What are the Abrahamic religions?

The Abrahamic Family House – a church, mosque and synagogue – will be built in Abu Dhabi — but what are the three religions?

An artist's illustration of the Abrahamic Family House to be built on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Edelman
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A new chapter of coexistence has started in the UAE as a mosque, church and synagogue will be built in Abu Dhabi.

The Abrahamic Family House is a response to the Document on Human Fraternity, which was signed by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, during the pontiff's visit to the UAE in February.

The document is a message of coexistence and the Saadiyat Island building – designed by renowned British architect David Adjaye – will reflect that aspiration.

What are the Abrahamic religions?

Islam, Christianity and Judaism are the three main Abrahamic religions because Abraham – or Ibrahim – is important to them all. Adherents consider him an important prophet or father figure.

When were the religions established?

Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, with about 2.1 billion followers. It is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ who lived in the Middle East about 2,000 years ago. ­

Many historians say that Islam began in Arabia in the 7th century in divine revelations given to the Prophet Mohammed. Muslims believe he was the last prophet. Close to two billion people practise the faith today.

Judaism, meanwhile, began more than 3,500 years ago. Jews believe that God anointed them as the chosen people to set an example of holiness. There are about 15 million Jews worldwide.

Construction of St Joseph's on Abu Dhabi's Corniche started in 1963, around the time this photograph was taken. Courtesy St Joseph's
Construction of St Joseph's on Abu Dhabi's Corniche started in 1963, around the time this photograph was taken. Courtesy St Joseph's

What are the main texts?

Muslims consult the Quran, Christians the Bible and Jews the Torah. The three are sacred books that tell the story of the three religions.

Why was Abraham so revered?

All three of these religions refer to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God. As Abraham was about to deliver the killer blow, God stopped the sacrifice. For Christians, Abraham symbolises obedience to God and foreshadows the fate of Jesus.

Muslims refer to him as Ibrahim and consider him to be a major prophet. The Muslim festival of Eid Al Adha – when animals are sacrificed – remembers Abraham’s obedience to God.

Jews believe he is the man to whom God pledged the promised land. Abraham is also considered to be the father of the Arabs as well as the Jewish people through his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael (Ismail in Arabic).

What similarities do Abrahamic religions share?

The three religions are monotheistic because of their belief in a one, true God. Adherents believe God to be the creator and only source of moral law and that the road to salvation lies in obedience to God’s will.

What are the differences between the three?

Many of the three’s religious texts feature the same people and places but in different circumstances and scenarios. One of the big differences concerns Jesus. Christians consider Jesus to be the messiah and the son of God. Muslims consider him a prophet, while Jews consider him a false messiah.

A picture taken on June 4, 2019 from the Mount of Olives shows a partial view of the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock (R) and the  al-Aqsa Mosque (L). / AFP / THOMAS COEX
The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. AFP

The importance of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. It has been conquered, razed and rebuilt. It is also revered in all three Abrahamic holy books. Many holy sites are near the Haram Al Sharif – a hill in the old city – including Al Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

For Muslims, Al Aqsa Mosque is their third-holiest site. They believe the Prophet Mohammed came to the mosque from Makkah during his night journey — Al Isra Wa Al Miraj. The shrine of the Dome of the Rock is only a few steps away where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

For Christians, Jerusalem is where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.

Millions of Jews, meanwhile, visit Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall, a remnant of the mount on which the Holy Temple once stood. Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Have the Abrahamic religions always coexisted peacefully?

It has not always been an easy journey. Pope Urban II launched the Crusades in 1095. What followed was a series a bloody battles over the fate of Jerusalem. The Christian armies retook the city initially but were later routed by famed Muslim leader, Saladin. The Crusades ended 200 years later with Muslims in control of the Holy Land. But Christians learnt much from the skilled Arab world in warfare and science.

Prophet Elias Cathedral Greek Orthodox. Wam
Prophet Elias Cathedral Greek Orthodox in Abu Dhabi. The UAE is home to many religions and faiths. Wam

Places of worship in the Middle East

Long before formation of the UAE in 1971, there were churches and temples. The first Roman Catholic church opened in the 1960s and now there are places of worship for Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, Sikhs, Buddhists and many more. There is also a small synagogue in Dubai. Across parts of the Arabian Peninsula the story is the same, with churches in Oman, Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar. There are also synagogues in Bahrain, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon.

A new era of coexistence starts

The UAE’s leaders designated 2019 as the Year of Tolerance and on Saturday, announced the Abrahamic Family House on Saadiyat, ushering in a new era of tolerance.