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Judaism, Christianity and Islam - A Clash of Civilizations?
Publication date: 2002-08-06

A Clash of Civilizations?   -----   to top

The involvement of Muslims in the events of 9/11 has brought Islam into the limelight of the World Media. There are even talks of a "Clash of Civilizations". And as always people jump at conclusions and supplement their ignorance with imagination1 rather than trying to understand what they are talking about.

Had they made a comparison of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, they would have discovered that, in fact, it is the same religion, based on the teachings of the same Prophets.

Understanding Prophethood   -----   to top

The phenomenon of 'prophethood' is at the center of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, yet few people understand this phenomenon. And it is this misunderstanding of 'prophethood' that is one of the main causes of the people failing to benefit from the religious teachings, and of religions becoming little more than tribal banners to rally one tribe to fight another tribe, like the colors of the scarves and t-shirts of football hooligans, which they use to gang up against each other.

Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were prophets, and so were many other prophets mentioned in the Bible and the Qur'an. But what is a prophet?

As a short definition one could say, that a prophet is a person who tells the rest of the people the truth revealed to him by God.

But such pocket dictionary definition is sufficient for a language test, not for understanding the phenomenon of prophethood.

For example, a person who does not believe in God, would straight away dismiss it as nonsense, or, more politely, a myth. And yet even those who do not believe in God, acknowledge that at least Muhammad (who lived closer to our time) was a real historical person, whether one accepts his teachings or not.

So is prophethood a myth, or is it a real phenomenon? And, if prophets did exist, then in what way were they different from the rest of mankind?

Sayings of Men   -----   to top

Because the difference between prophets and non-prophets is in what they say, and because it is always easier to understand things with which one is familiar, and most people are not prophets, I shall start with examining of what non-prophets say.

Most people say things either because they want to get something for themselves, as in "may I have my ..., please", or because they have to say something in the course of their relationship with other people (work, family, friends), or because they are bored, or want to show to others and themselves how good they are. So everything they say is centered around themselves.

The contents of what non-prophets say are limited to what they learnt from their parents, friends, books written by others, or from other similar sources. Few people are capable of producing truly original ideas.

People can also invent and imagine things, but again their inventions are designed either to get something from others, or to entertain others and themselves. Some can do it so successfully, that they become popular writers, journalists, scientists, or politicians. But again all their talking or writing is centered around themselves - they want to earn money, become famous and respected, or to put themselves into positions of 'power' over other people.

Then, there are stupid or even mentally deranged people, whose speech could be unselfish and even harmful to themselves, but it is either useless or harmful to others.

All of these people sometimes make truthful statements and sometime false. But apart from fools and lunatics their speech is self-centered: get, entertain, boast, or say what they are forced to say by others.

Sayings of Prophets   -----   to top

But, if we look at the sayings of prophets, we shall find, that their saying have the following qualities:

  1. Their sayings are of no benefit to themselves, and often put them in danger, hardship, and even cost them their lives.


  2. Their sayings are true.


  3. Their sayings are relevant and beneficial to other peoples lives.


  4. The importance of their sayings is not limited to particular individuals or particular events, but is of general universal nature, transcending the limits of tribes, nations, geography and time.


  5. Their sayings are not repetitions of statements of other people, but come from 'inspiration', or 'revelation'.


It is the presence of all the above qualities at the same time, that distinguishes the sayings of prophets from those of ordinary people, teachers, writers, poets, politicians or just lunatics and fools. And it is because of these qualities, that sayings of prophets have such profound and permanent effect on the progress of Mankind.

The Prophetic Succession   -----   to top

This is the line of succession of prophethood from Abraham to our times:



The Essence of the Prophetic Message   -----   to top

People are selfish and impatient. They are driven by desire to gratify their immediate impulses without making attempt to understand the consequences of their actions. They jump to 'convenient' to them assumptions and indulge in wishful thinking. They plot evil plots against one another, seeking to advance their goals by violence and deception. This leads them to actions which in the end are harmful to themselves.

