MANATEE — To 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, a perfect being whose attributes extend far beyond what a human can possibly imagine.
To 13 million Jews worldwide, God is the source of life, a compassionate and loving being who can be worshipped without fear of reprisal in as many different ways as there are worshippers.
To 350 million Buddhists worldwide, a God who created the universe is not part of their belief. Instead, they believe that there has always been something before and will always be something after, that there is never a beginning and never an end. So, creation, to them, is not the key issue.
These descriptions of God in Islam, Judaism and Buddhism were offered by panelists Imam Safdi Redouan, Rabbi Harold Caminker and Russ Ferdinand during the second Unity Church In The Woods spiritual forum, called “Founders,” held recently before a crowd of about 100.
These spiritual forums are scheduled to continue month to month. The January forum deals with the afterlife, said forum moderator Allan Bazzy, who leads the ministerial team at Unity Church In The Woods.
The afterlife forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the church, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton.
The forums are designed to educate, inspire and to encourage understanding, Bazzy said.
This most recent forum hit that mark, said attendee Ruth Steinmetz.
“I found it very interesting to hear what a Buddhist believes and contrast that to the Jewish and Islamic beliefs,” Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz and others also praised the panel for not trying to debate the superiority of their faiths.
Redouan, who is a leader at the Islamic Society of Bradenton and Sarasota on Lockwood Ridge Road, took a single question from the audience about why people would strap bombs to themselves in the name of Islam.
He patiently explained that there are zealots in every faith and that there is nothing in Islam that commands people to commit evil acts like these.
Caminker backed Redouan up, stating that Jews have committed zealous acts in Israel and that Christians, during the Crusades, also crossed the line of good and evil in the name of their faith.
But it was the basic descriptions of their faiths and the number of their faithful that seemed to mesmerize the audience.
There are 800,000 Buddhists in the United States, including many immigrants from Asian countries, said Ferdinand, who teaches Buddhist meditation and is affiliated with the Summit Dharma Centers.
There were 18 million Jews before the Holocaust, but Nazism reduced the Jewish population by a third, said Caminker who came to Temple Beth El in July.
Now, Judaism is spotty in Europe with Israel and the United States being the centers of the faith, both with about 5 million Jews.
Twenty-six percent of the world’s population is Muslim, which translates to one out of every four people on the planet, Redouan said.
America is estimated to have 5 million Muslims, the Imam said. About 30 percent of American Muslims are converts, Redouan said.
“We believe that God has sent 124,000 prophets throughout history,” Redouan said. “All of these prophets say the same thing: that if you worship Allah you will be successful. We believe that the prophets came to tell people that only Allah will save them and that Allah is the only one to give them paradise if we follow his orders.”
The study of Buddhism and the nature of Buddhism are addressed to the human condition, Ferdinand said.
“What the Buddha taught was that all of us can change our condition from suffering to an enlightened or completely peaceful state and that is the basis of all Buddhist teachings.
“The purpose of the prayers and the praying is to focus the mind of the person praying onto the object of the prayer,” Ferdinand said. “What you are really doing is praying for understanding about the idea of compassion. It is done purely for yourself and to focus your own mind.”
Caminker told a story he felt explains how Jews understand God.
“Our prayer books talk about the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Sarah, the God of Rebecca and so forth,” Caminker said.
“When the rabbis asked why the prayers don’t just save space on the page by saying, ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah and Rebecca,’ they were told that even our great patriarchs and matriarchs had their own individual ideas about God. They all believed differently about the actual nature of God.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, Ext. 6686.