There are eleven major religions that are practiced in the world today. Each of them includes various groups that may practice their religion in different ways, but all have certain basic beliefs traditions, and philosophies. Most reject the idea of many gods and accept monotheism and say that all the world's powers are expressions of a single Supreme Being. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism believe that God is all-good and all-powerful, and rules the world with a conscious purpose. They think of Him as pure spirit with no body at all.
The oldest religion of the Western world to emphasize a monotheistic belief was Judaism. It is founded on the laws and teachings of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, and of the Talmud. It is believed that Abraham was the first Jew and that Judaism took definite form under the leadership of Moses in the 1200's BC. Christianity and Islam are both derived from Judaism, even though they differ in many basic beliefs and practices. Both religions accept the Jewish belief in one God and the ethical teachings of the Hebrew Bible.
Christianity is the most widespread religion in the world. It has about a billion followers, most of whom live in Europe and North and south America. Christian beliefs are based on the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament and took form with the teachings of Jesus. Christian doctrines teach God's love for men and stress the importance of brotherly love.
Islam is the faith taught by Muhammad in the AD 600's. Muhammad was an Arab who was born in Mecca about 570. He believed he had been sent to warn and guide his people and to call them to worship God (Allah). Muhammad preached that there is only one God and that he, Muhammad was God's messenger. Those who believe in the one God and accept Muhammad as His messenger are called Moslems. History books indicate that one night in the year 610, the first of many revelations came to Muhammad from God by way of the angel Gabriel (In Christianity this is the same Angel which brings the news of Jesus' birth). The message Muhammad received told him that there was but one God (Identical to the inception of the Ten Commandments), not many gods, as most Arabs believed. This God was creator of the world (In Christianity, it's documented in Genesis Chapter 1 verse 1, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth), and He would one day judge mankind (This is also true in Christianity: "The Lord will judge his people." Hebrews 10:30). Both of these religions share almost the same framework, but they also differ in many ways.
The word Islam means "surrender" or "submission," submission to the will of Allah, the one God. Muslims are those who have submitted themselves. The basic creed of Islam is brief: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah. Islam teaches that there is one God, the creator and sustainer of the universe. This God, Allah, is compassionate and just. Because He is compassionate, He calls all people to believe in Him and worship Him. Because He is also just, on the Last Day He will judge every person according to his deeds. On the Last Day, all the dead will be resurrected and either rewarded with heaven or punished with hell. In Christianity one of the Ten Commandments states that "I am the Lord you God.....you shall have no other gods before me", also identical to Islam God is considered the creator of the universe, and he is also just. On the last day, or judgment day, the same holds true as in Islam in the Christian beliefs, the dead will be resurrected and either rewarded with heaven or punished with hell.
Mankind is regarded as the crown of creation, entrusted by God with management of the whole created order. In Judaism and Christianity this was Adam, who had dominion over all the animals and beasts of the earth. Islam sees humanity as weak and prone to disbelief in God and to disobedience to His will. Humanity's weakness is pride. In the Judaic- Christian religion it was pride that caused the downfall of man, Eve thought that God had no right to tell them what they could and could not eat. In Islam, God sent prophets to communicate His will. These prophets, all mortal men, were elected messengers to whom God spoke through an angel or by inspiration. An example of that was when God spoke to Moses and directed him to free his people out of Pharaohs hands. In Islam, they also believe in forgiveness, another basic Judaic-Christian principle. Islam teaches that God is always ready to pardon the individual and restore him to the sinless state in which he started life. In Christianity this is called being "born again".
The life of each Muslim is always within the community of the faithful: All are declared to be "brothers to each other," with the mission to "enjoin good and forbid evil." Within the community, Muslims are expected to establish social and economic justice. They are also expected to carry their message out to the rest of the world. In the early Islamic community, this meant the use of force in the form of jihad, or holy war. This also happened in the Christian faith, it was known as "Crusades", where missionaries would go out and spread the word of God. The intent was not to force conversion on anyone; this was forbidden by the Koran and the Bible. The object of jihad and the crusades was to gain political control over societies and run them in accordance with the principles of Islam and Christianity. Both took separate paths to accomplish their prospective goals, thus explaining the Islam influence in the Middle East and North Africa, and the Christian influence in Europe and North America.
During the decades following the death of Muhammad certain essential principles were singled out from his teachings to serve as anchoring points for the Islamic community. These have come to be called the "five pillars of Islam." Some early, and more fanatical, believers added jihad as a sixth pillar, but it was never accepted by the whole community. Similar to the five pillars, the Ten Commandments are regarded as law in the Judaic- Christian faith.
The revelations that Muhammad received were collected into a new book, the Koran, directing his followers what to believe and how to live (In the same manner, the Bible is a collection of writings from prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Elijah, etc., identical to the Muslim prophets.) Many Muslims believed that everything Muhammad said and did was inspired by Allah, many reports of his sayings and deeds were collected. At first these were just remembered and spread by word of mouth. Later they were captured in writing, to serve as an additional guide for believers, along with the Koran.
