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Common Roots of Three Abrahamic Faiths:


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Building a Culture of Peace in Schools and Communities
Common Roots of Three Abrahamic Faiths:
A Foundation for Peaceful Coexistence

Four score and several thousand years ago, our Father brought forth on this planet a new religious spirit. As this spirit evolved, it assumed the form of monotheism—because it affirmed only one God. The father of this new religious impulse came to be called Abraham.

Father of Many Nations

Abraham is a unique figure. His name means "Father of Many Nations." Indeed he is. We trace roots of three different, but related, world religions school God of Abraham:

  • The Jews know this one God as Yahweh or Yehovah, the self-Existent or Eternal. Jehovah, the Lord.
  • Muslims know this God as Allah. They say there is "No god, but God." In the Semitic tongues, both Jews and Muslims use virtually the same word for God -only one mark distinguishes them.
  • Christians know the Sacred One first in Matthew 1:23 as Emanuel, "God with Us."

Abraham brought the world a new way to see God. This new vision of God evolved over time and became transformed as the three Abrahamic faiths. Each tradition remembers its origins in unique ways. For example, Christians celebrate their vision at Christmas, Easter and Epiphany ­ the traditional nativity story of Jesus and the three Magi. In understanding this story anew, I propose to take the advice of Islam's revered poet Rumi. He advised: "But don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth…" This article views the Magi as symbols of the wisdom of three Abrahamic traditions that flow into and from the birth of Jesus. They are "Three Gifts from the East." I will show that each tradition stands on its own, but may also illuminate the others.

Identifying the common roots of the Abrahamic faiths—while respecting their differences—can also help lay the for a durable peace in Middle East. Negotiations can arrest conflict involving Muslims, Jews, and Christians, but only understanding can curb the fears that drive conflict itself.

Father of Israel

Judaism, the religion of those who call Abraham the Father of Israel, is symbolized by the Hebrew Scriptures. Without Judaism, we would lack the prophetic and historic traditions that inform the Gospels in the New Testament/Christian Scriptures. Another example of the gift of Judaism comes from Isaiah. Isaiah 42:1-4 is one of the so-called "servant songs." Some interpret the passages as referring to the nation Israel, and they believe it should be understood in that context. I suggest that if these verses and passages in chapters 49, 50 and 52-53 illuminate the Gospels and Epistles, they do not do so in a direct, literal way. Rather, the metaphors about the nation Israel acting justly, wisely, and emphatically become windows for understanding how Christians see Jesus' ministry through Jewish eyes.

Properly interpreted, these Jewish texts can illuminate our understanding of Judaism and of Christianity. I offer these Jewish scriptures as our first gift from the East.

Father of Jesus

As I stated at the outset, Abraham was the father not only of Judaism, but also of Christianity. Matthew 1-17 traces the lineage of Jesus through David all the way back to Abraham. Are we to treat this as a literal family tree, or as a metaphorical message to the Jews that made up the audience for Matthew's Gospel? I suggest the latter, that he was telling them that Jesus has a special role to play in Jewish history and in God's plan for humankind. An example of the latter are the two Great Commandments Jesus gave us: to love our God wholeheartedly, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who is our neighbor? Jesus taught that our neighbors include the sick, the outcast, all races, and both genders—he did not give a religious preference. He mandated love and justice—the social extension of love.

Jesus' wisdom embodies what Karen Armstrong calls the essence of all the major religions, including the Abrahamic traditions. I refer to personal responsibility and practical action. The teachings of Jesus symbolize our second gift from the East.

The Father of The Prophet

Our third gift comes from the Prophet Muhammad in the Qur'an. The Qur'an exalts and extols no god but Allah and severely criticizes tritheism. Even so, therein we learn of extraordinarily high regard of Muslims for Jesus:

  • He performs the miracles healing the sick and demon-possessed.
  • He receives the designations of "Word of God" and "the Spirit of God."
  • He tells his disciples to obey him and to assist Allah on Judgment Day.

Of course, the Qur'an uplifts a whole string of prophets. They include Abraham's heirs: Jewish prophets, Jesus, and Muhammad himself. The Qur'an, then, represents our third gift from the East.

Father of Coexistence

In summary, the covenant in Genesis makes Abraham the father of many nations. It also makes Sarah and Hagar the mothers of many nations. We ought never to get so enraptured of the Patriarchs that we forget the Matriarchs who made them fathers. These parents, then, gave birth to generations as numerous as the sands of the sea and stars sky. So we learn another lesson: the common heritage of Jews, Christians and Muslims should encourage coexistence.

Let us notice the wide Semitic links within itself. Abraham brought his first wife from the land of Babylon. He then took Hagar, an Arab slave woman, as his second wife, and she became the mother of his first child, Ishmael.

Muslims and Arabs chart their lineage through Ishmael, who the Bible tells us had 12 sons, just like Jacob. Muslims likewise count model of faith. The Qur'an says Abraham eschewed all religious labels but insisted only on one thing: his faith in the One True God. Thus, a Jewish Patriarch doubles as Muslim Prophet.

Christians also revere Abraham. According to the Apostle Paul, Abraham became, by faith, the father of both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus himself refers to the teaching of Moses and the example of Abraham.

Let us appreciate the three gifts from the East—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—and celebrate their sacred writings: the Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and the Qur'an. The symbols of the three faiths—the Muslim crescent, and star, and the Christian cross—can be joined to spell "love" in "interfaith consonants"—COEXIST. Let's do it peacefully—in the Middle East and around the globe!

Douglas Norell is a candidate for Doctor of Ministry at Hartford Seminary. He is a lay leader in interfaith education at Emmaus United Church of Christ in Vienna, Virginia, where he teaches courses reflected in this article. He is Director of Legislative Affairs, Catholic Relief Services.

The Golden Rule

Christianity
All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets,
King James version: Matt. 7:12
Islam
None of you is a believer if he does not desire for his brother that which he desires for himself.
Sunna
Judaism
That which you hold as detestable, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law: the rest is but commentary.
Talmud, Sabbat, 21a

[Source: Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 9, 1975]

Brotherhood

Buddhism

A friend is a great treasure and should be cherished as a brother. One should make good his chosen friends, his brothers.

Christianity

All men are brothers. If one has anything against a brother, he should make peace with him before attending to other religious duties. As one treats a brother, so he treats God. To hate one's brother is evil. Brotherly love should rule the world.

Hinduism

The good man makes no distinction between friend and foe, brother or stranger, but regards them all with impartiality. A true friend will be sympathetic with you at all times.

Judaism

God has made all men brothers and they should live together as brothers at all times. It is good for men to act in unity as brothers. Such action will be blessed by God and will prosper.

Mohammedanism/Islam

All mankind is one family, one people. All men are brothers and should live as such. The Lord loves those who so live.

[Source: Topical Index, The Sacred Writings of the Great Religions, edited by S.E. Frost, Jr., McGraw-Hill Paperback Edition, 1972]



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