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If There Is Only One God Why Are There So Many Religions? – OpEd

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That is a good question that I as a Rabbi have often been asked.

This is my answer. The Qur’an declares that Allah could have made all of us monotheists, a single religious community, but didn’t in order to test our commitment to the religion that each of us have been given by God.

“If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God’s plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (Qur’an 5:48)

This means that religious pluralism is the will of God. Yet for centuries many believers in one God have chided and depreciated each other’s religions, and some believers have even resorted to forced conversions, expulsions and inquisitions. Monotheists all pray to the same God, and all prophets of monotheistic faiths are inspired by the same God.

So how did this intolerance come about, and how can we eliminate religious intolerance from the Abrahamic religions. Greek philosophy, with its requirement that truth must be unchanging and universal, influenced most teachers of sacred scripture during Medieval times to believe that religion was a zero sum game; the more truth I find in your scripture the less truth there is in mine.

Instead of understanding differing texts as complementary, they made them contradictory and declared the other religion’s sacred text to be false.

In 1065 Pope Alexander called for a Crusade against the Moors in Spain. Then in 1073, Pope Gregory issued official proclamations urging Christian princes to recover lands occupied by Muslims in Spain, over which he claimed papal sovereignty on the basis of previous Christian rule and right. These decrees were really the beginning of the Christian Crusades against Islam.

Pope Gregory’s ideas about Christian war, were also extended to fighting against domestic enemies of the Church (like Protestants). For example, in 1209, Pope Innocent III urged a band of northern French nobles to rally an army that swept into southern France, where they unleashed a crusade so bloody it included the sacking of Beziers by an army under papal authority. Just before the attack, which would kill 15-20,000 men, women and children, the pope’s man on the scene, Arnaud Amalric, is reported to have uttered one of history’s most famous orders: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

The next 4-5 centuries of religious military war in Europe and the Middle East was the result of the previous 2-3 centuries of all-out verbal polemic war between Christianity and Islam. Religious truth became a zero sum game: anything positive said about another religion was seen as a weakening of your own side. The goal was not to modestly try to harmonize various religious perspectives of the one and only God; but to self-righteously exaggerate religious differences, well beyond any reasonable understanding of the two sides.

If religion is to promote peace in our pluralistic world we must reject the zero sum game ideology and develop the pluralistic teachings that already exist within our sacred scriptures. After all “all prophets are brothers. They have the same farther (God) but different mothers (mother tongues, motherlands and unique historical circumstances that account for all the differences in their scriptures).

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, son of Mary. Prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.” (Bukhari, Book #55, Hadith #652) Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion however; is one”. (Muslim, Book #030, Hadith #5836)

I am a Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam when I studied it at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem 60+ years ago. I have continued my study of Islam off and on for many years and for some time I have consider myself to be a Reform Rabbi and a Muslim Hebrew. Actually I am a Muslim Hebrew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi.

Prophet Abraham was the first Muslim Hebrew as Qur’an 3:67 states: “He (Abraham) was not Yahuudiyyaun, “a Jew”, nor Nasraaniyyaan, “a Christian”, but rather a Haniifaam, “a Muslimaan, i.e. “a monotheistic Hebrew believer submitting (Islam) to the one imageless God who created all space and time; and who made Prophet Abraham’s descendants through Prophets Isaac and Jacob (Israel), into a great multitude of monotheists called the People of Israel-Banu Israel.

Prophet Isaiah said: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, are the offspring of Abraham, my friend;” (Isaiah 41:8) So the biological offspring of Prophet Abraham (the Banu Israel) became the first ongoing monotheistic community when God rescued them from Egyptian oppression; and made an ongoing covenant with them at Mount Sinai. Prophet Abraham was not born a Jew, but his descendants from his grandson Jacob/Israel became the Banu Israel—the Jewish People.

For 1,200+ years after Prophet Moses, the Banu Israel was the only ongoing monotheistic community in the world. Unlike the other monotheistic communities that rose and fell during those centuries; most, but not all, of Banu Israel remained loyal to the covenant God made with them at Mount Sinai. As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Muslim Hebrew, and I submit to the commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.

As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice.

These are lessons that prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century. In many ways statements in the Qur’an about Orthodox Jewish beliefs and Ahadith relating Muhammad’s comments about Orthodox Judaism, and religion in general, prefigure the thinking of Reform Rabbis some 12-13 centuries later.

I could have written this essay about religious pluralism by using quotes only from the Hebrew Scriptures, such as: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in His paths. Torah will go out from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.

“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord God has spoken. All the nations will walk in the name of their gods, and we (Jews) will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:1-5)

Or I could have used a pragmatic argument like a Jewish leader named Jephthah offered when he tried to avoid a war by appealing to an invading king as follows: “Do you not hold what Chemosh, your God, has given you? So we will hold on to all that Adonai, our God, has given us.” (Judges11:24)

Jephthah does not believe in Chemosh, nor does he think that Chemosh is just another name for the Holy One of Israel. He knows that the One God of Israel does not allow Jews to have any other god. But Jephthah recognizes the king’s religious beliefs and wants the king to equally recognize Israel’s.

