Middle Eastern Philosophy

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edit classify history index Middle Eastern Philosophy

Middle East Region, (Middle East)
Middle Eastern Philosophy is largely guided by the Abrahamic Religions, ancient theologies, comprising full world-views and their philosophical and historical interpretations and philosophizing up to the present day.

See: Islamic Philosophy, Christian Philosophy and Jewish Philosophy.


In the study of comparative religion, Abrahamic religions are any of those religions deriving from a common ancient Semitic tradition and traced by their adherents to Abraham (“Father/Leader of many”), a patriarch whose life is narrated in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and as a prophet in the Qur’an. This forms a large group of related, largely monotheistic religions, generally held to include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bah?’? Faith, and comprises about half of the world’s religious adherents.

According to the Jewish tradition, Abraham was the first person to reject idolatry, hence he symbolically appears as the founder of monotheistic religions. In that sense, Abrahamic religion could be simply equated with monotheistic religion, but not all monotheistic religions are Abrahamic. In Islam he is considered as the first monotheist and is often refered to as Ibrahim al-Hanif or Abraham the Monotheist.

The term, desert monotheism, is sometimes used for a similar purpose of comparison in historical contexts, but not for modern faiths.


All the Abrahamic religions are derived to some extent from Judaism as practiced in ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah prior to the Babylonian_Exile, at the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE. Many believe that Judaism in Biblical Israel was renovated and reformed to some extent in the 6th century BCE by Ezra and other priests returning to Israel from the exile. Samaritanism separated from Judaism in the next few centuries.

Christianity originated in Judea, at the end of the 1st century, as a radically reformed branch of Judaism; it spread to ancient Greece and Rome, and from there to most of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and many other parts of the world. Over the centuries, Christianity split into many separate churches and denominations. A major split in the 5th century separated various Oriental_Churches from the Catholic church centered in Rome. Other major splits were the East-West Schism in the 11th century, separating the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Churches; and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, that gave birth to hundreds of independent Protestant denominations.

Islam originated in the 7th century, in the Arabian cities of Makkah and Madinah. Although not a dissident branch of either Judaism or Christianity, it explicitly claimed to be a continuation and replacement for them, and echoed many of their principles. According to Muslim belief, the Qur’an was the final word of God and its message was that of all the prophets. As an example of the similarities between the faiths, Muslims believe in a version of the story of Genesis and in the lineal descent of the Arabs from Abraham through Ishmael. Ishmael was conceived through Abraham’s second wife Hagar.

The origins of Judaism and the ancestral Abrahamic religion are still obscure. The only source generally agreed by all to be canonical that bears on that question is the Genesis book of the Hebrew Bible, which according to Rabbinic tradition was written by Moses after the Exodus from Egypt, sometime in the 2nd millennium BC. According to Genesis, the principles of Judaism were revealed gradually to a line of patriarchs from Adam to Jacob (also called Israel); however the religion was only established when Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and with the institution of priesthood and temple services.

Archaeologists so far have found no direct evidence to support or refute the Genesis story on the origins of Judaism; in fact, there are no surviving texts of the Bible older than the Dead Sea Scrolls (2nd century BC or later). However, archaeology has shown that peoples speaking various Semitic languages and with similar polytheistic religions were living in Canaan and surrounding areas by the 3rd millennium BC. Some of their gods (such as Baal) are mentioned in the Bible, and the supreme god of the Semitic pantheon, El, is believed by some scholars to be the God of the Biblical patriarchs. There exist a number of inscriptions that some scholars believe to confirm the Biblical record, such as the Tel Dan Stele.


There are six notable figures in the Bible prior to Abraham: Adam and Eve, their two sons Cain and Abel, Enoch, and his great-grandson, Noah, who, according to the story, saved his own family and all animal life in Noah’s Ark. It is uncertain if these people left any recorded moral code?with some Christian churches maintaining faith in ancient books like the Book of Enoch?and Genesis mentions the Noahide Laws given by God to the family of Noah. For the most part, these ‘patriarchs’ serve as good (or bad, in the case of Cain) role models of behavior, without a more specific indication of how one interprets their actions in any religion.

