Comparison of Judaism and Islam Essay

This essay has a total of 2050 words and 10 pages.

Comparison of Judaism and Islam

Because of the history of political and religious warfare that has separated them, the
underlying unity of Judaism, and Islam is seldom recognized except by scholars. Yet these
two great world religions have the same origins, the same central belief in monotheism,
and to a large extent the same genealogical and scriptural authorities. It is in a greater
sense a tale of two sons or two brothes. It is not surprising that these religions should
share a common belief of creation and patriarchy, since the roots of these two are to be
found in the basin of Mesopotamia, in the “Fertile Crescent” of the Tigris and Euphrates
rivers. There, in the ancient civilization of Sumeria, the descent of the Patriarchs of
the Bible can be traced to an historical basis:

“Abraham was probably born in the Sumerian City of Ur four thousand years ago a scholar
invented a label for the descendents of Shem; he called them Semites.” (Chaim Potok,

The story of Abraham and Sarah is the basis of the real distinction between the religions
of the Semitic peoples; from their two sons are descended the patriarchy of the Hebrew and
Arab peoples. The question of descent and the patriarchy is basic to any understanding of
the origins of Judaism and Islam. God promised Abraham that he would have a son. In
their old age Abraham and Sarah had yet to conceive this promise. According to ancient
Mesopotamian law, a man could have many wives, and if a legitimate wife could not bear him
children, he could take a servant as a wife. Sarah was barren, so according to custom and
law she gave her Egyptian servant Hagar to Abraham to bear his children; and a son was
born. However, this went against the promise of God to Abraham. As promised Sarah
miraculously gives birth to a son as well, and a rift develops between these two brothers
for what would be their birthright. Sarah orders Hagar and her son Ishmael cast out:

“But God appears to Hagar as she sits a distance from the child, in despair, unable to
endure watching him die. God promises to make Ishmael father of a great nation. The boy
is saved. Arab nations claim descent from Ishmael.” (Chaim Potok, p.32)

Similarly, God intervenes to save Sarah’s son Isaac from the sacrificial knife of Abraham
in the famous test of his faith. The Hebrew people claim descent from Isaac. In this
paper, I will examine the beliefs and practices of Judaism, and Islam, with the view that
these two “brothers” common origins and ideas are more significant than their obvious

Starting with Judaism we see Abraham is regarded by his people as the first Jew, however a
better case can be made for regarding Moses as the founder of Judaism. Born in roughly
the 14th century B.C.E., Moses was raised in anonymity in the court of the Egyptian
pharaoh Seti I, having been saved from a decree ordering the death of all new-born Hebrew
males. Moses thus had an Egyptian upbringing, and the basic belief in a universal God
that some say may have been related to the experimental monotheism of an earlier pharaoh,

“About a century before Moses, the pharaoh of an Egypt swollen with the spoils of empire
envisioned a single god, one natural force at work upon the suffocating multiplicity of
gods and men… His name was cursed; his god was obliterated. There can be no connection
between that pharaoh and the man tending the flock in the wilderness – other than that
both are of the same species, both reached for a unity beyond the wearying kaleidoscope we
wake to each morning.”

(Encyclopedia Britannica, p.165)

Perhaps there is no connection, but it should be remembered that currents of monotheism
were running in the ancient world outside Mesopotamia and Judea. Moses’ claim as the
founder of Judaism is based on his role as a prophet of God, as receiver of the tablets of
law, which form the basis of the Jewish covenant or pact with God. The Mosaic Law is the
ethical basis of Judaism, and its belief in a single, universal God is based on the
revelations of the supernatural God with the human prophet Moses. A definition of Judaism
in the Encyclopedia Britannica observes the following:

“By emphasizing the difference between the human and divine natures…. Judaism differs from
other creeds which also stress the Unity of God, e.g., Unitarianism and Islam, for these
faiths assign to Jesus and Mohammed respectively a higher grade than that which Judaism
concedes to Moses. On the other hand, Judaism differs from theoretical systems of ethics
by reason of its historical, ceremonial and racial elements.” (Encyclopedia Britannica,

Specifically, Moses is regarded not simply as a prophet of God to whom the Law was
revealed, but also as a liberator of the Hebrew peoples; as such, he is an historical
figure and not a superhuman one.

The covenant with God that Moses reveals to the Hebrew peoples, after having spoken face
to face with God declares them to be the “chosen people of God.” This belief remains the
center of the Jewish religion today. The Mosaic covenant has had to be periodically
renewed, as it was during the more than one thousand years between the time of Moses and
the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This means not only the continuing adherence
to the Law, (which was based on the earlier Noachian Law ordering abstinence from
adultery, murder, robbery, and other sins), but a renewal of the very special relationship
between God and the “Chosen People”. The sacred book of Judaism, the Torah, comprises the
Old Testament of the Bible as well as other prophetic texts regarded as divine by Islamic
faith. Although the Jewish people are distinct as a race, they do accept converts from
other races and religions, and regard their religious teachings as representing universal
truths which will ultimately be accepted by all mankind.

The essential teachings of Judaism are simpler than the wide range of biblical and ritual
law might seem to suggest they be. They have summed up as follows:

“Man can, therefore, unaided, achieve his own redemption by penitence. Prayer having
replaced the sacrifices of the Temple, no extra substitute for them is needed… The world
is not regarded as inherently bad and Judaism consequently repudiates those Gospel sayings
and teachings which, inspired by the conviction that the end of the world was at hand,
maintained that the pious should abandon the ordinary conditions of settled social life
and concentrate on the approaching change in the order of things.” (Encyclopedia
Britannica, p.166)

Rabbis, for example, can marry and have children, and Judaism in general accepts the world
as it is. This is because the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah to reveal
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