The Prophets called on the people to look beyond their immediate impulses and desires and to seek understanding of the world around them as created by God. By walking in the ways of God, rather than following their vain and selfish desires, people will lead virtuous and happy lives in this world, their deeds in this world will outlast them, and they shall face death without fear and regret.

Below follows a table of comparison of the 3 religions:

Comparison of the 3 World Religions   ---   to top
  Judaism Christianity (the main denominations) Islam
Literal Meaning of the Name of Religion
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The word "Judaism" (yahadut) comes originally from the Hebrew "yahudi" - a member of the tribe which descended from Yahuda, one of the sons of Jacob son of Isaac son of Abraham. Much later "yahudi" became applicable to Jews in general, regardless from which of the 12 tribes they descended. The word "Judaism" to mean the religion of the Jews as distinct from "Jewishness" is of still later origin, as non-religious Jews is a comparatively recent phenomenon. It would be used by non-Jews, but was later used by Jews themselves in non-Hebrew languages.

The word "Christianity" comes from the word "Christ". The word "Christ" comes from the Greek "christos", which is translation of the Hebrew "masheeah" (eng. "Messiah", ar. "maseeh"), which means "the smeared one". This comes from the ritual established by Moses of appointing of high religious authorities, and later of kings of Israel by smearing their forehead with olive oil. This was done in the name of God, and such king was known as the Masheeah of God. When the Kingdom of Israel was destroyed and the Jews were dispersed around the world, they believed that one day God will send to them a king appointed by God himself - the Masheeah of God. And the early Christians of Palestine believed that Jesus, the Son of God, is the Masheeah (or in Greek "Christ"), the awaited King of Israel - the Messiah. This belief spread to the Christians of Europe, and to other parts of the world, but the "Kingdom of Israel", which for the Jews had a real earthly meaning, for the Christians became the "Kingdom of Heaven", which is to come to Earth with the Return of the Messiah - Jesus Christ.

The Arabic meaning of the word "Islaam" is "submission" or "acceptance", and in particular "acceptance that there is only one God - the Creator of the Universe" as per the Qur'an. Later, when this acceptance lead to emergence of a religion, it became used to mean the religion itself. The word "islaam" is a noun derived from the verb "aslama" - "to accept", and the one who accepts is "muslim". In the Qur'an "muslim" is the "one who accepts that there is only one God, the Creator of the Universe, without associating with this God any other real or imaginary thing or person". Later it came to mean a person following the Religion of Islaam, and at present is often applied to people who originate from countries which had historic associations with Islaam, like Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis, etc.

God's Role
  -   to top
Creation of the Universe and management of its existence.
Literal Meaning of the Word "God"
  -   to top

The Hebrew word translated as "God" is "Elohim", which is the plural of the word "eloah" - "god". The use of the plural in this case has the effect of magnifying the basic root meaning of the word to suggest superior greatness - "god of gods", or the "greatest god".

In most European languages "God, the Creator" is distinguished from "god, an object of worship" by capitalization of the initial letter. In European translations of the Bible "God" is the translation of the Hebrew "Elohim". In Arabic translations of the Bible "Elohim" is translated as "Allah".

The word "Allah" is the Arabic equivalent to the Hebrew word "Elohim". It has the same root "Alef-Lam-Ha" and is the grammatical form of superiority - "god" is "ilah", "God" is "Allah". Contrary to the common misconception among European, American and Australian Christians the word "Allah" is not the name of some special "Muslim Deity". It is just the Arabic word for God, and it is used as such not only by Muslims, but by Arabic speaking Jews and Christians, and it was used in that way long before the emergence of Islam.

Number of Gods
  -   to top

One.

One in three, and three in one: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost; the One being all the three joined together into the Holy Trinity.

This doctrine was proclaimed not by Jesus himself, but by the Christian thinkers who established the Christian religion after Jesus disappeared.

One.

God's Image
  -   to top

Not known

God the Father has the image of an old man, God the Son is Jesus Christ (a man) raised to Heaven, and the Holy Ghost is represented as Archangel Gabriel, a man with wings.

