What Truths Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Hold in Common?

(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 aidstar-of-david-938599__180. 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 3 faiths crosstheir 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 islam-140048__180accept 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?

PS: Several subscribers have informed me that they are not getting my blog on Monday. My “tech advisers” are looking into this problem. If you are a subscriber and you are not getting my blog automatically on Monday anymore, please let me know. Just click “contact” at the topic of this page. Then put in your name, email address, a brief message, and click submit. Until the problem is resolved you will have to log on to the blog each week. I apologize for the inconvenience. I don’t want to lose any subscribers! You are all precious to me! Thank you!

No Comments

  1. Doris on November 16, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Timely and important message. Thank you.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 16, 2015 at 12:10 pm

      And thank you, Doris, for letting me know your thoughts! Sr. Melannie

  2. Kathy on November 16, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Thanks, once again, for today’s reflection. It was most needed today in light of recent events.

    I have had contacts mostly with Jewish people (I am Catholic Christian) who my husband used to work for, and a woman I knew from school.

    I’ve also recently met a Muslim woman, and aside from difference in clothing, she seems like any other middle-aged woman.

    Truly I believe we have more similarities than differences with all the people in the world.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 16, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your specific example based on your personal experience. Sr. Melannie

  3. anita on November 16, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Excellent points sister! My cousin married a Muslim and changed from Catholicism to Muslim. We were quite shocked that he went to this extreme but he claims she wouldn’t marry him unless he did. We love them both. She is loving and caring; a tremendous cook who treats us to many of her cultural foods at family gatherings. When such terror occurs I remind myself of her kindness and benevolence and have hope.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 16, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      Dear Anita, Having a Muslim within your family can surely balance the news headlines. Thank you for reminding us of this. Sr. Melannie

  4. Fran on November 16, 2015 at 10:17 am

    I know much more about the Jewish faith & have attended different services w/ friends. And while I know of people that I am quite sure are practicing Muslims, I have never spoken to any of them about their faith & the similarities with my own Catholic faith. Your blog today makes me aware that I need to try to do that – to be part of the understanding among us all.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      How wonderful that you have attended Jewish services, Fran. And I hope someday you can have a conversation with a Muslim. And maybe even share a prayer together. Sr. Melannie

  5. Chris Keil on November 16, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Thank you. I just got back from the Holy Land and as you point out there are more similarities than differences. I think the problem comes from the “extremists” in every faction. We need to have more patience, tolerance and understanding that there are several levels of spirituality and there is not just one way for all.
    Maybe if we all paid more attention to WHAT we pray rather than THAT we pray, we would be better served.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      Thank you, Chris, for sharing your wise words with us again. Melannie

  6. Tom on November 16, 2015 at 10:32 am

    One of our aides at Regina is a wonderful Muslim woman. I was impressed that she considered Ramadan so sacred that she would not break her fast by taking a suggested medication. She also observes Friday. She presently has a heart condition that is inoperable. Please pray for Howida.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      Dear Tom, Be sure to tell Howida that we are praying for her… Melannie

  7. Rose on November 16, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you for this reflection, Melannie. I think Chris made an excellent point and one we need to remember: there are extremists in every religion and their actions do not represent us all. Killing in the name of God–no matter who does it–just makes me sad.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 17, 2015 at 10:25 am

      Thank you, Rose. Pope Francis also spoke out strongly against anyone killing in the name of God. Sr. Melannie

  8. Lin on November 16, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    This last September I was invited to a Yom Kippur service by a Jewish friend. I was struck by how similar it was to our communal penance service! The words Yom Kippur will have a much deeper meaning for me when I see them now.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 17, 2015 at 10:26 am

      What a beautiful experience that must have been for you, Lin. Thank you for sharing it with all of us! Sr. Melannie

  9. Cathy on November 16, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Thank you once again for words of loving perspective, Sister Melannie. I taught for almost four decades in the Dallas Metroplex. For 25 of those years I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to immigrant children and adults from about 50 different countries. Most of them had fled poverty or war. All of them were grateful to be in the US. I learned so much more from them than the English they learned from me. I attended celebrations and saw families that love and sacrifice for each other whether they be Christian, Muslim or Jew. We are all God’s children. Our similarities begin and end there. Peace will come when we remember that. God bless

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 17, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Dear Cathy, What a wealth of experience your teaching gave you! To teach children and adults from about 50 countries! Wow! You actually engaged on a daily basis with individuals of various faith traditions. And you learned: We are all God’s children. Amen! Thank you for sharing this with all of us! Sr. Melannie

  10. Josita on November 16, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Dear Melannie,
    I have a good friend who is Jewish and I and 2 other sisters were invited to his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah and marriage ceremony. It was a beautiful experience, and we ” nuns” we’re very well accepted at the ceremonies and celebrations following. We felt very much at home.
    In light of the horrific events in Paris, all I can do is pray for the victims and their loved ones, but also for ISIS that they somehow come to realize that God is a God of love and peace, not hatred and violence.
    I feel so helpless.
    Thanks for your reflection. Josita

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 17, 2015 at 10:32 am

      Dear Josita, Your experience at the Jewish ceremony sounds as if it was a good experience for you as well as the people there. Wonderful! You also make a good point about praying for ISIS…Thank you for writing…Melannie

  11. Steven on November 16, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    My sister sent me the article You sent me the above article
    “What Truths Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Hold in Common? ”

    I answered her with another question.

