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A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths

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In the book, “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths”, Feiler points out some of the differences and similarities in each of the three major religions called Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It also aims to find a common ground for the three faiths to co-exist in this big world. In the cultural point of view, the author was able to share the different ways in which the three religions honor and respect Abraham as the father of faith and how each has shown their exclusivity of such faith. Feiler notes that Abraham “is like a vast underground aquifer that stretches from Mesopatamia to the Nile, from Jerusalem to Mecca, from Kandahar to Kansas City. He’s an ever-present, ever-flowing stream that represents the basic desire all people have to form a union with God.” Yet, in the face of the many similarities that these three monotheistic religions share, we continue to prefer discussing the differences than dwell with their similarities. Even the belief of whose son was it that he sacrificed was already a ground for argument for these three religions who could not get to agree with one another. The Bible and Torah have a little resemblance in believing that it was Isaac who was sacrificed. However, the Jews believed that the sacrifice was pushed through, that Isaac died and came back to life after three days. Christians believe that the boy did not die because God told Abraham to let go of the boy and he provided an animal for Abraham to sacrifice instead. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that it was Ishmael. In the Bible, Isaac is God’s favored son but in Quran, there’s nowhere that we find a text that mentions the name of the sacrificed son, only Abraham’s most favored son. In this case, Islam ruled out that it’s Ishmael whom Abraham favors the most and thus the one being sacrificed. From reading Feiler’s book, one can actually see how these three faiths share one source yet very much divided in their beliefs. None will back off or change what they believe is true. Is it necessary to develop that rivalry of being “the favored son”? Does it have to do with how we address the problems in our society?

Feiler’s approach in writing this book seems to be leaning more on the Muslims and Jews than on Christians. He seems bitter with Christians although he tries not to clearly show it, a little bit quiet with the Jews, and puts high regard on Muslims. This indifference is apparent when he writes about Koran (Quran) as the book of truth while the Bible is somewhat mediocre, simply a collection of stories. He even wrote that “Muslim discrimination against nonbelievers, while profound, never reached the levels of Christian hostility to Jews.” I don’t believe the accuracy of this statement and I have no idea where he got such information yet it shows his indifference. At the same time, I was wondering which Christian sect he was thinking when he was writing this book since there are many different groups with different cultures in Christianity. Like for example, the Latter Day Saints and Catholics are considered Christian religions but with very differing beliefs although both still originates from the same father of faiths, Abraham. 

With all these discrepancies in his writing, his aim is still good -  that is finding peace on the face of the earth by understanding each other’s belief as we recognize our same roots. He wanted to extend the message that there should not be a need for war since we all come from the same beginning and thus we are brothers and sisters.

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It is indeed very interesting to see that all these three major religions listed in this book that claim to have rooted from Abraham are the same ones engaging in war in the history and at present.  Does it have to do with the “sacrifice”? In the old days when some Jews were forced to convert, they would prefer to kill themselves and their children. Christians were the same, with the belief that God is happier with them if they die holding on to their faith. For Muslims, can we consider the suicide bombers as “the sacrifice”? I believe that’s what they call themselves. Can we consider terrorism an act of faith?  Is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael a God of war? Why do people have to kill or be killed in the name of God?

Common things of three faiths

There are so many things that these three faiths share in common aside from having Abraham as their source or root, someone they go back to in time as the beginning of their faith. The revered place, Jerusalem for example, is a favorite destination of the people following these three faiths. Muslims believe that the Prophet himself ascended into heaven from the Dome of the Rock; Jewish people celebrate their pilgrimage festivals there such as Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot; and Christians believe that it is the place where Jesus lived, spread the Good News, died, resurrected and ascended to heaven which means that it is the Holy Ground. At the same time, hateful feelings, disputes and some violent actions also come from this same place. If everybody will just respect each other’s beliefs and traditions perhaps there will be peace and unity.

Belief in one God

Another common thing that these three faiths share is the belief in one God, the God of Abraham. Yet God has different names in different religions. Jewish call him Yahweh (YHWH) or Jehovah (JHVH). Christians, who share with the Jewish belief in the Old Testament, do the same thing. However, with the belief that the Messiah whom the Jews are waiting for have already come in the person of Jesus whom Christians believe as the son of God, they also believe that God manifests himself in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Muslims call their God, Allah. Along with their faith in God is their belief in Muhammad as God’s messenger. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last of all the messengers that includes Abraham, Jesus and the other prophets who came before him. For the Muslims, there is no other God but Allah. Those who do not believe in Allah will die. In one scene of this book, Feiler was talking to a Muslim leader. That leader said that “Abraham is the father of one religion, and that religion is Islam.” When Feiler asks what will happen to him, the leader answers that he will die. If interpreted in a shallow manner, this could really lead to disaster. Some Muslims believe that they have the right to kill those who will not convert to Islam. In some parts of the world, people can convert to Islam but cannot convert from Islam to other religion. If they do so, they will be killed. Don’t we believe in one God? Why can we not have the freedom to worship the God we believe in and not fear of becoming the “sacrifice” for the sake of our faith? 

Common traditions

Additional traditions that these three religions somewhat share other than Abraham include the daily prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Jewish people are expected to utter berakah prayers or acclamations of praise for a hundred times a day.  Muslims must pray five times a day, facing Makkah or Mecca where Angel Gabriel talked to Prophet Muhammad. A Muslim believer must kneel on a mat with forehead touching the ground – a posture that conveys adoration, submission and trust. Christians vary in prayer practices. Religious Catholics pray seven times a day while others generally practice the morning and evening praises with graces before meals and/or weekend services. Praying daily means that we all communicate to our God, we all know the value of prayers. If everybody will only pray for peace and let their actions follow their prayers, peace will surely dwell on earth. Each of these three monotheistic faiths practice almsgiving by sharing a portion of what they have to the church or to the poor. In some Christian sects, it is a definite 100% while others will depend on the person’s prerogative. Some would even give half of what they have to the poor. Others fulfill almsgiving by sharing their time and services to those in need such as those who are sick and nobody even talks or cares for them. Muslims are encouraged to give secretly while Jewish share whatever they have in the church and to those in need. Regarding fasting, each of these religions fast in their own different seasons. Christians fast during the Lenten Season which begins with Ash Wednesday. This fasting comes in many forms but its sole purpose is to recall the sufferings of Jesus and purify ourselves for his coming. Jewish strictly fasts on Yom Kippur, the major holy day in the fall, by not eating or drinking from sundown to sundown. They do it to cleanse themselves from sins or misdeeds or for reconciliation. Muslims fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. For the Muslim, the fast begins with a light meal before daybreak, then no water, food or drink until after sunset. Moreover, during that time there is to be no sexual intercourse, tobacco, backbiting or lying. Ramadan is for Muslims a long, hard month. Nevertheless, the fast helps them to obey God, be more sensitive to the sufferings of others, develop self-discipline and appreciate their unity with all other Muslims fasting at the same time in similar fashion. If we intently look at all these resemblances that these three religions share, we can tell that each one has the similar intentions – to get cleansed from sins, to care for others, to commune with the Highest Being that we revere. Isn’t that Abraham’s intention as well? Abraham, the Father of all Nations, who left his family and traveled to serve his God in a foreign land, wanted nothing but peace and a harmonious relationship with God and his people. As his children who believe in what he believes in, can we not do the same?

As I continue to explore these three faiths and the possibility of coming into solidarity with each other, I keep going back to the son’s sacrifice in Feiler’s book. It only shows that there was a family feud even before these religions started. It only means that we inherited such feud and allowed its flame to engulf us. Since the beginning of time, in Abraham’s history, Isaac and Ishmael already had misunderstandings, jealousy, ill-feelings with each other. In the Bible (Old Testament), Abraham sent Ishmael away because Sarah asked him to after seeing a lot of tensions between the two. The feud started there. Now, we as followers of these sons who did not get along with each other will find difficulty in finding unity as well. Even knowing our beginning will not reconcile us from this gap that had been created hundreds of centuries ago. Many things had happened, many stories had been changed, and many lives have been sacrificed. No matter how old and scholarly the person whom Feiler interviews during this time, the answer to our questions will remain hidden. The reconciliation is still vague. Sitting down and having peace talks may help for a short period but not in the long run. A little spark will ignite the fire and it will continue to be re-ignited. The one who feels to be the better or real one will always want to dominate.

The way to peace, I believe, is to start again

With open mind and hearts, we look at the things that ripped our good relationships and bind it again with love. We now know that our three faiths originated from Abraham, now what? We now know that Muslims, Jews and Christians do not share the same story as to what happened to Abraham’s sons, who was sacrificed, who was blessed, and so on. Does that really matter in the present time? Do we need to fight and kill others so that they perish and we remain, then our religion will stand strong?

At the end, I will leave this quote from Feiler to ponder: “The relationship between a person and another human being is what creates and allows for a relationship with God. If you’re not capable of living with each other and getting along with each other, then you’re not capable of having a relationship with God. So the question is not whether God can bring peace into the world. The question is, can we?”

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