Love. Compassion. Mercy.
These are among the core values shared by belief systems across the globe, including the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Although these three faiths are dramatically different in many ways, they also share something else: a common spiritual antecedent, Abraham.
Considered the pillar of monotheistic belief, Abraham rejected the worshipping of false idols, coming to follow God—– one of the central concepts of the three major faiths.
“Abraham rejected the polytheism that was common in his days, and came to believe and worship only one God,” says Father Felix Just, S.J., Executive Director of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange. “Although Jews, Christians and Muslims may have different conceptions or ideas about God, we should be able to recognize that we all have the same God, since there is, after all, one and only one God. Moreover, we all believe that some of the most important attributes of God are love, compassion and mercy.”
Abraham’s influence on our world today is profound. About 56 percent of the world’s population practice Judaism, Christianity and Islam, according to the “CIA World Factbook”, accounting for around 4 billion followers.
Abraham was said to live around 2000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the ancient land composed today of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. He is described in sacred texts as kind and compassionate.
Abraham’s story plays out in the Qur’an and in Genesis of the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament. According to Scripture and biblical text, Abraham was a direct descendant of Shem, Noah’s son. God tested Abraham’s faith in numerous difficult ways and he obeyed each time. God blessed his devoted follower and his descendants with land and power. Aside from their shared belief in Abraham and his loyalty to God, Jews, Christians and Muslims share the foundational beliefs in one God who formed our world and who speaks – or reveals himself – to people through prophets and Scripture. Followers of these three faiths also share the belief that people can communicate with God through prayer.
Jews view Abraham as the founding patriarch of their religion. Although Christians are followers of Jesus Christ, they view Abraham as a model of faith, a teacher who led by example. Although the Muslim faith centers on Mohammed, Abraham is also considered a prophet. All three faiths view Abraham as an example of the good that can come from surrendering to God’s will.
“As these three religions began and grew, they all drew upon some ancient stories related to Abraham, but not necessarily the same stories,” says Father Felix, who regularly teaches in the Catholic Bible Institutes of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Diocese of San Bernardino, and the Diocese of Orange.
The three Abrahamic faiths have influenced long-lasting cultural movements, spurred untold acts of good will and inspired countless works of art. Yet despite the similarities in the roots of their faiths, followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam view their own beliefs as dramatically different and the three faiths have had complex and sometimes acrimonious relations throughout history.
“Sometimes and in some places, there has been peace, harmony, and great cooperation, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims live side by side, helping and learning from each other,” Father Felix says. “Unfortunately, there has more often been great tension, hostility, and even wars between them, despite the fact that all claim to be children of Abraham.”
Despite the differences in the three faiths, it should be no surprise that they grew from the same source and share the common core values of love, compassion and mercy, Father Felix says. After all, it’s simply a matter of nature.
“Why are there are so many differences between various human cultures, despite the fact that we all share common prehistoric ancestors?” Father Felix says. “Every group of human beings developed different customs and traditions, despite whatever common ancestry they might have had long ago.”