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Comparing Judaism and Islam

Two major religions in the world captured the imagination of many. It is Judaism and Islam, both springing up from the same region – Palestine. In the Middle East, followers of Judaism and Islam often find themselves in conflict. This is not simply a verbal tussle between two preachers but the kind that resulted in violence and death. This is unfortunate because upon closer examination of their origins and belief systems one can find so much common ground. They have so much in common but at the same time, their followers are bound by traditions and interpretations that can make peace almost impossible in this corner of the globe. Their hatred for each other has spilled beyond the borders of the Middle East and yet these two great faiths can co-exist even in Palestine. This study will explain why mutual respect is possible, and at the same time why conflict is inevitable.

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Origins and Contemporary Expressions

Judaism came before Islam. According to Biblical accounts the founding father of Judaism was Abraham. He was chosen by God to establish a nation that will worship Yahweh. What makes this religion distinct from the other religions is that it is a system of beliefs centered on the idea of monotheism. Other religions in the East have different gods for every aspect of living. There is the god of the sea, the god of the sky, and the god of the mountains. Judaism tells of one Almighty God creator of heavens and the earth. He is the sustainer of life on planet earth. Yahweh is his name and he made his presence known by making a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. According to the Jewish sacred scriptures this covenant made the Hebrews God’s chosen people.

While Abraham was the one who made the covenant with God, it was Moses a descendant of Abraham who established the nation of Israel. Moses delivered Israel from bondage from Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land. While on their way to the Promised Land Yahweh appeared to Moses and gave him the commandments that Israel should follow all the days of their lives. These commandments were later known as the Torah, and this was the basis for the creation of a unique and distinct nation called Israel. The Torah taught them how to live, how to worship, what to eat, who to marry and how to interact with foreigners – in other words those who are not part of God’s chosen people.

It was the grandson of Abraham, Jacob who fathered twelve sons and that these children went on to establish a nation called Israel. It must be pointed out that monotheism is not a popular idea in ancient times. During that time it would have been prudent to worship multiple deities (Forta, 18). The children of Jacob, who will become known as the children of Israel, became a mighty nation under the leadership of Moses. There in the wilderness, between their former life and their future goal Canaan, Moses gave them the Torah

But even before Moses came into the picture and even before Abraham was born, there was one important person who is a major forerunner to Judaism. He is Noah, the famous builder of the ark. Noah was not just the builder of the ark that ensured the survival of mankind, he also received the basic universal laws that must be obeyed by all peoples (Forta, 20). These laws can be found in Genesis chapter 9 of the Bible. The Noachide laws forbid the first six on the list and while upholding the seventh law as seen below:

  1. Idolatry;
  2. Blasphemy;
  3. Murder;
  4. Theft;
  5. Sexual malpractice – adultery, incest, homosexuality, and sexual relations with animals;
  6. Cruelty to animals; and
  7. Promoting Justice.

The Noachide laws are oftentimes the basis to convert non-Jews into Judaism (Schoon, 112). Although it must be said that it is not common to find Jews actively proselytizing non-Jews (Schoon, 112). And yet for many Jews, adherence to these basic beliefs is the path towards God or salvation. The Jews did not believe in everlasting punishment and that hell is a temporary place to cleanse the soul from impurities (Forta, p. 24). Thus, being a Jew is the assurance that one has an everlasting relationship to the one true God.

Islam on the other hand was established more than a thousand years after Abraham. The founder of Islam called himself the last prophet. Mohammed is his name. But before going any further it is interesting to examine what he meant by stating that he is the last prophet. This simply means that he is using some sort of reference point. Religious scholars were able to determine that Mohammed was in fact aligning himself to the great prophets of the Jewish and Christian traditions. This means that Mohammed is directly linked to the Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ. This also means that since he is the last prophet then he has the ultimate message one that is very important for the world to hear.

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Mohammed claimed to have been in communion with a spiritual being that gave him the words that can now be seen in the Koran or Q’uran the sacred scripture of Islam. It is therefore important to note that Mohammed is illiterate. Since he is unable to read and write then the only way for him to document the supposedly spiritual transactions he had with a heavenly being is to dictate it to scribes. This is perhaps the reason why the Koran is difficult to read. Compared to the Jewish and Christian Bible, the Koran seemed to lack unity and the ideas are disorganized making it a challenge to figure out what is the central theme of the whole body of sacred writings.

Distinct Characteristics

The two distinct characteristics of these two great religions can be seen in their sacred writings and the way they see the outside world or the unbelievers. As mentioned earlier, Judaism holds on to the Torah as their source of knowledge regarding God. Everything revolves around the Torah. This body of sacred writings is also popularly known as the Jewish Bible. The Torah is not only a tool to understand the ways of Yahweh but it is also the source of knowledge regarding how to live life. For instance this is where the Jewish find guidelines regarding dietary laws and even how to conduct day-to-day activities as well as how to go on with various religious ceremonies.

Another important feature of the Jewish Bible is that it utilizes different forms of literature in order to tell of God’s commands and his desires for his people. It uses narratives, poetry, songs, oracles, words of wisdom such as those found in the Book of Proverbs and prophecies. It is in the narratives that one can find the story about Abraham, the other great patriarchs as well as the popular kings of Jewish history such as King David and his son Solomon. Aside from the stories it is the commandments of God that the Jews really pay careful attention to. One can say that they are very passionate about their faith and this is shown by how they tried to carefully observe the laws such as strictly observing the Sabbath.

