1 Judaism Basic Facts and Beliefs The most basic belief of Judaism, or the Jewish Religion, is monotheism or the belief in the one true God. Ever since Abraham led his tribe out of Mesopotamia into the land of Cannan, the Hebrews have believed in the one true and benevolent God. It is because of the strength they have in their faith and in the one true God, that Jews believe in the power of prayer. As a result, Jews are obligated to pray to God three times a day: in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. These prayers include the Shema (the most important statement of Jewish belief) and the Amidah (a silent prayer in which a Jew might ask for a specific thing). In addition to prayer, Jews are also obligated to give a certain percentage of their income (generally 10-15%) to charity, known in Hebrew as Tzedakah. According to the Torah and the Jewish dietary laws, known as Kashrut, Jews must avoid or fast from eating certain foods. Only split-hooved animals that chew their cud, certain types of fowl (chicken, turkey, and duck), and fish with fins and scales are kosher or allowed to be eaten. Jews are also forbidden from mixing dairy and meat products together at the same meal. The purpose of this belief and its practices is to prevent them from eating things that may be considered impure and to make them more sensitive to the proper treatment of other animals. In addition to the previous beliefs, Jews also believe in the Sabbath and the coming of a Messiah. On the Sabbath, or Sabbat, Jews refrain from creative acts or work that could change the state of the world or the environment around them. From sundown on Friday night until dark on Saturday night, Jews set aside time to rest and pray. This is symbolic of God s seventh day of rest, after taking six days to create the world. The word Messiah is a Hebrew word which means anointed. In Biblical times the coronation of a new king involved pouring a small amout of oil on his head, called anointing. In Judaism, Jews believe that the Messiah will come in human form as a descendent of King David and will bring peace to the world by bringing the world s population together in the worship of the one true God. Within Judaism, Jews believe in the Rites of Passage of every human being. These rites often follow the normal physical development of the human body. The first of these rites occurs shortly after birth and is known as circumcision. During circumcision, a piece of kin from a boys penis is surgically removed. The next rite of passage is known as a Bar Mitzvah for boys and a Bat Mitzvah for girls. When boys reach the age of 13 and girls reach the age of 12, they must participate in a ceremony, which celebrates their acceptance of the Jewish faith and their responsibility for observing all of the commandments (or Mitzvah) of Judaism. Prior to their Bar or Bat Mitvah, the parents are responsible for their children s religious behavior.
2 Marriage is the next rite of passage in the Jewish tradition. Kiddushin, which means sanctification, is a wedding in which the bride and groom commit themselves exclusively to each other. It is done publicly because the community is expected to help the couple live a life of loyalty and devotion to each other, God, and the Jewish traditions. Before the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom formally accept the provisions of the marriage contract which stipulates, among other things, that they agree to cherish, honor, and maintain each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually, according to the customs of Jewish law. Finally, the Torah, in the beginning of the book of Genesis, teaches all Jews that human beings were created when God took a handful of earth and formed it into a human figure, and breathed life into it. Therefore, when the breath of life leaves a body for the last time, Jewish tradition teaches that the body should be returned to the ground as quickly and as naturally as possible. Therefore, the last rite of passage in Judaism is that of death. Like in most religions, Judaism also has other aspects to its faith and organization. The spiritual leader of a Jewish community, known as a Rabbi, manages many of these important aspects. The Rabbi normally leads his community in worship, provides spiritual guidance, and confers with other Rabbi s about important religious matters. During special occasions and ceremonies, the Rabbi will lead his community in prayer within the Jewish house of worship called a Synagogue. Like other places of worship, the synagogue is a Jewish temple where the main religious services are performed each week on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Within the Jewish faith there are also several important objects or symbols. The most sacred of these is the holy scripture of the Jewish faith known as the Torah. Within each synagogue, there is a sanctuary called the aron kodesh (or holy ark) where the Torah scrolls are stored. In addition to the Torah, the synagogue will also contained two important symbols of the Jewish faith: the Menorah and the Star of David. The Menorah is the traditional Jewish candle holder used for The Festival of Lights ceremony. However, the six-pointed Star of David, is a relatively new symbol of Judaism. Becoming popular only in the last 200 years, the Star of David is named after King David, whom legend tells us had a shield with this star on it. In 1948, when the new state of Israel gained its independence, the Star of David was placed on the country s flag, symbolizing Israel as a Jewish nation. Finally, the Jews has a homeland, within the region of their Hebrew ancestors, and centered around their religions most sacred place: Jerusalem.
