Three of the world's major religions were all born in the Middle East. Because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all recognize Abraham as their first prophet, they are called the Abrahamic religions.
Judaism arose in the eastern Mediterranean (in the area of modern-day Israel) in the second millennium B.C.E. According to the Bible, Abraham was the first Jew, and he made a covenant with God.
In 73 C.E. the Roman Empire dispersed the Jews from historic Palestine. Most Jews then lived throughout the world as minorities, until the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Today, most Jews live in the United States and in Israel.
Jews believe in one god and his prophets, especially Moses. Jews do not believe in the prophets after the Jewish prophets, including Jesus and Muhammad.
Judaism emphasizes actions more than beliefs. The observance of rules regulating human behavior is more important than beliefs in the Jewish tradition. Jewish law is written in the Torah and the Talmud commentaries, covering rituals, diet, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Major holidays include Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Passover, with its seder meal (freedom feast).
Christianity started in the first century C.E. in the area of modern-day Israel. Early Christian communities were often persecuted. When the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 324 C.E., Christianity spread across the Roman Empire, which became the Holy Roman Empire. For centuries Christian missionaries have worked all over the world. There are large populations of Christians on every continent, although the forms of Christianity vary.
Christianity’s holy scriptures are the Old Testament (the Jewish Torah with additions), and the New Testament (written by the followers of Jesus).
Christians believe that God is revealed through the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is considered the son of God, born to the Virgin Mary and come to Earth to offer redemption for people's sins. After Jesus was executed by the Romans, Christians believe he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven (celebrated at Easter). The birth of Jesus is celebrated at Christmas.
Christians believe in an afterlife where those who have lived a good life will reside in heaven with God, and those who have lived a life of sin will be punished in hell.
Christians believe that the ritualistic Jewish law was replaced by a universal gospel for all humanity and the Christian teaching, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
Islam arose in the early seventh century C.E. in Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Over the centuries, Islam spread from the Middle East into North Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Muslims believe that Allah (Arabic for God) sent His revelation, the Quran, to the prophet Muhammad to declare it to mankind. The Quran tells Muslims to worship one god, and it explains how they should treat others properly.
Observant Muslims practice five principles: orally declaring their faith; praying five times a day; daily fasting during Ramadan; giving charity; and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Many Muslims also observe dietary rules that forbid certain foods (like pork) and outlaw alcohol.
Major Muslim festivals include Id al-Fitr (the Fast-Breaking Festival), celebrated at the end of Ramadan, and Id al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice), the commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ishmail.
Muslims believe in a Day of Judgment, when righteous souls will go to heaven and wrongdoers will go to hell. Muslims see Islam as the final, complete, and correct revelation in the monotheistic tradition of the three faiths.
Source: Three Religions, One God
© 2002 WGBH Educational Foundation