Also some Christians consider that Jesus is not only the Son of God, but is God himself.

This doctrine was proclaimed not by Jesus himself, but by the Christian thinkers who established the Christian religion after Jesus disappeared.

God has no image.

God's Place of Abode
  -   to top

Unknown.

In Heaven.

Everywhere.

God's Family
  -   to top

Not applicable.

The Holy Trinity + the Blessed Virgin Mary (The Mother of Jesus Christ).

This doctrine was proclaimed not by Jesus himself, but by the Christian thinkers who established the Christian religion after Jesus disappeared.

Not applicable.

God's Ethnicity
  -   to top

The God of the People Israel.

Abraham was the one to proclaim the Oneness of God.

He was also the common ancestor of both the Jews and the Arabs. The Jews descended from Isaac son of Abraham, and the Arabs, from Ishmael son of Abraham.

One of Isaac's sons, Jacob, whose nickname was Israel, had 12 sons from whom descended the 12 tribes of the Children of Israel (Jacob).

So the idea that the One and Only God is the God of the People of Israel, rather than the God of the Universe, could not have come from Abraham himself, but was introduced at a later time, at least after the descendants of Abraham's grandson Jacob (Ya'qov or Ya'qub), became tribes known as the Children of Israel (bne Yisrael or bani Isra'il). And in the world of that time, when different tribes and nations had many different gods, it would have been natural for other people to talk of the God of the Israelites, as distinct from their own gods.

No restriction.

No restriction.

The Revealed Books
  -   to top

The Torah, The Book of the Prophets (Nevi'im), The Book of Writings (Ketuvim).

These books contain descriptions of the History of the People of Israel as well as sayings of the Prophets, Kings and Judges of Israel.

The 10 Commandments revealed to Moses are the basic rules of human conduct.

The Old Testament (The three books of Judaism) translated into various languages + the New Testament consisting of the writings of the disciples of Jesus.

These writings are descriptions of the life and saying of Jesus.

The books of the Jews and the Christians are recognised, but the main book is the Qur'an.

The Qur'an contains the verses directly revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

The purpose of the Qur'an is to teach people how to live in peace with God and the Universe which God has created.

Following the teachings of the Qur'an people can live successful life and die with the knowledge that their lives were in keeping with the Will of God.

Languages of the Revealed Books
  -   to top

Hebrew.

Old Testament was translated into many languages: from Hebrew into Greek and Latin, and from these into other languages. Some modern translations made effort to translate directly from Hebrew.

Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, but most of the early Christians were ethnic Greeks and wrote their books in Greek, later translated to Latin and other languages.

The idea of God having created Man in his own (God's) image could be due to the Greek way of thinking, for whom human gods were part of the Greek culture.

The idea of a human shaped God is against the thinking of the Hebrew culture of Jesus himself.

The idea of Jesus being the Son of God in the sense of a family relationship would also have been foreign to the Hebrew culture of Jesus.

Also in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic words used for family relationships are frequently used where in European languages one would use adjectives or prepositions: e.g. tramps could be described as "sons of the road", or a great war as "mother of wars".

So the words of Jesus (who had a mother, but no father) "I am son of God" would mean to a native speaker of Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic as "I have no human father, but I am a creation of God like the rest of the universe", while to an ethnic European it would mean a family relationship, which, given that human-shaped gods were part of the Greek culture, sounded quite natural and logical.

Arabic.

Translations into other languages exist, but are not considered authoritative, because all translations are limited by the understanding of the translator.

Not only it is essential to read the Qur'an directly in Arabic, but it is also important to read it continuously throughout one's life.

As one's life experience is accumulated, every new reading of the Qur'an acquires wider and deeper meaning, enabling the reader to develop better understanding of life and human nature, and to resolve the problems of daily life.

Belief in the Existence of Hell
  -   to top

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Belief in the Existence of Paradise
  -   to top

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

The Prophets
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All the Prophets mentioned in the Jewish Revealed Books.