In the Book of Genesis, Abraham is specifically instructed to leave the historical Mesopotamian city of Ur so that God will “make of you a great nation”, and his travels are well documented. Burton Visotzky, an ethicist, wrote Genesis of Ethics to explore the detailed implications of these adventures for a modern ethics.

According to the Bible, the patriarch Abraham (or Ibrahim, in Arabic) had eight sons by three wives: one (Ishmael) by his wife’s servant Hagar, one (Isaac) by his wife Sarah, and six by another wife Keturah. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Bah?‘u’ll?h, and other prominent figures all claim to be descendants of Abraham through one of these sons.

Jews see Abraham as the progenitor of the people of Israel, through his descendants Isaac and Jacob. Christians view Abraham as an important exemplar of faith, and a spiritual ancestor of Jesus, a Jew and the Son of God, through whom God promised to bless all the families of the earth. In addition, Muslims refer to Christians and Jews, among others, as fellow People of the Book (“the Book” symbolizes divine scripture, such as the Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’an), and they are forbidden from taking them as slaves. They see Abraham as one of the most important of the many prophets sent by God. Thus Abraham represents for some, a point of commonality whom they seek to emphasize by means of this terminology.

So, rather than being the sole “founding figure”, Abraham is more correctly described as the first figure in Genesis who (a) is clearly not of direct divine origin, such as Adam and Eve are claimed to be; (b) is accepted by the three major monotheistic faiths as playing some major role in the founding of their common civilization; (c) is not claimed as the male genetic forebear of all humans on the Earth (as Noah is, in more literal interpretations); and (d) is quite well-documented.

Islam and Judaism also treat Adam and Noah as minor prophets, and recognize that there were possibly other prophets who are unknown today.

The Supreme Deity

Judaism and Islam visualize God in strictly monotheistic terms as one being; Christianity believes likewise but for many Christians, God is at the same time an indivisible Trinity, with three distinct persons, a view not accepted in the other two religions.


Jewish theology is based on the Hebrew Bible, where the nature and commandments of the Jewish Supreme Being are revealed through the writings of Moses (the Torah, known in Christianity as the Pentateuch), and the writings of the prophets, psalmists and other ancient canonized scriptures, together with the Torah known as the Tanakh (known to Christians as the Old Testament). Additionally, it usually has a basis in its Oral Law, as recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud.

This Supreme Being is referred to in the Hebrew Bible in several_ways, such as Elohim, Adonai or by the four Hebrew letters “Y-H-V(or W)-H” (the tetragrammaton), which Jews do not pronounce as a word, but which Christians generally recognize as “YAHWEH”. The Hebrew words Eloheynu (Our God) and HaShem (The Name), as well as the English names “Lord” and “God”, are also used in modern day Judaism. The latter is sometimes written “G-d” in reference to the taboo against pronouncing the tetragrammaton.

The word “Elohim” has the Hebrew plural ending “-?m”, which some Biblical scholars have taken as support for the general notion that the ancient Hebrews were polytheists in the time of the patriarchs; however, as the word itself is used with singular verbs, this hypothesis is not accepted by most Jews. Jews point out other words in Hebrew that are used in the same manner according to the rule of Hebrew_Grammar, and denotes respect, majesty and deliberation, similar to the royal plural in English and ancient Egyptian, and the use of the plural form “vous” for individuals of higher standing in modern French. Jewish Biblical scholars and historical commentary on the passage also suggest that Elohim in the plural form points to God in conjunction with the heavenly court, i.e. the angels.


Christians believe that the God worshipped by the faithful Hebrew people of the pre-Christian era has always revealed himself as he did through Jesus Christ; but this was never obvious until the Word of the Lord, the revelation of God, became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1). Also, despite the fact that the Angel of the Lord spoke to the Patriarchs, revealing God to them, it has always been only by the Spirit of God granting them understanding, that men have been able to perceive afterward that they had been visited by God himself. After Jesus was raised from the dead?according to Christian scriptures?this ancient Hebrew witness of how God reveals himself as Messiah came to be seen in a very different light. It was then that Jesus’ followers began to speak widely of him as God himself (see John 20:28), although this had already been revealed to certain individuals during his Ministry, eg., the Samaritan woman in Shechem, and his closest apostles.