3 Christianity Basic Facts and Beliefs The most basic belief of Christianity, or the Christian Religion, is monotheism or the belief in the one true God. This God, however, contains three personalities or aspects: the father, the son, and the holy spirit known as the holy trinity. It is because of the strength they have in their faith and in the one true God, that Christians believe in the power of prayer. As a result, many Christians pray before meals, in the morning or evening after waking up or before going to sleep, or during special occasions. However, unlike other religions, Christians do not have specific times each daily when they must pray. Instead, most Christians share their believe in a principal prayer known as Pater Noster, or the Our Father According to the Bible, there is a period every year when Christians strictly observe certain guidelines for fasting or avoidance of certain foods. Lent, which takes place during February or March, stands for the forty days before Easter. It is during this forty-day period that Christians ask forgiveness for their sins and repent. Although it is not strictly observed today as it was years ago, some Christians still fast as a way of showing respect for the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. Others often give up certain bad habits or donate their time in the service or sacrifice of others who are not so blessed with all the pleasures of life. In addition to the previous beliefs, Christians also believe in the Sabbath and the coming of a Messiah. On the Sabbath, or Sunday, Christians attend church services at their local Church or Chapel. This is symbolic of God s seventh day of rest, after taking six days to create the world. The word Messiah is a Hebrew word which means anointed. In Biblical times the coronation of a new king involved pouring a small amout of oil on his head, called anointing. In the Christian faith, Christians believe that the Messiah came in human form as Jesus Christ and will return again to bring peace to the world and unite the world s population together in the worship of the one true God. Within Christianity, most Christians believe in the Rites of Passage of every human being. These rights often follow the normal physical development of the human body. The first of these rights normally occurs shortly after birth and is known as baptism. The Bible describes how baptism began with John the Baptists, the prophet who knew of Christ s coming and baptized Jesus in the waters of the River Jordan. Baptism signifies the cleansing of both the body and soul. The next Rite of passage is usually Confirmation or Communion depending on which branch of Christianity you are in. This rite normally occurs between the ages of and signify when a child becomes old enough to reconfirm their faith in God and is celebrated by having the teenager receive Holy Communion.
4 Marriage is the next right of passage in the Christian tradition. Holy matrimony is the symbol of self-sacrifice and devotion, which are intended to imitate the qualities of Christ. The ceremony is called a wedding in which the bride and groom commit themselves exclusively to each other. It is done publicly because the community is expected to help the couple live a life of loyalty and devotion to each other, God, and the Christian traditions. During the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom formally accept the provisions of the marriage contract which stipulates, among other things, that they agree to cherish, honor, and maintain each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually, according to the customs of Christian belief. Finally, the Bible, in the beginning of the book of Genesis, teaches all Christians that human beings were created when God took a handful of earth and formed it into a human figure, and breathed life into it. In addition, Christ s resurrection provides proof that death can be a passage to eternal life. Therefore, when the breath of life leaves a body for the last time, Christian tradition teaches that the body should be returned to the ground as quickly and as naturally as possible. Although Christian funeral customs may vary throughout the world and within different branches of the Christian faith, the unifying factor for all Christians is that the last right of passage in their faith is that of death. Like in most religions, Christianity also has other aspects to its faith and organization. The spiritual leader of a Christian community, is known by different names based on their denomination and faith. Known as a Priest in the Catholic Church, a Christian community leader can also be called a Pastor, Minister, Padre, Reverend, and many other terms. However, regardless of the denomination, the Christian leader of a church normally leads his community in worship, provides spiritual guidance, and confers with other religious leaders about important religious matters. During special occasions and ceremonies, the pastor will also lead his community in prayer within the a Christian house of worship called a Church or Chapel. Like other places of worship, the Church is a Christian temple where the main religious services are performed each week on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Within the Christian faith there are also several important objects or symbols. The most sacred of these is the holy scripture of the Christian faith known as the Bible. Within each church, there is a sanctuary where the Bible and other religious items are stored. In addition to the Bible, the church will also contained other important symbols of the Christian faith: the most well known of these is the Crucifix or cross. The cross, symbolic of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, is the principal symbol in Christianity. Yet, next to a the church, there is one other place in the world that is considered to be the most holy and sacred by all Christians: and that is the holy city of Jerusalem.
