Can The Three Abrahamic Religions Live In Harmony? – OpEd


Christians believe Jesus is the unique Divine Son of the One God. Muslims believe Jesus was the one God’s Prophet Word and a human Messiah.  Jews believe Jesus was a faith healing Jewish teacher (rabbi) Son of Man like Prophet Ezekiel.

I believe that since the three  Abrahamic religions each proclaim that it is totally monotheistic; if we cannot find an open minded resonance harmony among these three Abrahamic religions’ views, it is because we are overly literal minded.  

Christian missionary battles against Judaism and Islam reached new heights of hostility starting in Spain in the tenth century; that led Muslims like Ibn Hazm to respond extremely fiercely in kind. Religious truth in Europe, and then in the Middle East, became a zero sum game: anything positive said about another religion was seen as weakening 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.

In a zero sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own. This view was the result of the specific influence of Aristotle, who questioned where European fresh water eels came from, and decided rationally that they sprang up spontaneously from the mud, and Greek philosophy’s general emphasis on the logic of the excluded middle. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. If two propositions contradicted one another, one or both of them must be false. They cannot both be true.

If one believes that there is only one God who is revealed by many different inspired prophets, then we should be able to learn more about God’s will by gaining insights into our own unique revelation, from other revelations of that one God. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture. 

But in the Middle Ages almost all readers thought of revelation as a zero sum sport like tennis; rather than a multiple-win, co-operative sport like mountain climbing. This would mean that if my religion is true, yours must be false. In modern terms, light could not be both a particle and a wave. Yet we now know that light is indeed both a particle and a wave, and at the same time.

This medieval situation did not improved much in modern times. In the last two centuries university academics have written many studies of comparative religion which they claim are objective and not distorted by their religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, academics who treat other religions academically usually do not believe that other scriptures are actually Divinely inspired. Indeed, many academics do not believe that even their own sacred scriptures are Divinely inspired. They use the same kinds of explanations to understand a revealed religion that they would use to explain secular history and literature.

As a rabbi I follow a different model.

For example, the Mishnah (an early third century compilation of the oral Torah), states, “Adam was created as an individual to teach you that anyone who destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as if he destroyed the whole world.” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)

And the Quran states, “One who kills a human being, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” [Quran, 5:32]

Academics explain the similarity of the two statements by assuming that since the Jewish statement is four centuries earlier than the Qur’anic one, Muhammad must have heard it from a Rabbi or other educated Jew in Medina.

But I believe Muhammad was a prophet of God who confirms the Torah of Prophet Moses. Muhammad has no need to learn this statement from another human being. Academics might reply that the statement is not found in the written Torah; it appears in the oral Torah  written by the Rabbis in the Mishnah more than 1,000 years after Moses.

But the Rabbis maintain that the Mishnah is part of the oral Torah that was passed down from Moses through many generations just as hadiths have been passed down orally through the generations. Indeed, the Quran itself introduces this statement as follows, “It is because of this that We ordained for the Children of Israel “one who kills a human being … [Quran, 5:32]

No prophet of God needs to be informed by another human what should be written in Holy Scripture. God is the source of all Divine inspiration. There are several verses in the Qur’an that mention things from the oral Torah. My perspective is that prophets and Holy Scriptures cannot in reality oppose one another because they all come from one source. Prophets are all brothers; it is as if they have the same “father” (God) and different “mothers” (motherlands. mother tongues, nations, cultures and historical eras).

All of these factors produce different rituals and legal systems, but in monotheistic theology they can differ only in details. Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them from the one God differ. Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify each other; they only cast additional light on each other.

So we should emphasize our common beliefs and respect our particular differences because, “To each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way. If Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but (He didn’t in order to) test you in what He has given you; so strive (compete) as in a race to do good deeds. You all will return to Allah; then He will inform you about that in which you used to differ.” (Quran, 5:48)

Everyone who believes that there is only one universal truth also thinks it is his or her truth. But only when we return to God will he inform us about the nature of religious truth. Till then in order to test us in what He has given us; we must strive (compete) only in a race to do good deeds.

Thus, I agree with the Qur’anic religious principle of religious pluralism: lana dinuna walaka dinuka, (in Hebrew lanu dinu valakha dinkha) for us is our religion and for you is your religion (Qur’an 109:6) Respecting religious pluralism will result in, according to Prophet Zechariah, 9:10: “…the bow of war shall be cut off, and (all) shall speak peace to the nations…”

As Jeremiah says: 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

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.

One thought on “Can The Three Abrahamic Religions Live In Harmony? – OpEd

  • August 24, 2023 at 6:47 pm

    An excellent analysis of how “to know one religion, is to know none.”…Shalom..


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