Let’s say you have a grandfather whom you are particularly fond of, and out of the blue, a stranger says: “Hey, that’s my grandpa!” Then—lest you think this stranger is somehow trying to ingratiate himself with you—he adds: “Everything you thought you knew about grandpa is wrong!”
Would that endear this stranger to you? That is the question everyone who believes in the notion of “three Abrahamic Faiths” needs to answer.
Proponents of this view believe that, because Abraham is an important figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (especially the former and latter), all three religions share a commonality that should bridge gaps and foster growth between them.
This notion is entrenched in the mainstream of American opinion. At the Huffington Post you can read that “Muhammad clearly rejected elitism and racism and demanded that Muslims see their Abrahamic brothers and sisters as equals before God.”
While visiting Indonesia, former Secretary of State John Kerry beat on a mosque drum while calling Muslims to prayer: “It has been a special honor to visit this remarkable place of worship,” he said afterwards. “We are all bound to one God and the Abrahamic faiths tie us together in love for our fellow man and honor for the same God.”
After a Muslim from an Oklahoma City mosque decapitated a woman, “an official from Washington D.C. flew in to Oklahoma to present a special thank you to the Muslim congregation.” He read them a message from former President Barack Obama: “Your service is a powerful example of the powerful roots of the Abrahamic faiths and how our communities can come together with shared peace with dignity and a sense of justice.” Indeed, Obama has often spoken of “the shared Abrahamic roots of three of the world’s major religions.”
But the question remains: How is one people’s appropriation of another people’s heritage supposed to help the two peoples get along?
Also, those who ascribe to the “three Abrahamic Faiths” theory never mention—or bother to learn—the key problem: Islam does not treat biblical characters the way Christianity does.
Christians accept the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, as it is. They do not add, take away, or distort the accounts of the patriarchs that Jews also rely on. Conversely, while also relying on the figures of the Old and New Testaments— primarily for the weight of antiquity and authority attached to their names—Islam completely recasts them to fit its own agendas.
One need only look to the topic at hand for proof: Abraham.
Jews and Christians focus on different aspects of Abraham—the former see him as their patriarch in the flesh, the latter as their patriarch in faith or in spirit (e.g., Gal 3:6)—but they both rely on the same verbatim account of Abraham found in Genesis.
In the Muslim account, however, not only does Abraham leave his country on God’s promise that he will make him “a great nation” (Genesis 12), but he exemplifies the hate Muslims are obligated to have for non-Muslims: “You have a good example in Abraham and those who followed him,” Allah informs Muslims in Koran 60:4; “for they said to their people, ‘We disown you and the idols that you worship besides Allah. We renounce you: enmity and hate shall reign between us until you believe in Allah alone’” (emphasis added).
In fact, Koran 60:4 is the cornerstone verse that all “radical” Muslims—from al-Qaeda to the Islamic State—cite as proof that all Muslims “must be hostile to the infidel—even if he is liberal and kind to you” (to quote Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya, The Al-Qaeda Reader, p. 84).
Immediately after quoting 60:4, Osama bin Laden wrote:
So there is an enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility, and an internal hate from the heart. And this fierce hostility—that is, battle—ceases only if the infidel submits to the authority of Islam, or if his blood is forbidden from being shed [a dhimmi], or if the Muslims are [at that point in time] weak and incapable [of spreading sharia law to the world]. But if the hate at any time extinguishes from the hearts, this is great apostasy; the one who does this [extinguishes the hate from his heart] will stand excuseless before Allah [p. 43].
Such is the mutilation Abraham has undergone in Islam. Not only is Abraham not a source of commonality between Muslims on the one hand and Jews and Christians on the other; he is the chief figure to justify “enmity and hate … between us until you believe in Allah alone.”
Islam’s appropriation of Abraham has led to other, more concrete problems, of the sort one can expect when a stranger appears and says that the home you live in was actually bequeathed to him by your supposedly “shared” forefather. Although the Jews claimed the Holy Land as their birthright for at least a millennium before Islam came, Jerusalem is now special to Muslims partially because they also claim Abraham and other biblical figures.
As a result, statements like the following from mainline Christian groups such as the Presbyterian Church USA are common: “[PCUSA] strongly condemns the U.S. President’s [Trump’s] decision to single out Jerusalem as a Jewish capital. Jerusalem is the spiritual heart of three Abrahamic faiths …”
The Muslim appropriation and mutilation of biblical figures is a source of problems, not solutions. It is only the secular mindset, which cannot comprehend beyond the surface fact that three religions claim the same figures—and so they must all eventually “be friends”—that does not and never will get it.