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The Shared Beliefs of Islam, Judaism and Christianity

In addition to being monotheistic, Islam, Judaism and Christianity share a common belief in the origins of the sacred texts that guide their respective religions. Muslims, Jews, and Christians are all “people of the book”, to use a Muslim term that acknowledges the accuracy if not the finality of the scriptures that were revealed by God or Allah to Jewish and Christian prophets. All three of the Abrahamic religions believe that the authors of their respective books – the Jewish Bible, the Christian New Testament, and the Muslim Quran – were inspired by the same God who promised Abraham that he would be the father of many believers.

In a sense, these three books form a trilogy that tells the story of the Abrahamic religions, although Jews and Christians would almost certainly take exception to the idea of the Jewish Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran being part of a trilogy of religious thought. In the trilogy model, the oldest text and Part I of the series would be the Jewish Bible, also known as the Tanakh, or, as Christians call it, the Old Testament. Tanakh is somewhat different from what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The Tanakh consists of three sections, the Torah, the prophetic writings, and the Wisdom books.

The Torah consists of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the five books of Moses: Genesis (B’reishis), Exodus (Sh’mos), Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers (Bamidbar), and Deuteronomy (D’varim). The prophetic books of Tanakh are the same books that appear in the Protestant Old Testament, although the Christian versions of these books are somewhat different than the traditional Jewish interpretations. The Wisdom books include Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and other books that are also included in the Protestant Christian Old Testament.

The version of the Bible that is used by Catholics includes more additional material that is not part of the Tanakh or the Protestant Old Testament. The Tanakh is the only book that is recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, although Christians and Muslims do not use the word Tanakh to refer to this scripture. Jews consider the Tanakh to be complete. While there may be ongoing study and interpretations of the meaning of Torah and the prophets, Jews believe that at some point, the scriptures were complete and no additional books were to be written.

From the Jewish perspective, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament were false prophets. The same is true of Mohammed. The New Testament and the Quran, from a Jewish perspective, are not valid. To go back to the trilogy model, Jews enjoyed Episode I, but Jews were not interested in Episode II: Christianity, or Episode III: Islam. Christians believe that although what they refer to as the Jewish Old Testament provides an accurate history and the foundations for Christianity, it was an incomplete and, therefore, an imperfect work.

Christians who believe in the literal interpretation of all scripture somehow manage to reconcile the idea of an imperfect scripture with their belief in an infallible God. Tanakh was especially important to the early church, most of whom were converted Jews, because it provided a historic link to their former faith. Christians believe that the New Testament is complete and feel about the Quran the same way that Jews feel about the New Testament. In other words, Christians appreciate Episode I, really like Episode II because its about them, but are not interested in Episode III.

Muslims accept the Tanakh, which they call Torah, and the New Testament, which Muslims refer to as Engel, as legitimate religious texts. Muslims consider the Torah and Gospels to be books of Islam (Goldman and Hassan El-Najjar). Islam teaches that Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were all messengers of God, just like Mohammed. The Torah and Engel are useful for history and some of the philosophical underpinnings of Islam. The teachings of Moses and Jesus, however, did not provide a complete picture of Allah or of Allah’s plan for people. According to Islam, the complete plan of Allah for man was given to Mohammed and is revealed in the Quran.

Differences Between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all Abrahamic religions and share many elements, there are some distinct differences between these groups. One of these differences is the treatment of sacred subjects in art. In Exodus 20:4, God said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. ” Paintings and sculptures were considered idols, and the creation or appreciation of paintings or sculptures was considered a form of idolatry.

This view is also shared by Muslims, who consider any depiction of a human to be inappropriate and any depiction of Mohammed or Allah to be blasphemous. Christians, however, have a rich history of religious art that includes depictions of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Christian saints, and other religious imagery. Although it is generally accepted that there were no Jewish painters until modern times – Daniel Moritz Oppenheim, who lived from 1799 to 1882 is considered by many to be the first Jewish painter (Kaplan-Mayer) – it would be a mistake to say that there were no early Jewish artists, even as far back as in Biblical times.

Solomon’s temple, with its ornate furnishings, is one example that may be found in the Bible that proves that early Jews had an artistic sense and an appreciation for beautiful things that were made by human hands. The Jewish Bible also includes mentions of tapestries and even a gold snake that Moses held on the end of a staff. According to Kaplan-Mayer, sculpture and carving were part of everyday life in ancient Israel. Presumably, these artists were not making idols for worship. Modern Jewish artists are not as concerned about the problem of idol worship and the prohibition against graven images and sculptures.

However, according to Kaplan-Mayer, the development of Jewish artists in modern times was impeded by the anti-Semitism that prevented Jews from enrolling in art schools in Europe and elsewhere. Today, a search on Google for “Jewish artists” reveals the work of several Jewish painters and Jewish sculptures. Modern Muslims still take what they interpret as God’s commandment against art very seriously. While Christian churches are full of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts Jesus, God, and biblical stories, no such images would be allowed in a Muslim mosque.

Muslims take the commandment against any depiction of Mohammed so seriously, in fact, that some Muslim clerics have called for the death of cartoonists who depicted Mohammed in various cartoon-like settings (Malkin). The commandment against realistic depictions of humans and animals should be interpreted, however, as a ban on art by Muslims. Muslims believe “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty” (Saoud 2). Because Muslim artists are prevented from depicting humans or animals in a realistic setting, Muslim artists have a highly developed tradition of abstract art that uses geometric shapes and colors to express feelings and ideas.

Examples of Muslim art may also be seen in architecture throughout the Muslim world. Christians, while recognizing the commandment not to worship idols or graven images, do not interpret the command in Exodus to mean a ban on all art, including religious art. Christian artists have depicted God, Jesus, and other parts of the Christian faith for almost as long as their have been Christians. In fact, the Christian insistence on realistic depictions of religious subjects has prevented Christians from having the same highly developed skills and appreciation for abstract art that may be found among Muslim and Jewish artists.

This difference is probably related to Christianity’s emphasis on a familiar, personal relationship with God rather than a formal and more respectfully distant relationship.

References

Goldman, Andee, and Hassan El-Najjar. “Six Questions About Islam, Muslims and Jews” Al-Jazeerah (25 January 2004). Online. 27 April 2008. <http://www. aljazeerah. info/Editorials/2004%20editorials/Jan/Six%20Questions%20About%20Islam,%20Muslims%20and%20Jews%20By%20Hassan%20El-Najjar%20and%20Andee%20Goldman. htm> Kaplan-Mayer, Gabrielle. “Jewish Painters.

” My Jewish Learning. Online. 27 April 2008. <http://www. myjewishlearning. com/culture/Art/TO_ArtOverview/JewishPainters. htm> Malkin, Michelle. “Support Denmark: Why the Forbidden Cartoons Matter. ” MichelleMalkin. com. 30 January 2006. < http://michellemalkin. com/2006/01/30/support-denmark-why-the-forbidden-cartoons-matter/> Saoud, Rabah. Introduction to Muslim Art. (July 2004). London: Foundation for Science, Technology, and Civilisation. Limited. Online. 27 April 2008. < http://www. muslimheritage. com/uploads/MuslimArt. pdf>

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