Comparison of Islam, Judaism and Christianity

 

Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity. As a monotheistic faith that originated in the Middle East, Islam holds many beliefs and practices in common with Judaism and Christianity.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity are collectively known as "Abrahamic religions" because they trace their history to the covenant God made with Abraham in the Hebrew .

The Prophet Muhammad met both Jews and Christians during his lifetime, and Islam has come into frequent with both of its fellow monotheistic faiths throughout most of its history.

As a brief guide of the similarities and differences of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the following chart compares the statistics, origins, history and religious beliefs of these three great monotheistic faiths.

Please note that, as with all charts of this kind, the information is oversimplified and should not be used as a sole resource.

 

Comparison of Statistics and Basics

 
Islam
Judaism
Christianity
adherents called
Muslims
Jews
Christians
current adherents
1.3 billion
14 million
2 billion
current size rank
2nd largest
12th largest
largest
major concentration
Middle East, Southeast Asia
Israel, Europe, USA
Europe, North and South America, rapid growth in Africa
sacred text
Qur'an (Koran)
Bible
Bible (Jewish Bible + New Testament)
other written authority
Hadith
Talmud, Midrash, Responsa
church fathers, church councils, papal decrees (Catholic only)
religious law
Sharia
Halakhah
Canon Law
clergy
imams
rabbis
priests, ministers, pastors, bishops
house of worship
mosque
synagogue
church, chapel, cathedral
main day of worship
Friday
Saturday
Sunday
church and state
integrated
separate
separate

Comparison of Origins and History

 
Islam
Judaism
Christianity
date founded
622 CE
unknown
c. 33 CE
place founded
Saudi Arabia
Palestine (def)
Palestine
founder
Muhammad
Moses or Abraham
Jesus
original language(s)
Arabic
Hebrew
Aramaic, Greek
early expansion
within 12 years, entire Arabian peninsula; within 100 years, Muslim world stretched from the Atlantic to China
little expansion; mostly confined to Palestine
within 60 years, churches in major cities in Palestine, Turkey, Greece and Rome (map); entire Roman Empire by end of 4th cent.
major splits
Shia/Sunni, c. 650 CE
Reform/Orthodox, 1800s CE
Catholic/Orthodox, 1054 CE; Catholic/Protestant, 1500s CE

Comparison of Religious Beliefs

 
Islam
Judaism
Christianity
type of theism
strict monotheism
strict monotheism
Trinitarian monotheism
ultimate reality
one God
one God
one God
names of God
Allah (Arabic for God)
Yahweh, Elohim
Yahweh, the Holy Trinity
other spiritual beings
angels, demons, jinn
angels and demons
angels and demons
revered humans
prophets, imams (especially in Shia)
prophets
saints, church fathers
identity of Jesus
true prophet of God, whose message has been corrupted
false prophet
Son of God, God incarnate, savior of the world
birth of Jesus
virgin birth
normal birth
virgin birth
death of Jesus
did not die, but ascended into heaven during crucifixion
death by crucifixion
death by crucifixion
resurrection of Jesus
denied
denied
affirmed
second coming of Jesus
affirmed
denied
affirmed
divine revelation
through Muhammad, recorded in Qur'an
through Prophets, recorded in Bible
through Prophets and Jesus (as God Himself), recorded in Bible
view of sacred text
inspired, literal word of God, inerrant in original languages
views vary
inspired, some believe inerrant in original languages
human nature
equal ability to do good or evil
two equal impulses, one good and one bad
"original sin" inherited from Adam - tendency towards evil
means of salvation
correct belief, good deeds, Five Pillars
belief in God, good deeds
correct belief, faith, good deeds, sacraments (some Protestants emphasize faith alone)
God's role in salvation
predestination
divine revelation and forgiveness
predestination, various forms of grace
good afterlife
eternal paradise
views vary: either heaven or no afterlife
eternal heaven
bad afterlife
eternal hell
views vary: either eternal Gehenna, reincarnation, or no afterlife
eternal hell, temporary purgatory (Catholicism)
view of fellow Abrahamic religions
Jews and Christians are respected as "People of the Book," but they have wrong beliefs and only partial revelation.
Islam and Christianity are false interpretations and extensions of Judaism.
Judaism is a true religion, but with incomplete revelation. Islam is a false religion.

 

 

THE DECEMBER 2001 issue of National Geographic holds a tantalizing cover story, "Abraham: The Father of Three Faiths." Author Tad Szulc, in a

researched and illustrated essay, demonstrates how Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious traditions each deeply revere the patriarch Abraham.