The Koran relies heavily on Judaic- Christian traditions. It was Muhammad's contention that Christianity had departed from belief in God's message as revealed in their Scriptures. God had sent many prophets, among them Abraham, who is considered the founder of the faith for Islam, as he is also for Judaism and Christianity. The Koran, using sources in the older Scriptures and later traditions, relates the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Aaron, David, Solomon, Jesus, and others, all of whom are declared to have been true prophets whose messages were largely ignored: "We sent forth Noah and Abraham, and bestowed on their offspring prophethood and the Scriptures. . . . After them we sent other apostles, and after those, Jesus the son of Mary." The lack of success these prophets had was reflected in Muhammad's own experience, as he preached the oneness of God to the Arabs in Mecca. The implication was that he was the last in the series of prophets, the last reveler of divine truth.
After Muhammad's death in AD 632, it was feared that the content of the revelations might be lost, as those who had originally memorized it died. It was therefore decided to collect all the revelations, from whatever source, and make a compilation. Even at this early date, variations in the Koranic revelations were becoming common in different parts of the new Islamic empire. So that there would be a definitive version, the Caliph `Uthman (the caliphs were successors of Muhammad) commissioned one of the Prophet's followers, Zayd ibn Thabit, and others to sort through and pull together all the material and compare it with the remembrances of those who had learned it by heart. In this manner, an authorized version was created. The arrangement of putting the longer chapters first and the shorter ones last violates the chronological order of the revelations as they came to Muhammad. But a fairly accurate chronology can be worked out on the basis of knowledge about Muhammad's life: He began his work in Mecca, spent a long period in Medina, and returned again to Mecca. In addition, the chapters indicate in which place the many revelations came to him. The main emphasis of the book is on the oneness of Allah, in contrast to the multiplicity of gods worshipped by the Arabs. These gods are denounced as powerless idols who will be unable to help unbelievers on the day of judgment. Other doctrines, common to Israel's later history and early Christianity, were incorporated into the Koran, as well. There is a strong assertion of belief in the resurrection from the dead, in angels and devils, and in heaven and hell. All of humanity is regarded as subject to the will and power of Allah. It is He who has created and will one day judge mankind. The faithful are called upon to believe in Allah and to listen to His Prophet.
Islam recognizes two forms of prayer. One is the personal, devotional, and spontaneous type, not bound by any rituals or formulas. The other is ritual, often congregational, prayer, with specific words and postures, to be offered five times a day: at sunrise, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and before going to bed. Similar to Christianity, which requires you to prayer individually, but also collectively. ("Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves.......) In Islam, before you prayer, ablutions are performed by washing the hands, feet, and face. A person called the muezzin calls for prayer and chants from a raised platform or minaret tower at the mosque (the house of communal worship). earlier Christianity, in order to prayer to God sacrifices had to be made i.e.: lamb, goat, etc. Congregational prayer is started with the imam, the prayer leader, standing at the front of the mosque facing Mecca, the holy city of Islam being the death place of Muhammad). The congregation is lined up in rows behind him. (There are no seats in a mosque.) Each prayer consists of several units, during which the individual is either standing, kneeling, or prostrate. At every change in posture, "God is great" is recited. The chief day of communal worship is Friday. Believers gather at the mosque to pray, listen to portions of the Koran, and hear a sermon based on the text. The sermon may have moral, social, or political content. Islam has no ordained clergy such a Christian churches, but there are men specially trained in religion, tradition, and law
The hajj, "pilgrimage," is an annual Muslim rite that every believer is expected to take part in at least once in his lifetime. From the seventh to the tenth day in Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, thousands of Muslims converge on the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to visit the holy shrine of the Kaaba in the Great Mosque. Tradition has it that the shrine was built by Abraham. The pilgrimage is intended to reenact the hegira, the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622. Most travelers will visit both cities, in addition to performing a number of other ritual observances. The pilgrimage culminates with the feast of sacrifice, one of the two major festivals that are celebrated during the Islamic year. Christianity does not require such a pilgrimage, but most Christians indirectly have the need to visit Jerusalem, the birth place of Jesus. most Christians consider it an honor to visit it.
In the second chapter of the Koran is the statement "Fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you." Because the Koran was first revealed to Muhammad in the month of Ramadan, the whole month was set aside as a period of fasting. During each day, from first light to darkness, all eating, drinking, and smoking are forbidden. Those who are ill or on a journey may postpone the fast until a "similar number of days later on," according to the Koran. The second major festival of the Islamic year begins at the termination of the fast and lasts several days. In Christianity, this could be compared to the Lenten period, where Jesus was sent to the desert for 40 days and nights, where he was tempted by Satan. Christians usually give up something of importance during that period. Although some do go on fasts, it is generally not as long. The end of the 40 day fast is known as Ash Wednesday, which begins the most holiest point in the Christian calendar (Good Friday, and Easter).
Another similar attribute all religions share, is the giving of money. In Islam, the zakat is an obligatory tax, a contribution made by Muslims to the state or to the community. In the modern period, the zakat has become a voluntary charitable contribution. In Christianity this is known as tithe. Believers are expected to contribute 10% of their salary to God ("Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that here may be food in my house")
As you can see Islam, Judaism and Christianity are indeed woven from identical fabrics. In a sense, it was geography that separated these prodigal brothers. In recent years people have come to view Islam as an "evil" religion, mainly because of the fanatics, but they must also look at the Christian and Jewish fanatics who kill, and bomb in the name of God.