This belief was gradually developed into the modern formulation of the Trinity, which is the doctrine that God is a single holy God (YHWH), but that there is a real threeness in God’s single being that has always been evident but not understood. This mysterious threeness has been described as, for want of better terms, hypostases in the Greek language (subsistences), and as “persons” in English. In the traditional Christian conception, God the Father has only ever been revealed through his eternal Word (who was born as Jesus, of the Virgin Mary), and his Spirit (who after the resurrection was given to men, establishing the Christian church).

Trinitarian theology is developed from the Christian Bible (comprised by the Old and New Testaments). As it was further elaborated by the early Church fathers, it was later codified by the Ecumenical councils at Nicea and Chalcedon. Another famous formulation is called the Athanasian Creed. Some Trinitarian churches, however, do not accept the Chalcedon council at all, in part because it claimed to have excommunicated them. These are known as ’non-Chalcedonian’, or Oriental Orthodox Churches.

This “trinitarian monotheism” has been rejected by several_Christian_denominations_and_Christian-based_religions, such as Arianism, Unitarianism, The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Strict unitarian Christians believe that God the Father is the only divine being, but the others believe that Jesus is a created deity. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, do not religiously worship the Logos (Jesus), but they believe that the Father created the worlds by means of the Logos.


Allah is the standard Arabic translation for the word “God”. See the Islamic concept of God. Islamic tradition also describes the 99 Names of God.

Muslims believe that the Jewish God is the same as Allah and that Jesus is a divinely inspired prophet, but not a divinity. Thus, both the Torah and New Testament are accepted as divine texts, but Muslims believe them to have been corrupted (both accidentally through errors in transmission and intentionally by Jews and Christians over the years). Muslims revere the Qur’an as the final uncorrupted word of God brought through the last prophet, Muhammad, and Islam is viewed as a final correction of Judaism and Christianity.


Judaism teaches that one does not necessarily have to be Jewish to be righteous. Gentiles (non-Jews) can become righteous by following the prescribed path to righteousness given in the Torah, known as the Noahide Laws. In this context the Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides, one of the major Jewish teachers) commented, “Quoting from our sages, the righteous people from other nations have a place in the world to come, if they have acquired what they should learn about the Creator.”

Some strains of Christianity and Islam consider followers of all other faiths to be worshipping false gods or likely to receive eternal punishment, while according to others, God reserves damnation only for those who do not know him through any faith.

Religious Scripture

All these religions rely on a body of scriptures, some of which are considered to be the word of God, hence sacred and unquestionable, and some which are the work of religious men, revered mainly by tradition and to the extent that they are considered to have been divinely inspired, if not dictated, by the divine being.


The sacred scriptures of Judaism are comprised of the Tanakh, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). These are also known as the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament in English. These are complemented by and supplemented with various originally oral traditions: Midrash, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and collected rabbinical writings. The Hebrew text of the Tanakh, and the Torah in particular, is considered holy, down to the last letter: transcribing is done with painstaking care. An error in single letter, ornamentation or symbol of the over 300,000 stylized letters which make up the Hebrew Torah text renders a Torah scroll unfit for use, hence a Torah scribe is a specialist skill and takes considerable time to write and check.


The sacred scriptures of most Christian sects are the Old Testament, which is largely the same as the Hebrew Bible; and the New Testament, comprising four accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus, traditionally attributed to his apostles Matthew and John, and Mark and Luke (the Four Gospels); and several writings by the apostles and early fathers such as Paul. Together these comprise the Christian Bible, which are usually considered to be _divinely_inspired in some sense. Thus Christians consider the fundamental teachings of the Old Testament, in particular the Ten Commandments, as valid; however they believe that the coming of Jesus as the messiah and savior of mankind as predicted in the Old Testament, and the fact that Jesus was raised Jewish and became a teacher of Judaism, would shed light on the true relationship between God and mankind ? by restoring the emphasis of universal love and compassion (as mentioned in the Shema) above the other commandments, by de-emphasising the more “legalistic” and material precepts of rabbinical law (such as the dietary constraints and temple rites). Christians generally believe that the link between Old and New Testaments in the Bible describes the fact that Judaism has been superseded by Christianity as the “new Israel” ? and some hold that Jesus’ teachings described Israel not as a geographic place but as an association with God and promise of salvation in heaven.

