There are many similarities and concurrent significant differences in the way that the three religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity portray God and the Divine’s relationship with, and expectations of, humanity. These differences and common issues can also be compared with the images and beliefs concerning the Divine that are portrayed in earlier Greek and Roman literature. The effort to contrast and compare these varying belief systems as a means of understanding the intrinsic cultural values that have led to the political and social viewpoints of the world as we experience it today is a valuable, yet daunting, undertaking. Without knowledge, there can be no acceptance or tolerance, and the widespread conviction of many followers of each of the particular faiths that there is no value in the teaching of beliefs of the alternate religions continues to have a huge impact on our current society.
A basic comprehension of each of these faith’s teachings must begin with the actual foundations of each of the religions. Judaism, or the Hebrew faith, is based upon the covenant established between God and his people, which is expressed by the biblical phrase “I will be your God; you will be my people”. This covenant, similar to the language of marriage contracts of the time, “I will be your husband; you will be my wife” expresses the belief that the relationship between God and his believers has the intimacy of that of a husband and wife, and “provides a strong portrait of a single, deeply involved God” (Cunningham, 2006. p. 202). From the time of the creation of humankind, the Hebrew faith relies upon this covenant as its core.
Christianity, which arose based upon the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Messiah or as its Greek translation from the original Hebrew states is the anointed one, “the Savior promised by the ancient biblical prophets who would bring about God’s Kingdom” (Cunningham, 2006.p.204.) may be considered as an extension of the Hebrew faith, in that Jesus himself, along with his followers, was Jewish. The crucifixion of Christ, and the belief in his return from the dead three days later, known as the resurrection, “became a centerpiece of Christian faith and teaching and the basis on which early Christianity proclaimed Jesus as The Christ” (Cunningham, 2006.p.204.).
The foundation of the Islamic or Muslim faith by Muhammad can be simplified to be based upon conscious monotheism and its “emphasis on submission to the will of the one God” (Cunningham, 2006.p.263.).
Both Judaism and Islam were, or continue to be, firmly grounded in the rules that the Divine, or the Interpretation of the Divine, had provided in order for their followers to live in accordance with God’s will. These tenets are recorded in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah “from the Hebrew word for instruction or teaching” (Cunningham, 2006.p.200.) for members of the Jewish faith, and in the Qur’an; the sacred text of the Muslims, and the Hadith of Islam, from which Shari’a, or law, has been developed. These laws identify essential practices for the devout in many aspects of daily life, such as the Ten Commandments, the “central core of the moral code of the Bible” (Cunningham, 2006.p.216) for those of the Hebrew faith. The Qur’an identifies the five pillars of Islam, and in accordance with the Hadith, other laws related to food consumption practices, the total abstinence of any alcoholic beverages and “the taking of interest on loans or lending for interest (usury) is forbidden by Islamic law” (Cunningham, 2006.p.263.).
Readings from the New Testament of the Bible, the written accounts which are the sacred texts of the Christian faith, reveal less specific laws as such, although Jesus did require that his followers go above and beyond the moral code of the Old Testament in order to maintain their place in heaven. Building upon the commandment against murder, Jesus added “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Cunningham, 2006. p.219.). The parables and sermons preached by Jesus instructed his followers to prepare for the Kingdom of God by living as he did, a “life of repentance; an abandonment of earthly concerns; love of God and neighbor; compassion for the poor, downcast and marginalized” (Cunningham, 2006.p.203.). It is important to note that the distinction of Christianity from Judaism was not made by Jesus himself, but developed as a result, in part, of the efforts of the missionary Paul, along with other members of the foundling church who continued to preach Jesus’ message following his crucifixion and resurrection.
These three major religious faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be considered in many ways to offer similar guidelines for their followers. One major difference is that the Bible, written from the perspective of the words of the Prophets who “spoke with the authority of God” (Cunningham, 2006.p.200.) while the Qur’an is believed to be “the result of divine dictation” (Cunningham, 2006.p.264.). This distinction between inspired by God, or with the authority of God, as opposed to being the actual words of Allah, results in a marked differentiation in the portrayal of the Divine, and his relationship with his believers. When the Bible, both the Old and New Testament, is read by members of the Hebrew or Christian faith, there is a separation of sort from God himself that is the result of the human component in the writing of the actual texts. The Muslim population, however, reading the Qur’an in Arabic, have the unified belief that the text they are reading is “literally God’s word to people and as such is held in the highest reverence” (Cunningham, 2006. p. 264.).
In the Bible, God is represented as the creator, such as in the book of Genesis, when on the fifth day of creation “then God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” and later “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Cunningham, 2006.p.213), but its language is that of a narrator in the third person, describing what was observed.
Over the course of the past week, I have had difficulty reading any of these passages without attempting to find some meaning for a personal crisis that I have been dealing with. The fact that amazes me the most is that I find a message that speaks to me in each of these reading selections, and from each of the three religions. I attempted to to approach this from the viewpoint of purely literary analytical critique, and find that I just cannot do so. Perhaps the readings were not meant for me to analyze, but rather for me to find, re-read, or be initially exposed to, in a time when I need a renewed relationship with God for myself.