Per the beliefs of Hinduism — a religion that is perhaps 5,000 years old — the mythic and heroic man known as Krishna was born around 3,100 B.C.E. He is reputed to be the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, one of the chief deities in the Hindu pantheon.
Often depicted as a prince playing a flute, as a small dancing child, or as many other guises including that of a military figure, Krishna supposedly represents the earthly manifestation of a god who spreads the doctrine of godliness and dramatizes the many struggles of humanity, particularly those described in sacred Hindu texts such as the Bhagavata Purana. He is also sometimes depicted as a herdsman who protects cows, and in this context, is referred to as the Govinda. Supposedly, when Krishna died or disappeared from the earth, the present age began.
Born in 1182 in Assisi, Italy, part of the Holy Roman Empire, St. Francis was a Catholic friar and preacher who eventually became one of the most important religious figures in the Middle Ages, if not throughout all of history. Canonized by Pope Gregory IX in 1228, St. Francis became the patron saint of Italy, as well as that of animals and the natural world. In 1209, he founded the Order of Friars Minor, aka the Franciscan Order; he also founded the Order of Saint Claire and the Third Order of Saint Francis.
St. Francis is also known for his veneration and celebration of the Eucharist; he also arranged the first live nativity scene at Christmas in 1223. Perhaps similar in stature to St. Paul, who, according to the Christian tradition, was the first to manifest the wounds of Christ, aka the stigmata, St. Francis did the same while in a state of transcendental rapture, attended by the Seraphic angels, in 1224.
St. Francis also had a passion for all things French, acquiring the nickname Francesco by his father. Further, in the early 1200s, Francis, long before sainthood, became a soldier and spent a year as a captive, an experience perhaps leading to his eventual religious convictions. And, according to hagiographic records, Francis eventually grew away from the pleasures of conventional, secular living, deciding that he would never marry; instead, his bride would be “Lady Poverty.”
One of the greatest Jewish scholars of medieval times, Maimonides, born in 1135 to 1138, was a Sephardic Jew who wrote the 14-volume Mishneh Torah, subtitled, Book of the Strong Hand, a code of Jewish religious law completed in 1180. The book still carries a great deal of canonical weight in contemporary Jewish religious thought, particularly as it relates to the codification of Talmudic law, even though through the ages many scholars criticized it. Maimonides was also an exponent of the Oral Torah, which includes laws not contained in the Five Books of Moses (the Written Torah). Notably, he was not a supporter of mysticism, only a kind of intellectual mysticism, which seems discernible in his various works.
A polymath, Maimonides was also known as a philosopher, historian, scientist and physician, in both Jewish and Islamic kingdoms or domains. Nevertheless, when the Muslims conquered Córdoba, located in the southern part of what is now Spain, the Muslim authorities gave all Jews three choices: conversion, death or exile. Born in Córdoba and still residing there, Maimonides chose exile and eventually settled in Egypt, where he became a renowned authority of the Jewish community.
Maimonides died 1204 and was buried in Fustat, Egypt. Interestingly, legend has it that Maimonides was a descendant of King David, but he never stated that he was.
One of the world’s great religions was started by a man who claimed to have continual revelations from God, which he would “recite” to others, particularly his followers. These recitations were recorded in the Qur’an, the most sacred book of Islam.
Born in 570 C.E. in the Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad purportedly became a messenger of God at the age of 40, and then, in order to promulgate this revelation, became a political and military leader in the city of Medina in Arabia. Utilizing a series of shrewd military campaigns and expedient political alliances, Muhammad eventually conquered Mecca, the most important city of Arabia at the time, and thereby, established a monotheistic tradition based on the Bible’s “Old Testament.” This replaced the pagan-based religion of Arabia and began an expansion of Islam, which continues to the present day.
Often misunderstood and denigrated, Muhammad and Islam have become synonymous — at least in the minds of many people in the West — with religion-based terrorism. Even though Muhammad may have been ruthless in military matters and assassinated poets who discredited him, the Arabs of that time had to administer their own law and order just to survive. Also, on a parting note, it is said that Islam signifies peace and reconciliation.