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Abrahamic Religions

People of the Book

People of the Book

Judaism, Christianity, Islam

  • Judaism – the problem is exile; the solution is return to God
  • Christianity – the problem is sin; the solution is salvation
  • Islam – the problem is pride; the solution is submission

These three religions have common roots and common beliefs. There are only two sources for Abraham — the Bible of Jews and Christians and the Koran of Muslims. They all believe in the same God, Abraham’s in the Bible. Not surprisingly, four thousand years later, there are differences between God and Allah, which in Arabic means “the God”, a linguistic cognate to the Hebrew word for God in the Bible, Elohim.

Christians claim that their trinity (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) is actually monotheistic, one god with three personalities. The Jews and Muslims believe that their religion is monotheistic and that Christianity is polytheistic. Christians, in turn, believe that because Jews and Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet but not a divinity, they don’t worship the same God.

Star and Crescent symbol associated with Islam

Star and Crescent symbol associated with Islam

There is no question that the two Gods are different. But they have the same historical origin. In all three religions, God:

  • has the same personal relationship to humans
  • rules and intervenes (miracles) in history
  • reveals His will to humans via prophets, angels, and inspired Scriptures (Jewish Torah, Christian Testaments, Islamic Koran)
  • will stop time (history) on the day of judgment to send all humans to their eternal destinies (heaven or hell)

In all three faiths, Jerusalem is a central, sacred place. For example, at first, Muslims faced Jerusalem when they prayed, not Mecca.

Judaism, coming first chronologically, says that God’s revelations stopped after Abraham. Christianity, coming next, added the New Testament, saying that God’s revelations stopped with the last-written book of the New Testament, probably one of Peter’s letters. Islam says that God revealed the Koran to Muhammad some six hundred years later.

Star of David in a Jewish synagogue in Luxemburg

Star of David in a Jewish synagogue in Luxemburg

Christianity and Islam both believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his miracles and healings, and his bodily ascension to heaven.

Islam, being more strictly monotheistic, does not accept the divinity of Jesus. Muslims and Jews do not worship or pray to Muhammad, Jesus, or any other prophets, only to the God in the Jewish Torah, which is the first five books of the Christian Bible. God is beyond human comprehension and does not resemble humans in form or spirit. Thus, Muslims are not expected to visualize God and in fact, none of their religious art has any human or divine images. It’s all patterns. In their view, Christians are praying to human icons, not God.

Bahai House of Justice

Bahai House of Justice

Bahai

The Baha’i Faith is a monotheistic religion that began in the 1800’s in Persia (Iran) among followers of Bahá’u’lláh, a teacher who grew up as a Shi’a Muslim. Today, five or six million people identify themselves as followers of the Faith, spread over almost every country on earth. The image above left is their Universal House of Justice, in Haifa, Israel. Here’s a summary of their principles:

What’s not to like about any of that? Plenty, as it turn out.  Followers of the Baha’i Faith are among the most persecuted religious minorities.

The Arab world

The Arab world

Islam

Islam is the religion. Muslims are the people. Muslims practice Islam. Some Muslims are Arabs (orange countries on map on the left). Almost all Arabs are Muslim.

Islam has two major strains: Sunni 85%, Shia 15%

The World of Islam

The World of Islam

Shia Muslims can be found in Iran, whose Islamic republic is all Shia. In addition there are large minority communities in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon. Everyone else who practices Islam is Sunni.

Table below from Wikipedia’s List of Muslim majority countries.


number % local % world
World Total 1,619,314,000 23.4 100.0
South & Southeast Asia 1,005,507,000 24.8 62.1
Middle EastNorth Africa 321,869,000 91.2 19.9
Sub-Saharan Africa 242,544,000 29.6 15.0
Indonesia 204,847,000 88.1 12.7
Pakistan 178,097,000 96.4 11.0
India 177,286,000 14.6 10.9
Bangladesh 148,607,000 90.4 9.2
Egypt 80,024,000 94.7 4.9
Nigeria 75,728,000 47.9 4.7
Iran 74,819,000 99.6 4.6
Turkey 74,660,000 98.6 4.6

Sharia

Sharia rule

Sharia rule

To Muslims, Sharia is God’s law, but different countries and cultures have varying interpretations.

sakineh

Sakineh

In additional to morality, Sharia addresses personal behavior like sex, hygiene, diet, prayer, and fasting. Where it enjoys official status, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, Sharia addresses civic behavior like crime, politics and economics, and is administered by Islamic judges, or qadis. In some Western countries, Sharia becomes a problem when it contradicts the law of the country but the Muslims insist of the primacy of Sharia.

Some of its judgements can seem extreme. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (left) is 43-year-old an Iranian Azeri who pled guilty to the crime of “illicit relationship” with two men and was sentenced to be executed by stoning according to Iran’s Sharia law. She sits today on Iran’s death row. Update – January 2012

Proselytism

attempting to convert people to another religion

The vast majority of humans do not choose a religion. They are born to one and they don’t change to another. That doesn’t stop some from trying to convert non-believers, however.

Proselytism

Proselytism

Although Judaism doesn’t emphasize trying to convert non-believers, both Christianity and Islam do, which has been the justification (though rarely the cause) of millions of deaths in the last two thousand years.

Of the world’s religions, only Christianity and Islam proselytize.

For the non-Abrahamic major religions, there’s no such thing as a missionary, let alone an army. Hinduism has no concept of conversion. Hindus are free to choose any religion and worship any god in any manner. Or not. Buddhists think that ethnocentrism of any sort, religious or otherwise, is abusive. However, communities of praticing Buddhists do accept (give “Refuge” to) people who want to join in their practice. For the Taoic religions, there’s nothing to convert to or from. In fact, there’s not even a clear definition of who is and who isn’t a Confucian or Taoist to begin with.