Relations among Christians, Jews, and Muslims
Throughout historical contexts, Christians, Muslims, and Jews have constructed their religious beliefs, perceived the activities of others, and articulated relations between them in different ways. Most fundamentally, the relationships among the Jews, Muslims, and Christians have been primarily shaped by factors such as the beliefs, theologies, and the historical circumstances in which the three religions are found. Resultantly, history has emerged as a fundamental foundation that facilitates religious understanding. However, the different historical phases have contributed to the definition of who was considered a Christian, Jew, or a Muslim. They have further portrayed the shifts in the different meanings to the extent that some indicated a religious identification while others leaned more towards economic, political, and social groups. Therefore, the essence of this expository essay entails an examination of the relations among the three communities which came to identify themselves through their religious beliefs and have, over the years, become sensitive to differences. The achievement of this objective will involve the determination of standard features and the similarities with which the adherents have become more or less conscious. These will be coupled with the exploration of what individuals and groups imply in different situations when they consider themselves as Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Definition of Key Terms
Muslims- believers and followers of the Islam religion
Jews- members of the cultural community whose traditional religion is Judaism
Christians- individuals who prescribe or profess Christianity and its teachings
Interreligious relations- the interaction between different religions
Monotheism- the belief or doctrine in the existence of one God who created the world
Sira- The historical autobiography of Prophet Muhammad
Dhimmi- Jews living in territories governed by the Arabs
Hellenistic period- covers the Mediterranean history marked by the demise of Alexander the Great and the emergence of the Roman Empire (323 BCE).
Christocentric- beliefs centered in Christ
The Examination of the Relations among the three communities
As mentioned earlier, the relations among Christians, Jews, and Muslims have, over time, been shaped and primarily influenced by factors such as the religious ideologies, beliefs, and the historical circumstances in which they emerged. However, the various personal and group identities embedded in the three religious communities have been partly concealed by religious leadership associated with the survival of their followers. On the other hand, they have been governed by the use of general concepts related to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism with which believers are called to identify (Newby). Consequently, the emphasis on such concepts has led to the limitation of individuals into separate religious categories that could be used to support ethnic, political, social, and other rivalries. Moreover, this categorization has confronted more spiritually-oriented people facing issues related to social identity, spiritual authenticity, and religious belonging.
Most fundamentally, although the different historical phases have facilitated the definition of who was considered a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim, there was a tendency to place cultural heritage, linguistic behavior, and religious identity among individuals and groups. This tendency has significantly increased the vulnerability of modern society to a conflation based on the ideology of nationalism (Newby). On the one hand, ethnic identities have conflated with religious characters which have adversely complicated the analysis of the relations between communities and groups. For instance, Muslims have, for many years, been equated with Arabs thereby obliterating the existence of Christian and Jewish Arabs or members of these religions whose language is Arabic and who partake in the Arabic culture. Moreover, ethnic identities have further contributed to the disregard of non-Arab Muslims who constitute the majority of Muslims across the world (Haselby). Similarly, the close ties between Arabs and Israelis have been regarded as the relations between Muslims and Jews based on ascription aspects of the Arab culture to the Islam religion as well as between the Israeli culture and Judaism.
Most fundamentally, other tools that facilitate the analysis of the Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations include the placement of behaviors and ideas in specific geographical and temporal contexts. Historical and traditional visions have strongly influenced each of the religions, particularly Islam. According to Waardenburg (15), Muslims are required to know about the activities carried out by Prophet Muhammad in his relations with Jews and Christians as a way of shaping their behavior toward them. The acquisition of such knowledge necessitates adherence to the teachings of the Qur’an and the sira, a traditional biography of the Prophet, in dealing with Christians and Jews. Similarly, this historical consciousness is prevalent among Christian and Jewish religions, as each religious group cites its position and status in Islamic societies (Waardenburg 15). Consequently, these interactions have thus affected, shaped, and transformed the different constituencies in different ways that make it difficult to perceive the existence of each religion without the presence of the others.
The Rise in History of the three Communities
The determination of the relations among the Christian, Jews, and Muslims necessitates the examination of how the three communities perceived and judged the arrival of a new religious community that also claimed to have received a divine revelation. It further involves the assessment of how a new community perceived the existence of previous religious communities that had divine dominance. On the one hand, the Jewish religion existed in the rabbinical form, a temple cult, and the spread of monotheism across the Roman Empire in the Hellenistic period (Newby). The spread of the monotheistic religion across the leading centers in the Hellenistic world contributed to the attraction of attention, and shortly after, Christianity emerged as a movement that focused on preaching about the resurrection of Jesus. The emergence and widespread of Christianity occurred among the communal life of the Jewish Christians based living in Jerusalem and other neighboring regions. Their religion was based on the belief that Christ, the Messiah, had arrived. Nevertheless, the Jews refuted and dismissed these claims citing the fact that they had not experienced any significant changes or seen anything favorable to them (Waardenburg 16). The dismissal of the Christian teachings by the Jews resulted in their consideration as a sect, and the former was thus persecuted based on the perception that the era for a Messiah had not arrived.
