Abrahamic religions (also Semitic religions) are monotheistic religions of West Asian origin, emphasizing and tracing their common origin to Abraham or recognizing a spiritual tradition identified with him. They comprise one of the major divisions in comparative religion, along with Indian and East Asian religions.
As of the early 21st century, it was estimated that 54% of the world’s population (3.8 billion people) considered themselves adherents of the Abrahamic religions, about 30% of other religions, and 16% of no organized religion.
The largest Abrahamic religions in chronological order of founding are Judaism (1st millennium BC), Christianity (1st century AD), Islam (7th century AD) and the Bahá’í Faith (19th century AD).
Abrahamic religions with fewer adherents include: Rastafari, Samaritanism, Druzism, Mandaeism and Bàbi Faith.
ETYMOLOGY: It has been suggested that the phrase, “Abrahamic religion”, may simply mean that all these religions come from one Spiritual Source. Christians refer to Abraham as a “father in faith”. There is an Islamic religious term, Millat Ibrahim (faith of Ibrahim), indicating that Islam sees itself as having practices tied to the traditions of Abraham. Jewish tradition claims descent from Abraham, and adherents follow his practices and ideals as the first of the three spiritual “fathers” or biblical Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
All the major Abrahamic religions claim a direct lineage to Abraham:
Abraham is recorded in the Torah as the ancestor of the Israelites through his son Isaac, born to Sarah through a promise made in Genesis.[Gen. 17:16]
The sacred text of Christianity is the Christian Bible, the first part of which, the Old Testament, is derived from the Jewish Bible, leading to similar ancestry claims as above, though most Christians are gentiles who consider themselves as grafted into the family tree under the New Covenant, see significance of Abraham for Christians for details.
It is the Islamic tradition that Muhammad, as an Arab, is descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. Jewish tradition also equates the descendants of Ishmael, Ishmaelites, with Arabs, as the descendants of Isaac by Jacob, who was also later known as Israel, are the Israelites.
The Báb, regarded by Bahai’s as a predecessor to Bahá’u’lláh, was a Sayyid, or a direct descendant of Muhammad and thus traces his ancestry to Abraham’s son Ishmael. Tradition also holds that Bahá’u’lláh is a descendant of Abraham through his third wife, Keturah.
Adam Dodds argues that the term “Abrahamic faiths”, while helpful, can be considered misleading, as it conveys an unspecified historical and theological commonality that is problematic on closer examination. While there is commonality among the religions, in large measure their shared ancestry is peripheral to their respective foundational beliefs and thus conceals crucial differences. For example, the common Christian beliefs of Incarnation, Trinity, and Jesus’ Resurrection are not accepted by Judaism or Islam (see for example Islamic view of Jesus’ death). There are key beliefs in both Islam and Judaism that are not shared by most of Christianity (such as strict monotheism and adherence to Divine Law), and key beliefs of Islam, Christianity, and the Baha’i faith not shared by Judaism (such as the prophetic and Messianic position of Jesus, respectively).
Origins and history
Judaism regards itself as the religion of the descendants of Jacob, a grandson of Abraham. It has a strictly unitary view of GOD, and the central holy book for almost all branches is the Masoretic Text as elucidated in the oral Torah. In the 19th century and 20th centuries Judaism developed a small number of branches, of which the most significant are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.
Christianity began as a sect of Judaism in the Mediterranean Basin of the 1st century CE and evolved into a separate religion—the Christian Church—with distinctive beliefs and practices. Jesus is the central figure of Christianity, considered by almost all denominations to be divine, one person of a Triune GOD. The Christian biblical canon is usually held to be the ultimate authority, alongside sacred tradition in some denominations (such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy). Over many centuries, Christianity divided into three main branches (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant), dozens of significant denominations, and hundreds of smaller ones.
Islam arose in Arabia in the 7th century CE with a strictly unitary view of GOD. Muslims typically hold the Qur’an to be the ultimate authority, as revealed and elucidated through the teachings and practices of a central, but not divine prophet, Muhammad. The Islamic faith consider all Prophets and Messengers from Adam through the final messenger (Muhammad) to carry the same Islamic monotheistic principles. Soon after its founding Islam split into two main branches (Sunni and Shi’a), each of which now have a number of denominations.
The Baha’i Faith began within the context of Shi’a Islam in 19th century Persia, after a merchant named Siyyid `Alí Muḥammad Shírází claimed divine revelation and took on the title of the Bab, or “the Gate.” The Bab’s ministry proclaimed the imminent advent of “He whom GOD shall make manifest,” who Bahai’s accept as Bahá’u’lláh. Bahai’s revere the Torah, Gospels and the Qur’an, and the writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and `Abdu’l-Bahá’ are considered the central texts of the faith. A vast majority of adherents are unified under a single denomination.
Lesser-known Abrahamic religions, originally offshoots of Shi’a Islam, include the Babi Faith and Druze.