5 Islam Basic Facts and Beliefs The most basic belief of Islam, or the Muslim Religion, is monotheism or the belief in the one true God. Ever since Abraham led his tribe out of Mesopotamia into the land of Cannan, the Hebrews have believed in the one true and benevolent God. This belief was passed on from Abraham to his son Ishmael, and from Ishmael to the followers of Muhammad. It is because of the strength they have in their faith and in the one true God, that Muslims believe in the power of prayer. As a result, Muslims are obligated to pray to God five times a day: at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and in the evening. These brief prayers are done to proclaim their oneness with God and their faith in Islam (meaning: to submit to God). According to the Quran or Koran, Muslims are required to follow the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam represent a Muslim s duty to God and are the foundations of their religious belief. The first two pillars are their belief in the one true God (known as Shahada) and their obligation of prayer (known as Salat). The third pillar is charity (known as Zakat) and requires Muslims to give to the poor and the sick. Although the zakat is not regulated, the Koran addresses almsgiving as an essential quality of an honest Muslim who wishes to enter into heaven. The fourth pillar is called the Sawn and is perhaps the most demanding of the Five Pillars of Islam. Sawn requires Muslims to fast during the month long celebration of Ramadan. During this period, food and drink are not allowed between the hours of dawn and sunset (while the sun is up). After sunset, Muslims are only allowed to eat light snacks. The period of fasting represents a special time of purification and religious devotion. Finally, the fifth pillar is called the Hajj. This pillar involves a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in the modern country of Saudi Arabia. A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place or shrine. Over two million Muslims journey to Mecca every year. Although it is only required once in a persons lifetime, it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam that can be skipped if it causes great hardship on the individual to complete. Unlike other religions, Muslims do not believe in celebrating the Sabbath or in a Messiah. For most Muslims, every day is considered a holy day because God created everything around us. Likewise, they do not believe in a Messiah, because according to Islamic believe, there is only one true and all powerful God, and only God can come to judge the living and the dead. Muslims firmly believe that their faith in the one true God will one day prove that they are the true followers of God s word and teachings. Within Islam, Muslims believe in the Rites of Passage of every human being. These rites often follow the normal physical development of the human body. In Islamic countries, the first word a newborn Muslim baby hears is Shahada, or first pillar of Islam. It is also customary to name the newborn within seven days after birth during a ceremony called the Aqiqa. Although it is not actually mentioned in the Koran, Muslims also perform a ritual circumcision of both boys and girls. In some Muslim countries, this doesn t occur until the age of ten or twelve. However, all of these events are connected to the first rite of passage known as birth.
6 Childhood is actually considered the second Rite of Passage for Muslims. At an early age, Muslim children begin reciting from the scripture and memorizing common prayers. The most popular phrases learned is There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. These words are used as daily prayers, when entering temples, or before meals. In fact, each chapter of the Koran begins with a similar phrase: in the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. As in most religious communities, marriage and family are an essential part of Islam. Moreover, marriage is viewed as the union of both the families as well as the individuals. Therefore, the third rite of passage in the Islamic faith is marriage. Traditionally, marriages in Islamic countries have been arranged for centuries. Yet, more modern families are now allowing their children to choose their mate. Likewise, the ancient tradition of polygamy (or marrying more than one wife) is becoming a questionable practice by many Muslims. Although the Islamic marriage ceremony is simple, the celebrations are elaborate and joyous. Death is the last rite of passage within the Islamic faith. For Muslims, death is regarded as a release from the suffering of life until the last judgment. Following a death, the corpse is prepared for burial by ritual washing and being wrapped in white. The funeral consists of some simple prayers and the burial in the ground without a coffin or grave marker of any kind. As a result, the body that originated from the earth, returns to the earth, without anything to hamper its return to its origins. Like in most religions, Islam has other aspects to its faith and organization. Unlike Jews and Christians, Muslims do not have a spiritual leader of their community, Instead, Muslims have a prayer leader known as an Imam, who simply leads prayer or reads from the Koran. Since the practice of prayer and worship is really an individual responsibility, Islamic communities will usually have several places of worship known as Mosques. During special occasions the Imam will also lead groups of Muslims in prayer within a Mosque. However, prayer may be done anywhere at anytime, based on the worshipers preference. Within the Islamic faith there are also several important objects or symbols. The most sacred of these is the holy scripture of the Islamic faith known as the Quran or Koran. Since most Mosques are places of worship and not used for ceremonial services or other activities, it is up to each individual and family to maintain a copy of the Koran for their use. In addition to the Koran, Muslims use the crescent and the star as the principal symbol of the faith. Originally adopted by the Ottoman Empire as a military symbol, the crescent moon and star eventually became accepted as a standard symbol by most Muslims and Islamic based countries. Some Muslim scholars say the crescent and star are symbolic of the solace and understanding offered by Islam. Although most Muslims feel that their faith is the most important symbol of their dedication to God, there are two very important places within the Middle East that are considered sacred and holy: One of these places is Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, where the last true prophet Muhammad once lived. The other place that is considered sacred by all Muslims is the city of Jerusalem, where Muslims believe that Muhammad rose to heaven to be with God.
