An Abrahamic religion is a religion whose followers believe in the prophet Abraham and his descendants to hold an important role in human spiritual development. The best known Abrahamic religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as Abrahamism, are a group of Semitic-originated religious communities of faith that claim descent from the Judaism of the ancient Israelites and the worship of the God of Abraham. The Abrahamic religions are monotheistic, with the term deriving from the patriarch Abraham (a major biblical figure from the Old Testament, which is recognized by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others).
Abrahamic religion spread globally through Christianity being adopted by the Roman Empire in the 4th century and Islam by the Islamic Empires from the 7th century. Today the Abrahamic religions are one of the major divisions in comparative religion (along with Indian, Iranian, and East Asian religions). The major Abrahamic religions in chronological order of founding are Judaism (the base of the other two religions) in the 7th century BCE, Christianity in the 1st century CE, and Islam in the 7th century CE.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are the Abrahamic religions with the greatest numbers of adherents. Abrahamic religions with fewer adherents include the Druze faith, the Bahá’í Faith, and Rastafari.
As of 2005, estimates classified 54% (3.6 billion people) of the world’s population as adherents of an Abrahamic religion, about 32% as adherents of other religions, and 16% as adherents of no organized religion. Christianity claims 33% of the world’s population, Islam has 21%, Judaism has 0.2% and the Bahá’í Faith represents around 0.1%.
It was suggested by Catholic scholar of Islam Louis Massignon that the phrase “Abrahamic religion” means that all these religions come from one spiritual source. Paul the Apostle referred to Abraham as the “father of us all”. There is a Quranic term, millat Ibrahim, ‘religion of Ibrahim’, indicating that Islam sees itself as standing in a tradition of religious practice from Abraham. Jewish tradition claims that the Jews are descended from Abraham, and adherents of Judaism derive their spiritual identity from Abraham as the first of the three “fathers” or biblical Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
All the major Abrahamic religions claim a direct lineage to Abraham, although in Christianity this is understood in spiritual terms:
Abraham is recorded in the Torah as the ancestor of the Israelites through his son Isaac, born to Sarah through a promise made in Genesis.[Gen. 17:16]
Most Christians affirm the ancestral origin of the Jews in Abraham, but, as gentiles, they consider themselves as grafted into the family tree under the New Covenant: see significance of Abraham for Christians for details.
It is the Islamic tradition that Muhammad, as an Arab, is descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. Jewish tradition also equates the descendants of Ishmael, Ishmaelites, with Arabs, while the descendants of Isaac by Jacob, who was also later known as Israel, are the Israelites.
Adam Dodds argues that the term “Abrahamic faiths”, while helpful, can be misleading, as it conveys an unspecified historical and theological commonality that is problematic on closer examination. While there is commonality among the religions, in large measure their shared ancestry is peripheral to their respective foundational beliefs and thus conceals crucial differences. For example, the common Christian beliefs of Incarnation, Trinity, and the resurrection of Jesus are not accepted by Judaism or Islam. There are key beliefs in both Islam and Judaism that are not shared by most of Christianity (such as strict monotheism and adherence to Divine Law), and key beliefs of Islam, Christianity, and the Bahá’í Faith not shared by Judaism (such as the prophetic and Messianic position of Jesus, respectively).
One of Judaism’s primary texts is the Tanakh, an account of the Israelites’ relationship with God from their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 535 BCE). Abraham is hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people. One of his great-grandsons was Judah, from whom the religion ultimately gets its name. The Israelites were initially a number of tribes who lived in the Kingdom of Israel and Kingdom of Judah.
After being conquered and exiled, some members of the Kingdom of Judah eventually returned to Israel. They later formed an independent state under the Hasmonean dynasty in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, before becoming a client kingdom of the Roman Empire, which also conquered the state and dispersed its inhabitants. From the 2nd to the 6th centuries Jews wrote the Talmud, a lengthy work of legal rulings and Biblical exegesis which, along with the Tanakh, is a key text of Judaism.
Central Italian School 16th century Head of God the Father
Christianity began in the 1st century as a sect within Judaism initially led by Jesus. His followers viewed him as the Messiah, as in the Confession of Peter; after his crucifixion and death they came to view him as God incarnate, who was resurrected and will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead and create an eternal Kingdom of God. Within a few decades the new movement split from Judaism. Christian teaching is based on the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
After several periods of alternating persecution and relative peace vis a vis the Roman authorities under different administrations, Christianity became the state church of the Roman Empire in 380, but has been split into various churches from its beginning. An attempt was made by the Byzantine Empire to unify Christendom, but this formally failed with the East–West Schism of 1054. In the 16th century, the birth and growth of Protestantism further split Christianity into many denominations.
Islam is based on the teachings of the Quran. Although it considers Muhammad to be the Seal of the prophets, Islam teaches that every prophet preached Islam, as the word Islam literally means “submission” to God, the main concept preached by all Abrahamic prophets. The teachings of the Quran are believed by Muslims to be the direct and final revelation and words of Allah (i.e. God in Arabic). Islam is a universal religion (membership is open to anyone). Like Judaism, it has a strictly unitary conception of God, called tawhid, or “strict” or “simple” monotheism.
