(Note: I wrote this reflection three weeks ago and scheduled it for today. The deadly attacks in Paris last Friday have deeply moved all of us, I’m sure. They make the topic of this post more urgent than ever.)
History is filled with stories of the animosity among Jews, Christians, and Muslims: the Crusades, the Holocaust, and 9/11, for example. Even our current headlines proclaim stories of violence and hatred among these three religions that all trace their origin to the Patriarch Abraham. But today let’s look at eight truths or practices that these three faith traditions hold in common. Hopefully, a greater appreciation of these commonalities can help build understanding among us. (I am indebted primarily to Msgr. Joseph Champlin for these ideas.)
We all believe in one God. In fact, we all believe in the same God, a God who is divine, transcendent, omnipotent, beneficent, and merciful.
We believe in divine assistance. All three religious groups believe God comes to our aid. Jewish history recounts the Passover story, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna coming down from heaven as examples of God’s assistance in the past. Christians take to heart these words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; knock and the door will be opened to you.” They believe God is active in our daily life and responds to our prayers. The Muslim prayer of supplication is equally strong, but more general in its direction. Muslims ask Allah for divine help to stay the course especially during adversity.
We believe in daily prayer. A practicing Jew is expected to utter prayers of praise 100 times a day. These acclamations can be brief: “Blessed are you, Lord.” Muslims pray five times a day. These prayers occur at dawn, afternoon, late afternoon, following sunset, and at night. Christians have the tradition of the Divine Office. Some Christians, especially contemplative religious congregations, pray the office seven times a day from early morning to night. Most Christians observe a more informal pattern of daily prayer, praying morning and/or evening prayer, meditating, doing spiritual reading, reciting the rosary, etc.
We worship together weekly. Friday is the day of public worship for Muslims. Saturday is the Sabbath observance for Jewish people. It is observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Christians worship on Sunday, the day chosen to recall Jesus’ resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
We all practice fasting. Christians, following the example of Jesus, recognize the need for fasting and self-denial in their lives. The Lenten season from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is an extended 40-day period of self-denial. Jews practice a strict and total fast on Yom Kippur, with no eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. They have other fast days as well. Muslims fast the most. They fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The fast begins each day with a light meal before daybreak, then no water, food, or drink until after sunset. During this time there is to be no sexual intercourse, tobacco, backbiting, or lying.
We all practice almsgiving. Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 are extremely challenging for Christians: “What you did (or did not do) to one of these least ones, you did (or did not do) for me.” In response to these words, Christians try to share their time, talent, and treasure with others, especially those in need. Muslims also practice this type of generous giving. The Prophet Muhammad said, “He is not a believer who eats his fill while his neighbor remains hungry by his side.” Jewish believers are also obligated by their faith to share with the poor—especially widows, orphans, and strangers.
We believe in Holy Places. Once in a lifetime, every Muslim is expected (if financially and physically able) to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the place where the Angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad in 610 A.D. But Muslims revere other places too, especially in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is also sacred to the Jews who believe that today’s Palestine is their home. Christians revere those places where Jesus lived, taught, died, rose, and ascended into heaven. Sadly, over the centuries, disputes over the Holy Land have caused some of the most violence among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
We are all people of the book. The Old Testament traces the development of the Jewish religion. Christians accept these writings, but believe they lead to fulfillment in the New Testament books. Today Roman Catholics and many other Christian bodies follow a three-year cycle of Biblical readings which contain samples from all 46 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. For Muslims, Muhammad is the messenger, but the Quran (Koran) is the message of God. Muslims view the Old and New Testaments as also coming from God.
These eight commonalities do not erase the deep differences among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. But if we understand one another better, it will be easier for us to respect and love each other. As Msgr. Champlin says, “Religion, instead of being a source of division, could become a basis of unity.”
(In light of last week’s attacks, we might ask ourselves: What am I personally doing to understand these other faith traditions better? If I am Christian, have I ever spoken with a Muslim or prayed with a Muslim? Have I ever read the Quran (Koran)? Have I ever attended a talk or read an article or book on Islam? Do I pray for Jews and Muslims?)
Today’s song, sung by Christene Jackman, comes from Israel. Entitled “Yishmaeni Elohai” (My God Will Hear Me), the song simply praises God in both Hebrew and English. As we pray this song, let us ask our One God for greater understanding and peace among the followers of these three great faith traditions.
Is there anything in this reflection or in the song that touches you?
Have you had any personal experience with people not of your faith tradition? If so, what was that experience like for you? If not, how might you have such an experience?
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