Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all trace their roots back to Abraham, yet they have developed differences and similarities independently which have led to a wide range of relationships between the three religions. Because of that, Islam’s present state as a world religion is dependent on the influence from the earlier Abrahamic religions.
A Timeline of Islam
The prophet Muhammad (570-632) lived in Mecca and was from the Quraysh tribe (the main tribe). Meccans had animistic beliefs, worshiped idols and were organizing the pilgrimage around the Kaaba. The people of Quraysh used to make part of their wealth during the pilgrimage. In 610, the religion of Islam was revealed to the prophet Muhammad by God through the angel Gabriel. He started preaching openly in Mecca three years after receiving revelations. The Quraysh, seeing this new religion brought by Muhammad as a threat to their religion and businesses, started persecuting the Muslims. Finding life in Mecca difficult, a group of Muslims made the Hijra (emigration) to Abyssinia in 615 and the others who remained in Mecca left to Medina in 622. Only two years after moving to Medina, a series of battle occurred from 624 to 627 between the Muslims and the Quraysh. Muhammad and his companions won most of the battles. A peace treaty was signed between the two parties in 628 and was breached by the Quraysh in 630. This event caused the Muslims to come back to Mecca by force and clear the holy mosque (the Kaaba) of its 360 idols. The conquest of Mecca was the first of the many victories of the Muslims. Indeed, after the prophet’s death in 632 and under the rule of his successors Abu Bakr then Umar, the Muslims conquered Syria, Persia, Iraq and Egypt. They used their religion principles to establish themselves in these countries and ruled in terms that benefited both their interests and the ones of the resident populations.
Islam and Judaism Relations
The religion of Judaism has had many encounters with the religion of Islam, however; the dynamics of the relationship has shifted over the course of two religions history. The majority of the interactions between the two religions happened when Islam began its expansion around the Arabian Peninsula. To begin, when the prophet Muhammad wanted to expand his religion outside of Mecca he had to battle other tribes to prove Islam’s legitimacy. As a result, Muhammad attacked Jewish Arabian tribes because of their refusal to convert to Islam. Soon after the battles between the two religions, the Jewish tribes were defeated and became under Islamic reign. In addition to Muhammad’s expansion of Islam, an example of where the two religions compromised can be seen when the Jewish tribe Kaibar defended their property against the Muslims. The tribe Kaibar negotiated a settlement which consisted of half of the Kaibar tribe’s crops would go to Muhammad in exchange for peace. Another encounter of the two religions can be seen a couple centuries later after the death of Muhammad when Islam was under control of the rightly guided caliphates (Abu Baker 632CE-634CE, Umar 634CE-644CE, Uthman Bin Affan 644CE-656CE and Ali bin Ibn Ali Talib 656CE-661CE) in Islam’s history. During the siege of Jerusalem, the Pact of Omar forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to practice their faith of Judaism quietly or hidden. The Pact of Omar consisted of Jews being forced to pray quietly, fording the building of synagogues, and any Jew entering the city needed to convert to Islam to be admitted. Majority of the interactions between Jews and Muslims can be seen as result of the rapid expansion Islam has undergone throughout history.
Islam and Christianity Relations
Crusades were the holy wars ordered by the popes to fight against the enemies of Christians. Those who also participated considered them as pilgrimages to spread the piety and love of Christ. What was mainly happening prior to the first crusade was that Christianity was trying to expand westward but came across the difficulty to do so because Islam was spreading more rapidly than expected. The first crusade began in 1095 when Pope Urban II called on Western Christians to recapture the holy land from Muslim control. In the first major clash between the Crusaders and the Muslims, Turkish forces destroyed the invaded European Cities. During the second crusade many regions were conquered, however four states stayed in tact in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch and Tripoli. The third crusade ended with a siege in Cario in 1169.The 4th thru 6th Crusades focused more on defeating enemies of Christianity.
Comparison of Islam and Judaism
In comparing Islam and Judaism we see similarities and differences that have an effect on the relationship between the two. Muslims and Jews share a very strong connection on the concept of the oneness of God. Through that foundation the two religions are also known for their strict laws that help believers achieve a spiritual and religious goal set for them. Although Jews and Muslims believe in the connection that God has given to the community that he revealed himself to, they have some differences. Jews see Abraham as the forefather of the Jewish people. However, Muslims see Abraham as simply a link in the chain of prophets that started with Adam and ended with Muhammad.
As we see the conflicts between the 2 religions, it is important to keep in mind that there is also conflict within each individual sect. In Judaism, division among groups came as a result of the interpretation of Jewish law. Orthodox Judaism is strict following of the law while Reform and Conservative Judaism sees the Torah more as a guideline. In Islam, there is a division that came as a result of arguments over who should lead the Muslim community. The 2 major groups, Shi’ite and Sunni, have different beliefs. Sunnis believe that they are the more traditional group, while Shi’ites don’t recognize the first 3 caliphates of Islam and they firmly believe that Muhammad’s descendants are the only true leaders.
Although many of the interactions between the 2 faiths were conflicts, philosophy came to be the bridge that had the potential to reconnect the two. Muslims philosophers translated works of Greek philosophers for their own intellectual benefits, which were then used by Jewish medieval thinkers for Jewish poetry.
Comparison of Islam and Christianity
Christianity is very similar to Islam. Muslims split away from Christianity a mere 1400 years ago, but they still hold significant differences. Both religions are monotheistic, accept the Bible as being holy, and have different schools of thought within the larger religion. They both emphasize that Jesus was the Messiah (son of Mary), his birth was miraculous, and that he will return on the Day of Judgment to defeat evil. In Islam, Jesus is seen as the last prophet before Muhammad, hence he is given the honorary title of Messiah. What separates this from Christianity, however, is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God as taught in the Bible. Furthermore, Muslims believe Christianity and the Bible have become corrupt, and therefore only accept its teachings if they do not contradict the Qur’an. Muslims also see Islam as the final, complete, and correct revelation in the monotheistic tradition of the three Abrahamic religions, and see the other two as earlier but flawed versions of Islam. Hence although, they have some similarity, mainly because of their initial formation they are different.
Christianity was not founded by the prophet Jesus, unlike in Islam with the prophet Muhammad. Instead, Paul of Tarsus and the Romans in the council of Nicaea in 325 CE, are considered the founders of Christianity by many Christian scholars. It was at this council where Paul’s beliefs became a part of the Christian doctrine. An example of one the concepts added was, one of Christianity’s core teachings, that Jesus is the son of God. Islam and Christianity share some central beliefs that include; belief in one God, belief that God is the creator, and the Day of Judgement. However, Muslims believe Jesus did not die on the cross and God ascended him into heaven, not resurrected. Another difference would be their views on original sin. Christians believe Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden affects humans today, but according to the Qur’an they were forgiven and therefore the idea of original sin is obsolete. While these two religions share the same origin and basic beliefs, they still hold significant differences as seen here.
Key Concepts in Islam and Christianity
- Jesus is not the Son of God
- God is not Jesus
- Do not believe in the Trinity
- Quran is the absolute word of God
- Jesus was a prophet/ he is just a man
- Jesus is the Son of Mary
- Jesus is the Son of God
- Belief in the Trinity
- Jesus is the Son of Mary
- Jesus died on the cross, was resurrected
- Belief in Original Sin
Hillenbrand, Carole. Introduction to Islam; Beliefs and Practices in Historical Perspective. New York, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2015.