Religions, or matters of faith, often engender disagreements. These disagreements keep communities and individuals apart, ending friendships, creating divisiveness, and even leading to violence. This is made more tragic by the fact that if one took a closer look at the various religions of the world, one would realize they share many things in common, including basic beliefs, morality, and even some key doctrines.
And, so it is with the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - three of the world's most popular faiths and three that have engaged in centuries of bitterness, rivalry, and bloodshed while sharing many things in common. They are considered 'people of the Book' - a designation coming from the Islamic tradition denoting that the three religions share a common heritage and ultimately worship a common God.
To the outsider giving a cursory glance, they do seem different - even dramatically so in their orientation and creeds. Yet, a summary investigation into their basic tenets reveals they have much in common. Let's examine these similarities in greater detail.
First, let us look at the religion of Judaism, the religion of the Jewish people. It's not the largest, but certainly the oldest of the three traditions. The date of its founding is unknown - that's how old it is - and some believe it may be the world's oldest organized religious tradition. It emerges into known history around 5000 BCE, with its main religious text being the Torah.
The Torah is a collection of the books of Moses and the stories of Abraham, Noah, and many other prophets and men of great renown that are so familiar to Christians and Muslims. Both Christianity and Islam view the Torah as sacred and part of the revelation of God to humankind.
What is more, Judaism teaches there is but one god, as well as angels, demons, and other supernatural forces at work in the world - all beliefs shared by Christians and Muslims. Judaism also teaches that humans need God due to our sinful nature, a nature that starts at the very beginning of our species in the Garden of Eden - a story also shared by Christianity and Islam.
Moreover, in Judaism, God is the only source of forgiveness, as is the case in the other two faiths, and only those who follow the righteous path, those faithful to God and his laws, go to Heaven after death. Those who are not… well, they end up in a place of punishment - once again, a set of beliefs shared by the adherents of Islam and Christianity.
The places of worship in Judaism are known as synagogues and sometimes commonly referred to as temples. Here, men and women often worship separately, and the synagogue maintains a cultural and political leadership in more conservative and traditional Jewish communities. This role is matched by churches in the Christian world and mosques in Islam.
Christianity is the largest of the three faiths, with over 2 billion followers, and builds upon the traditions already established in Judaism. It originates out of the city of Jerusalem.
First and foremost, Christianity considers itself monotheistic, just as the other two, with a religion built upon the revelation of God to his creation. They believe the Torah to be the word of God. What is more, the central figure in Christianity, Jesus Christ, was a Jew whose name was Yeshua ben Yosef, or Joshua, son of Joseph. It was only later, when Christianity spread to the Greek-speaking world, that the name Yeshua became Iesous and found its way to the English-speaking world as Jesus.
As a Jew, Christianity's central figure would have been well-versed in Judaic customs, laws, and stories from the Torah, and we can see from the teachings and stories of Jesus, compiled in what Christians call the Gospels and other books that make up the New Testament, that the basic elements of the Jewish faith remain intact, with some modifications.
The one major modification, that of Jesus being the Messiah (God incarnate), still builds upon earlier traditions in the Torah. Throughout the Torah, the idea of a redemptive figure who will come to save the Jewish nation and uplift the populace is a frequent theme. They believe this messiah will be a strong religious and political, as well as social, figure. So, it's written in the Torah that the messiah will come - it's just that the Jewish faith does not accept Jesus to be that promised figure.
Christians, on the other hand, took Jesus to be this Messiah and went a step further, assigning him the qualities of a deity. This includes considering him the Son of God and a savior of all humankind. The essence of the faith is found in the Book of John 3:16. Such a notion is unacceptable to Jews as well as Muslims, who view the concept of God as inviolate, one that could never include God becoming man.
However, this is not to say they condemn Jesus or his teachings. Quite the contrary, Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet of God, in the same way Moses, Elijah, and others were prophets. They simply believe Christians have ascribed qualities to Jesus that he himself did not possess or even promote and view the New Testament as a misinterpretation of God's true message to humanity.
Islam is the youngest of the three faiths, but is second only to Christianity in the number of followers, with over 1.3 billion. Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is a monotheistic faith with origins in the Middle East, in fact, what is now Saudi Arabia.
Islam holds the teachings of Judaism and Christianity in high esteem and respects what these religions teach but feels the revelations in the Torah and the Gospels are incomplete. To Muslims, their prophet Mohammed provided the last and most complete set of revelatory expositions from God, all collected in their holy text known as the Quran.
What might surprise many non-Muslims is that the teachings in the Quran are not so different from those found in the other holy texts. There is an emphasis on charity, prayer, submission to God's will, and on the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus and Mary are also featured in the Quran, both held in high esteem, though not given divine status.
Their holy places are found right alongside the holy places of Judaism and Christianity, and while this does cause conflict among the more orthodox and conservative elements in all three religions, when the blinders of racism, ethnocentrism, and religious bigotry are removed, one can see the beauty and symmetry of the commonality shared.
Ultimately, it is the individual who takes the teachings of any faith and makes them a reality. They can either focus on the good and the common elements that make all people better - those qualities that bring more love into the world - or regrettably focus on those elements that separate humanity into competing camps, bringing more discord, restlessness, and ill will.
The religious truths found in the Torah, the Gospels, and the Quran are all to be respected for the uniqueness of their language and perspective, but also for the common morality that they express. There is a universal comfort to be found in that part of our humanity that seeks answers to life's toughest questions when we realize that we may find solace equally in a synagogue, mosque, or church.
You will be able to describe the similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as between the Torah, the Gospels, and the Quran, after reviewing this lesson.
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