All the Prophets mentioned in the Jewish Revealed Books + Jesus Christ (the Son of God).

All the Prophets mentioned in the Jewish Revealed Books + 'Issa (Jesus) (a man born to Mariam (Mary) without a father) + the Prophet Muhammad (the last prophet).

Proof of Prophetic Ability
  -   to top

Miracles.

For example, in Exodus 7:10 Moses's rod becomes a serpent.

Miracles.

For example, in Luke 7:21 Luke says about Jesus: "in that same hour he cured many of [their] infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many [that were] blind he gave sight".

Ability to produce verses of the Qur'an.

In answer to those who doubted that the Qur'an is revealed by God, the doubters are challenged in 2:23 to produce a chapter of verses similar to the ones produced by the Prophet - which nobody has ever produced.

View of the Other Religions
  -   to top

Judaism preceded the other 2 religions, so the original books could not tell much about them.

The saying of Jesus are not many. He lived a short life. Like all the other Prophets he condemned sins and called to virtuous deeds.

He condemned the Jews of his time for failing to follow the teaching of the Torah and for keeping it all to themselves.

He took the teachings of the old Hebrew Prophets from the confinement of a single people (Jews) and made them available to all the other nations.

His followers spread his teachings still further around the world.

But in doing so they created the myth of Jesus being the Son of God, in the sense of a family relationship, and even deified Jesus himself.

As Islam has emerged some 600 years after the times of Jesus, the early Christians had little to say about Islam.

Islam is the last of the three religions, so the Qur'an contains verses about Jews and Christian of the time when the Qur'an was revealed.

All the Prophets of the Jewish and Christian books are Muslims because they followed the ways of God.

Like Jesus, the Qur'an condemned the Jews for failing to follow the teaching of their own books and keeping the truth revealed to them by their Prophets all to themselves rather than sharing it with the rest of the world.

The Qur'an also condemned the Christians for saying that Jesus is the Son of God (in the sense of a family relationship) and that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is God's wife.

The Qur'an also condemned the hypocrisy of Jews, Christians and insincere, hypocritical Muslims.

But sincere Jews, Christians, and other believers in One God, who do not invent lies about God, avoid sins and practice virtue and live in accordance with God's commandments, shall enter Paradise.

Further Historical Development after the Death of the Prophets
  -   to top

Following the destruction of the Second Jewish Kingdom the Jews were dispersed around the world among the non-Jews (Gentiles).

They continued to follow their original religion often in spite of persecutions by the gentiles, and especially Christians.

Hebrew, the language of the Torah, came into disuse as a living language of daily life and was used only for reading the Holy Books.

Jewish religious scholars interpreted the teachings of the Books to the rest of the people and guided their followers in accordance with these teaching, but their interpretations were invariably affected by the limitations of their own understanding and by the 'political' requirements of their place and time.

In 1948 the Jews established the State of Israel in Palestine and revived Hebrew as their national language.

Most of the Jews today are not strict followers of their religion and have adopted the secular materialistic outlook of the Modern Western World.

Many, however, see themselves as ethnic Jews and keep the Traditional Hebrew festivals like Passover, and others.

Judaism continues to be a tribal religion restricted exclusively to the Jews.

The emergence of the State of Israel has resulted in a rise of Jewish Nationalism (Zionism), and identification of Jews with the State of Israel.

Although this Jewish Nationalism is rooted in the Jewish history, as recorded in the Bible, it is mostly secular, although in some cases is religious.

After the death of Jesus, Christianity spread to Europe, where it was adopted by the monarchs of the European Nation States as a state religion. It also became an instrument of politics.

The European rulers saw Christianity as a means of keeping control over their own people and as a justification for conquest of other nations.

Having become an instrument of politics, the religion has become corrupt.

Also the idolatrous myth of a human-shaped god, and of the Holy Trinity became intellectually unacceptable to the more educated Europe of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Even the Christian clergy found it difficult to justify the Trinitarian Doctrine.

One of the 20th Century Archbishops was asked by a journalist, whether he believes in the Holy Trinity.