The unifying characteristic of Abrahamic religions is that all accept the tradition that GOD revealed himself to the patriarch Abraham. All are monotheistic, and conceive GOD to be a transcendent creator and the source of moral law. Their religious texts feature many of the same figures, histories, and places, although they often present them with different roles, perspectives, and meanings. Believers who agree on these similarities and the common Abrahamic origin tend to also be more positive towards other Abrahamic groups.
In these four Abrahamic religions the individual, GOD, and nature are highly separate from each other. Also, these Abrahamic religions believe in a judging, paternal, fully external god to which the individual and nature are subordinate. One seeks salvation or transcendence not by meditation, contemplating the natural world or via philosophical speculation, but by seeking to please GOD or to comply (such as obedience with GOD’s wishes or his law) and see divine revelation as outside of self, nature, and custom.In these Abrahamic religions, not only are humans not a part of nature, but nature and the Earth are subordinate to humans. In fact, humans are explicitly instructed to “rule over,” and to “subdue” the Earth.
All Abrahamic religions claim to be monotheistic, worshiping an exclusive GOD, although known by different names. All of these religions believe that GOD creates, is one, rules, reveals, loves, judges, punishes, and forgives. However, although Christianity does not profess to believe in three gods — but rather three persons, or hypostases, united in one essence — the Trinitarian doctrine, which is a fundamental of faith for the vast majority of Christian denominations, conflicts with Jewish, Muslim, and Baha’i concepts of monotheism. Since the conception of divine Trinity is not amenable to tawhid, the Islamic doctrine of monotheism, Islam considers Christianity to be variously polytheistic or idolatrous.
Jesus (Arabic: Isa or Yasu among Muslims and Arab Christians respectively) is revered by Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i faith but with vastly differing conceptions; viewed as the saviour by Christians (and God incarnate by most Christians as well), as a Prophet of Islam by Muslims, and as the Messiah and a Manifestation of GOD (but not GOD incarnate) by Bahai’s. However, the worship of Jesus, or the ascribing of partners to GOD (known as shirk in Islam and shituf in Judaism), is typically viewed as the heresy of idolatry by Islam and Judaism and misguided by the Baha’is. The incarnation of GOD into human form is also seen as a heresy by Judaism, Islam, and the Baha’i faith.
All the Abrahamic religions affirm one eternal GOD who created the universe, who rules history, who sends prophetic and angelic messengers and who reveals the divine will through inspired Scriptures. They also affirm that obedience to this creator GOD is to be lived out historically, and that one day GOD will unilaterally intervene in human history on the Day of Judgment.
Importance of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is considered Judaism’s holiest city, its origins can be dated to 1004 BCE when according to Biblical tradition David established it as the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel, and his son Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Moriah. Since the Hebrew Bible relates that Isaac’s sacrifice took place there, Mount Moriah’s importance for Jews pre-dates even these prominent events. Jews thrice daily pray in its direction, including in their prayers pleas for the restoration and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple (the Third Temple) on mount Moriah, close the Passover service with the wistful statement “Next year in built Jerusalem,” and recall the city in the blessing at the end of each meal. Jerusalem has served as the only capital for five out of six Jewish states that have existed in Israel since 1400 BCE (the United Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Judah, Yehud Medinata, the Hasmonean Kingdom, and modern Israel) with the exception of the Khazar State. It has been majority Jewish since about 1852 and continues through today.
Jerusalem was an early center of Christianity. There has been a continuous Christian presence there since. William R. Kenan, Jr., professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, writes that from the middle of the 4th century to the Islamic conquest in the middle of the 7th century, the Roman province of Palestine was a Christian nation with Jerusalem its principal city. According to the New Testament, Jerusalem was the city Jesus was brought to as a child to be presented at the temple[Luke 2:22] and for the feast of the Passover.[Luke 2:41] He preached and healed in Jerusalem, unceremoniously drove the money changers in disarray from the temple there, held the Last Supper in an “upper room” (traditionally the Cenacle) there the night before he is said to have died on the cross, was arrested in Gethsemane. The six parts to Jesus’ trial—three stages in a religious court and three stages before a Roman court—were all held in Jerusalem. His crucifixion at Golgotha, his burial nearby (traditionally the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and his resurrection and ascension and prophecy to return all are said to have occurred or will occur there.
Jerusalem, the city of David and Christ, became holy to Muslims, third after Mecca and Medina (even though not mentioned by name in the Qur’an). The Al-Aqsa mosque, which translates to “farthest mosque” in sura Al-Isra in the Qur’an and its surroundings are addressed in the Qur’an as “the holy land”. Muslim tradition has recorded in the ahadith identifies al-Aqsa with a mosque in Jerusalem. The first Muslims did not pray toward Kaaba (Al-Haram Mosque), but toward al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (this was the qibla for 13 years): the qibla was switched to Kaaba later on to fulfill the order of Allah of praying in the direction of Kaaba (Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:144-150).
For Jews, Abraham (with his wife, Sarah) is the founding patriarch of the children of Israel. GOD promised Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.”[Gen. 12:2] With Abraham, GOD entered into “an everlasting covenant throughout the ages to be GOD to you and to your offspring to come.”[Gen. 17:7]. It is this covenant that makes Abraham and his descendants children of the covenant. Similarly, converts, who join the covenant, are all identified as sons and daughters of Abraham (and Sarah).
