We the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews are children of, in a manner of speaking, the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishamael. There is a lot more that joins us than separates us. The three religious traditions have been in constant interaction with each other for centuries and have borrowed a lot from each other; not only in theology and philosophy, but, even in science the three traditions have a rich common heritage.
The Holy Quran advises the Muslims to develop common platform in engaging the Abrahamic faiths and for that matter people of any faith. All Knowing, God the Father or Allah says:
Say, ‘O People of the Book! come to a word common between us and you — that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords beside Allah.’ But if they turn away, then say, ‘Bear witness that we have submitted to God.’ (Al Quran 3:65)
The concept of Transcendent God, beyond time, space and matter is common between the three Abrahamic faiths. The Holy Quran wants to develop this as a common platform between the three traditions. So, in keeping with the divine command this post is to look at what is common between our three faiths or traditions and the materials in the post and comment section will grow over time. However, we can not push the differences under the rug and only need to discuss them in an honest and a polite manner, which is done in several other posts of this website.
Among those who first began to suggest that religions were ‘pretty much the same’ were the critics of religion, those who thought humanity would be better off without it. Today, many religious folks themselves advance this perspective, not to put an end to religion, of course, but to see the great divisions and rancor among religions, which has been the source of so much human anguish, diminished and perhaps eliminated.
One of the ways we can begin to assess the validity of this claim is to compare the teachings of our four sages. Comparing religious teachers is not the same thing as comparing religions, which are far more complex realities than the philosophies of individuals. As I emphasized earlier, we cannot simply equate the teachings of Confucius with Confucianism or the teachings of Jesus with Christianity. But it is much easier to compare specific teachings than to compare whole religions and doing so might offer some insight on the problems facing a religiously plural world. So let us turn now to reviewing the perspectives of our sages in relationship to each other. I think it will be apparent that the four teachers did in fact view the world in ways different from one another, and in many cases these differences were substantial. Nonetheless, in some important areas, particularly on matters of spiritual and ethical practice, they are not that far apart.
The moral teachings of love, compassion and kindness in Christianity and Islam are very similar. Here is an example which illustrates this point. First a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, which has been labeled as the most Jewish of the the canonical gospels:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-45)
Indeed, Allah will say to his servant when He will be taking account of him on the Day of Judgment, ‘O’ son of Adam, I was hungry and you did not feed me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I feed you? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so who is the son of so and so felt hunger, and you did not feed him. Alas, had you fed him you would have found that (i.e. reward) with Me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink.’ He will reply: ‘How could I give You drink? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so, the son of so and so was thirsty and you did not give him drink. Alas, if you had given him, you would have found that (i.e. reward) with me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I became sick and you did not visit Me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I visit You? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so, the son of so and so became sick and you did not visit him. Alas, had you visited him, you would have found Me with him.’
In summary, the moral teachings are very similar in the three traditions, there are some details but those do not belong in this post. In a separate post, I have examined that our human morality is in a large way, Islamic Judea-Christian heritage.
- Prof. Mark W Muesse. Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. The Great Courses transcript book, 2010. Page 461.