The vast majority of Christian religions (generally including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and most forms of Protestantism, but not Restorationism) derive their beliefs from the conclusions reached by the Council of Nicea in 325, in a document known as the Nicene Creed. This describes the beliefs that God (as a Trinity of distinct persons with one substance) became human on earth, born as Jesus pursuant to the Old Testament scriptures, was crucified by humanity, died and was buried, only to be resurrected on the third day, then to rise and enter the Kingdom of Heaven and “sit at the right hand of” God. Christians generally believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to achieve salvation and to enter into heaven, and that salvation is a gift given by the grace of God.

Unlike the Jews and Muslims, Christians generally do not consider a single version of their Bible as holy to the exclusion of the others, and accept good translations and re-translations as being just as valid, in principle, as the original. They recognize that the Gospels were passed on by oral tradition only to be set to paper decades after the death of Jesus and his apostles, and that the extant versions are only copies of those originals. Indeed, the version of the Bible considered to be most valid (in the sense of best conveying the true meaning of the word of God) has varied considerably: the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, the English King_James_Version, and the Russian Synodal Bible have been authoritative to different communities at different times. In particular, Christians usually consult the Hebrew version of the Old Testament when preparing new translations, although some believe that the Septuagint should be preferred, as it was the Bible of the early Christian Church, and because they believe its translators probably knew Biblical Hebrew better than any person living today. Not surprisingly, many variant readings of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” are confirmed by the Septuagint ? indicating that significant changes to the Masoretic Hebrew text occurred after the Council of Yavneh (90 AD). In the same sense that the Jewish mystics viewed the Torah as something living and existing prior to any written text, so too do Christians view the Bible and Jesus himself as God’s “Word” (or logos in Greek), that transcends written documents.

The sacred scriptures of the Christian Bible are complemented by a large body of writings by individual Christians and councils of Christian leaders. Some Christian churches and denominations consider certain additional writings to be binding; other Christian groups consider only the Bible to be binding. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints uses the Old and New Testaments (usually the King James Version of the Bible, often augmented with re-translations made by Joseph Smith), but also believes The Book of Mormon, Pearl_of_Great_Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, and other writings by past and current prophets to be sacred scripture.


Islam’s holiest book is the Qur’an, comprised of 114 suras (chapters). However, Muslims also believe in the religious texts of Judaism and Christianity in their original forms and not the current versions which they believe to be corrupted. According to the Qur’an itself, these were revealed from Allah and through the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad on separate occasions, and preserved as such by his disciples, until they were compiled into a single book (not in chronological order) several decades after his death. Generally, the longer suras appear at the beginning of the Qur’an while the shorter ones appear at the end.

The Qur’an includes several stories from the Jewish Bible (chiefly in Sura 17, “The Children of Israel”), and mentions Jesus many times as a divinely inspired prophet. However the detailed precepts of the Tanakh and of the New Testament are not adopted outright; they are replaced by the new commandments revealed directly by Allah (through Gabriel) to Muhammad and codified in the Qur’an.

Like the Jews with the Torah, Muslims consider the original Arabic text of the Qur’an as uncorrupted and holy to the last letter, and any translations are considered to be interpretations of the meaning of the Qur’an, as only the original Arabic text is considered to be the divine scripture.

Like the Rabbinic Oral Law to the Hebrew Bible, the Qur’an is complemented by the Hadith, a set of books by later authors that record the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The Hadith interpret and elaborate Qur’anic precepts. There is no consensus within Islam on the authority of the Hadith collections, but Islamic scholars have categorized each Hadith at one of the following levels of authenticity or isnah: genuine (sahih), fair (hasan), or weak (da’if). Amongst Shia Muslims, no hadith is regarded as Sahih, and hadith in general are only accepted if there is no disagreement with the Qur’an.

By the ninth century, six collections of Hadiths were accepted as reliable to Sunni Muslims. Shia Muslims however, refer to an alternate tradition of authenticated Hadiths.

