The following article was excerpted from What Everyone Needs To Know About ISLAM by John L. Esposito (Answers to Frequently Asked Questions)
How is Islam similar to Christianity and Judaism?
Judaism Christianity, and Islam, in contrast to Hinduism and Buddhism, are all monotheistic faiths that worship the God of Adam, Abraham, and Moses-creator, sustainer, and lord of the universe. They share a common belief in the oneness of God (monotheism), sacred history (history as the theater of God’s activity and the encounter of God and humankind), prophets and divine revelation, angels, and Satan. All stress moral responsibility and accountability, Judgment Day, and eternal reward and punishment.
All three faiths emphasize their special covenant with God, for Judaism through Moses, Christianity through Jesus, and Islam through Muhammad. Christianity accepts God’s covenant with and revelation to the Jews but traditionally has seen itself as superseding Judaism with the coming of Jesus. Thus Christianity speaks of its new covenant and New Testament. So, too, Islam and Muslims recognize Judaism and Christianity: their biblical prophets (among them Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus) and their revelations (the Torah and the New Testament, or Message of Jesus). Muslim respect for all the biblical prophets is reflected in the custom of saying “Peace and blessings be upon him” after naming any of the prophets and in the common usage of the names Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Daoud (David), Sulayman (Solomon), and Issa (Jesus) for Muslims. In addition, Islam makes frequent reference to Jesus and to the Virgin Mary, who is cited more times in the Quran than in the New Testament.
However, Muslims believe that Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity-that the Quran is the final and complete word of God and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets. In contrast to Christianity, which accepts much of the Hebrew Bible, Muslims believe that what is written in the Old and New Testaments is a corrupted version of the original revelation to Moses and Jesus. Moreover, Christianity’s development of “new” dogmas such as the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the doctrines of redemption and atonement is seen as admixing God’s revelation with human fabrication.
Peace is central to all three faiths. This is reflected historically in their use of similar greetings meaning “peace be upon you”: shalom aleichem in Judaism, pax vobiscum in Christianity, and salaam alaikum in Islam. Often, however, the greeting of peace has been meant primarily for members of one’s own faith community.
Leaders of each religion, from Joshua and King David to Constantine and Richard the Lion-Hearted to Muhammad and Saladin, have engaged in holy wars to spread or defend their communities or empires. The joining of faith and politics continues to exist in modern times, though manifested in differing ways, as seen in Northern Ireland, South Africa, America, Israel, and the Middle East.
Islam is similar to Judaism in its emphasis on practice rather than belief, on law rather than dogma. The primary religious discipline in Judaism and Islam has been religious law; for Christianity it has been theology. Historically, in Judaism and Islam the major debates and disagreements have been among scholars of religious law over matters of religious practice, whereas in Christianity the early disputes and cleavages in the community were over theological beliefs: the nature of the Trinity or the relationship of Jesus’ human and divine natures.
How do Muslims view Judaism? Christianity?
Both Jews and Christians hold a special status within Islam because of the Muslim belief that God revealed His will through His prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
Say, We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and in what has been sent down to Abraham and Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring, and what has been revealed to Moses and Jesus and to all the prophets of our Lord. We make no distinction between them and we submit to Him and obey. (Quran 3:84)
The Quran and Islam regard Jews and Christians as children of Abraham and refer to them as “People of the Book,” since all three monotheistic faiths descend from the same patrilineage of Abraham. Jews and Christians trace themselves back to Abraham and his wife Sarah; Muslims, to Abraham and his servant Hagar. Muslims believe that God sent his revelation (Torah) first to the Jews through the prophet Moses and then to Christians through the prophet Jesus. They recognize many of the biblical prophets, in particular Moses and Jesus, and those are common Muslim names. Another common Muslim name is Mary. In fact, the Virgin Mary’s name occurs more times in the Quran than in the New Testament; Muslims also believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. However, they believe that over time the original revelations to Moses and Jesus became corrupted. The Old Testament is seen as a mixture of God’s revelation and human fabrication. The same is true for the New Testament and what Muslims see as Christianity’s development of “new” and erroneous doctrines such as that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus’ death redeemed and atoned for humankind’s original sin.
John L. Esposito is University Professor, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University. A former President of the Middle East Studies Association and Vice Chair of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, his most recent books include Unholy War: terror in the Name of Islam and What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam.