Suppose we ask a question: What are Islamic articles of faith (rukun iman)?
Any Muslim worth his salt would say: There are six elements—the belief in Allah, the angels, the unseen, the prophets, the revealed books, and the divine will (qada' and qadar).
Let’s ask again: If one believes in all those, would he be a believer?
Answer: Of course.
Suppose we say: The Jews and the Christians believe in all those things. Are they also the believers?
One may argue: The Jews don’t believe in Allah, they believe in Yahweh. As for the Christians, they believe in trinity. Besides, they don’t observe the five Pillars of Islam. Hence, they cannot be regarded as believers.
Now we come to the interesting part. Whether it is called Allah or Yahweh, that is only the variation in name. If it means the same thing, it is a matter of no consequence, as we have seen in “Is Jesus Prophet Isa” piece. After all, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Besides, the Jews in Arabia, such as the ones during the Prophet, called their God, Allah. Thus, such an argument is not valid. As for the Christians, yes, their concept of God is more complicated. Yet, the Arab Christians also call their God, Allah. In Malaysia, this has become a big issue, but in the Arab countries, this is very common and pretty much accepted.
It is the second part, namely the five Pillars of Islam, which differentiates between us and them. What causes this differentiation?
Essentially there is only one and one only. It is the belief in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace.
The three major religions which make up half of the world population, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are called the Abrahamic faiths. They all trace their origin to the Prophet Abraham. They all essentially share similar belief, in the Oneness of God, the angels, the unseen, the prophets, the revealed books, and to a large extent, the divine will.
There are of course many variations, but within each faith, there are many variations as well. Hardly two Muslims, for instance, would explain their understanding about God in a similar way. Some Muslims would go to the extent of saying that God permeates in everything, that everything is divine or godly, which is very close to the notion of Pantheism. And they would quote Quranic verses to support their argument.
The point to make here is simply this: if one wants to look at the differences between Islam and the other two Abrahamic religions, he can write volumes about it. But if he wants to narrate the similarity, he can also write volumes about it as well. If differences are what we are after, there is probably not enough space to write about the differences among the Muslims. As Al Ghazali used to say, Muslims are very good at dividing. If you see two of them arguing, probably they belong to three groups.
Al Ghazali was being cheeky of course, but the point is, if we want to look at the differences, we will always find one. But if we want to look at the similarities, we likewise can always find one. For all we know, despite the many gods that the Hindus have, in the final analysis, they all trace to only One God, as discovered by those who study their ancient scripture, Rig Veda.
Still, in spite of the pervasive similarity between these three Abrahamic religions, they are torn apart because of two leading prophets: Jesus and Muhammad. The Jews, who were the torch bearers of the Abrahamic faith, fell into disbelief when they refused to accept Jesus as the Messenger of God.
It is worth noting, however, that the majority of Jesus’ early followers were Jews, or Israelites if you wish. The Jews who believed in him were called the Nazarenes (Nasrani). They were waiting for the Messiah (Al Masih in Arabic, Mashiach in Hebrew, and Christ in English, from the Greek Khristos). When he came, they crucified him (let us put the issue of crucifixion aside, but they thought they crucified him to the Cross).
The Jews continued to wait. When the Prophet Muhammad was about to come, their knowledgeable rabbis knew that this prophet would appear in Arabia. In the seerah, we know that one of them went to Yathrib from Syria, because it was foretold that the last Prophet would appear there. As we have seen previously, the Jews in Yathrib used the advent of the Prophet as a threat to their Arab neighbors. But when Muhammad migrated to Yathrib, except for a handful, they fought against him.
As for the Christians, they believe in Jesus, but they refuse to believe in Muhammad. Let’s not argue over their belief in Jesus, which is different from the Muslims. We can take that subject later.
The point to make here is that, in essence, there are not much different between Islam and the other two Abrahamic faiths, but whatever similarity they may have is considered null and void, at least in Islamic perspective, because they refuse to believe that Muhammad is the last Prophet, as foretold in their scriptures. By refusing to believe in Muhammad, they take a different route as compared to ours.