The Sunni Collections:

The Hadith and the life story of Muhammad (sira) form the Sunnah, a scriptural supplement to the Qur’an. The legal opinions of Islamic jurists (fiqh) provides another source for the daily practice and interpretation of Islamic tradition.

Rastafari Movement

Some Rastafari use the King James Version of the Bible as their main scripture, while many others disdain it. A great many nowadays make special efforts to study the Orthodox Amharic version. Rastas often claim that the Bible only has half of God’s Word, and that the other half is written in the heart of mankind. The teachings of Marcus Garvey and the Holy Piby are among other important documents, as are the writings and speeches of Emperor Haile Selassie I.

The Coming

Main article: Millennialism

In the major Abrahamic religions, there exists the expectation of an individual who will herald the end of the world, and/or bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. Judaism awaits the coming of the Jewish Messiah (the Jewish concept of Messiah differs from the Christian concept in several significant ways despite the same term being applied to both). Christianity awaits the Second Coming of Christ. Islam awaits both the second coming of Jesus (in order to complete his life and die, since he is said to have been risen alive and not crucified) and the coming of Mahdi (Sunnis in his first incarnation, Shi’as the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi). Rastafari awaits the return of Haile Selassie.


Most Abrahamic religions agree that a human being comprises the body, which dies, and the soul, which need not do so. The soul, capable of remaining alive beyond human death, carries the essence of that person with it, and God will judge that persons life accordingly after they die. The importance of this, the focus on it, and the precise criteria and end result differs between religions.

Reincarnation and transmigration tend not to feature proeminently in Abrahamic religions. Although as a rule they all look to some form of afterlife, Christianity and Islam support a continuation of life, usually viewed as eternal, rather than reincarnation and transmigration which are a return (or repeated returns) to this Earth or some other plane to live a complete new life cycle over again. Kabbalic Judaism, however, accepts the concept of returning in new births through a process called gilgul neshamot, but this is not Torah-derived, and is usually studied only among scholars and mystics within the faith.


Judaism’s views on the afterlife (?the World to Come?) are quite diverse. This can be attributed to the fact that even though there clearly are traditions in the Hebrew Bible of an afterlife (see Naboth and the Witch of Endor), Judaism focuses on this life and how to lead a holy life to please God, rather than future reward, and its attitude can be mostly summed up by the rabbinical observation that at the start of Genesis God clothed the naked (Adam and Eve), at the end of Deuteronomy He/She buried the dead (Moses), the Children of Israel mourned for 40 days, then got on with their lives.

There is general agreement that there is some sort of reward for the righteous in Gan ?Edhen (the Garden of Eden) and (less agreed upon) punishment in Ge-Hinnom. Popularly it is claimed that the maximum time of punishment for all but the most evil is one year. The mystically inclined also claim the souls (or sparks of souls) may be reincarnated, through Gilgul.


Eternal life is a fundamental concept in Christian theology, and may reasonably be seen as the raison d’?tre of Christianity as a whole. A theme common to most branches of Christianity is that the purpose of this life is to rely on God’s grace for the hope of entering into his intimate presence (usually called “Heaven” or “Paradise”), and conversely, the most serious (“mortal”) sins condemn the immortal soul to terrible punishment (called “Hell”, “Damnation”, and many other names) which is separation from God ? for eternity. The requirements for salvation vary by denomination; Martin Luther famously claimed that “faith alone” was required, while many denominations, including the Roman Catholics, believe that good works are also required. Some of the more liberal denominations believe that non-Christians are still eligible for salvation if they live good lives, and some profess a belief in universal salvation?neither faith nor works required.

According to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, adherents believe in the Resurrection of the dead, to be followed by Judgement Day, as a prelude to the eternal Kingdom of Heaven described in various Bible books, such as Isaiah.

God’s grace and acceptance of His will through faith in Christ conforms the soul to the image of Christ, and prepares the soul for admittance to an eternal state of bliss, close to God (“Heaven”, the “Kingdom of God”, “Salvation”, etc.). Some Christian theologies also admit a purgatory, analogous to the Hebrew Gehenna, where the temporal consequences due for sins are paid in further preparation, before being admitted to Heaven.

