Religion is something that is as old as man. It means "almost everything because religions deal with the whole of human life -- and death" (Bowker 2006). Since the beginning of mankind, individuals have searched themselves and others, contemplated the universe and all its elements, and religions are what were formed through these personal and public explorations. But what exactly are religions? What does it mean to be a religious person? Bowker (2006) states that the most modern term today for religions is "communities of people who share practices and beliefs (often in God or gods), who gather in special buildings for worship and meditation, and who live in special ways in the world." It is estimated that over three-quarters of the world's population consider themselves to belong to a religion, whether or not they decide to practice or not (2006). Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are three of the biggest religions in the world and while many members of each respective of religions would fight tooth and nail over the differences between them, there are many similarities among these three religions. This paper will take a closer look at the theological and historical origins of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It will also attempt to point out some of the most important topics related to discussions of religions in the contemporary world.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are known as "Abrahamic religions" because they trace the covenant that Abraham made with God in the Hebrew Bible (Religion Facts 2011). Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity with 1.3 billion adherents as compared to Christianity's 2 billion and Judaism's 14 million (2011). Islam is monotheistic like Judaism and Christianity and it was first established in the Middle East. Many of Islam's beliefs and practices are in line with those of Judaism and Christianity (2011). Muhammad is Islam's prophet and he is said to have come into close contact with both Christians and Jews during his lifetime (2011).
Judaism, Islam and Christianity all have one sacred text: the Bible, the Qur'an, and the Bible once again, respectively (Religion Facts 2011). While the main day of worship for a Christian is on Sunday, the day of worship is Friday for Muslims and Saturdays for Jews (2011). Islam was founded in 622 CE, Christianity in 33 CE, however, the date of the founding of Judaism is said to have occurred with Abraham who was born in 1800 BC (2011). Both Judaism and Christianity were founded in Palestine while Islam was founded in Saudi Arabia (2011).
While the facts related to the three religions -- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam -- and their dates of origin and places of origin vary, all of them have the same "ultimate reality" (Religion Facts 2011) -- there is only one God. Their respective ideas about human nature are interesting to compare as both Islam and Judaism believe that humans have two impulses -- either good or bad and they can make the choice to do either good or bad while Christianity believes in "original sin" and that humans are predisposed to lean towards sinfulness because of this. All three religions believe that humans can be saved -- even though, as Christianity states, people are more likely to lean towards evil -- through salvation. Salvation is defined in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as correct beliefs, good deeds, and faith (2011).
The rituals vary greatly among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. For example, Christian rituals include baptism, the Holy Communion (Eucharist), confirmation, marriage, penance, anointing of the sick, and prayer, among others (Christianity in View 2011). Islam has five important rituals, which are known as "the pillars of Islam:" 1) Shahadah -- profession of faith; 2) Salat -- prayer five times a day; 3) Zakat -- alms giving; 4) Sawm -- fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; and, 5) Hajj -- pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (2011). In the Jewish faith, rituals consist of circumcision of infant males, Barmitzvah (marking the "coming of age" of Jewish boys), observation of the Sabbath (Shabat), and prayer (2011).
In the Jewish religion, Jews see a purpose and providence in the work of God in creating the world and humans to dwell within it (Bowker 2006). "In the beginning God saw that all was very good" (2006). The Book of Genesis shows how the peace that was in the world originally was destroyed (2006). The way in which the story is told concerns how conflict came to be between God and his human creations, parents and their children, townspeople and country people (2006). The only man who was favorable in the eyes of God was Noah and because of this God saved Noah and made a covenant with him, which would start the reparations (2006).
The original covenant in the Jewish faith, described in detail in the Jewish scriptures, is the promise that God gave to Abraham -- that his descendents would become a great nation (Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer 2005). Abraham obeyed all of God's commands and he wandered to many years to find the land that God spoke of. He traveled many years before arriving in Canaan, but along the journey there, God tested his faith many times. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham agreed, willing to obey, but God did not allow the sacrifice to happen and God then told Abraham that he would find and be the father of a great nation. Abraham's descendents went on to settle in Canaan (however, they moved to Egypt, following Abraham's grandson Jacob when the land was destroyed by famine (2005).
Christianity focuses on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The details of Jesus' life that we do know are very little. He was born in Palestine, approximately 4 B.C., and was raised in Nazareth. Jesus was baptized by the prophet, John, who was making a name for himself with his proclamation of God's impending judgment. Jesus had teaching and healing career when in his early thirties that lasted between one and three years (Smith 1995). In time he was viewed in quite a hostile many by some of his own followers and then incurred the suspicion of Rome, which would lead to his crucifixion (1995).
The spiritual order dominated the biblical tradition in which Jesus stood. It included angels and other invisible beings, but it centered in Yahweh. To stress its superiority Jews pictured the spiritual order as residing above the earth, but this was imagery only; the two were not spatially separate, and were in continuous interaction. Spirit could be known. Periodically Yahweh spoke through prophets, but human beings could also take initiative in contacting it. Fasting and solitude were important means for doing this. During their vigils, seekers literally immersed themselves in Spirit, and on returning to the world often gave proof of having done so (Smith 1995).
Smith (1995) notes that it is vital in understanding Jesus' historical career to understand that "he stood squarely in the tradition of these Spirit-filled mediators." John, as noted, had baptized Jesus, and he was the immediate predecessor in the tradition and through the baptism he opened his "spiritual eye," which allowed him to see 'the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove' (1995). The Spirit, after descending, drove Jesus into the wilderness where for forty days he fasted and prayed. He returned to the world empowered by the spirit (1995).
The word Islam comes from the word salam meaning 'peace' but also 'surrender.' It is all about surrendering oneself to God and the peace that comes because of that. For Muslims, Islam began now with Muhammad in 6th century Arabia, but with God. The Book of Genesis says, "In the beginning God…," and the Qur'an aggress while using the word Allah, which means "the God."
For Muslims, God created the entire world and then human beings, but like in the Christian and Jewish tradition. The Qur'an follows the Bible in that the first man was named Adam. The descendents of Adam and Eve led to Noah, who then went on to have a son named Shem, which then led to Abraham who married Sarah. Sarah did not have a son and so Abraham took Hagar as his second wife. Hagar did give Abraham a son, Ishmael. Sarah then was able to give birth to a son, Isaac. Sarah then demanded that Abraham get rid of Ishmael and Hagar, banishing them from the tribe (Smith 1995). It is up to this point that the Qur'an follows the Bible, but from this point on, the stories go different ways.
According to the Qur'an, Ishmael went to the place where Mecca was to rise (Smith 1995). His descendents went on to do well in Arabia and they became Muslims whereas those descendents of Isaac's remained in Palestine and they gave rise to the Hebrews who later became known as Jews (1995). It is through following Ishmael's line in Arabia that leads…