Skip navigation
Video: Eastern religions
Nov. 15: Continuing a "Today" show special series called "The Mystery of Faith," Campbell Brown explores Eastern religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism.
Video: Evangelicals in America
Nov. 14: Continuing a "Today" show special series called "The Mystery of Faith," "Today" show host Meredith Vieira explores the growth of evangelical Christians in America and their changing political power.
Video: A look at Christianity in America
Nov. 14: "Today" show host Meredith Vieira talks with David Foster, author of "A Renegade's Guide to God," Episcopalian Mary Schinke, Sam Harris, author of "Letter to a Christian Nation," and conservative Christian Colleen Knoedler about religion's place in society.

History: Within two centuries after its rise in the 7th century, Islam spread from its original home in Saudi Arabia into Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain to the west, and into Persia, India, and, by the end of the 10th century, beyond to the east. In the following centuries, Islam also spread into Anatolia and the Balkans to the north, and sub-Saharan Africa to the south. The Muslim community comprises about 1 billion followers on all five continents. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world.
Beliefs: Foremost among Islamic belief are the five pillars, the essential religious duties required of every adult Muslim. The five pillars are each described in some part of the Qur’an. They are the profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm) and pilgrimage (hajj).
Dome of the Rock: Many Muslim pilgrims travel to Jerusalem, which is the third sacred city for Islam. Muslims believe Muhammad was carried to Jerusalem in a vision. The Dome of the Rock houses the stone from which Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven and Allah in a night journey.

Slide show
Image: A mother and her young baby wait to be seen by a doctor
  Darfur violence escalates
Attacks by Arab militia have spread to neighboring Chad, where Darfurians were seeking refuge. View images of the destruction and displaced people.


History: Judaism is one of the world’s oldest continuing religious traditions. It originated in the land of Israel (also known as Palestine) in the Middle East. Jewish communities have existed at one time or another in almost all parts of the world, a result of both voluntary migrations of Jews and forced exile or expulsions.
Beliefs: The major tenets of Judaism are monotheism (the belief in a single, transcendent God who created the universe), revelation (God’s will expressed as commandments in the form of the Torah) and the covenant (a contractual agreement between God and the Jewish people).
Jerusalem: The city lies at the intersection of Israel and the West Bank, located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. It is composed of two distinct sections: West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem is inhabited almost entirely by Jews; East Jerusalem has a large Palestinian Arab population.
Western Wall: The holiest existing Jewish monument, the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, is the retaining wall built by Herod the Great to support the Temple Mount. The name “Wailing Wall” refers to the prayers offered at the site in lamentation for the destruction of the temples and the persecution of Jews.

Slide show
The Roots of Voodoo
  Mystery of Faith
Religion divides, unites, inspires and saves. From Christians to Muslims, see how the devoted pray, worship and celebrate.

History: Founded in northeastern India, this religion is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha or Enlightened One.
Beliefs: At the core of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths:
1. Life is suffering. Human existence is essentially painful from birth to death.
2. All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment and grasping that result from such ignorance.
3. Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment.
4. The path to the suppression of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness and right contemplation.
Karma: Human actions lead to rebirth, wherein good deeds are inevitably rewarded and evil deeds punished.
Nirvana: The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state.


History: Christianity is the most widely distributed of the world religions, having representation in all the populated continents of the globe. In the late 1990s, its total membership exceeded 1.9 billion people. The religion is divided into three main groups: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Christianity and Protestantism.
Beliefs: Jesus Christ is a central figure of all the historical varieties of Christian belief and practice, as told in the Gospels of the New Testament of the Bible. Another fundamental component of the faith's practice is the church.
Jerusalem: The city was the center of the Christian movement, at least until its destruction by Roman armies in 70 A.D., but from this center Christianity radiated to other cities and towns in Palestine and beyond.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre: This basilica in Jerusalem is built over the site in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea where Jesus is believed to have been placed in his tomb after the Crucifixion.
Evangelicals: Among Protestants, evangelicalism gained strength during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Evangelicals, including Pentecostals and Fundamentalists, emphasize the authority of the Bible, personal commitment to Jesus and salvation through faith.

Slide show
  Ann Curry’s Photo Journal
NBC’s Ann Curry recently traveled to Chad and Darfur, Sudan. She brought along her digital camera to document the trip.

Sponsored links

Resource guide