Historically, the Abrahamic religions have been considered to be Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some of this is due to the age and larger size of these three. The other, similar religions were seen as either too new to judge as being truly in the same class, or too small to be of significance to the category.
However, some of the restriction of Abrahamic to these three is due only to tradition in historical classification. Therefore, restricting the category to these three religions has come under criticism. The religions listed below here claim Abrahamic classification, either by the religions themselves, or by scholars who study them.
Bábism (Persian: بابیه, Babiyye), also known as the Bayání Faith (Arabic: بيانة, Bayání), is a monotheistic religion which professes that there is one incorporeal, unknown, and incomprehensible God who manifests his will in an unending series of theophanies, called Manifestations of God (Arabic: ظهور الله). It is an extremely small religion, with no more than a few thousand adherents according to current estimates, most of which are concentrated in Iran. It was founded by ‘Ali Muhammad Shirazi who first assumed the title of Báb (lit. “Gate”) from which the religion gets its name, out of the belief that he was the gate to the Twelfth Imam. However throughout his ministry his titles and claims underwent much evolution as the Báb progressively outlined his teachings.
Founded in 1844, Bábism flourished in Persia until 1852, then lingered on in exile in the Ottoman Empire, especially Cyprus, as well as underground. An anomaly amongst Islamic messianic movements, the Bábí movement signaled a break with Islam, beginning a new religious system with its own unique laws, teachings, and practices. While Bábism was violently opposed by both clerical and government establishments, it led to the founding of the Bahá’í Faith, whose followers consider the religion founded by the Báb as a predecessor to their own.
The Bahá’í Faith, which dates to the late 19th century, is a new religious movement that has sometimes been listed as Abrahamic by scholarly sources in various fields.
Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1892), the founder, affirms the highest religious station for Abraham and generally for prophets mentioned among the other Abrahamic religions, and has claimed a lineage of descent from Abraham through Keturah and Sarah. Additionally, Baha’is cite that Bahá’u’lláh lost a son, Mírzá Mihdí Bahá’u’lláh, then in prison, eulogized his son and connected the subsequent easing of restrictions to his son’s dying prayer and compared it to the intended sacrifice of Abraham’s son.
The religion also shares many of the same commonalities of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The religion emphasizes monotheism and believes in one eternal transcendent God, the station of the founders of the major religions as Manifestations of God come with revelation as a series of interventions by God in human history that has been progressive, and each preparing the way for the next. There is no definitive list of Manifestations of God, but Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá referred to several personages as Manifestations; they include individuals generally not recognized by other Abrahamic religions—Krishna, Zoroaster, and Buddha and general statements go further to other cultures.
The Druze faith is a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of high Islamic figures like Hamza ibn-‘Ali ibn-Ahmad and Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, and Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. The Epistles of Wisdom is the foundational text of the Druze faith. The Druze faith incorporates elements of Islam’s Ismailism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, Hinduism (according to some), and other philosophies and beliefs, creating a distinct and secretive theology known to interpret esoterically religious scriptures, and to highlight the role of the mind and truthfulness. The Druze follow theophany, and believe in reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. At the end of the cycle of rebirth, which is achieved through successive reincarnations, the soul is united with the Cosmic Mind (Al Aaqal Al Kulli). The Druze Faith is often classified as a branch of Isma’ili Shia Islam.
Mandaeism or Mandaeanism (Arabic: مندائية Mandāʼīyah) is a gnostic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Noah, Shem, Aram, and especially John the Baptist. Abraham, however, is considered a false prophet in Mandeanism.
Rastafari, sometimes termed Rastafarianism, is also sometimes listed as an Abrahamic religion. Classified as both a new religious movement and social movement, it developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. It lacks any centralised authority and there is much heterogeneity among practitioners, who are known as Rastafari, Rastafarians, or Rastas.
Rastafari refer to their beliefs, which are based on a specific interpretation of the Bible, as “Rastalogy”. Central is a monotheistic belief in a single God—referred to as Jah—who partially resides within each individual. The former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is given central importance. Many Rastas regard him as an incarnation of Jah on Earth and as the Second Coming of Christ. Others regard him as a human prophet who fully recognised the inner divinity within every individual. Rastafari is Afrocentric and focuses its attention on the African diaspora, which it believes is oppressed within Western society, or “Babylon”. Many Rastas call for the resettlement of the African diaspora in either Ethiopia or Africa more widely, referring to this continent as the Promised Land of “Zion”. Other interpretations shift focus on to the adoption of an Afrocentric attitude while living outside of Africa. Rastas refer to their practices as “livity”. Communal meetings are known as “groundations”, and are typified by music, chanting, discussions, and the smoking of cannabis, the latter being regarded as a sacrament with beneficial properties. Rastas place emphasis on what they regard as living ‘naturally’, adhering to ital dietary requirements, allowing their hair to form into dreadlocks, and following patriarchal gender roles.
