The predominant religions in Southeast Asia are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, although all of these seem to be influenced by an even older religion, Animism.  As Christianity divides itself into Catholicism and the many Protestant religions, these Southeast Asian religions are also subdivided. 

Animism

Animism is an ancient religion that seems to date back to the 3rd century BC, although some would say it’s a philosophy more than a religion.  In any event, without dwelling on it for too long, Animism says that all living creatures, animal or vegetable, have a soul.  Although ancient, this basic belief continues to influence other belief systems even today.

Buddhism

Back in the 3rd century AD, the Indian Emperor Ashoka sent his missionaries to other countries to spread the word about Buddha and his teachings.  Buddhism is quite a complicated religion but, put simply, it is based on four main tenets that essentially state that human life inevitably involves suffering, but that suffering is ultimately caused by greed. However, the good news is that there can be an end to that suffering, and it can be achieved by following the Buddhist path. The religion also refers to karma, which is the term for the positive and negative actions people take during their lives, and reincarnation.

Hinduism

Unusual amongst religions, Hinduism does not have a single founder, nor does it have a single scripture or a common set of teachings.  Hinduism is believed to have originated around the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan. This is ironic because Pakistan was established as a Muslim State.  Most Hindus believe that there is one Supreme God who has a number of deities who represent his different facets.  Reincarnation and karma are important concepts in Hinduism.  And, unlike Islam, Hindu artwork does allow for the portrayal of animals.

Islam

Currently the second largest religion in the world, Islam originated in Arabia.  It states that there is one true God, who is Allah.  The religion was revealed to the prophet Muhammad in Mecca over 1400 years ago, and there are a number of prophets sent by God to do his work. They include Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and, of course, Muhammad.  The Holy Book of Islam is called the Koran. Because there is not usually an exact translation from Arabic into English, many words and names will have more than one spelling.  So, for example, you may see the Koran spelt Qur’an.

Other Religions

Whilst these are the main religions in this area, other religions, including Taoism, Christianity, and Confucianism, are also followed in this part of the world.

When visiting Southeast Asia, as long as you comply with the conventions relating to each religion (e.g. removing shoes prior to entering a Mosque), and the specific place of worship you want to see is open to the public, you will be welcomed.  So plan your trip, get ready to explore, and enjoy your experience, which you’ll likely never forget!

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