“One figure stands at the dawn of every subsequent endeavor. One individual holds the breadth of the past – and perhaps the dimensions of the future – in his life story. Abraham.” ~Bruce Feiler, Abraham
It was brought to my attention yesterday that, at least in a good many cases, the Christian churches have been lax in letting folks know that good old Father Abraham is the forefather of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Maybe it just didn’t seem important enough to include in kid’s Sunday School lessons. Or maybe no one wanted to lend any credibility to Islam. Maybe if this fact was more well-known, we’d have less intolerance between the religions.
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Here’s the skinny… Abraham had two sons, Ishmael by Hagar (his wife’s Egyptian slave) and Isaac by his wife Sarah. There is contention between Sarah and Hagar, but God blesses both boys. An angel tells Hagar that through her son, God would make her “descendants too numerous to count.” By the way, this makes Hagar the ONLY woman to receive the promise of descendants and essentially places her among the patriarchs. It is then through Isaac that God establishes “an everlasting covenant, to be his God and the God of his descendants.” (Genesis 16 and 17).
In essence, we have two half-brothers who are forced to go in different directions (Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away) and become the forefathers of two distinct nations. Ishmael becomes the father of Islam and Isaac becomes the father of Judaism. And it is off of the Judaic branch that Christianity sprouts.
There are hundreds of stories about Abraham, but only about 1% of those are in the Bible. The rest were created by the Jews, Christian and Muslims in the last 3800 years. Still, everyone agreed on one thing: Abraham believed in one God. He was the first great monotheist.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe in one God – the God of Abraham. Yes, the Jews use the word Yahweh or Jehovah and the Muslims talk about Allah, but those words simply mean “God” in their own languages. It is NOT a different God.
From here we recognize that there are many similarities, but to expect it to extend into doctrine and practices isn’t realistic. Not only do all three religions believe in one and the same God, but they believe that God works within human history, interacting with humanity. They all believe in prophets, angels and divine revelation. All three stress moral responsibility and accountability. Prayer, worship, giving to charity are core practices of all three. And they all believe in the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Peace is also central to all three faiths. Many Christian churches traditionally share signs of greeting and peace during their worship. During the mass, Catholics will turn to one another, shaking hands and saying, “Peace be with you.” Muslims greet one another with the words, salaam alaikum, and Jews will greet one another with shalom aleichem which both mean “peace be unto you.”
All three religions also believe in their special covenant with God. The Jews have their covenant through Moses, the 10 Commandments and the Torah. Christians accept God’s covenant with, and revelation to, the Jews, but traditionally has seen itself as superseding Judaism with the coming of Jesus. Christianity talks about a new covenant and a New Testament (NT) through Jesus. Islam has respect for all the Biblical prophets of Judaism and Christianity, and the Quran makes frequent reference to Jesus and to the Virgin Mary (who is cited more times in the Quran than in the NT). But Muslims believe that Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity – that the Quran is the final and complete word of God and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets. While Muslims recognize the “revelations” (Torah and NT), they also believe that much of what is written in the Old and New testaments is a corrupted version of the original revelation to Moses and Jesus, and that Christianity further corrupted it with the development of doctrine such as the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died to redeem the people.
In our age of globalization and with the understanding that in a few short years there will be almost as many Muslims as there are Christians in the world, there is a deep need for religious pluralism. This does not mean all becoming one great religion, nor does it mean watering down the religions to focus solely on the similarities and ignore our differences. What it means is an appreciation of the diversity of all religions, uniformity and agreement are not the goals.
Pluralism recognizes that the Divine is too huge to be encompassed by any one idea, theology, name or religion. Pluralism understands that no one has a monopoly on the truth when it comes to God. It recognizes that there is much out there that we don’t know and don’t understand, and we allow others to honor and worship God in ways that make sense to them. Pluralism believes that other religions have validity.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,