Rastafari originated among impoverished and socially disenfranchised Afro-Jamaican communities. Its Afrocentric ideology was largely a reaction against Jamaica’s then-dominant British colonial culture. It was influenced by both Ethiopianism and the Back-to-Africa movement promoted by black nationalist figures like Marcus Garvey. The movement developed after several Christian clergymen, most notably Leonard Howell, proclaimed that the crowning of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 fulfilled a Biblical prophecy. By the 1950s, Rastafari’s counter-cultural stance had brought the movement into conflict with wider Jamaican society, including violent clashes with law enforcement. In the 1960s and 1970s it gained increased respectability within Jamaica and greater visibility abroad through the popularity of Rasta-inspired reggae musicians like Bob Marley. Enthusiasm for Rastafari declined in the 1980s, following the deaths of Haile Selassie and Marley.
The Rasta movement is organised on a largely cellular basis. There are several denominations, or “Mansions of Rastafari”, the most prominent of which are the Nyahbinghi, Bobo Ashanti, Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, each of which offers different interpretations of Rasta belief. There are an estimated 700,000 to 1 million Rastas across the world; the largest population is in Jamaica although communities can be found in most of the world’s major population centres.
Samaritanism is based on some of the same books used as the basis of Judaism but differs from the latter. Samaritan religious works include the Samaritan version of the Torah, the Memar Markah, the Samaritan liturgy, and Samaritan law codes and biblical commentaries. Many claim the Samaritans appear to have a text of the Torah as old as the Masoretic Text; scholars have various theories concerning the actual relationships between these three texts.
Shabakism is the name given to the beliefs and practices of the Shabak people of Kurdistan region and around Mosul in Iraq. A majority of Shabaks regard themselves as Shia, and a minority identify as Sunnis. Despite this, their actual faith and rituals differ from Islam, and have characteristics that make them distinct from neighboring Muslim populations. These include features from Christianity including confession, and the consumption of alcohol, and the fact that Shabaks often go on pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines. Nevertheless, the Shabak people also go on pilgrimages to Shia holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, and follow many Shiite teachings.
The organization of Shabakism appears to be much like that of a Sufi order: adult laymen (Murids) are bound to spiritual guides (pîrs or Murshids) who are knowledgeable in matters of religious doctrine and ritual. There are several ranks of such pîrs; at the top stands the Baba, or supreme head of the order. Theoretically individuals can choose their own pîr, but in practice the pir families often become associated with lay families over several generations.
Shabakism combines elements of Sufism with the uniquely Shabak interpretation of “divine reality.” According to Shabaks, this divine reality supersedes the literal, or Shar’ia, interpretation of the Quran. Shabaks comprehend divine reality through the mediation of the “Pir” or spiritual guide, who also performs Shabak rituals. The structure of these mediatory relationships closely resembles that of the Yarsan.
The primary Shabak religious text is the Buyruk or Kitab al-Managib (Book of Exemplary Acts) and is written in Turkoman. Shabaks also consider the poetry of Ismail I to be revealed by God, and they recite Ismail’s poetry during religious meetings.
Yazdânism, or the Cult of Angels, is a proposed pre-Islamic, native religion of the Kurds. The term was introduced by Kurdish scholar Mehrdad Izady to represent what he considers the “original” religion of the Kurds as the primary inhabitants of the Zagros Mountains, until their increasing Islamization in the course of the 10th century.
According to Izady, Yazdânism is now continued in the denominations of Yazidism, Yarsanism, and Chinarism. The three traditions subsumed under the term Yazdânism are primarily practiced in relatively isolated communities, from Khurasan to Anatolia and parts of western Iran.
The concept of Yazdânism has found a wide perception both within and beyond Kurdish nationalist discourses, but has been disputed by other recognized scholars of Iranian religions. Well established, however, are the “striking” and “unmistakable” similarities between the Yazidis and the Yaresan or Ahl-e Haqq, some of which can be traced back to elements of an ancient faith that was probably dominant among Western Iranians and likened to practices of pre-Zoroastrian Mithraic religion. Mehrdad Izady defines the Yazdanism as an ancient Hurrian religion and states that Mitannis could have introduced some of the Vedic tradition that appears to be manifest in Yazdanism.
All Abrahamic religions accept the tradition that God revealed himself to the patriarch Abraham. All are monotheistic, and conceive God to be a transcendent creator and the source of moral law. Their religious texts feature many of the same figures, histories, and places, although they often present them with different roles, perspectives, and meanings. Believers who agree on these similarities and the common Abrahamic origin tend to also be more positive towards other Abrahamic groups.
In the three main Abrahamic religions(Judaism, Christianity and Islam), the individual, God, and the universe are highly separate from each other. The Abrahamic religions believe in a judging, paternal, fully external god to which the individual and nature are subordinate. One seeks salvation or transcendence not by contemplating the natural world or via philosophical speculation, but by seeking to please God (such as obedience with God’s wishes or his law) and see divine revelation as outside of self, nature, and custom.
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