Thursday, April 08, 2004

The God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims

I had a discussion with Blissless recently on the subject of religion. This is something I usually don't do with religious people. But I made an exception with her. Along the way, I remarked it's ironic that the believers of the same God, i.e., Jews, Christians, and Muslims generally don't get along.

I suspected that she didn't know the story about Jews and Muslims. So, here an account from page 194 of The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith, later renamed The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions:
Central in this Arab rise to greatness was their religion, Islam. If we ask how this religion came into being, an external answer would begin by noting the economic and political currents playing over Arabia in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D. when Muhammed lived, and would then develop a picture of the environmental factors that brought this outlook into being. Viewed through Muslim eyes the question assumes a different cast. From the Muslim point of view the story of Islam begins not with Muhammed in sixth century Arabia but with God. “In the beginning God ...“ opens the book of Genesis. The Koran agrees. It differs only in using the word Allah. Allah is formed by joining the definite article al (meaning “the”) with Illah (God). Literally, Allah means “the God.” Not a God for there is only one. The God.

Allah then created the world, and after it man. The name of this first man? Adam. The descendants of Adam lead to Noah who has a son named Shem. This is where the word Semite comes from; a Semite, literally, is a descendant of Shem. Like the Jews the Arabs regard themselves as a Semitic people. The descendants of Shem are traced to Abraham and still we are within a common tradition. Indeed, it was the submission of Abraham in the supreme test, the attempted sacrifice of his son described in the Koran by the verb aslama, that appears to have provided Islam with its name. Abraham marries Sarah. Sarah has no son and Abraham, wanting to continue his line, takes Hagar for his wife as well. Hagar bears him a son, Ishmael, whereupon Sarah also has a son named Isaac. Sarah then demands that Abraham banish Ishmael and Hagar from the tribe. Here we come to the first divergence between the Koranic and Biblical accounts. According to the Koran, Ishmael goes to Mecca. His descendants, growing up in Arabia, are Muslims whereas those of Isaac, who remains in Palestine, are Jews.

The Seal of the PROPHETS

Following the line from Ishmael in Arabia we come eventually in the latter half of the sixth century A.D. to Muhammed, the prophet through whom Islam emerged, orthodox Muslims would say, in its full and final focus. There had been true prophets of God before him but he was their culmination; hence he is called ‘The Seal of the Prophets”—there will be no more after him.
So, I always chuckle when I read about Arabs being anti-semitic.

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