The Middle East is one of the most populated regions of the world, boasting of over 350 million people. The region which is centered on Western Asia has 18 countries, the majority of which are Arab countries. The history and origin of the Middle East date back to ancient times. It has been the center of world affairs throughout history, with the earliest civilization originating there. Religion is one of the most important markers of communal identity in the Middle East. The region is regarded as the birthplace and spiritual center of some of the most famous religions in the world including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and more. Here are the religions that originated in the Middle East.
Islam is the religion of the overwhelming majority of the residents of the Middle East. It is a monotheistic religion that teaches the existence of only one God known as “Allah” and His messenger the Prophet Muhammad. Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity and is practiced by approximately 24% of the world’s population or 1.8 billion people commonly referred to as Muslims. Islam originated in the 7th century CE in Mecca. Mecca is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and the site where the prophet had the first revelation of the Quran. The city is located in the Arabian Peninsula and a region west of Saudi Arabia known as Hejaz. Being the birthplace of Islam, Mecca is the holiest city according to the Muslims. All Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world with over 2 billion followers or 33% of the world’s population. The followers of this religion are referred to as Christians. Christian base their belief in the teachings and life of Jesus Christ who they believe is the Son of God and savior of humanity. Called the Messiah, the coming of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament of the Bible. Christianity grew out of Judaism as a Jewish sect around the first century in Judea. The earliest development of Christianity took place under the leadership of the apostles after the death and ascension of Jesus. Further developments were led by the Bishops who are considered as successors of apostles.
Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion of the Jews with the Torah as its reference text. This religion encompasses the religion, culture, and philosophy of the Jews. It is an expression of the covenant that God had with the Israelites. Apart from the Torah, Judaism has a large body of texts, organizations, and theological practices. Judaism is the 10th largest religion in the world with about 17 million followers and has several movements within it, with the majority originating from Rabbinic Judaism. The history of Judaism dates back to over 3,000 years ago. It has its origin as an organized religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age.
The Druze is an ethnoreligious group in Western Asia. An ethnoreligious group is a group of people of the same ethnicity and united by a common religion. Jethro of Midian is considered the Chief Prophet and the founder of Druze religion. The religion is based on the beliefs of Hamza ibn-'Ali ibn-Ahmad, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, and several philosophers including Aristotle and Plato. The main text of the Druze faith is known as the Epistle of Wisdom. It has about 800,000 followers and is one of the major religions in the Levant. A large population of Druze followers is found in Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. Some are also scattered throughout the Middle East.
Manichaeism was founded by Iranian Prophet Mani. The teachings of this religion are based on dualistic cosmology that describes the struggle between good and evil. Manichaeism was a popular religion in the 3rd and 7th century and was the world’s most spread religion at its height. It was the main rival to Christianity before the spread of Islam. Manichaeism was repressed mainly by the Sasanian Empire. The followers were also attacked and persecuted by the Christian Church and the Roman State.
Yezidism is considered both a religious and an ethnic identity. The religion is called Sharfadin by the Yezidi people. The Yezidis are indigenous to northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, and northern Syria. According to Yazdanism, a transcendent God holds the universe together and binds the cosmos together. God has entrusted the world into the care of seven Holy Beings often referred to as angels. One of the most revered angels is the Melek Taus often identified as “Satan” by both Christians and Muslims. Yezidis have always been referred to as devil worshippers because of their connection to the other name of Melek Taus, Shaytan, the same name used to refer to Satan in the Quran.
Yarsan is a type of syncretic religion that was founded in western Iran in the 11th century by Sultan Sahak. There are approximately 2-3 million Yarsanis, with the majority found in western Iran and eastern Iraq. The main aim of Yarsanism is to teach humankind to achieve the ultimate truth. The followers of this religion believe that both the sun and the fire are holy things. They also follow the principle of purity, equalization, righteousness, and oneness. Their rituals and doctrines are largely secretive and the rituals are performed in secret. Yarsani community, especially in Iran, has come under frequent attacks from the Muslim community and other government over centuries.
Baha’i Faith was established in 1863 by Baha’u’llah in Iran and other parts of the Middle East where it has continued to face persecution to date. Today, the religion has approximately 8 million followers known as Baha’is. Baha’i Faith grew from the Babi religion which held the belief that God would send another prophet just like Muhammed or Jesus. After being expelled from his native Iran, Baha’u’llah declared himself the prophet. Baha’is’ teachings are centered on an all-powerful God who has progressively revealed the different religions to its founders (unity of religion). The followers also believe that humanity has a rational soul that is unique and able to recognize the status of God and relationship with the creator.
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