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Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


There are a few common roots and many common elements to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--the so-called Abrahamic religious heritage. Here are a few major ones that these religions share similarities:

Belief about God.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheistic religions, namely they believe that there is only one God. Jews and Muslims greatly stress the oneness and unity of God. The affirmation of the oneness of God by Christians is sometimes misunderstood, because Christians believe that the one God is triune (the Holy Trinity). However, this is not a denial of monotheism but an affirmation of the complexity of the Divine Being.

All three religions believe that this God is the origin and source of all that exists. God cares about the entire creation and desires the well-being of all. God is just and has provided basic rules for our guidance so that we may be good and righteous, according to God's intention. God is also merciful; by means of God's grace we are given strength to be more like what we ought to be.

Children of Abraham: Understanding human beings

The three religions believe that human beings are the highest creatures here on earth. We are the children of Abraham.  God created us full of mystery, which means potential for continuous growth, both as a species and as individuals. We are capable of both good and evil. When we grow in goodness, righteousness, and love we become more like what God intended human goodness to be. When we abuse our freedom and do harm to other people, ourselves, and the environment it means that we are going against God's plans as we become evil-doers. Each person is capable, with God's help, to turn away from evil, repent, and do good. We owe God our devotion, glorification, and obedience.

The Future

No matter how difficult the past and present may be, the three religions are hopeful about the future. Evil and suffering cannot ultimately prevail. God has provided a condition (or state of being) for which our three religions have different names, but we agree on the term Paradise. This future will bring about God's unchallenged rule; unconditional bliss for all who live with God.

Divine Human Encounter

The three Abrahamic religions believe that God and human beings can and should communicate with each other. By revelation God communicates to people, among which the most important are revelation through prophets. These revelations are recorded in the Holy Scriptures of each religion. While the Holy Scriptures of the three religions are not the very same, nevertheless the younger two religions acknowledge God's truth as found in the previous religions, and encourage respect to the Holy Books. While each of the three religions does not merely focus on one set of writings, the key Scripture of Judaism is the Torah, the key Scripture of Christianity is the Bible, which consists of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament, and the key Scripture of Islam is the Qur'an.

The duty of people is to read or listen to God's Holy Writings and to respond with prayer, praise, and with an appropriate acceptance of God's commandments in our life-style.

God's Guidance

God did not leave us without guidelines for behavior. God provided us with sound basic rules to live by as well as a rational mind to learn how and when to apply those rules to our everyday life. All three religions, for example, abhor murder, the arbitrary killing of innocent people. Likewise, God wants us to be telling the truth and not to take from others what rightfully belongs to them. We are to respect the dignity of every person and help especially those who are not capable of helping themselves, such as widows, orphans, and the poor. All three religions believe in Golden Rule: doing to others what we wish others do unto us. All three religions foster modesty, moderation, and honest work. We are to submit ourselves to the will of God.

All three religions closely link religion and morality. Religion is to be manifested by showing concern for the well-being and dignity of others, in a life of service to others, and in personal and social ethical behavior.

What Difference Does It Make?

As monotheistic religions, sharing common ancestors, belief in divinely given written scriptures, and common rituals and practices, such as regular prayer and charity; valuing pilgrimage and sharing many common holy places; promising that behavior will receive its proper rewards and punishments in the future, on earth and in an afterlife; balancing and integrating strands of mysticism, legalism, and pious devotion; the three religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would appear to be naturally suited to co-existence and even to mutual reinforcement. And indeed at times, notably in Spain, during much, but not all, of the period from about 750 to about 1250, the three faiths coexisted and gladly learned from one another. But such warm, reciprocally beneficial coexistence has been the exception rather than the rule.

Perhaps two factors can explain the hostility that has often characterized the relationships among these religions. First all three have been proselytizing religions--although Judaism abandoned this practice early in the Christian era-- and their very closeness has made them bitterly competitive. Each has had some feeling that it has come the closest to the essential truths of God and the world, and that the others have somehow failed to recognize this. Both Christianity and Islam, for example, accuse Judaism of stubbornly refusing to accept later revelations that modify and update its original truths. Both Judaism and Islam accuse Christianity of a kind of idolatry in claiming that God begat a son who as actually a form of God and who walked the earth in human form. Both Judaism and Christianity argue that God did not give a special, final revelation to Muhammad. In each case these religions have looked at one another and said that, despite elements of deep commonality, there exist also fundamental heresies. Indeed within each of these religions, at various times, splits have turned one group against another amidst cries of heresy and calls to armed opposition. Truth was to be maintained, asserted, and defended through the force of arms. (Religions with less insistence on doctrinal correctness, such as Hinduism, and Buddhism, have had less, and less bitter, religious warfare.)

Second, as each religion developed, it sought the support of government. It often sought to be the government. Truth was to be reinforced by power. Basic competition over spiritual and philosophical truths spilled over into competition also for tax monies, office, land, and public acceptance of specific ritual and architectural symbols, and suppression of opposition. When they could, these religions marched through the world armed. The idea that the state and religion should be separated appeared as early as Augustine; but until recently, in the lands where these three religions predominated, the state and religion were usually intimately bound up with one another, and in many places, the religion of the leader of the state was excepted to be accepted as the religion of his subjects, or at least to be given preferred treatment over others.

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