The Muslims on the other hand have the Koran for their spiritual guidance. Unlike the Bible where there are numerous authors, different sources of information, and written in different time periods, the Koran has only one source the Prophet Mohammed. Mohammed does not know how to read or write. Therefore it is safe to assume that he dictated it to others. This can help explain why there is no unity in the Koran at the same level that one can find in the Jewish Bible.

The second major characteristic that can be seen in the two religions concerns the way they look at outsiders especially those who are “unbelievers”, those who are not yet members of their faith. For Jews they are the chosen people. For Muslims the rest of the outside world who do not embrace Islam are considered enemies of their faith.

For the Muslims the unbelievers are called “infidels” and no matter how they try to make a politically correct statement they cannot deny the fact that even the Prophet Mohammed had nothing but contempt for those who will not submit to the will of Allah. This can be seen in the Koran and therefore the Muslims are without any excuse.

The Prophet Mohammed’s contempt for unbelievers especially those he perceives to be doing immorality reaches a point wherein even the Koran provides the blanket authority to destroy them. Muslim scholars may have a different interpretation of what these Sura verses meant but it is clear that some of the followers of Islam had already interpreted it in a literal way. Their interpretation of Mohammed’s directive to punish infidels can be seen in Jihad (Natan, par. 1). or the Muslim’s concept of what a holy war should be.

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The most significant event that illustrates this literal interpretation of controversial Sura verses can be seen in the infamous September 11 terrorist attacks on New York. It was discovered later that the terrorists aboard the planes were members of a radical group that followed Prophet Mohammed’s command to punish the infidels. Since that time and every time a Muslim extremist would blow himself or herself up in the name of Allah, outsiders could not help themselves but judge them harshly (World Peace Herald, par. 1). On the other hand there were many Muslims and Muslim sympathizers who asserted that this is not the correct interpretation and that Islam is all about peace. Critics counter that actions speak louder than words. Still, Muslims and non-Muslims alike will have to agree that the Prophet Mohammed wanted every “infidel” to be under the authority of Islam.


It is understandable that Muslims, especially those who are living in the West would not agree to the idea that Islam longs to annihilate the “unbelievers” if they will not bow down to Allah. These people are educated and have grown prosperous by becoming model citizens. They have learned how to behave in accordance with the rules and social norms of their own country. It is not in their best interest to be perceived as members of a violent religion. Therefore, it is unacceptable for them to be linked to terror groups. It is not good for their social standing and also bad for their business. It would be disastrous for them to be known as members of a religion that deviates from most religious norms which are to live a life of peace with fellowmen.

Many in America and in Britain, Germany, France, and other highly industrialized countries accept the above-mentioned explanation without probing deeper into the intricacies of Islam. It is also easy to see Muslims who are not into violence. not teach violence.

The undeniable events of September 11 were explained as an aberration. In defense of Islam many are saying that extremists were forced to kill because of the following factors:

  • poverty
  • ignorance
  • exposure to democracy (see, par. 1).

This simply means that poor Muslims and those who had no access to education were driven to acts of violence due to their desperate circumstances. This is not a very convincing argument because there are many areas in the world like Afghanistan and Pakistan but their people do not travel abroad and kill people in foreign countries. For instance it is difficult to imagine impoverished Africans suddenly develop a complex plan on how to destroy the United States of America. There is a root cause for this kind of hatred.

The attacks in the US and of the United Kingdom made well known a group of terrorists who are knowledgeable about sophisticated methods of warfare. They also seem to be well connected in order to have the ability to travel to advanced countries and at the same time purchase materials and services in order for them to carry their terror agenda. There should be no doubters by now when it comes to the hatred of some Muslims to the unbelievers. Furthermore, there are still others out there that still believe that poverty and ignorance is the driving force of Islamic extremists; they have to fully evaluate their position.

Those who still stubbornly cling to the illogical idea that poverty is the root cause of Jihad will only have to look at the people who orchestrated the September 11 attacks. These are men who came from the Middle East who happened to have enough resources to come to America and study in reputable institutions. They even have enough money to pay for flight lessons. So does this mean that they are poor people who suddenly gone berserk because of extreme hunger? Osama bin Laden is a billionaire. Bin Laden had the money to study in some of the finest educational institutions on this planet and yet he chooses to kill innocent people in the name of Islam. If Osama bin Laden has a great deal of money to allow him to purchase expensive houses and condominiums then why he is more at home in the mountains? What is the belief system that made him live like a nomad? Surely there is something in the Koran that made him behave that way.

Judaism on the other hand is stubborn in the belief that they are the chosen people and apart from observing their complicated set of laws there is no other way to God. In Judaism, unbelievers must first carefully observe the law that was first given to Noah and then to Moses for someone to be converted into their religion. This is in direct opposition to what the Muslims believe because for them there is only one prophet and his name is Mohammed. The only problem is that the Jews do not recognize Mohammed.

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There is much common ground that will enable Muslims and Jews to co-exist peacefully. First of all the Muslims believe in the prophets that can be found in the Jewish Bible. The two religions are also founded on the central tenet that there is only one God. The only problem is that the Jews believe that they are God’s chosen people and the rest are just second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. On the other hand the Muslims believe that they have the last prophet in Mohammed and that the whole world must obey him. There are even some members of Islam who are extremists and are willing to kill those who disagree with their beliefs.

Works Cited

Forta, Arye. Judaism. UK: Heinemann Educational, 1995.

Schoon, Simon. “Noachides and Converts to Judaism.” Cultures of Conversions. Ed.

Jan Bremmer. Walpole, MA: Peeters Publishers, 2006.

Natan, Yoel. 164 Jihad Verses in the Koran Islamic Extremists.

World Peace Herald. The West Does not Understand Islam.

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