Text Size

Search Articles

More By This Author

More From This Category

Article Information


By George Davis, & Rev Greg Hughson (ed.) in All Sorts

discussion of the differences and similarities of the three Abrahamic religions.

A few days ago a friend expressed his concern about what might happen to the NZ Muslim community once the present crisis and reaction subsided. He thought the measures taken during the aftermath of the Christchurch catastrophe were gallant from both sides of the Muslim and non-Muslim divide and were appropriate and forward-thinking but felt hesitant about future relations. Could the present strong feelings of inclusion be sustained?
At the time I defended what seemed to be the precursor to a “new age” of closer relations between the NZ Muslim community and the rest of a rapidly changing multi-ethnic NZ community. This possible change was precipitated by the surge of sympathy for the deep and unforgivable hurt caused by a rampaging, well-armed man who now faces prosecution in NZ courts. While accepting that there were many acts of basic humanity and kindness being shown, my friend insisted that there were more fundamental differences, say, between a Christian position and a Muslim one, than I was prepared to admit.
Our conversation turned to a discussion of the developments in the tertiary sphere where two leading figures in the Dunedin Muslim community, Dr Najib Lafraie and Salmah Kassim were officially appointed as Muslim Chaplains to the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic on Monday 1st April 2019. They will be engaged in offering pastoral care and spiritual support to Muslim students and staff. While being in the heights of the education sector, this event seemed to me to be at the forefront of a new relationship, and reflect a broader acceptance for the Muslim community in Dunedin, at least. My cautious friend thought, to use an old English term, that I was being a ‘bit previous’. He saw the whole background of difference between the practices and dogma of Muslim tradition as being fundamentally different from that of Christian tradition. There were in his mind singular roadblocks to a closer relationship.
So what are some of the differences that seem at first thought to be insurmountable. Are expressions of God and Heaven or Paradise really different? Yahweh, Allah and God – are they critically different or perhaps regional and philosophical expressions of the same Being? Certainly there is an historical link, and an acknowledgement at least that we are all people of the “Book”. The Book being referred to is the Old Testament. That tradition admits that there is a link through Abraham between all three. Of course, it is not nearly as simple as that.
The Christian idea of God is currently undergoing rapid re-examination, and has been since the 1970s in the western world. There is debate among biblical scholars about the reality and identity, if I may be forgiven, of God. It is still generally accepted that God created the universe and everything in it, and that God remains separate. Also, many continue to affirm that God became human in Christ for the redemption of the world. There is a debate about the gender of God. In Islam, there are 99 known names of God (al- asmāʼ al-ḥusná lit. meaning: "The best names"), each of which evokes a distinct attribute of God. All these names refer to Allah, the supreme and all-comprehensive God. God is the refuge – the foundation of all beings. There is recognition that Jesus (Peace be upon him) is also prophet within Islam. Traditional interpretations of Judaism generally emphasise that God is personal yet also transcendent, while some modern interpretations of Judaism emphasise that God is a force or ideal. The names of God used most often in the Hebrew Bible are the ‘Tetragrammaton’ (YHWH Hebrew:
יהוה( emos tub noitanalpxe siht ni spalrevo emos era ereht oS .miholE dna distinct separations.
Ideas about our final destination might also prove problematic. There are diverse understandings of Heaven and Hell within various Christian communities. Many continue to cling to a physical notion of ‘heaven above and hell below’ as seen in many medieval and post-medieval accounts. The concept is based mostly on the pictures from Genesis and the book of Revelations. Today, however, many more liberal and “progressive” Christians think of heaven as a state of being, not exclusively physical, but as being an eternal relationship with God, in some mysterious, incomprehensible way. Muslims have the notion of a beautiful garden as the final abode of the righteous and the Islamic believers, but also the )سودرف :Garden of Eden, where Adam and Hawwa dwelt. Firdaws (Arabic is the literal term meaning paradise, but the Quran generally uses the term Jannah symbolically referring to paradise. So the Muslim version is a physical experience, not metaphysical. The Jewish idea of heaven is where early (pre-20th century) Christians find parts of their ideas from there as well. Heaven in Judaism. Shamayim (ִם ַי יש ), the Hebrew word for "heaven" (literally heavens, plural), denotes one component of the three-part biblical cosmology, the other elements being erets (the earth) and sheol (the underworld). Once again, a physical conception of Heaven. So, there are significant differences in basic beliefs, within and between world religions. The one most distinctive view perhaps, which differs from traditional belief, is the modern Christian interpretation of metaphysical state of being. Metaphysical refers to a state of ideas rather than concrete reality.
These ideas and simple explanations of two fundamental concepts only skate over the surface of some beliefs in the three Abrahamic religions. However, without some elementary understanding of the other, no single individual or indeed organisation will be able to get to grips with the basic needs of trying to relate to each other, whether we are of Christian, Muslim or Jewish persuasion.
George Davis, & Rev Greg Hughson (ed.)