After approximately five centuries since the onset of Christianity, the Islamic religion appeared with claims regarding the emergence of a new and final prophet in Arabia. Similarly, the Jews dismissed this claim by arguing that the prophetic age had passed and thus, they distanced themselves from the recognition of Muhammad. Moreover, their reasons for the dismissal of Muhammad entailed political implications following fights that broke out between the Muslim community living in Medina and those in Mecca (Gilman 54). The battles were based on the estrangement between the Jews and Muslims living in Medina which culminated in the eviction and killing of the former. Nevertheless, the propagators of Islam religion drew a treaty with the Jews of Khaibar and were from then henceforth treated as dhimmis, similar to the Jews in other territories conquered by the Arabs.
Standard Features and Parallels of which adherents may have been more or less conscious
According to the events highlighted herein, it is evident that the Jews remained indifferent to the emergence of the other two religions and their beliefs. However, they were not unresponsive to the rise of Christian communities in the Roman Empire as they later competed with the Jews for positions in society, significantly increased their anti-Jewish discourse, and initiated persecutions of those who failed to convert. These events portray the standard features and parallels, of which the adherents of the three religious communities had been more conscious (Waardenburg 16). For instance, in response to the emergence of the different cities, the Muslims treated the Jews less harshly as compared to Christians.
On the one hand, from a Jewish point of view, Christianity and Islam were products of Judaism, which were considered as illegitimate children by the rabbis. The Jews denied the claims of churches by considering their spiritualization of religion as an escape from the realities life. Additionally, they rejected the Islamic claims despite their appreciation of monotheistic message and the rejection of the human inclination to idolatry.
On the other hand, Christianity is perceived to have emanated from the Jewish religion, and the adherents had remained a Jewish sect. The spread of Christianity extended to the goyim (non-Jews) who were pagan converts and the descendants of the Jewish community. It further dominated in the four patriarchal sees of Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Jerusalem. However, the attitudes of the Christians towards the Jews and Judaism in general varied and developed negatively. Most of the Christians were displeased by the fact that only a small portion of the Jews had converted to Christianity (Waardenburg 18). They thus insisted that all the Jews should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah; however, those who turned faced intense persecution under the Jewish authorities, especially for those living in Jerusalem. This led to the departure and dispersal of the Jewish Christians as well as the rise of rivalries between the Christians and Jews. The rivalries were based on the fact that the Christians in the Roman Empire were persecuted, thereby intensifying the irritations (Haselby). Resultantly, the dominance of Christianity throughout the state region contributed to the development of anti-Judaism and the increase in social and religious discrimination against the Jews.
The other standard features and parallels of which the adherents may have been more or less conscious include the variation in the attitudes towards Muslims. On the one hand, Christians across the region were increasingly concerned about the Arab conquests of territories that led to the establishment of churches. However, this was not always the case as the Christian communities had, at some point, welcomed the Arabs in the sense of liberators from the pressures of Greek political and ecclesiastical domination (Newby). Nonetheless, their attitude towards them varied when they became a burden. For instance, Christians failed to recognize Muhammad as a prophet as they had already revealed Jesus and the Messiah. Similarly, Christians living outside the Caliphate attributed Arabs and Muslims in general with aggression and thus mobilized the defenses against them (Waardenburg 19). At the same time, the Christians living within Caliphate started losing their traditional privileged positions while a small portion of them gradually converted to Islam.
The consciousness among individuals and groups with regards to their adherence to the three religious communities is evidenced in their affiliation to teachings, especially in particular situations. For instance, Christianity considered itself as a religion of salvation through proclaiming a specific message of a savior, Jesus Christ, across the world. Therefore, Christians, in general, have thus judged and measured other orientations, ideologies, religions, and worldviews per the particular message of salvation (Waardenburg 19). However, the inclination to such beliefs has been rendered “Christocentric” by other religions such as Islam and Judaism as it tends to prescribe to self-interpretation of the actual turn of events that are unacceptable in other communities. On the other hand, the Islamic religion and its adherents prescribe to the belief that Muhammad, the last Prophet, was sent to the Arabs to establish social order that needed to be extended to the conquered and converted territories (Newby). The Muslims thus advocated for the spread of Islam based on the conviction that the preexisting religions were incomplete as compared to the strict monotheism it propagated.
