The U.S. population is overwhelmingly a Christian population (78% according to a recent Pew Forum survey), which of course means that all other religions also present within the U.S. are, by definition, “minority religions” (no matter how large they might be on the wider, global scene). Perhaps unsurprisingly, many average Americans’ familiarity with these other faiths pursued by a few of their neighbors tends to be a bit on the thin side.
Many who are unfamiliar with the specifics of, say, Judaism and Islam may simply assume that such “other” religions are probably radically, perhaps even unimaginably different from each other — completely alien faiths, with little to no common ground or similarities of belief and practice.
But those who may possess only a casual familiarity with either Judaism or Islam might be very surprised to discover just how much common ground these two faiths actually share, or how many striking similarities and provocative parallels exist between them.
In my previous blog entry, I began a sort of “Top Ten” list of such shared Judaic/Islamic similarities. That list now continues below:
3. Jews and Muslims both believe in angels. The religious worldviews of Judaism and Islam each make room for nonhuman heavenly denizens generally referred to as “angels,” supernatural beings created by God to serve as his messengers (or to otherwise perform divinely directed deeds).
Both the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud (rabbinic literature) are filled with accounts involving angelic activity of various sorts, including that of the angel Gabriel, the angel Michael, and others unnamed. Likewise, the Quran speaks of angels as God’s created messengers and functionaries, including Mikail (Michael), Israfil (Raphael), and many others; indeed, the very revelation of the Quran to Muhammad was itself facilitated by Jibril (Gabriel), the greatest member of the angelic hierarchy.
Yet another similarity shared between Judaism and Islam is that both faiths sternly warn against regarding angels as objects of worship per se, or as themselves being on par with God; to do so would be to commit the sin of idolatry.
4. Jews and Muslims both believe in prophets and divine revelations. Judaism and Islam each accept the idea that God communicates directly to humanity through the agency of prophets, or human beings chosen by God to serve as “mouthpieces” through whom the divine will may be communicated to human communities. (Contrary to common colloquial use, the term “prophet” refers not to a foreteller of the future, but literally translated simply means “one who speaks for God.”)
For Judaism, Moses is the prophet par excellence, since it was to — and through — Moses that God revealed the Torah (“law,” “instruction,” “teaching”), the extensive body of binding commandments that serve as the basis for the divine covenant established between God and the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The first five books of the Bible, which contain this material, are collectively referred to as the Torah (or alternatively as “the five books of Moses”). The second or middle section of the Hebrew Bible, known as Nevi’im (“the Prophets”) contains accounts of such important subsequent prophets in later Israelite history as Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and many others.
For Islam, Muhammad is the prophet through whom God revealed the Quran (“recitation”), the holy book which Muslims revere as the literal word of God and as the final divine revelation to be bequeathed to humankind; the prophet Muhammad is therefore regarded by Muslims as the last prophet through whom God will speak to humanity. Islam recognizes the reality and validity of previous divine revelations from God to other peoples in other times; the Quran recognizes Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Jesus, and other biblical figures (along with some additional, non-biblical figures) as true prophets through whom God spoke to his creation, even while it then goes on to add Muhammad as the final figure in that list, after whom prophecy and revelation come to a close.
Of course, for all they may share in common with regard to revelation and prophecy, there remain important differences among the three Abrahamic faiths. While Islam accepts the legitimacy of such previous divine revelations as those which resulted in the Jewish and the Christian scriptures, it maintains that those scriptures have become so distorted over the course of the intervening centuries that the Torah and the gospels, as they have come down to us (and as we have them now), no longer accurately reflect the actual content of those original formative revelations.
This means that the Jewish and Christian scriptures as they now exist are no longer accurate or reliable, and insofar as Judaism and Christianity are based upon those scriptures, those religions have become riddled with errors. In the Muslim view, the revelation of the Quran served to correct all of those errors and distortions that had crept into those older scriptures (for example, clearing up the erroneous Christian view of Jesus as being an incarnation of God, or the Son of God, or a resurrected divine savior; Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet or messenger of God, but certainly not God himself, or in any sense divine).
Of course, Judaism fully agrees with Islam that Jesus was not a divine savior, or God incarnate. On the other hand, Judaism disagrees with Islam’s core belief in Muhammad as being a genuine prophet, or in the Quran as representing an authentic divine revelation. Jews obviously reject the Islamic claim that the infallible Quran “corrects errors” that have crept into the Hebrew Bible. So, there certainly remain important, even non-negotiable theological matters upon which Jews and Muslims must simply “agree to disagree.”
Nevertheless, at base, both Judaism and Islam believe in a God (the same God) who reveals himself to his human creations by speaking to them through the agency of human prophets. Chosen by God to serve as his “mouthpieces,” such prophets have, from time to time throughout history, delivered messages from God to entire human communities.
For such communities — the Jews, for example, or the Muslims — these divine revelations have given rise to scriptures, which have come to be regarded by their respective communities as uniquely holy and authoritative , insofar as they are held to contain and express the very word and will of God.
(To be continued, in Part Three.)