7 ABRAHAM: PROPHET AND PATRIARCH Abraham is first introduced in the Hebrew Book of Genesis 11:26-31 and 12:1-4 (in the Torah & Old Testament). In Genisis it states : The LORD had said to Abram (Abraham), Go from your country, your people and your father s household to the land I will show you..... So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran (in the land of Mespotamia), and they set out for the land of Canaan (in the region of Palestine), and they arrived there. However, according to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born with the Hebrew name Abram in the city of Ur (in the land of Babylon). Eventually, the one true God and Creator of all living things came to Abram and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home in Ur and lead all of his followers from the land of Babylon, then God would guide him to a fertile land where he would make a great nation and bless him. Abram, raised as a city-dweller, adopted a nomadic lifestyle and travelled for many years in the land of Cannan (in the region of Palestine). In both the Jewish and Christian faiths, Abraham s acceptance of God s offer and willingness to follow God s teachings becomes the foundation of the followers of both faiths and is known as their Covenant (in Christianity) or B rit (in Judaism) as indicated in Genesis 12. This idea of having a contract with God, which involves rights and obligations on both sides (God and Followers) is a fundamental tradition in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. One of the prevalent myths in the western world is that Muhammad is the founder of Islam. Although, according to Islamic tradition contained in Sura 3:19, Islam is the only legitimate faith recognized by God; it does recognize that Abraham is the first user of the term Islam (meaning To submit to God ) and was the one who called the followers of God Muslims (meaning One who submits to God). In the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths, it is recognized that Abraham had two sons: Ismael (the eldest) and Isaac (the youngest). According to all three faiths, Abraham s exemplary submission to God is demonstrated by his famous willingness to sacrifice his one and only. But which son does this refer to? According to Islamic tradition, this was Abraham s son Ishmael (because Abraham would actually have two sons and this event must have occurred prior to the birth of Isaac). However, according to the Jewish and Christian traditions, this was actually Issac (Hebrews 11:17-20: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice).
8 Regardless of which story you believe, all three faiths recognize that Abraham would be forced to leave Cannan due to extreme drought and wandered into Egypt, where he and his followers became enslaved by the Egyptians. It is during this period that Abraham s wife, Sarah, forced Abraham to make a choice between his two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. As a result, Ismael and his mother, Hagar, were forced the wander the deserts of Bersheba. Thus, many historians see the struggle between the Jews and Arabs as a centuries long struggle of sibling rivalry between the descendents of Abrahams two sons. Because according to both Jewish and Muslim traditions, Isaac is the patriarch of the Jewish people and Ismael is the patriarch of all the Muslims (Arabs). ABRAHAM and the THREE HOLY SCRIPTURES When researching the origins and impact of Abraham on the three Middle East faiths, historians must compare the sacred texts of the Torah, Bible, and Quran (Koran). But what are these texts? The Torah (also known as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) is the oldest written history of the Hebrews and the words of God. For Jews, it is the history of the struggles of their ancestors to follow God s teachings and create a land for their descendents. For Christians, it is the prologue to the New Testament. To true Muslims, it is one of the three sacred books that contain the teachings of God as relayed through their Prophets (Noah, Lot, David & Solomon, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Zachariah, and Jesus). Viewed as literature, the Torah (or Old Testament) is a rich and varied collection of poetry, drama, legal prose, and mythology. Viewed historically, it provides a wealth of information about the events and culture of antiquity because it was written by the people as the events happened. Written as a record of the Hebrew people, the scriptures are divided into three collections that encompass the Laws, the Prophets, the Writings of the Hebrews. The Quran (Koran), on the other hand, is a collection of God s messages to his people as relayed by the Angel Gabriel through Islam s last true prophet, Muhammad. It is divided into 114 Suras (chapters) of unequal length. Although the Quran is not written in a chronological or historical style, there is enough evidence and similarities available (when compared to the Torah and Bible) to indicate that many of the passages are historically accurate. Both the style of writing, basic tenants of its teachings, and its strict adherence to Monotheism (Belief in the One True God), make the link between the three sacred books undeniable. Regardless of which faith or scripture you adhere to, the most common link that they share is the fact that they are Moral Guides for Life provided by God through his messengers (Prophets).