His answer was: "No, I do not. But I enjoy being Archbishop."

In the second half of the previous millennium Christianity was also split into numerous sects.

Some of these sects sought return to the original teachings of the Prophets of the Old Testament and rejected the Trinitarian doctrine.

By the middle of the 20th century the main bulk of Christians have abandoned religion and either became atheists (rejecting existence of God), or agnostics (saying I do not know whether God exists or not and do not care either).

While rejecting belief in God many Christians still follow some of the ceremonies, like church weddings, christenings and funerals.

Rejection of strict religious dogmata of the Medieval Christianity, has brought some enlightenment and resulted in development of secular science.

But secularism has also resulted in loss of moral values, which by the present times has reached the level of immorality comparable to that of the ancient Babylon of the times of the Prophet Abraham.

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam, like Christianity, became an instrument of politics, used by the rulers of the time to justify and strengthen their power over their own people and for conquest of other nations.

Islam has spread far beyond the boundaries of the Arab world, and was adopted by many tribes and nation.

While being a vehicle of morality and civilization, the spread of Islam was rather superficial due to the generally low level of education of the majority of the people.

After the initial outburst of development of science, the Muslim world entered a phase of stagnation, and many Muslim countries were conquered by the European empires of the 18th and 19th century.

By the middle of the 20th century the European empires collapsed, but the Islamic World continued to lag behind in industrial development as compared to the European nations and their offshoots (USA, Canada, Australia).

The last decades of the 20th century saw revival of Islam and this process is continuing at present.

While the Islamic world is still lagging behind technologically, Islam itself is emerging as the only universal religion capable of providing the presently lacking universal morality of Mankind.

Moral Values
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The morality of all the Prophets was the same, indeed they followed the same religion.

This is why the Qur'an calls them natural Muslims, i.e. those who submit themselves to the will of God.

All the prophets called people towards honest life following the ways of God.

The morality of the priests and other religious leaders of all the three religions ranged from strict following of the teachings of the Prophets to extremes of corruption.

The same is true about the people.

Relationship to 'Science'
  -   to top

At the time of the Hebrew Prophets there was no distinction between 'science' and 'religion', as it exists today.

Religion was an integral part of human life, and the concept of science as non-religious knowledge did not exist.

What existed was just 'knowledge', 'wisdom', 'understanding', whether it related to knowledge of geography, or religion.

'Religion' was just knowledge about the Universe, history, as well as laws (in the legal sense) and customs, all of which were part of religion.

While living in the Diaspora, Jews were exposed to the culture of the countries where they lived and acquired the knowledge of the European Sciences.

They became either assimilated into the European culture, or lived 'parallel lives'.

With the emergence of the State of Israel, and revival of Hebrew, western sciences and culture were 'retrofitted' into the Hebrew language.

There has not been a conflict between 'science' and 'religion' in Judaism, as it was in the Christian world.

Because majority of modern western Jews are culturally and educationally secular Europeans and have no knowledge of the teachings of the Hebrew Prophets, they have assimilated the 'irreconcilable' Christian division between 'science' and 'religion' as part of their european secular outlook.

When Christianity has achieved the peak of its 'power' in Europe (around the time of the Inquisition and the Crusades), it has developed a strict dogmatic view of the world, any contradiction to which was seen as 'heresy', and was punishable by death, often accompanied by torture.

Since the Medieval Christian dogmata could not withstand any rational questioning, any attempts at rational inquiry was seen as dangerous to the Dogmata of the Church, and therefore, 'heresy'.

It was not uncommon for the Church to see scientists as heretics, and to require them to denounce their discoveries as 'heresy' under the threat of being burnt alive.

As the grip of the powers of the Church weakened, as a result of revolutions and reformations, secular free thinking became acceptable, but it could not be reconciled intellectually with the mainstream Christianity.

Religion and Science became two distinct and irreconcilable parts of human life.

Like with the Hebrew Prophets, there is no concept of 'science' as distinct from 'religion' in the Qur'an.