But Abraham is not the only spiritual commonality these faiths share. In this article, I will examine 10 among many, including our father in faith, Abraham. A greater awareness and appreciation of these religious commonalities could help build unity among the sharply divided peoples in this world of ours.


1. One God

 

To be a Muslim in essence means privately and publicly believing in the one, divine, transcendent, omnipotent God, Allah in Arabic. Interestingly, the root of this Arabic word for God is identical to the root of the word for God.

Muslims use many beautiful names for Allah, each describing a divine quality. The most common terms are The Beneficent One and The Merciful One. Those concepts of God provide a theological understanding for the Muslim customs surrounding .

Connected with that faith in the one God is a belief that Muhammad is God's messenger. This prophet is neither the founder of the Muslim religion nor a divine individual. Rather, he is the last of God's many messengers to this world that include Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

Belief in these two points allows a person to enter Islam and become a Muslim.

Reading through the Bible's Old Testament, also known as the First Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, one discovers the revelation of this one God to a chosen people. God commands these Jewish persons—living in the midst of polytheistic cultures—to be faithful by clinging to a monotheistic religion even though surrounded by temptations.

"I am who am," God says to Moses, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:14-15).

In giving the Chosen People the Ten Commandments, the Supreme Being declares, "I, the Lord, am your God.... You shall not have other gods besides me....You shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God..."(Deuteronomy 5:6-9).

Followers of Christ accept this teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures and have faith in the one true God. Trinitarian Christians, however, also believe in Jesus' teaching about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That central mystery of the Trinity is problematic for Jewish and Muslim people.

Nevertheless, despite such a significant difference, Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers should be very comfortable together discussing and worshiping the one God they hold in common.


2. Divine Assistance


Christians take seriously these words of Jesus: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7); "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28); "All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours" (Mark 11:24).

Belief in those words leads to every type of prayerful petition for every conceivable need. We who pray in this way have faith that God does intervene in our lives and responds to our prayers.

Jewish history, as recorded in the Old Testament, views such divine intervention or assistance as a given. The Passover angel, Red Sea parting and manna from heaven are but a few examples of what God has done for them in the past, is doing right now and will continue to do in the future.

Psalm 88 reflects that confidence: "O Lord, my God, by day I cry out; at night I clamor in your presence. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my call for help" (Psalm 88:2-3).

The Muslim prayer of supplication can be equally intense, but more general in its direction. These petitions focus rather on submission to the will of the Beneficent and Merciful One. They ask for divine help to stay the course, for guidance and for aid following Allah's plan during the midst of adversity.

All three religious groups believe that God comes to our assistance, and their members pray accordingly.


3. Daily Prayer


A practicing Jewish person is expected to utter acclamations of praise or a berakah prayer at least 100 times daily. A brief exclamation, "Blessed are you, Lord," acknowledges with adoration and gratitude the major and minor gifts from God received each day: for example, sleep and water, air and food, friends and work, health and medicine, a rainbow and a sunset.

An invocation before eating and a gathering with several others for small-group daily prayer in the synagogue are likewise common elements of the Jewish tradition.

Muslims must pray five times a day with each prayer requiring five to 10 minutes. These occur at dawn, afternoon, later afternoon, following sunset and at night.

The prayer is recited facing Makkah or Mecca, the sacred spot where Muslims maintain that the Angel Gabriel first spoke to Muhammad. The believer kneels on a prayer mat, if possible, with forehead touching the ground. The posture and words convey a sense of submission, adoration and trust.

Christians who follow the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours pray seven times a day as the Psalm suggests. This covers the Office of Readings, Morning, Evening and Night Prayer, plus three brief Daytime Prayers. Others probably observe a more informal pattern of morning and evening prayers with a grace, blessing or prayer before meals. This type of informality lacks the precision and repetition of the Muslim and Jewish traditions, but reflects a commonly shared value of daily prayer.


4. Weekly Worship


Because of September 11, Americans are much more aware of Muslim religious customs. Some newspapers have published extensive reports on Islam in the United States, including the Articles of Faith and the Five Pillars of Islam. Stories also reported on the significant number of people who come to mosques each Friday for special prayers after midday.

While Friday is the day of weekly worship for Muslims, Saturday is the Sabbath observance for Jewish people. It is observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and includes the synagogue service on Saturday morning and the day itself, dedicated to personal rest and family events.

Most Christians celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday, a move made in the early centuries as followers of Jesus recalled his Resurrection and the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit, both of which occurred on Sunday. The form of observance varies with different Christian traditions, but all would expect, ideally, attendance at a public worship service and avoidance of unnecessary work. Sunday celebrates God's creation of the world and Christ's efforts to save all.

The crucial point here is that the three religions observe a weekly day set aside for public prayer and personal re-creation.