    What truth do all human beings have in common?

    “Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs” by Andrew Newberg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, Oct 2, 2007 .

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 17, 2015 at 10:23 am

      Dear Steven, You pose a good question… I read a few descriptions and reviews of the book you cited above. Some of my readers might want to check it out. The two authors are qualified in their fields and are popular speakers. Sr. Melannie

  12. Jean on November 16, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    I work with a Jewish man and a Muslim woman. I have had many open and interesting conversations with the man, who is also open to learning about the differences between the Jewish religion and the Catholic religion. I have been to a few Jewish services and have been startled to see many parallels to the Catholic Mass. The Muslim lady is more private about her life and religion, but we all RESPECT each other. I think tolerance and respect is key to peace.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 17, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Dear Jean, How good it is that you and your Jewish friend are able to share your faith traditions with each other. That’s the level on which true understanding begins. I also think you point out an important word: RESPECT. It grieves me whenever I read about individuals mocking another’s faith tradition…Thank you for responding, Jean! Sr. Melannie

  13. Linda MacDonald on November 17, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Dear Sister Melanie,
    Although I do love your blog, I must take issue with 2 of your ideas:
    Firstly, that Jews, Muslims and Christians worship the same God…we most assuredly do not since Jews do not acknowledge Jesus (he may have been a rabbi), and to the Muslims, he was a prophet. There is no Holy Spirit as being an entity of God in either of these faiths. The Christian God is not “God” without these three persons.
    Secondly, the “animosity” towards the Muslims exhibited in the Crusades was not carried out because Christians simply disliked Muslims.
    The first Crusade began in 1045:
    -460 years after the first Christian city was over run by Muslim armies
    -443 years after Muslims plundered Italy
    -427 years after Muslim armies first laid siege to the Christian city of Constantinople
    -380 years after Spain was conquered by Muslim armies
    -363 years after France was first attacked by Muslim armies
    -249 years after the capital of the Christian world, Rome, was sacked by a Muslim army
    -By the time the Crusades began, Muslim armies had conquered 2/3 of the Christian world; the Crusades set out to reclaim Jerusalem
    And they’re still at it.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 18, 2015 at 8:34 am

      Dear Linda, You’ve zeroed in on one of the major differences among these three faith traditions: their understanding of who Jesus is and, flowing from that, the belief in the Trinity. There are other significant differences, of course, but in this post I wanted to focus on the commonalities of the three faith traditions who all trace their origin to the God of Abraham. By citing the crusades, Holocaust, and 9/11, I was giving three concrete examples of our violence against one another. Your addition is welcomed. Thank you for your response! Sr. Melannie

  14. Sue Bonnette on November 18, 2015 at 9:28 am

    We live in a very white neighborhood. Recently, a Muslim family moved across the street from us. The women all wear Burqas. I thought this was really going to be very hard to get use to. I decided to bake a date bread and take it over and welcome them to the neighborhood. I didn’t know what to expect. I have to say, they were very welcoming and so appreciated me coming over. We had a nice visit. She didn’t have the full burqa on, but a pretty scarf, and was very pretty. It makes me feel bad they have to wear that, but, it’s their tradition, like it or not. We wave now, and talk in the yard. They are not all “bad” !!! A small act of kindness is all God asks of us.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 18, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Thank you for your beautiful specific example, Sue. I’m sure the family appreciated being welcomed–especially at this time in history. Sr. Melannie

  15. Shirley Sahlfeld on November 18, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Thank you Sister Melanie for this blog; very enlightening. This definitely came at the right time; it frightens me with our world situation. I so appreciate Linda MacDonald’s response. We all need to pray for peace!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 18, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Dear Shirley, Yes, we do live in frightening times. Yet we know God is among us and within us bring about God’s Kingdom. And yes, daily we must pray for peace–starting in our own hearts. Thank you for writing! Sr. Melannie

  16. David Cavilla on November 19, 2015 at 12:22 am

    The historical roots of Islam may in the God of Abraham, but the similarities end there I’m afraid. The God of Islam is a god who hates. The Qur’an is a hateful book which openly advocates the killing of “infidels”…that’s us. Mohammed was a violent man. I want nothing to do with Islam.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 19, 2015 at 8:47 am

      Dear David, I suspect you are voicing the feelings of many non-Muslims today–especially considering recent events. At the same time you underscore the greatest challenge we face as followers of Jesus: how to live his mandate to love one another…Thank you for writing. Sr. Melannie

  17. Stan Davisson on November 21, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Thank you, Sister. Monday is always such a hectic day, I save your blog to read it on Saturday morning. I spend the hour or so before morning Mass reading your blog and listening to a favorite show on the radio. Another benefit of Saturday is I get to read the very thoughtful comments that your readers post. Thank you and keep up the great work.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on November 21, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      And thank you, Stan, for writing. I too enjoy reading the comments from my readers. They certainly enrich my blog–and I’m grateful for all of them. Thanks again for being a reader of Sunflower Seeds! Sr. Melannie

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