A Primer on Islam
Prepared by the students in
HON 313 Justice in Islamic Thought
Fall 2004 - Nazareth College of Rochester

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"Comparison of Islam

with Judaism and Christianity"

by Joseph Nolan


One of the main problems in coming to terms with Islam is that, in the West, people are brought up in a primarily Christian or Jewish, setting. While it is true that the United States does separate church and state, it is glaringly obvious that most of our faiths lie with the cross or the Star of David, and not with the crescent moon and star of Islam.  Christianity, Judaism and Islam share a lot in common, but there are a great many differences. Where do they stop going along the same road and begin to separate? Oddly enough, there are disparities going as far back as the Old Testament, starting with Abraham, the first monotheist (Husain 30).

 

Abraham's Sacrifice.
A lot of people know that Christians and Jews trace their ancestry back to Abraham, and his son Isaac, and thatIsaac was offered as a sacrifice to God. But most would be surprised to find that the Qur'an differs in regards to this. Muslims believe that they originated from Ishmael, the first son of Abraham and his servant Hagar. Sarah, Abraham's wife, cast out Hagar and Ishmael, sending them to die in the desert. While they were suffering from hunger and thirst, God created a well at the feet of Ishmael, promising Hagar that he would have a nation of his own. Muslims believe that the kingdom of Arabia and the surrounding lands is what was promised to them by God because of His covenant with Ishmael. Another "discrepancy" from the Old Testament that is brought to light in the Qur'an is that Abraham was really going to sacrifice Ishmael until God decreed that a ram would do. This is celebrated by Muslims at the Feast of the Sacrifice, one of their holidays (Husain 31).

 

 

Crusades.
American children learn about the Crusades in elementary school as a struggle to save the Holy Land, Jerusalem, from the "wicked infidels." They leave when the bell rings under the impression that these wars were just and pious. Muslims view these wars as unprovoked invasions of one of their own holiest sites. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended from a hill in Jerusalem towards Heaven and had a direct experience with God. This place is now the famous Temple of the Mound (Denny 69). This is far from being the only problem: Earlier during the Mongol invasion of Arabia it was reported that "[Christians and Jews] …held drinking parties in [the mosques] and sprinkled wine on Muslim passers-by in the streets to injure their religious feelings" (Muslims are forbidden alcohol). These are just two examples of old prejudices and violence between the three groups. There are many more well known examples including the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust (Khan 114).

 

Nature of God.
This degree of horrible violence boils down to the fundamental differences of the three faiths. There are many splits in the doctrines of these three religions; one of the biggest being the idea of the Holy Trinity in Christianity. Christians believe that God has three embodiments, that there are three aspects of the godhead: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christians hold that this is still one god, just in varying forms. Muslims and Jews do not view it in this way however. They believe, especially the Muslims, that the Christians are practicing polytheism and that it is blasphemous to imply that God is anything but One. There have been many rational arguments against the Trinity by Jewish and Islamic thinkers, like Saadia ben Joseph Gaon who taught against this during the Middle Ages, a time when Christians were often torturing and killing those who did not believe in Jesus as the Christ. And the Christians had plenty of philosophers to defend the Trinity; thinkers like Augustine of Hippo, and have no problem in modern times with the idea that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are still the one and the same God of Abraham (Lasker 51-53).

 

Muhammad and Jesus.
Now how do these three religions view each other's prophets, and who do they accept as their own holy men? Muslims have the most prophets by far, as they include those who are not usually referred to as such, including the first man Adam. Christians and Jews do not view Muhammad as holy in any way, while Muslims view him as the last messenger of God, the Seal of the Prophets. In fact, Dante Alighieri, a devout Christian, portrays Muhammad as being in Hell in his Inferno (Husain 29).

This is in stark contrast to the Muslim view of Jesus. They hold him as a great prophet, and also have a huge amount of respect for his mother, the Virgin Mary. But there are differences in their ideas of what happened on Good Friday. Muslims think that Jesus did not really die up on the cross and that there was probably someone else up there that everyone thought was the Christ. Jews on the other hand view Jesus at best as a rabbi and are still awaiting their messiah (Husain 32).

 

Evangelism.
Another huge difference in the three religions is the idea of evangelism and what it takes to convert to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. To become a Christian and to "save your soul" in the loosest sense one must only accept Jesus as their God and Savior and be baptized  . The Muslims have a similar practice, which is reciting the shahada, "There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God." After believing this and reciting it, you are a Muslim. Not only this but the Muslims believe that there is no compulsion in religion, that is, no Muslim can force any other person to convert to Islam. This is a far cry from the days of the Inquisition when people were tortured until they said Jesus was their savior, and killed if they did not. While Muslims never reached that extreme, they still believed in the spread of the Qur'an (Denny 107).

The Jewish faith, on the other hand, makes no effort to convert anyone, and it is very difficult to be officially accepted. This is because the Jews view themselves more as an ethnic group than the Christians or Muslims do. They are the people that did "go out of the land of Egypt." They feel that you must have a similar experience in order to become a Jew; that you needed to have ancestors that traveled with Moses. It seems that the only way for a Jew to be created is through birth (Jurji 224-225).

 

Works Cited
Denny, Frederick Mathewson. An Introduction to Islam. New York: Prentice Hall, 1985.

Geertz, Clifford. Islam Observed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.

Husain, Mir Zohair. Global Islamic Politics. New York: Longman, 2003.

Khan, Qamaruddin. The Political Thought of Ibn Taymiyah. Delhi: Adam Publishers, 1992.

Jurji, Edward J., ed. The Great Religions of the Modern World. Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1946.

Lasker, Daniel J. Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages. New York: Ktav Publishing, 1977.