Thus, Adonai the One God of Israel, is the only God for Jews; but others can have a different view of God that they submit to, as long as this God leads them to practice virtue. As the Qur’an declares, “For every community We have appointed a whole system of worship which they are to observe. So do not let them draw you into disputes concerning the matter, but continue to call people to your Lord… God will judge between (all of) you on the Day of Resurrection about what you used to differ”. (Qur’an 22:67&69)

I choose to use Qur’an and Hadith to illustrate that all religions, as well as my own, have statements proclaiming and endorsing religious pluralism. They also have other statements that appear to claim religious exclusivity. These opposing views are the will of God, so that we may be tested.

Choosing between good and evil is a moral choice that even agnostics and atheists can do. Believers should believe in all God’s words (plural), but if we value kindness, humility and peace we are obligated to choose to understand the seemingly exclusive statements in the context of the accepting statements.

This is the will of God so that believers may be tested in their commitment to kindness, humility and peace.

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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

9 thoughts on “If There Is Only One God Why Are There So Many Religions? – OpEd

  • September 5, 2021 at 7:46 am
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    You should look into the Baha’i Faith. We believe all religion comes from the same divine source and the purpose of religion is to unify mankind.

    Reply
  • September 5, 2021 at 1:10 pm
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    There is a different way to look at these facts. As a Muslim I believe sons of Adam were supposed to follow oneness of Allah. Since Abraham Alaih e Salam (AS) all prophets were promised to come in his decedents. Meanwhile human mind was developing and civilizations were being developed. As population grew and people started to live as tribes, it brought complications of negative habits. Therefore, new rules and laws were given based on the practices in the society. First full law was given to Musa (AS). As human mind was developed enough to understand and practice a law. Jesus (Isa AS) came as reformer of Bani Israel. He did not bring a new law but to reinforce teachings of Ten Commandments given to Musa AS. Mathew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
    Isa AS also gave the glad tiding that Muhammad SAW would come. Deuteronomy 18:18 ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.’ We believe it is a continuation of same religion which completed on Muhammad SAW. As human mind became strong enough to bear the final guidance, we were given Quran. It a complete and final guidance for humanity. It encapsulate the teachings of previous prophets and finalize the law. Allah has promised to preserve the text and teachings of Quran till the Day of Judgment. No one would be able to change it. Holy prophet Muhammad SAW continued two practices from the law of Musa AS in His SAW life.
    All Muslims who understand teachings of Holy Prophet Muhammad SAW respect and love all prophets as part of the religion. We believe anyone who love and fear Allah cannot be totally bad. History has proved Muslims took over Jerusalem twice without bloodshed. We do believe that Jesus (Isa AS) was taken to heaven and He AS would come back and complete His life on teachings of Quran.

    Reply
  • September 5, 2021 at 1:26 pm
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    I am a catholic priest. I as pardon for the sins of the church in the past by popes and others; After the Council of Vatican II, the views are changed and we all urge way of dialogue towards God.
    From Antioch in southern Turkey, I brought with me a nice pictre with star of David, the half-moon and the cross with the words – Unser Glauben an einen Gott, verpflichtet uns. WE Jews Moslema and christians , who believe in one God are obliged to relat/dialogue/unity
    Religions are man made, God reveals Himself to all peoples in various ways. And man makes his own interpretation rituals prayers and liturgies…
    God is One by any name, But religions, like different rivers will flow into one eternity

    Reply
  • September 5, 2021 at 8:33 pm
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    Mr. Maller

    I must respectfully disagree with your statement “This means that religious pluralism is the will of God”.

    In the Hebrew Scriptures the only true God Jehovah (Yahwey) was very clear in correcting the Israelites act of false worship to the golden calf. The first of the commandments he then gave them leave no doubt “You must have no other gods besides me” Ex 20:3

    The concept of intolerance is applied to everything these days. It does not seem at all appropriate to accuse God of such a thing. for example, to question his righteousness of bringing about the flood to clean a wicked earth, might be seen as the height of impropriety.

    I do agree with your recognition of the command in Isa 2:2-4. It is vital that we recognize Jehovahs rulership as an active heavenly government as symbolized by the highest mountain. It is a life and death matter to identify that singular path and join with theses peoples of all nations in serving him in the way that pleases him. To water down Jehovah’s clear commandments in the the name of acceptance is certainly a perilous path.

    Reply
  • September 6, 2021 at 7:24 am
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    There are forty four verses in Leviticus that mentions the word plague. None of the other books of the Bible or Torah mention as much (most are 1 to 4 verse). Since Leviticus is the textbook for the Levites (in our case a picture of religious workers or leaders), this means if there is a plague or epidemi, the religious leaders did not do their job.