The concept of forgiveness is central to Christian thinking and ritual. In many faiths, people can obtain forgiveness for their sins by sincere repentance, accompanied by prayer, good deeds, or physical self-punishment. In the Christian Gospels, forgiveness from God is only obtained through one’s own forgiveness of others (Matt. 6:14). In most forms of Christianity, the grace of God is closely connected with the sacraments, beginning with baptism. In Catholic Christianity, the believer is sustained in a state of grace by penance and the other sacraments and means of grace (penitentials, alms, prayer, pilgrimage, etc.) but especially by the Eucharist. Penance in the Roman Catholic conception includes confession of the sin to a priest, who will prescribe prayers as a token of contrition, and as a pattern of obedient faith through which the penitent may earn forgiveness of temporal penalties due to sin. Contrition has at times taken extreme forms of ritual self-punishment and self-deprivation. The Catholic Church also developed a practice of dispensing indulgences, which are gifts of merit from the Church for remission of punishments due for sins (which otherwise must be purged after death, in Purgatory). By Medieval times, indulgences had been used as a monetary incentive, to “purchase salvation” for those who could afford it, and to muster armies for holy_war, or otherwise obtain money for the Church. The Protestant Reformation was sparked by a reaction especially against what the Reformers saw as an abuse and aberration, in the Catholic doctrine and practice of indulgences, and the idea that the Church is a treasury of merit which can be given to the penitent to help them progress toward God.

The concepts of afterlife and its eternal salvation or damnation are clearly stated in the New Testament, but are seen by some as only being in an abstract sense. The precise nature of Hell and Heaven has been a major subject of theological speculation, and views have varied enormously among sects and epochs. The very literal “Fire and Brimstone” view expressed in Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Divine Comedy (14th century), where Hell is a place of intense and continuous physical suffering, has been a very popular one throughout history.

Christian theology excludes reincarnation, or ghostly appearances by the deceased. While several Christian faiths accept the concept of possession by spirits (see exorcism), these are seen as malignant demons, never as departed souls. However, the Catholic and Orthodox emphasize strongly that the Christian life of departed saints has not ended, but rather has been perfected in the presence of God, and they are addressed in the prayers of the Church as intercessors with God, on behalf of men with the formula, “pray for us”. Folk Catholicism is especially abundant with beliefs concerning help and miracles performed by departed saints.


Islam prescribes a literal Hell for those who disobey God and commit gross sin. While sinners are punished with fire, there are also many other forms of punishment described, depending on the sin committed. Those who worship and remember God are promised eternal abode in Paradise. In Islam, Heaven is divided into seven levels (hence the term ‘Seventh Heaven’), however the heavens are not equated directly with Paradise. Paradise itself is divided into many levels, as is Hell, with higher levels of Paradise being the reward of those who have been more virtuous, and lower levels of Hell for those who have been more sinful. For example, the highest levels might contain the Prophets, those killed for believing, those who help orphans, and those who never tell a lie (among numerous other categories cited in the Quran and Hadith).

Upon repentance to God, any sin can be forgiven as God is said to be the most Merciful. Additionally, those who ultimately believe in God, but have led sinful lives, may be punished for a time, and then ultimately released into Paradise. The only sin that is beyond repentance, the Qur’an states, is the sin of Shirk (assuming anyone as partner of God in anyway i.e. as His son, mother, wife, or equal).


Worship, ceremonies, and religion-related customs differ substantially between the various Abrahamic religions. Among the few similarities are a seven-day cycle in which one day is nominally reserved for worship, prayer, or other religious activities; this custom is related to the Biblical story of Genesis, where God created the universe in six days, and rested in the seventh. Islam, which has Friday as a day for special congregational prayers, does not subscribe to the ‘resting day’ concept.

Judaism is ritually a sacrifice-oriented religion, with a sub-tribe of priests who are responsible for accepting varying specific sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem, the Levites acting in an assisting capacity, and lay Jews saying certain prayers; since the destruction of the Temple, only prayers have been offered.

