Perspectives of Islam, Christianity and Judaism
The Jewish Perspective – Michael Wyschogrod
Judaism’s view of Christianity and Islam is a function of its understanding of itself.
The people of Israel are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God addressed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and established a special relationship with them. In terms of descent from the patriarchs, then, came the Jewish people.
Judaism is therefore not a matter of faith. A Jew who lacks faith or who acts contrary to the commandments of the Torah is therefore a sinning Jew, but he remains a Jew, and the fact is that all Jews, to a lesser or greater degree, are sinning Jews.
Yet, conversion to Judaism is possible. From the point of view of simple common sense, it ought not be possible. One cannot convert to being someone’s descendant. But, it is worth noting that Jewish law does not know of adoption. Then, if conversion to Judaism is possible, it becomes a possibility by means of a kind of miracle. This should not be interpreted too spiritually. In the rabbinical view, a son and his mother who convert may marry each other without violating the biblical prohibition of incest because by converting they have been born again and are no longer considered mother and son. In the Jewish view of conversion, something quasi-biological occurs and it is for this reason that the possibility of conversion does not undermine Jewish self-understanding in terms of descent from Abraham.
But, in Christian baptism, the biological bond between mother and son is not severed. Therefore, it seems that no possibility in the baptizing of mother and son produces a rebirth which would cancel the prohibition of incest between them.
In the view of the rabbis, the Noachide commandments exclude idolatry, murder, theft, and incest; roughly corresponding to the natural moral law, and any gentile (non-Jew) who fulfills these commands secures himself a place in the world to come. Judaism therefore does not teach that only its adherents can be “saved” or that it is the only path to “salvation”. Judaism is the set of demands God makes of the Jewish people and since those demands are not easy to fulfill, and since it is possible to obtain a place in the world without being a Jew, there is a prima facie case to be made against encouraging gentiles to convert to Judaism.
In the case of Christianity, the root of the difficulty for Jews is the doctrine of the Trinity. Christianity is, in fact, a break with monotheism and therefore in violation of the Noachide prohibition against idolatry.
In the case of Islam, another problem arises which is also quite serious. Muslims, while they accept much from the Hebrew Bible, also believe that serious distortions have crept into the Hebrew text.
If Judaism does not adopt a missionary stance toward Christians and Muslims, it does not do so because it does not believe it to be God’s will that all of humanity become Jewish.
The Christian Perspective – Cardinal Pignedoli / Krister Stendahl
Christianity professes one God, a God who is personal, the Creator of the world, provident, active in history but separated from it by an infinite gulf, the judge of men’s actions, and who has spoken to men through the prophets.
Christians, however, tend to view other traditions from a Christianized form of view, paying little attention to how the other sees and experiences, or to what is central and what is peripheral to that tradition for its adherents.
A good many Christians feel that Christianity grew out of Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures became part of the Christian Bible, while Judaism had its own integrity of development.
As to Jewish-Christian relations, though, this can be seen already in the Gospel of John, where “Jews” have become a symbol for satanic unfaith.
Israel rejoices in the title, “people of God”, but the prophets did not cease to urge them not only to respect the worshippers of God, but to remind them that they are called to fulfill the mission of Abraham.
As for Islam, the Catholic Church looks upon the Muslims with esteem. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin mother. They await the day of judgement when God will give each man his due after raising him up. Consequently, they prize the moral life, and give worship to God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
While we share a commitment to the faith of Abraham, there are considerable differences in the way our three religions envisage the relation of God and his people; unlike the Christians, Judaism does not accept Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and man. Islam, while recognizing Jesus as a prophet, does not accept him as a mediator.
The Christian religion is a missionary religion, in which between God and man there exist bonds of filial love.
In an attempt, though, to pull all the three religions together on the theme of brotherhood, a poem by Edwin Markham may be sited as follows:
“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him in.
The Islamic Perspective – Mohammad `Abdul al Ra’uf
Islam, being the youngest of the world religions, in its self-understanding, had to relate itself to the religions of mankind, and through them to humanity. Being a reaffirmation and re-crystallization of the Semitic religious tradition, Islam had to relate itself to all Semitic religions. Islam also related itself to Judaism and Christianity in the most intimate way because it saw itself standing in great affinity with them.
