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Abrahamic religions

Earlier today, I posted something on Twitter along the lines of: Christians who look down on Muslims are doing what they accuse Muslims of doing to them. And I ended my tweet with, "you worship the same God, people!" Which, predictably, got a reply a few minutes later of, "but it is not the same God."

I rarely get all Let Me Take You To School, but given the national dialogue at the moment, I'd been contemplating a blog post with a little Islam 101 for awhile. After all, I spent 4 years of my undergrad getting a degree and the amount of ignorance about interfaith matters can be astounding. I feel slightly obligated to pass on some of what I learned. Even leaving aside the general racial bigotry, there are many Americans who 1) just don't know any Muslims or 2) have no clue about even the basic tenets of Islam. Neither is really excusable. I've joked in my head that there needs to be some sort of a "game" where you score points for the number of Muslims you know or whether you can name the 5 Pillars. Only then should you get the right to say anything.

Obviously, you can't explain thousands of years of religion in a tweet, but I was no use. My Twitter follower said I'd been done a disservice by my university and I never really got another reply to my explanation that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam fall under a common umbrella. But I thought it may be time for an intro and an attempt to explain a few things to my fellow (frequently ignorant) Americans.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all what are called "Abrahamic religions." (Technically, they're not the only ones but we're already knee-deep into the weeds so Rastafarianism and Baha'i are neither here nor there at the moment.) This means they all trace their founding in some way back to Abraham. When I was in school, the way we approached them was Religions of the Middle East. So there are several ways to organize the branches of the religious family tree, but bottom line here is that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all trace their beginnings to the same spiritual source. They are all 3 monotheistic--to varying degrees (hi, Christians, with our crazy Trinity!)--and text based. All three have a creator God who has a series of messengers. They all have an eschatological view about the end of the world. They all value Jerusalem. They all have a system of laws in place for telling the difference between good and evil.

Islam has, at core, 5 things that rise above the level of argument. You must do them to be Muslim.

1) You must declare that God (Allah--the same one Jews call Yahweh--we won't try to unpack that here) is the only God and Muhammad is the messenger. That, usually done in Arabic, is called "Shahada."

2) Muslims pray 5 times a day facing Mecca. Dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, night.

3) Muslims must give alms...charitable giving based on your wealth.

4) Fasting during Ramadan.

5) The Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to Mecca that every able-bodied Muslim must make in their lifetime.

There are exceptions to both the fasting and the Hajj for those who are genuinely unable.

Sunni vs Shia is basically a denominational argument (about successors) in the same vein as Protestants and Catholics or Orthodox and Reform Jews. Sunni is about 90% of the world's Muslim population. Shia has its own foundation requirements list to which they'd add Jihad...which, by the way, just means to struggle to maintain the religion.

Islam is not the absolute newest of all the Abrahamic faiths, but it is the newest of the Jewish-Christian-Muslim three. Muhammad lived about the year 600CE. Which is a good 570 years after Jesus. About 1/4 of every human on earth is Muslim. 57 nations are Muslim-majority. And Arabs are about 20% of all Muslims. 62% of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims live in Asia. There are progressive, liberal Muslims and conservative Muslims. And violent radicals and sexists and feminists.

In short, Muslims are pretty much like every other religion on the planet. A mixed bag with a long history and much good to go with the supply of terrorism. There are mystics and beautiful poetry. They were doing advanced math and science while Christians were in the Dark Ages.

Americans, don't be jerks.