5. Fasting


Christians, following the example of Jesus who fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, recognize the need for some fasting or self-denial in their lives. In the early centuries, Wednesdays and Fridays were generally observed as days of fast.

In more contemporary times, the Lenten season from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday is the extended period (40 days, if you count only weekdays) of Christian self-denial. That generic type of fasting takes many forms, but has as its purpose to recall the sufferings of Jesus and to purify or prepare our hearts for the Resurrection.

Jewish persons practice a strict and total fast on Yom Kippur, the major holy day in the fall, with no eating or drinking from sundown to sundown. They do it for reconciliation or cleansing from personal sins or misdeeds. Many also fast in August on Tisha B'av, in mournful memory of the Temple's destruction.

Muslims fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on lunar calculations.

The Ramadan fast makes Christian or Jewish fasts seem like child's play. For the Muslim, the fast begins with a light meal before daybreak, then no water, food or drink until after sunset. Moreover, during that time there is to be no sexual intercourse, tobacco, backbiting or lying.

Ramadan is for Muslims a long, hard month. Nevertheless, the fast helps them to obey God, be more sensitive to the sufferings of others, develop self-discipline and appreciate their unity with all other Muslims fasting at the same time in similar fashion.


6. Almsgiving


The following words of Jesus in Matthew 25 can make any Christian uncomfortable. I was, he observes, hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill and in prison, but you did not care for me. "What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me" (25:45).

In response, Christians try to share a portion of their time, talent and treasure with others, especially the poor, sometimes giving to individuals and sometimes channeling contributions to group efforts. For example, at our Syracuse Cathedral, an emergency center provides nearly 500 households each month with food donated by several local parishes. For a dozen years now, volunteer laypersons have funded and staffed a program that provides a hot breakfast every Wednesday to about 100 homeless men. The church subsidizes at great expense our school whose student body is mostly non-Catholic, black and drawn from below-poverty-level-income homes.

Muslims would applaud this almsgiving. The Prophet said, "He is not a believer who eats his fill while his neighbor remains hungry by his side." Every Muslim has the duty to pay a specified tax, the proceeds of which are used for good causes or for the poor.

These alms can be given directly, but Muslims are encouraged to give secretly. That prevents the giver from feeling superior and the poor person from being embarrassed.

Jewish persons likewise approve of such sharing with others. Early sections of the Hebrew Scriptures remind the Chosen People of their obligation to care for landless and thus poor persons—especially widows, orphans and strangers. A local rabbi, following that injunction, co-chairs the interfaith fund-raiser in Syracuse and dishes out food for a project that feeds a hot meal each afternoon to 200 homeless people.


7. Holy Places


Once in a lifetime, if financially and physically able, every Muslim is expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and participate in the five-day celebration surrounding that event. Among other things, Muslims recall their belief that the Angel Gabriel in 610 A.D. spoke here to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

But they revere other sacred places, especially Jerusalem. They believe that the Prophet himself ascended into heaven from the rock over which the Dome of the Rock, the earliest Islamic monument, now stands.

The site is also sacred to Jews, who recall its connection with the Temple. Jewish persons, of course, consider themselves the Chosen People and that God has designated today's Palestine as their home. Jerusalem is also sacred to them, as are many other locations in the Holy Land. Their liturgy suggests three pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Christians believe that Jesus came and dwelt on this earth, for the most part in that area termed the Holy Land. Over the years, millions of Christians have come to this sacred place and are eager to visit locations where Jesus was conceived, born, grew up, taught, ate his Last Supper, sweated blood in Gethsemane, died, was buried, rose and ascended into heaven.

Disputes over these places, especially in the Holy Land, have probably caused the sharpest divisions and hateful feelings—as well as the most violent actions—among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Perhaps an appreciation of each group's reverence for the same or neighboring sacred spots could eventually dissolve the hatred and lead to peace.


8. People of the Book


In the Old Testament we see the unfolding of the Jewish religion. Moses and Aaron are there; so, too, are Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon. During the Sabbath synagogue service, the leaders draw back a veil, revealing richly ornamented scrolls containing these inspired words of God.

Christians, who call themselves spiritual Semites, accept these Old Testament writings, but judge that they lead to and find fulfillment in the New Testament books, together forming the Holy Bible.

Since the 1970s, Roman Catholics and most mainline Christian bodies follow on Sundays a three-year cycle of biblical readings. While these are excerpts only, they still contain samplings from almost all of the 46 Old and 27 New Testament books.

For Muslims, the Prophet is the messenger, but the Quran (Koran) is the message of God. It is not a structured book or set of arguments, but a collection of divine messages.

