Religious Influences: Majority and Minority Religions and Denominations

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Estimated at 96% of the population, virtually all of Pakistan is Muslim. Founded by Muhammad of Arabia in 622, Islam is based on a belief in one God, Allah (Allah is the Arabic word for God). Followers of Islam are known as Muslims. Islam shares many figures with Judaism and Christianity, but Muslims cite Muhammad as the last and greatest prophet. The Qur'an (Koran) is said to contain the will of Allah (God) as revealed through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad and is the basic source of Islamic teachings.

The major difference between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims is not religious but political. The denominations differ in their belief in who was the successor following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis believe the successor should be chosen by leaders, while Shi'a believe the successor of Muhammad should be a direct descendent of the prophet. Shi'a follow religious leaders called Imams who are considered to be Mohammed's successors [1].

Sufi MusiciansThe Sunni sect of Islam composes 76% of the population, the Shi'a Islamic sect 20%, the remaining 4% are Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and various other religions [2].

The Sufi movement in Islam has been important throughout Pakistan's history, and many important Sufi shrines are located within Pakistan. Sufism is not a political sect of Islam like Sunnis and Shi'a are, but differ in their religious experience and worship of Allah. Sufism is seen as the mystical side of Islam, and teaches that each person can have personal experiences with Allah. They preach love, moderation, non-violence and oneness of humanity. Sufis try to reach ecstasy in order to feel the love of Allah by practicing meditation, trance drumming and dancing, faith healing and singing devotional songs. In recent years the Sufi movement has come to be seen as an important counter to extremist groups such as the Taliban [3].

Hindu Temple in LahoreHinduism, which originated in India, is based on the belief of the Atman or spirit of a person, which is eternal. The goal of life is to escape samsara (the cycle of reincarnation) by becoming enlightened through contemplation, meditation, and the practice of the principle of Karma. When a person becomes enlightened they leave the samsara and become one with the ultimate truth (i.e. Brahman, the supreme deity). Hinduism does not have a single founder or a set moral creed, but is a combination of many religions that existed in India. Many Hindus are henotheistic, which means they believe that there is one deity, and that the various Gods and Goddesses are manifestations of the supreme deity [4].

Sikh Pilgrims in Nankana SahibSikhism was founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji who at the city of Sultanpur received a vision to teach about enlightenment and God. Guru Nanak taught belief in one god and the brotherhood of men to his followers. Sikhs believe in one formless God that has many different names. Their ultimate goal is to have a personal relationship with God and in turn their spiritual union with God will result in salvation. To obtain salvation one must break free of the reincarnation cycle by forsaking worldly desires and pursuits. Sikhs do not believe in the caste system practiced in Hinduism, but believe all people are equal in the eyes of God. Guru Nanak did not believe in a division between Hindus and Muslims, but wished to unite both [5].

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