    The cumulative infection and mortality rates of last years are the highest only in religious countries. Not just in Christendom, but also in all major religions that lift ten commandments or their own religious laws. The one with the lowest mortality rate according to John Hopkins and Oxford is one small country with very dense population: Singapore. It is because they have preaching of Jesus the savior and Jesus the healer since last century like Joseph Prince.

    In the end, Jesus wants us to look unto Him, one on one not via religious leader or talk show host. So God will manifest His glory on His people, peculiar (treasured) and Holy (uncommon).

    Healing and blessing is from Jesus only, not by hanging on to Moses who died before Jordan.

    Reply
  • September 6, 2021 at 8:22 am
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    Rabbi Maller offers the most Bizarre Apologia I’ve read in years…and when he evidently Couldn’t find suitable verse in the Book of his ‘Primary ‘ faith, he gleaned this gem from his ‘auxiliary allegiance’ to islam:

    qur’an:

    “If allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (god’s plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (Qur’an 5:48)

    …thereby revealing his yahweh as Nothing but a “Trickster Deity” who is playing a Cynical game of;

    “GUESS Which ONE of My Five THOUSAND Hands Holds the Key to Paradise — You’ll Only Lose your SOUL if you Guess WRONG!”

    Reply
    • September 7, 2021 at 3:17 am
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      Respectfully the author addressed this type of criticism upfront with ‘the zero sum game’. I may not agree with all his points but the author needs to be given the credit for making ‘thought provoking arguments’.

      Reply
      • September 7, 2021 at 3:47 am
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        I would forward that religious pluralism by the one and only God (however we name him) should be looked at
        1- in the context of any given time period there is one true message from the one true God, he does not put forward multiple ie plural messages for humanity to pick and choose in a given time period.
        2- Across time periods the one True God’s message in principle is the same but certain laws were modified as per his will and wisdom, does not mean he established new religions.
        3- in any time frame human interpretation and practice of God’s one true message for the time period varied and evolved because of deletions, additions, distortions and misrepresentation leading to deviation until God would revive his message. in every time period one will find group of people who stuck with the true message and defied deviation at the cost of there lives for eternal success.
        4- Lastly God has in his wisdom has given us the the liberty to choose , which is our test in this brief earthly existence and hence basis of accountability in the hereafter.

        Reply
  • September 6, 2021 at 2:53 pm
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    I am not a religious scholar.

    To me “The creator Message” for the Creation is very simple from the first man on this earth Prophet Adam i.e., “THE ONENESS OF CREATOR” and shall remained be till the Last man on Earth. All his messengers and prophets preached the same to humanity – associated with this from time to time certain moral, legal, and social rulings, actions, and practices were revealed through them to basically reinforce faith in oneness of the creator and awareness of the fact that human actions are subverts to the creators’ assigned operating envelope.
    HOWEVER, humans in-turn based on their on intrinsic biases, socio-economic background, culture, level of knowledge of universal phenomena, ego, ignorance, superiority, preference, hegemony of certain group of people – religious, rich, fighters etc., embarked upon interpreting Creator’s message, developed their methodologies or religion and rules, regulations, laws, practices, that were accumulated over centuries produced so called Religion or Believes or Sects within certain religion . A google search suggested that there are some 4,300 religions of the world. This is according to Adherents, an independent, non-religiously affiliated organisation that monitors the number and size of the world’s religions.

    Which religion is better it is an endless debate.

    I will draw your kind attention what Allah says himself said on this topic – Allah uses word Deen – a way of life and says in Quran ” inall lazina indal hill islam” ie., roughly means the Deen in the eyes of Allah is Islam.

    There is no compulsion in religion and Quaran addresses Al-Kāfirūn (Arabic: ألكَافِرُونَ‎, “The Unbelievers”) is the name of the 109th chapter (sūrah) of the Quran. It has six verses as follows:

    ۝Say, “O disbelievers,
    ۝ I do not worship what you worship.
    ۝ Nor are you worshippers of what I worship.
    ۝ Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship.
    ۝ Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.
    ۝ For you is your religion, and for me is my religion

    I guess the above clarifies the point on having different religion and let people choose their own religion but what ALLAH TOLD US in Quran.

    On natural disasters aside from their physical characteristics causes and effects one can argue till the end of this world ; I would rather quote Simpy what Quaran says: On different instances in the Quran Allah has clarified that natural disasters result from His disobedience. Some of these instances are as follows:
    1. And whatever of misfortune befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned. And He pardons much. (Ash-Shura 42:30)
    2. And if Allah were to punish men for that which they earned, He would not leave a moving (living) creature on the surface of the earth, but He gives them respite to an appointed term, and when their term comes, then verily, Allah is Ever All Seer of His slaves. (Fatir 35:45)
    3. Evil (sins and disobedience of Allah etc.) has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned (by oppression and evil deeds, etc.), that Allah may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (by repenting to Allah, and begging His Pardon). (Ar-Rum 30:41)

    Reply

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