The Significance of the analysis of the Medieval in the understanding of Modern problems such as Racism and White Supremacy
The affiliation and adherence among people to the three religions reflect the strategies used by individuals and groups in the modern society to discriminate against those who do not have a similar physical appearance or those who hail from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Similar to the individuals and groups which failed to convert to a particular religion, people in the modern society who have a different skin tone and color are discriminated against by the dominant communities (Gilman 61). For instance, the Jews who failed to convert to Christianity or Islam were driven out of the city and persecuted until they surrendered. However, despite their surrender, they were still regarded as inferior and considered outcasts who faced constant torture and were associated with all manner of crimes.
Similarly, immigrants in nations such as the United States are considered inferior to the Native Americans, and failure to conform to the ways of the latter leads to discrimination by race, ethnicity, social, economic, and political biases. On the other hand, white supremacy has spread across the region to the extent that Native Americans are privileged to enjoy top positions, amass most wealth, and get first-class treatment in all spheres of life (Haselby). Conversely, the minority communities are segregated in low-income communities that have poor conditions and standard services.
The Analysis of a Medieval Text (Medievalism and Orientalism)
According to the Góngora Diaz, the title of her literary text, The past is a foreign country, reflects the various aspects regarding the appropriation of a time referred to as the “Middle Ages” in Europe (Góngora Diaz 223). It further delves into the consideration of the different reasons most people share common elements such as the pursuit of a path to their past and originality. Most fundamentally, the emphasis on the middle Ages throughout the text is based on the fact that it was a period believed to bring spiritual healing by practicing the activities carried out by other people during the time. Moreover, as people sought after their past and origin, they were looking for their identity (Góngora Diaz 225). For instance, the author mentions that the relationship between people in modern society and their medieval past entails a long process characterized by dynamic superposition of conflicting and contradictory interpretations as well as appropriations of nationalism. Similar to the facts highlighted herein, the various personal and group identities in the three religious communities have been partly covered by religious leaderships concerned with the survival of the flocks. These have been coupled with the use of genera concepts of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism with which believers have been called to identify.
The recreation of the medieval past brings about an image of life that was free, cheerful, and instinctive regardless of the ecclesiastical influence by the dominating powers. For instance, Góngora Diaz points out that the medieval past, based on an orientalism point of view, seemed to be free of certain conflictive issues that include gender, race, modernity, and nationalism. There was a tendency to place cultural heritage, linguistic behavior, and religious identity on the idea of nationalism (Góngora Diaz 226). For instance, as stipulated by the author, the Middle Ages brought on the notion that the world belonged to all people hence leading to a period of political unification based on the absence of the sense of history. This notion significantly contributed to the creation of a sense of tolerance based on the romanticism concept.
On the one hand, political leaders such as Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen (1194-1250), the King of Sicily, Cyprus, and Jerusalem, worked closely with people from different ethnicities and religious backgrounds to conquer other territories. In fact, his guards comprised of Muslim men and he considered Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as prophets on the same level. Moreover, in his pursuit of a cultural heritage, King Frederick organized a military expedition to take back Jerusalem regardless of his excommunication by Pope Gregory IX (Góngora Diaz 229). The success of his mission necessitated meeting with the Egyptian Sultan al-Kamil and the establishment of a truce that contributed to the construction of the Norman Kingdom in Sicily (Góngora Diaz 230). These events portrayed the creation of a culture of tolerance as the individuals from different religious backgrounds worked hand-in-hand towards the development of a historical period of spiritual healing.
The relations among the Christians, Muslims, and Jews have portrayed significant shifts through the indication of a tendency to define individuals based on religious identification or the inclination towards economic, political, and social groups. These shifts are evidenced through the identification of instances where the three religions interacted based on their strengths in certain areas and the belief in the ideologies of the other. It is evident that the three communities emerged and thrived through a historical period characterized by the strife for dominance. Therefore, the inclination and adherence to the teachings of each religion were based on their ability to appeal and confront spiritually-oriented people with problems of social identity, religious authenticity, and belonging.
Gilman, Sander L. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Collaboration and Conflict in the Age of Diaspora. Hong Kong UP, 2014.
Góngora Diaz, Maria E. “Medievalism and Orientalism: “The Past is a Foreign Country”.” Chilean Magazine of Literature, vol. 92, 2016, pp. 223-232.
Haselby, Sam. “Christian Zionism: the Interfaith Movement Hiding in Plain Sight? Dan Hummel Essays.” Aeon, 26 Sept. 2018, aeon.co/essays/christian-zionism-the-interfaith-movement-hiding-in-plain-sight. Accessed 15 May 2019.
Newby, Gordon. “Muslim, Jews and Christians – Relations and Interactions.” The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2018, iis.ac.uk/academic-article/muslim-jews-and-christians-relations-and-interactions. Accessed 15 May 2019.
Waardenburg, Jacques. “Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Their Religions.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 15, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 13-33, University of Lausanne, Switzerland. www3.nd.edu/~reynolds/nehc20624/Waardenburg-%20Jews,%20Christians%20and%20Muslims.pdf. Accessed 2019.
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