Most people have at one time or another wondered, ‘If there is only one God why are there so many religions?’ The Qur’an declares that Allah could have made all of us monotheists, a single religious community, but (didn’t) in order to test us in what we have been given.
“If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God’s plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on judgment day) the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (Quran 5:48)
This means that religious pluralism is the will of God. Yet for centuries many believers in one God have chided and depreciated each other’s religions, and some believers have even resorted to forced conversions, expulsions and inquisitions.
Monotheists all pray to the same God, and all prophets of monotheistic faiths are inspired by the same God.
For almost 14 centuries Jews, Christians and Muslims have read each others holy scriptures from an adversarial perspective. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding of our own scripture.
But in the middle ages almost all readers thought of revelation as a zero sum sport like tennis rather than a multiple win co-operative sport like mountain climbing. In a zero sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own.
This was the result of the widespread use of scripture for missionary purposes; to win over others and not to share equally with others.
The situation has not improved much in modern times. In the last two centuries university academics have written many studies of comparative religion which they claim are objective and not distorted by their religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, academics who treat other religions academically usually do not believe that other scriptures are actually Divinely inspired.
Indeed, many academics do not believe that even their own scriptures are Divinely inspired. They use the same kinds of explanation to understand religion that they would use to explain secular history and literature.
Thus, when there seem to be contradictions within each sacred scripture or even between them, they should either be harmonized; or understood as different perspectives for different people at different times; but always coming from the One God of Abraham.
This is taught by the sacred month of Ramadan.
According to a Hadith cited by ibn Kathir in elucidating Qur’an 2:185; Ramadan is a very special month because this one month in the Islamic lunar calendar was the same month when four of God’s books of revelations were sent down to four special Prophets: Abraham (a), Moses (a), Jesus (a) and Muhammad (s).
Ibn Kathir states: Imam Ahmad reported Wathilah bin Al-Asqa` said that Allah’s Messenger said: “The Suhuf (Pages) of Ibrahim were revealed during the first night of Ramadan. The Torah was revealed during the sixth night of Ramadan. The Injil was revealed during the thirteenth night of Ramadan and Allah revealed the Qur’an on the twenty-fourth night of Ramadan.” (Ahmad 4:107 and Musnad 177025).
I do not know how Christians would understand the revelation of the Injil on the thirteenth day of Ramadan, but the Jewish holy day of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses and Banu Israel, falls on the sixth day of the Jewish month of Sivan, which in that year must have coincided with the month of Ramadan.
Christians use the solar calendar of the Roman Empire to calculate the birthday of Jesus, but they do use a lunar date for Good Friday and Easter. Jews, who do use the lunar calendar for all their religious dates, modify the length of the year with a leap month seven times in every nineteen year cycle, so as to always keep the harvest pilgrimage festival of Hajj Sukkot in the fall harvest season.
Thus, it is not obvious that these four revelations, which happened so many centuries apart, actually occurred in the same lunar month, and thus Judaism, Christianity and Islam all equally share a sacred month of revelation.
In 2018, Shavuot was celebrated by Jews throughout the world at the same time (20 May ) that Muslims throughout the world are celebrating Ramadan. This only happens nine or ten times in a solar century.
I pray that some Imams and Rabbis are stimulated by the co-occurrence of Ramadan and Shavuot to include some kind thoughts to offer insight into each others Sacred Scriptures.
To start this process, I offer a Jewish teaching that is also referred to in the Quran.
For example, the Mishnah (an early third century compilation of the oral Torah), states, “Adam was created as an individual to teach you that anyone who destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as if he destroyed the whole world.” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)
And the Quran states, “One who kills a human being, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” [Quran 5:32]
Academics explain the similarity of the two statements by assuming that since the Jewish statement is four centuries earlier than the Quranic one, Muhammad (s) must have heard it from a Rabbi or other educated Jew in Medina.
I disagree because I believe Muhammad (s) was a Prophet of God who confirms the Torah of Prophet Moses (a). Muhammad (s) has no need to learn this statement from another human being.
Academics might reply that the statement is not found in the written Torah; it appears in the oral Torah written by the Rabbis in the Mishnah more than 1,400 years after Moses.
But the Rabbis maintain that the Mishnah is part of the oral Torah that was passed down from Moses through many generations, just as ahadith have been passed down orally through the generations before being written down.
Indeed, the Quran itself introduces this statement as follows, “It is because of this that We ordained for the Children of Israel “one who kills a human being … [Quran 5:32]
No prophet of God needs to be informed by another human what should be written in Holy Scripture. God is the source of all Divine inspiration. There are several verses in the Qur’an that mention things from the oral Torah. My perspective is that prophets and Holy Scriptures cannot in reality oppose one another because they all come from one source.
Prophets are all brothers; it is as if they have the same “father” (God) and different “mothers” (motherlands. mother tongues, nations, cultures and historical eras). [Bukhari book 60 #113]
All of these factors produce different rituals and legal systems, but their theology can differ only in unessential details. Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them differ.
Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify each other; they only cast additional light on each other.