Abraham is primarily a revered ancestor or patriarch (referred to as Avraham Avinu (אברהם אבינו in Hebrew) “Abraham our father”) to whom GOD made several promises: chiefly, that he would have numberless descendants, who would receive the land of Canaan (the “Promised Land”). According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was the first post-Flood prophet to reject idolatry through rational analysis, although Shem and Eber carried on the tradition from Noah.
Christians view Abraham as an important exemplar of faith, and a spiritual, as well as physical, ancestor of Jesus — the Son of GOD through whom GOD promised to bless all the families of the earth. For Christians, Abraham is a spiritual forebear as well as/rather than a direct ancestor depending on the individual’s interpretation of Paul the Apostle,[Rom. 4:9–12] with the Abrahamic covenant “reinterpreted so as to be defined by faith in Christ rather than biological descent” or both by faith as well as a direct ancestor; in any case, the emphasis is placed on faith being the only requirement for the Abrahamic Covenant to apply (see also New Covenant and supersessionism). In Christian belief, Abraham is a role model of faith,[Heb. 11:8–10] and his obedience to GOD by offering Isaac is seen as a foreshadowing of GOD’s offering of his son Jesus.[Rom. 8:32]
Christian commentators have a tendency to interpret GOD’s promises to Abraham as applying to Christianity subsequent to, and sometimes rather than (as in supersessionism), being applied to Judaism, whose adherents rejected Jesus. They argue this on the basis that just as Abraham as a Gentile (before he was circumcised) “believed GOD and it was credited to him as righteousness” [Gen. 15:6] (cf. Rom. 4:3, James 2:23), “those who have faith are children of Abraham” [Gal. 3:7] (see also John 8:39). This is most fully developed in Paul’s theology where all who believe in God are spiritual descendants of Abraham.[Rom. 4:20] [Gal. 4:9] However, with regards to Rom. 4:20 and Gal. 4:9, in both cases he refers to these spiritual descendants as the “sons of GOD”[Gal. 4:26] rather than “children of Abraham”.
For Muslims, Abraham is a prophet, the “messenger of GOD” who stands in the line from Adam to Muhammad, to whom GOD gave revelations,[Quran 4:163], who “raised the foundations of the House” (i.e., the Kaaba)[Quran 2:127] with his first son, Isma’il, a symbol of which is every mosque. Ibrahim (Abraham) is the first in a genealogy for Muhammad. Islam considers Abraham to be “one of the first Muslims” (Surah 3)—the first monotheist in a world where monotheism was lost, and the community of those faithful to GOD, thus being referred to as ابونا ابراهيم or “Our Father Abraham”, as well as Ibrahim al-Hanif or “Abraham the Monotheist”. Islam holds that it was Ishmael, (Isma’il, Muhammad’s ancestor) rather than Isaac, whom Ibrahim was instructed to sacrifice. Also, the same as Judaisim, Islam believes that Abraham rejected idolatry through logical reasoning. Abraham is also recalled in certain details of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
One of Judaism’s primary texts is the Tanakh, an account of the Israelites’ relationship with GOD from their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 535 BCE). Abraham is hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people. One of his great-grandsons was Judah, from whom the religion ultimately gets its name. The Israelites were initially a number of tribes who lived in the Kingdom of Israel and Kingdom of Judah.
After being conquered and exiled, some members of the Kingdom of Judah eventually returned to Israel. They later formed an independent state under the Hasmonean dynasty in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, before becoming a client kingdom of the Roman Empire, which also conquered the state and dispersed its inhabitants. From the 2nd to the 6th centuries Jews wrote the Talmud, a lengthy work of legal rulings and Biblical exegesis which, along with the Tanakh, is a key text of Judaism.
Christianity began in the 1st century as a sect within Judaism initially led by Jesus. His followers viewed him as the Messiah, as in the Confession of Peter; after his crucifixion and death they came to view him as God incarnate, who was resurrected and will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead and create an eternal Kingdom of GOD. Within a few decades the new movement split from Judaism.
After several periods of alternating persecution and relative peace vis a vis the Roman authorities under different administrations, Christianity became the state church of the Roman Empire in 380, but has been split into various churches from its beginning. An attempt was made by the Byzantine Empire to unify Christendom, but this formally failed with the East–West Schism of 1054. In the 16th century the birth and growth of Protestantism further split Christianity into many denominations.
Islam is based on the teachings of the Quran. Although it considers Muhammad to be the Seal of the prophets, Islam teaches that every prophet preached Islam, providing a historical back-story for the religion by independently recognizing Jewish and Christian prophets, and adding others. The teachings of Quran are presented as the direct revelation and words of Allah, and earlier scriptures are considered to have been corrupted over time. Islam (meaning “submission”, in the sense of submission to GOD) is universal (membership is open to anyone); like Judaism, it has a strictly unitary conception of GOD, called tawhid, or “strict” or “simple” monotheism. Early disputes over who would lead Muslims following the death of Muhammad led to a split between Sunni and Shia, Islam’s two main denominations.