The Quran repeatedly labels Jewish and Christian persons as "people of the Book" and views their original Books as coming from God.

Yale University historian Jaroslav Pelikan maintains that the ignorance of otherwise well-educated Westerners about the religion of Muhammad and the message of the Quran is "not only abysmal, but frightening."

Learning about and appreciating these closely connected inspired books surely is an easy and readily available stepping-stone to unity.


9. Abraham


Certainly Christian and Jewish persons hold Abraham close to their hearts. They marvel at his trust in leaving home for an unknown new location. They admire that faith which brought about his holiness or righteousness. They rejoice in his dedication and obedience to God, which prompted a willingness to sacrifice even his only child and son.

In Eucharistic Prayer I for Roman Catholic Christians, worshipers hear these words: "the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith."

Muslims, too, hold Abraham in great esteem, regarding him as a great prophet and one of God's special messengers. During the days of their pilgrimage at Mecca, Muslims observe several rituals commemorating events in the life of Abraham.


10. Jesus and Mary


Muslims speak of both Jesus and Mary with reverence and respect. They believe that Allah or God gave revelations not only to Abraham and Moses, but also to Jesus and all prophets. For them Christ is not messiah, savior or divine, but one of God's holy messengers.

In the Quran, Mary is the only woman's name mentioned. Moreover, Surah 19, one of the longest chapters in the Quran, carries the title "Maryam: Mary." It is said that in our times as well Muslims have a special place for Mary in their devotional lives.

Jesus is the focal point for Christians. He is their teacher, healer and savior. He is a model for them. He is divine, the Son of God and the one who revealed the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

Mary's frequent appearances in the New Testament make her a necessary ingredient of Christian life. The honor given to Jesus' mother by Roman and Orthodox Christians is well known, although some Christian traditions tend to find that honoring excessive.

Respect and affection for Jesus represent a real challenge for Jewish people. They reject him as the long-awaited Messiah. They also disapprove of his divine claims and his teachings about the Trinity.

Still, he was born of a Jewish mother, grew up in a Jewish home and prayed regularly in a Jewish synagogue. He also frequently cited the Hebrew Scriptures, and many of his words are consonant with Jewish religious principles.

Mary, likewise, grew up in a Jewish home, practiced Jewish religious traditions and, according to some scholars, would have been of the house and lineage of David. Her famous Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55) bears a close resemblance to Hannah's prayer of praise in 1 Samuel 2 of the Old Testament.


We Remain Divided


These 10 spiritual commonalities make it confusing and contradictory to witness hateful words and deeds done in the name of religion.

Jews and Muslims squabble over a mutually revered holy place in Jerusalem. Fundamentalist leaders in Afghanistan resent and arrest eight outsiders trying to bring Christianity to that country. Some cite the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, to support a holy war against infidels, the destruction of the United States and suicidal actions in the name of Allah.

In the midst of such hatred and disrespect, of such violence and division, a long-term solution exists which would replace hatred with love, disrespect with respect, violence with a just peace, division with unity. Recognizing, understanding and appreciating the many common spiritual elements which Christians, Jews and Muslims share with one another can contribute to this solution.

Dr. Anis I. Obeid, born in Lebanon and raised as a Druze Muslim, has practiced medicine in the United States for many years. During the course of that service, he became an expert in echocardiography, gaining worldwide recognition in this field. He would agree with my proposal.

This heart specialist strongly believes in a comment he once heard: "There are only two kinds of people—those I love and those I don't know."

Franciscan psychologist Father Jeffrey Keefe holds a somewhat similar view and would likewise support my suggestion. As a therapist, he observes, "The more I get to know my clients, the better I like them. As I hear in greater detail their stories, I appreciate better the complexity of their struggles. I am moved to a deeper respect for them."

Both seem to maintain this principle: The more I know about others, the easier it is to love them. And the greater understanding I possess of others, the better I can respect them.

 


 


 


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Comment by LaDonna Bagwell on February 12, 2011 at 8:15am
Great posting! I hear such terrible comments about Muslims, and most people making those comments can't tell you anything about them, other than they are Muslim. Which is what this article points out, "the more you know about others, the easier it is to love them." But why do we have to hate and fear unknown people until we are covinced that they are not so different than us? Why do we keep repeating this same behavior that has never worked well for us? We shoud learn to love all people regardles of how much we know about them. Then we can better understand thier differences and respect them. When we believe and pass on what others profess to us without investigation, we cultivate our own ignorance and reap hatred. Far too many people base their knowledge of others by what their family or loved ones have told them, and far too many of them have done the same thing. It's time we step off our own front porch and find out for ourselves what are neighbors are all about.  

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