Islam affirms the existence of primordial religion of nature or creation. All humans are endowed with it without exception; for it comes to them at birth.
The content of natural religion is universally imperative. All humans ought to fulfill it since they have been equipped at birth with all that is required to know it. Its first component is the recognition that God (Allah) is indeed God; that no one else is God.
No human may be justified in his unGodliness (kufr) and no human may be excused for falling into polytheism (shirk). Recognition and hence acknowledgment of God as God is everyone’s business, everyone’s prerogative, and everyone’s supreme duty. Islam has no countenance for those religions or theories that discriminate between humans at birth, deeming some capable and others incapable by nature. With such doctrines, the said religions or theories rob those, they deem incapable, of their humanity.
Islam recognizes all Jews and all Christians as creatures of God, whom God had blessed with reason and understanding, sufficient to enable them to know God in His transcendence and unity. Islam acknowledges all Jews and Christians to have received messages from God through their prophet’s teaching of the same lesson.
The Semitic legacy of religion, Islam holds, began with Noah. The first principle of the religion of Noah and his descendants was the transcendence of God. The second was the relevance of God to His creation. The third is that this divine relevance is knowable to man. The fourth is that humans are capable of fulfilling the divine imperatives, by virtue of the knowledge, capacity of action and subservience of nature to them, which God had endowed to them. The fifth and last is that humans are responsible and hence subject to judgement; to reward in case of compliance and punishment in case of defiance or violation. These five principles are the core and foundation of all Semitic religions, from Noah to Mohammad.
Muslims regard the Jews and Christians as their brothers in faith in, and submission to the one God of all. There is no single criticism which Islam has addressed to either Judaism or Christianity or their adherents which Jews and Christians have not addressed to themselves or their traditions.
Islam did criticize the Jews for failure to uphold the Torah (Qur’an 5:71), for moral complacency (5:20), for excessive legalism and exaggerated authoritarianism by the rabbis (9:31;3:50), and for tampering with the texts of revelation (4:45; 5:14). Islam never condemned the Jewish people altogether, since critical verses stand side by side with those which justify the Jews, both enjoying the same divine authority. The Qur’an explicitly distinguishes the righteous from the unrighteous (Qur’an 3:113-114).
As for the Christians and Christianity, Islam criticized the deification of Jesus in no uncertain terms (Qur’an 9:30), as well as the doctrine of trinitarianism (4:171-172), of celibacy (57:27), and of exaggeration in matters of religion (4:171). But it has equally praised the Christians for their humility and altruism, their fear of God, and has declared them closest to the Muslims by their warm practice of neighborly love (5:82).
The three great religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam can have an enormous impact on the world. The modern world has become spiritually impoverished to a disturbing degree.
One can see that while the means for securing well being and an easier, more comfortable and pleasurable existence have increased, human happiness has not automatically increased. One of the reasons for
this human condition of dissatisfaction is the problem of misery to injustice, to hatred, and to the denial of liberty. The fundamental reason is that the world of today has turned away from God and from his Law, considering itself sufficient to itself.
In a world where “God is absent” man finds himself fearfully isolated. Man is not a lost and practically useless fragment of the cosmos, but a creature of God. If man gives way to the temptation of “liberating” himself from God, he ends by becoming the slave of those petty “gods” called power, wealth, and pleasure; only too often these “idols” hide under noble names such as progress, social concern and even freedom.
However, this selfish and unreasonable view man has of himself may be brought into focus if he just ponders over the way he first entered this world.
You, oh man, were brought into your mother’s womb where the two materials united; the sperm with the egg. You traveled a distance, dark and narrow, then, became attached at such a place to live there for a term.
After being placed there, you were given the form of a fetus as a lump of clotted blood. You were nourished, there, and during all these stages you were the lowest and meanest of creatures.
At the time of death, the mechanism of your life is broken down and you become an inanimate, inorganic substance.
Therefore, do not pretend that you do not know that it is Allah (God) who has created all and verily to God is the return.