Religion is a combination of 'knowledge' of the position of Man as part of the God's creation, of the laws by which people should regulate their life to live in harmony with Nature as created by God, and of any other knowledge of the world that God chooses to reveal to Man.

Seeking knowledge of any aspect of life is encouraged and seen as the duty of Man.

Ignorance is deprecated.

But it is also accepted that no matter how much knowledge Man might have, it is only a tiny part of the Infinite Knowledge available to God.

After a period of flourishing science and culture, the Islamic world entered a period of stagnation, while in the Christian world, Christianity lost its influence and secular science flourished.

Thus in the 20th century, those Muslims who wanted to have their children educated, would send them to western schools and universities.

In the middle of the 20th century, at the height of the 'Cold War', the Soviet government sought to establish its influence in what was called at the time 'the developing countries'.

They started offering cheap or even free university places to students from Muslim countries.

As a result many 'educated' people in the Muslim countries obtained their education either in 'the West' or in countries of the Soviet Block.

This also meant that they either abandoned Islam altogether and became western secularists, or Marxists, or developed a 'parallel world view'.

Some 'educated' Muslims tried to reconcile their secular foreign education with their native Islamic culture.

The result was 'apologetic Islam', which tried to justify Islamic laws, which they did not understand, but accepted the European view of these laws, by providing various excuses for their existence, which would be acceptable to the secular European thinking.

At that time it almost seemed that Islam would have the same fate as Christianity, and would be absorbed by European secularism, retaining just the ceremonial veneer.

But two factors went against this trend.

One was the hostile politics of the West against the Muslim countries (support for Israel, domineering neo-colonial approach in other countries), which repelled the Muslims from the West (often driving them under Marxist influences).

The second was, that, by that time, the western 'civilization' has reached the peak of its immorality and decay.

Having seen the corruption of western secularism, Muslims, who were almost ready to become 'westernised', suddenly saw the light, and recoiled from the western corruption back to the morality of Islam.

But, it is no longer 'apologetic Islam', nor is it blind following of religious rituals, nor is it religious mysticism (trying to supplement ignorance with imagination).

What they are now discovering is the original Islam of the Prophet Muhammad - the science of honest and successful living - of living in peace and harmony with the world, not the world of their wishful thinking, but the world created by God.

Rituals, Dress and Buildings
  -   to top

Ask a person in the street "What is mathematics?" And, unless that person is a mathematician, he will start talking about chalk and blackboard, teachers, classrooms, multiplication tables and calculators.

Ask a person about religion, and unless he is a religious scholar, he will talk about churches and mosques, dog's collars and turbans, prayers, and rituals.

But in the same way as chalk and blackboard is not mathematics, but implements used for teaching basic numeracy to children, all religious practices are means of teaching people the basic principles of religion.

And buildings are just places where religious activities take place.

But this does not mean they are not important. The number of people whose use of mathematics is limited to counting money, is incomparably greater than the number of people whose practical use of mathematics goes beyond simple counting.

In the same way, though true understanding of the teachings of the Prophets is rare, millions of believers are kept on the Straight Path of honest and virtuous life by blindly following the basics of religious teachings acquired in childhood.

On the other hand, those, who reject the basics of religious teachings as 'old-fashioned' or 'unscientific', but fail to develop the understanding of the teachings of the Prophets, often slip into immorality, dishonesty and sin, and finish their lives in misery and disgrace as alcoholics, adulterers, drug addicts, homosexuals, criminals, fraudulent politicians, or tyrannical rulers damned by the whole of Mankind.


Notes:   -----   to top

1) A well known historical example of supplementing ignorance with imagination are the elaborate theories about the shape of the edges of the Earth at the time, when people believed that the Earth was flat. As long as there prevailed the universal consensus of opinion in Europe that the Earth is flat, the best minds of Europe were busy arguing about the shape of the edges of the Earth. Once, however, it became clear that the Earth is not flat, all those arguments had become irrelevant. It is so difficult for most people to say, "We do not know". They always "know everything" ... until they are faced with the Truth.

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