I’ve got one heck of a comparative religions exam coming up. Let’s put these 250 words to the pursuit of ecumenical knowledge.
Agni: This fellow is the Hindu god of fire. He traces his origins back to the Vedic eras when rituals were performed around altars of fire and fire itself was thought to be the master of the household. Agni carries burnt offerings up to the other gods via the smoke and, in this way can be thought of as “the mouth of the gods”. He’s the subject of the Agni Chayna Ceremony, a lavish 12-day, 17-Brahmin-priest ritual festival in his honor.
‘Ali: ‘Ali was a great Islamic warrior who would eventually marry the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah to become his son-in-law. Muhammad and ‘Ali were close, with Muhammad lauding ‘Ali in a speech shortly before his death. However, this inspired a great rift within the Ummah–Sunnis believed that Muhammad’s praise of ‘Ali carried no greater implications while Shi’ite Muslims thought that Muhammad had designated ‘Ali to be his rightful successor as Caliph. ‘Ali lost the Caliph position to Abu Bakr at the start of the Rashidun and, despite serving as the fourth and final Caliph of the Rashidun, the rift was firmly cemented between Sunnis and Shi’ites. ‘Ali’s grandson Hussayn was later massacred and beheaded in the great Battle of Karbala against Sunni forces, marking it as the darkest day of the Shi’ite calendar. ‘Ali was assassinated during his time as Caliph.
Masjid: Don’t be fooled by the fancy name–this just means “mosque”. The Arabic name translates to “place of prostration”, referring to salat, the daily ritual prayers that Muslims perform. The first Mosque was an open space in Muhammad’s home in Medina and subsequent mosques are modeled after the aspects that it had. Mosques today should have: 1. A prayer niche 2. An indication of the direction of Mecca/the Ka’bah 3. a “tower”–the original purpose of this is uncertain but it is now often the point from which the call to prayer is made 4. a fountain of water to perform the ritual cleansing before prayer. Early distinctions emerged between small, local mosques and large, communal mosques that held Friday prayer sessions and sermons. However, the mosque is not the only place a Muslim may pray. Mosques will never contain representational artwork, lest the worshippers commit shirk and venerate the people portrayed in the art. During the Crusades, some Christian churches were converted to mosques, but the truly impressive early mosques are the Umayyad mosque in Damascus and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Man, that sure is neat. Three terms out of 59 down!