"One God, many icons"
A.M. Bhattacharyya, Hindu faith adviser of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council:
God is one, his manifestations are many.
We Hindus believe in one god. Nevertheless, we do worship many deities. Ostensibly, this is a paradox. Many people think that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. But, to put it in proper perspective, the Hindu faith is monotheistic. Let me explain.
Hindu scriptures, Upanishads, call God as Brahman (meaning infinite expanse). The composers of Upanishads were ancient Vedic seers who attained a high spiritual level through meditation. These exalted seers concentrated their thoughts on God and perceived Brahman as one without a second, an impersonal, formless, infinite, eternal, absolute and unchanging reality. Brahman is transcendent as well as immanent.
The Vedic sages in their great wisdom realized that for the common people, the concept of formless, impersonal, omnipotent and omnipresent God would be difficult if not impossible to comprehend. Forms were given to the formless, so that the ordinary people could relate to God and show their love and devotion for him.
The sages in their meditation used to perceive different divine manifestations and described them in verses, which eventually became the prayer verses for these deities. Hindus worship many different forms as manifestations of divinity. Many of these images are anthropomorphic.
During services the worshippers connect to God through these images and pour out their devotion through prayers, rituals and chanting mantras from holy books.
The Hindu deities are not idols; they are religious icons.
"Sunnis versus Shiites"
Syed E. Hasan, Midland Islamic Council:
In my view the greatest paradox in Islam is the division of its followers as Sunnis and Shiites.
It is well known that for Muslims the Qur'an and Hadith are the primary source of all applicable laws, code of conduct, and binding regulations. The fact that there is no mention of Shiites or Sunnis in these two sources of Islamic law means that the division has no religious basis.
This makes it all the more paradoxical because -- as far as the practice of the faith is concerned -- there is no marked difference among the two groups.
Like the Sunnis, the Shiites offer the five daily and the Friday prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, pay the mandatory charity (the zakat), perform hajj, and affirm all articles of the faith.
It must be pointed out that some differences do exist in the actual observances, but that should not be the basis for hostilities, segregation or political exploitation. The labeling assumes a far deeper concern in light of the universal message of peace and brotherhood -- not only among Muslims, but all of humankind.
The Qur'an repeatedly emphasizes this, including the verse "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted" (49:13).