu. Some say that a lotus flower springs from his navel and from this comes Lord Brahma. And it is from Lord Brahma that all creation comes.
How dies Lord Brahma create? Some tell of how he grows lonely and splits himself in two to create male and female. Then he becomes one again and human beings are created. In the same way he creates all the other living things, from the great animals to the tiniest insects. Others say that everything comes from different parts of Lord Brahma's body. All the different animals and all the people come from his mouth, arms, thighs and feet. Everything comes from one - Lord Brahma, who is part of the Supreme One - so everything is part of the Supreme One. For this universe, this world and this Lord Brahma, like all those before and all those to come, will be destroyed by Lord Shiva.
How long is the life of a universe? Its length is beyond imagination. One day to Lord Brahma is longer than four thousand million of the years that we know. Every night when Lord Brahma sleeps the world is destroyed. Every morning when he awakes it is created again. When the Lord Brahma of this universe has lived a lifetime of such days the universe is completely destroyed by Lord Shiva.
Everything disappears into the Supreme One. For an unimaginable period of time chaos and water alone exist. Then once again Lord Vishnu appears, floating on the vast ocean. From Lord Vishnu comes forth Lord Brahma of the new universe and the cycle continues for ever.
This belief in reincarnation, in the cycle of life, strongly influences the lifestyle of may Hindus. It can best be explained by the terms 'dharma' and 'karma'. Dharma may be translated as 'duty' and for Hindus, part of that duty is to respect and care for all living things. The belief that after death we are reborn in another body, not necessarily human, leads to a great respect for all life and results in many cases of vegetarianism. Karma is the result or product of what we do. If we do our duty, then we create good karma, since the next life we may have is directly related to the actions of our present life. To the Hindu, everything is part of the Supreme One, and thus every living thing is equally important in the great cycle of life.
Three rivers of thought and practice flow into making traditional Chinese belief. These are Taoism, based on the teachings of the book 'Tao Te Ching, Confucianism, springing from th ethics of K'ung Fu tzu, and Buddhism, which first appeared in China during the 1st century CE.
All three speak of the yin and yang, the dark and the light, as being the creative power, which sustains all life and being. Yin and yang are not to be seen as gods or deities in any sense. They are the natural forces behind nature and even the gods, such as P'an Ku, are creations of the yin and yang.
'Let it be told of a time when there was nothing but chaos, and that chaos was like a mist and full of emptiness. Suddenly, into the midst of this mist came a great colourful light and from this light all things that exist came to be. The mist shook and separated, that which was light rose up to form heaven and that which was heavy sank. Became solid and formed the earth.
Now from heaven and earth came forth strong forces and these two forces combined to produce yin and yang. Picture this yang like a dragon - hot, fiery, male, full of energy. Imagine this yin as a cloud - moist, cool, female, drifting slowly. Each of these forces is full of great power. Left alone they would destroy the world with their might and chaos would return. Together they balance each other and keep the world in harmony.
This then is yin and yang and from them came forth everything. The sun is of yang and the moon, yin. The four seasons - winter, spring, summer and autumn - and the five elements - water, earth, metal, fire and wood - sprang from them, So did all kinds of living creatures.
So there was the earth, floating like a jellyfish on water. But the earth was just a ball without features. Then the forces of yin and yang created the giant figure P'an Ku, the Ancient One. P'an Ku, who never stopped growing every year of his great long life, set to work to put the earth in order. He dug the river valleys and piled up the mountains. Over many thousands of years he shaped and created the flow and folds of our earth.
But such work tool its toll. Even mighty P'an Ku could not escape death and, worn out by his struggle, he collapsed and died. His body was so vast that when he fell to the ground his body became the five sacred mountains, his hair the plants and his blood the rivers. From his sweat came the rain and from the parasites living on his body came forth human beings.
The people at first lived in caves but soon Heavenly Emperors came to teach them how to make tools and houses. The people also learnt how to build boats, to fish, to plough and plant, and to prepare food. This is how it all began.'
The belief in the balancing forces of yin and yang lies at the heart of the Chinese philosophy and influences the way the Chinese people treat their environment. They see the earth as a living being which must be cared for properly, kept in order, so that the powerful forces of yin and yang are kept in balance.
The aborigines have lived on the vast island of Australia for over forty thousand years and are one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world. Each group has its own collection of stories, including Dreamtime (creation) stories, and ceremonies related to their own particular area of land. The stories, passed on orally, are very sacred and many are secret. The following stories have been taken from different groups who have allowed them to be told to outsiders.
We have been told, as our fathers were before us, that there was land, but it was a bare, flat, barren plain. No animals ran there. No birds sang overhead, No trees or bushes grew. No sound of water could be heard. Nor was there any man or woman. Baiame, or the Maker of Many Things as some called him, brought the Dreamtime ancestors from under the ground and over the seas. With them, life came to the barren, flat plain. Some of the Dreamtime ancestors looked like men or women. Others looked like the animals or creatures, which descended from them. But often the Dreamtime ancestors could change their shape. So the Swordfish ancestor could look like a swordfish or a man or woman.