Christianity does not have any sacrificial rites as such, but its entire theology is based upon the concept of the sacrifice by God of his son Jesus so that his blood might atone for mankinds sins. However, offerings to Christian churches and charity to poor are highly encouraged and take the place of sacrifice. Aditionally, self-sacrifice in the form of lent, penitence and humbleness, in the name of Christ and according to his commandments (cf.Sermon on the Mount), is considered a form of sacrifice that appeals God.

The followers of Islam, Muslims, are supposed to pray five times daily (salat) towards the direction (qibla) of what is considered to be the holiest site in Islam, the Kaaba in Mecca. They are also urged to undertake a pilgrimage, known as the Hajj, to Mecca at least once in one’s life. During this pilgrimage, the Muslims spend several days in prayer, repenting and most notably, circumambulating the Kaaba among millions of other Muslims. At the end of the Hajj, sheep and other permissible animals are slaughtered to commemorate the moment when God (Allah) replaced Abraham’s (Ibrahim) son, Ishmael with a sheep preventing his sacrifice. The meat from these animals is then distributed around the world to needy Muslims, neighbors and relatives.


Judaism prescribes circumcision for males as a token symbol of dedication to the religion. Islam recommends this practice as a form of cleanliness. Christianism replaced that custom by a baptism ceremony that varies according to the denomination, but generally includes immersion, aspersion or anointment with water. Notwithstanding the decision of the Early Church (Acts 15) that circumcision was not mandatory, it continues to be widely practiced by Christians in many countries.

Dietary Restrictions

Judaism and Islam also have strict dietary laws, with lawful food being called kosher in Judaism and halaal in Islam. Both religions prohibit the consumption of pork; Islam also prohibits the consumption of alcoholic_beverages of any kind. Halaal restrictions can be seen as a subset of the kashrut dietary laws, so many kosher foods are considered halaal; especially in the case of meat, which Islam prescribes must be slaughtered in the name of God. Catholic Christianity developed ritual prohibitions against the consumption of meat (but not fish) on Fridays, and the Christian calendars prescribe abstinence from some foods at various times of the year; but these customs vary from place to place, and have changed over time, and some sects have nothing comparable. Some Christians oppose the consumption of alchololic beverages, while a few Christians also follow a kosher diet, sometimes identified as a “What_Would_Jesus_Eat?” diet. The Mormon church prohibits the consumption of alcohol, along with “hot drinks”, usually interpreted as coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages. Some approaches to faith and practice have developed in sects of Protestantism such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which strongly advise against certain foods; and in some cases vegetarianism or veganism is encouraged.


Christianity encourages proselytism ? convincing others to convert to the religion; many Christian organizations send missionaries to non-Christian communities throughout the world. Some denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, have even become infamous for their proselytizing efforts in recent years.

Forced conversions to Catholicism have been documented at various points throughout history. The most prominently cited allegations are the conversions of the pagans after Constantine; of Muslims, Jews and Eastern Orthodox during the Crusades; of Jews and Muslims during the Spanish Inquisition; and of the Aztecs by Hernando Cortes. Many Hindutva organizations in India allege that some Christian missionaries in India are converting the illiterate Dalits (the so-called low castes of the Hindus) by “fraudulent means” (sic). Forced conversions are condemned as sinful by major denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church, which officially state that forced conversions pollute the Christian religion and offend human dignity, so that past or present offenses are regarded as a scandal (a cause of unbelief).

Despite accusations and some documented incidents of forced conversions, Islam does not permit forcing someone or repeatedly trying to convince them to convert. Islam does not have missionaries comparable to Christianity, though it does encourage its followers to learn about other religions and to teach others about Islam; one converts to Islam on their own free will. Certain Muslim countries outlaw religious conversions away from Islam. The Qur’an has a chapter (Sura) dealing with non believers (called “Al-Kafiroon”)(Q 109). In the chapter there is also an often quoted verse (ayat) which reads, “There is no compulsion in religion, the path of guidance stands out clear from error” [2:256] and [60:8]. This means that no one is to be compelled into Islam and that the righteous path is distinct from the rest. According to this verse, converts to Islam are ones that see this path.

While Judaism accepts converts, it does not encourage them, and has no missionaries as such.

See Also


External Links

Some content adapted from the Wikinfo article “Middle_Eastern_philosophy” under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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