Judaism, Christianity and Islam are three monotheistic religions with many differences as well as similarities. In this unit the focus will be more on the similarities between the three religions with an emphasis on Islam. Many people don't know how close Islam is to Judaism and Christianity, starting from the greeting form, "shalom" in Hebrew and "Salam" in Arabic, both meaning "peace be upon you" in English. Islam looks at Judaism and Christianity as a single tradition. It is considered a completion of the same message sent by God to the humanity through Judaism and Christianity. The three religions believe that there is only one God, "Allah" in Arabic language and that God is the source of all that exists. They all have a holy book: Judaism has the Torah, received by Moses, Christianity has the New Testament, received by the apostles of Jesus, and Islam has the Quran which was received by Mohammad. Each of these religions has a holy place for worship: synagogue for Jews, church for Christians, and mosque for Muslims. Jews, Muslims and most Christians pray daily, and they each have a weekly day for public prayer: Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians. They all are required to share with others by giving alms to the poor and the homeless. People of these three religions practice fasting at different times and for varying lengths of time. In the early centuries, Wednesdays and Fridays were the days of fasting for Christians who followed the example of Jesus, who is believed to have fasted for 40 days and nights. The Jews fast on their holy day, Yom Kippur, from sundown to sundown and Muslims fast in the holy month of Ramadan from sunrise to sundown. The Quran refers to the Jews and the Christians as the people of the book and recognizes all the Old Testament prophets including Noah, Moses, Joseph, Jacob and David.
One important fact that students will learn is that Muslims have to believe in all prophets of the three religions, and that those who don't are not considered Muslims. Islam considers Jesus to be one of the divinely inspired prophets. His name is mentioned ninety three times in the Quran. The story of his life is told in details in the Quran. Some of it was not mentioned in the Bible, such as his defense of his mother Mary before the people of Nazareth. Allah told Mary not to speak to them and to point to her baby Jesus who would speak and defend her and he did;
'I am a slave of Allah [i.e. created by God and belong to Him], He has given me the Scriptures and made me a Prophet; And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and enjoined on me Salat (prayer), and Zakat (giving alms to the poor) as long as I live. And dutiful to my mother (i.e. made me kind and good to my mother) and made me not arrogant, unblest. And peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I shall be raised alive (i.e. on The Day of Judgment and Resurrection)!' "(Quran 19:29-33)
Like Christians, Muslims also believe that Jesus was born without an earthly father, that he was taken into heaven and he will return. However, Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified, but that God saved him and made the people of Nazareth believe that they crucified him. On the other hand, Jews and Muslims differ from Christians in certain customs, such as not eating pork, or drinking alcohol.
One custom common to all three religions, I will point out to my students, is head covering, although the reasons for it vary. It has been considered, at one time or another, a sign of class or religious belief, a reflection of traditional dress and fashion, or simply an adaptation to practicality. One way to teach the students about this is to show them a collection of pictures of different women from different cultures wearing different types of head covers for multiple reasons other than religion (see week two lesson plan 4). Students will learn from this activity that although the populations in some Arab countries like Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, for example, are not 100% Muslims; some middle age Christian women cover their hair in the presence of strange males, just as Muslim women do. Spanish women for example, wear a type of head covering called "Mantillas," for religious reasons, as well as a sign of fashion in the high society. Some Russian women use head scarves to protect them from the wind. In some cultures the head covering is used by women in funerals. However, head coverings are often used for religious reasons. One form of head covering called epanokamelavkion is worn by catholic nuns and monks in Eastern Orthodox churches. Catholic nuns in the Roman churches use veils as another form of head covering. In Judaism and Christianity, it is believed that the use of veils inside the church and the synagogue was frequent until 1960. However, some traditional churches still carry on this tradition. Amish women are also seen with different type of head covering. They wear a veil inside the temple and a regular scarf outside the temple in order not to damage the veil.
In Islam the objective of wearing hijab is to protect the woman from the eyes of the molesters as the Quran says: "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed..." (Qur'an 33:59).
There is a variety of head coverings used by Muslim women as a form of respect for their religion. In Islamic tradition, girls begin to cover their hair at the age of puberty using any type of head scarf called "hijab", which covers hair, throat and ears. In the past, hijab was only used by upper class women who were not required to work. On the other hand, many other people from hot climate regions like farm workers in Egypt for example and the Tuareg who are the nomads of North African Sahara covered their hair when outside, not necessarily because they are Muslims but because they had to protect their head from the sun. Today, most women wear hijab as an expression of their religious belief, as well as respect for their body and a way to avoid attracting other men, which is considered a sin in Islam, just as it was in the past in Judaism and Christianity. For some women, wearing hijab often follows marriage, reflecting the concept that a married woman does not seek attention from any other man but her husband. Muslim women do not have to wear the hijab inside their home in the presence of their husband or the males in their direct family. In fact, they can dress like any western woman with modern clothes and even swim in their pool as long as they are not seen by strange men. Also, in Muslim culture and religion, men are not to court or shake the hands of a woman who is wearing hijab. If a man is interested in proposing to a Muslim girl, she has to be approached by the adults of the family. This does not mean that a girl who does not wear hijab is giving the green light to other men to court her.
It is important to know that not all Muslim women wear hijab. Wearing hijab is the woman's choice in most Muslim countries that are not very conservative like Saudi Arabia and Iran, where women's dress code is imposed by the government. Some Muslim women, although they do not use hijab, still stick to their Muslim customs and rules like praying five times a day, fasting, not dating and most importantly not having sexual relationships outside marriage, which is also considered unacceptable by Christianity and Judaism as well.
One of my students' comments about Muslims is that they are known for practicing polygamy, which is against the law in America and considered a violation of women's rights in the opinion of some westerners. However, it is important to know that Muslim women in other cultures do not look at polygamy as a sign of oppression and degradation. Also, polygamy is not practiced only in Islam. It existed and was practiced in many other civilizations and religions before Islam, such as ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and Hindus. Mormons have also in the past practiced polygamy. According to the Old Testament and the Quran, polygamy was practiced by many prophets in the three monotheistic religions, except for Jesus who was not married. Islam is the only one of these religions that limited the allowed number of wives to four. Later on, polygamy was gradually prohibited by Christianity and Judaism and is no more practiced. Now, the question that arises is: why did Allah allow polygamy?
During Prophet Mohammad's life, Muslims experienced many battles against the pagans of Arabia, Jews, Christians and other tribes. As result, Muslims had a major loss in number of men, which left behind it a number of widows, mothers and orphan females in need of a man to take care of them. To solve the social problems Muslims were facing, to increase Muslims' number and in order to prevent sexual sins and prostitution, Allah revealed the verse 4:3 from the Quran to Mohammad allowing men to marry more than one wife, not exceeding four under some conditions:
"… marry women of your choice, two or three or four, but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one." (Quran 4:3).
This is a clear requirement by Islam to treat all wives equally.
Marriage in Islam is a mutual contract. A woman has the right to express her objection to polygamy in the contract of marriage, which has to be respected by the husband; otherwise he can not keep her as a wife if she asks for divorce. On the other hand, no one can force a woman to marry a married man. Today, in Middle East, any man who decides to marry more than one wife is required by law to have his previous wife's approval for his new marriage. Even if polygamy is allowed, its practice is very rare in the Muslim world because very few men can afford more than one family due to economic issues.