As the Dreamtime ancestors wandered over the land many adventures befell them. They met with other ancestors. Arguments often arose and the ancestors would set out on their travels again. They met strange creatures and fought battles. Each time something happened the very shape of the land changed. Hills arose, plants grew. Where the Barramundi-fish ancestor swam rivers appeared. When a wrong thing was done, when people, ancestors or animals did what they should not, the Rainbow snake would rush down upon them. He would either drown them, making bays and rivers, or swallow them. Then he would spit out their bones to form rocks and hills. From the Dreamtime Rainbow Snake came the feared ngaljod snake, still deadly and dangerous to those who are careless. But the Rainbow Snake is not just vengeful. To some people the rainbow Snake is Old Woman, who in the Dreamtime taught her children - humans - to talk and understand. She taught them to dig for food and what to eat.
And the sun, moon and stars? These also came to be in the Dreamtime. For one day Emu ancestor and Eagle ancestor were fighting. Eagle took one of Emu's eggs and threw it into the air. Soaring up, it burst into flames. Baiame fed the flame with wood. So the sun was made, and is made anew each day with fresh wood. Everything that is was mad in the Dreamtime, how animals and humans should look and behave was fixed forever. The Dreamtime ancestors taught their tribes, animal and human, how to perform secret ceremonies. Then the ancestors disappeared into caves or waterholes - to remain underground, but ever present.
But Dreamtime is not over. For when ceremonies are performed Dreamtime comes to those who celebrate, and they learn to see this land as Dreamtime sees it - alive.
The most important point made by all the Dreamtime stories is that Dreamtime is not yet over, nor are the Dreamtime ancestors dead. Through the stories and initiation ceremonies, through links wit their own Dreamtime ancestors and sacred land, every Aborigine can learn to enter into the Dreamtime and at death the Aborigines return to the Dreamtime. What may appear to outsiders as barren country is a living, exciting map of life to the Aborigine, part of him or herself, as well as he or she being part of it. Through the power of the Dreamtime, the very environment is sacred and alive.
The Sanema people are part of the Yanomamo group of tribes who live in the Amazonian rain forest of South America. Each tribe has its own collection of stories, which is passed on orally from generation to generation. The Sanema believe that all the living thins of the forest came into being through 'original ancestors', whose spirits still inhabit the forest.
Once there live Curare-woman and Original Jaguar. Jaguar was very fond of meat and one day he caught Waipili the frog. Jaguar mad Curare-woman cut up Waipili and Jaguar ate the frog up. But Curare-woman saved two tadpoles called Omao and Soawe and hid them in a pot.
Curare-woman kept Omao and Soawe safe from Jaguar. Omao and Soawe grew fast, but Original Jaguar was still a danger. Then one day, by some clever tricks, Omao was able to fool Jaguar into climbing a tree, which when released from the hold of a vine threw Jaguar into the air. He fell to the ground and was killed.
Omao was very hungry because he did not know how to grow yuca. Only Lalagi-gi, the cosmic anaconda, knew how to grow plants. Although Omao was very frightened of giant anaconda snake Lalagi-gi, he wanted to learn how to grow yuca. So he gave some meat to the snake and in return Lalagi-gi brought yuca cuttings, yams, maize and other thing. If it had not been for Lalagi-gi people would not have learnt how to grow crops.
It was long, long ago that Omao created the Sanema ancestors. He decided to use hardwood trees. But Omao had great difficulty finding them, so he asked his brother Soawe to help. Soawe was lazy. Instead of hardwood trees, he cut down softwood trees. When Omao returned, he was very angry. "I was going to make humans from the hardwood trees, " he said. "Then they could live forever, just casting off their old skins. I was going to make the anacondas from the softwood trees, so they would be weak and die young. "Omao was so angry that he made the people, the Sanema, from the softwood trees, which is why people are weak and do not live forever. Then he made the anacondas from the tough bark of the hardwood trees, which is why anacondas shed their skins and live for a very long time. Omao was still angry, so left the world. Way, way down the river he went to the bottom of the sky.
It was night when the animal and Sanema ancestors appeared. Sunrise did not come. The great curassow bird cried out all night - and still dawn did not come. The ancestors realised that it was the curassow bird that stopped the dawn, so they shot the bird with arrows. The feathers of the dying bird fell off, and changed into all the birds that now live in the forest. And the dawn came.
The story shows the threat and promise of the forest for the Sanema people. Wild animals, floods and landslides are a constant threat to safety. The Sanema also fear the vengeful ghosts of animals they have killed for food.. But they also believe that the spirits of the original ancestors are a powerful force within nature, which can be called upon to help them. The forest and its life may be threatening, but also supplies the Sanema with everything they need for daily life. At the heart of Sanema belief, lies a dependence on and respect for the forest, by this balance is now being threatened by outsiders who are destroying the trees and animal, and ultimately the Sanema way of life.