Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all began in ancient times in the Middle East. All three recognize only one God. As might be expected, they have much in common, as well as some important differences. There is a lot of information about Christianity that is common knowledge, but information about the Quran is obtained from “The Holy Quran Search Engine” (Ahmadiyya) and information about the Hebrew Bible is obtained from The Hebrew Bible in English (Mechon Mamre). In this paper, we compare and contrast the views of the three religions on the topics of peace versus violence, our purpose on Earth, and whether or not we go to Heaven. We find that there are many more similarities among the religions than there are differences, suggesting that they can coexist peacefully.
One issue of great concern, given the current level of violence worldwide that is blamed on religion, is whether or not these are religions of peace. There are actually many places in the Quran that encourage peace, such as Al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse 225, “Make not Allah a target for your oaths that you may thereby abstain from doing good and acting righteously and making peace between men.” The Quran states not only that it is right to make peace, but also that it is wrong to try to blame God/Allah when you are not doing so, suggesting that people who do violence to others not only are doing wrong by being violent but also if they try to claim that it is in the name of Allah or for His glory. Similarly, Judaism encourages peace, with passages in the Hebrew Bible such as Psalms chapter 34, verse 15, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Likewise Jesus Christ famously preached peace and gave His blessings to the peacemakers.
All people of good will encourage peace and can back it up with scripture. So we might wonder where wars come from. Unfortunately, all three religious texts also contain plenty of passages praising war, if it is against the correct enemies. Although some passages in the Quran state that all believers, including Jews and Christians, fall under Allah’s protection, other passages still consider them nonbelievers and state that they should be condemned to death. Some passages in the Hebrew Bible state that enemies should be killed. While Jesus said that Christians should love their enemies, other parts of the Bible state that enemies should be defeated. Clearly peace or violence are choices that can be justified depending on what parts of scripture one chooses to focus on, although all major religious authorities would encourage followers to choose to follow the good parts, with some exceptions.
It is interesting to note that a search of the Quran returns 65 passages that include the word peace, 37 passages that include the word kill, 15 with the word enemies, none with the word war. A search of the Hebrew-English Bible, in contrast, returns 198 passages that include the word peace, 51 passages that include the word kill, 131 with the word enemies, 127 with the word war. The Christian Bible contains these same passages in its Old Testament. Some of these refer to historical events and are just describing what happened. But there are plenty of passages, such as repeatedly in Leviticus, when death is recommended for all sorts of behavior. So although Bill Maher has claimed that Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas, it actually looks as though the Jewish and Christian texts contain a lot more violence and recommended violence. Clearly, it is the obligation of religious people to choose the good that their religions encourage them to do, rather than using religious texts to justify the bad.
People often turn to religion to give them a purpose in this life. All three religions talk about God giving human beings purpose, but they are not specific about what that purpose is. Different people will determine their own way of living out God’s purpose. The Quran says that Muslims are chosen for the special purpose of reminding others of God and Heaven. The Hebrew Bible says that our purpose is to improve this world, to relieve each other of our burdens. Christians say that their purpose is to praise God and to do good works in His name. So clearly all three religions agree, we have a purpose here on earth designed by God, and it is to do God’s will. Living out our purpose will prepare us for Heaven and improve life on Earth.
All three religions believe in an afterlife, where good people go to Heaven. In Islam, believers go to Heaven. While nonbelievers generally do not go to Heaven, there is still a chance because God can decide to forgive. In Judaism, God’s chosen go to Heaven. In Christianity, those who believe may go to Heaven. Different Christian denominations argue about whether or not good works are required to go to Heaven. However, like Islam, bad works do not necessarily mean that someone will not go to Heaven, because with forgiveness and repentance, God will forgive. So there may be small differences as far as how much belief determines an afterlife in heaven, how much heaven is earned through good works, and how much we need forgiveness to arrive in heaven. But all three religious traditions have a belief in an afterlife, and a belief that followers of God/Allah can reach Heaven after they die.
The three conceptions of Heaven are quite different. The Quran describes a garden paradise, where men will have the companionship of several women. The Hebrew Bible does not contain a specific description, and so most Jews do not hold firm images of Heaven. The Christians’ New Testament describes a city of gold with pearl gates, where angels sing praises to God and we are reunited with loved ones who died before us. In all three religions, these descriptions may be metaphorical poetry to some and literal descriptions to others; but in all cases, believers look forward to the next life being better than this one.
On these important questions, it appears that the three religious traditions have very similar beliefs. All the scriptures encourage good behavior, peace and love with one’s neighbors, obedience to the word of God, and faith in a reward in Heaven in the afterlife. Religious faith can also give us a purpose here on Earth, to spread God’s word and make things better for others. Hopefully these religions and others can come together and realize how much they have in common, and work toward the common good in the future.
- Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “The Holy Quran Search Engine.” Al Islam: Love for All, Hatred for None. 2015. Web. 21 November 2015.
- Mechon Mamre. The Hebrew Bible in English. Mechon Mamre, 2002. Web. 21 November 2015.