“Children of Abraham.”
“Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you. So let’s all praise the Lord.” Many religious sons and daughters declare Abraham to be their spiritual father. Christians and Jews trace their spiritual descendants back to Abraham through Isaac, the son of Sarah, while Muslims go back through Ishmael, the son of Hagar, but Muslims also understand Isaac to be a prophet. Muslims believe Muhammad called all people back to Abraham’s faith in the one true God. All three religions have faith in the one God, but they differ as to how oneness is to be understood. Is it enough for a religious person to have faith in, love and pray to God or does one have to have an accurate understanding of God? The primary difference between Muslims, Jews and Christians is their understanding of Jesus. Islam respects Jesus as a major prophet but does not believe him to be part of a trinity. Judaism does not believe Jesus to be the Messiah and perhaps not a prophet. For Christians the death and resurrection of Jesus stands as the foundation of faith. Without Jesus Christian faith does not exist. The lectionary passage from Hebrews explains the meaning of faith and the covenant beginning with Abraham.
All three religions agree on the general meaning of faith. Each believe “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [11:1, NRSV] Faith is a conviction that the will of God is true and will prevail. Muslim scripture declares a similar point: “God is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light.” [Quran2:257] How might this understanding of faith affect how we live? All three religions have faith that they belong to a special people of God. Believers in Christ see themselves as belonging to a universal Church, while Jews view themselves as being the chosen people of God. Muslims understand their “ummah” as a universal community where everyone is treated equally. Each group understands this world as created by God and that through faith we are promised another world. The Quran puts it this way: “As for those who fear their Lord unseen, for them is Forgiveness and a great Reward.”[Quran 67:12][i]
As Christians gather to worship on their lectionary Sunday of August 11, they probably will not realize that both Muslims and Jews are involved in important observances relating to faith, the Hajj and Tisha B’Av. The Islamic Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca takes place from Friday, August 9 to Wednesday evening, August 14. Pilgrims go to Mecca to visit the sacred Mosque that contains the Ka’ba that they bow towards each day when they pray the five ritual prayers. A cube-like structure, the Ka’ba is considered to be an early house of worship. Pilgrims make the ancient tawaf by walking counterclockwise seven times around the ka’ba. While Hajj occurs each year from the 8th to the 12th day of the last month in the Muslim calendar, the “umrah” or a lesser pilgrimage can be made at any time and often proceeds the celebration of the Hajj. Pilgrims prepare both their attitude and how they dress during the Hajj. Men wear special clothing that symbolizes the equality found in the Muslim ummah. The holiest day of the Hajj comes on day 2 when pilgrims go to Mount Arafat to stand before God between noon and sunset. Pilgrims repent of their sins and seek God’s will. Many of the Hajj events have direct connection to the Abraham story. Mecca is where Hagar and Ishmael came to after Sarah had Abraham send them away. One of the rituals has the pilgrims reenacting Hagar’s search for water as she frantically ran between two hills. Some believe that the ka’ba was built or rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. On day 3 animals are sacrificed in memory of God calling Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Pilgrims purchase coupons for an animal to be sacrificed for them with the meat being sent to Muslim countries to feed the poor. On days 3, 4, and 5 pilgrims throw stones at pillars that represent Abraham resisting three temptations by the devil. Islam itself is based upon the recovery of Abraham’s faith to worship the one God. After the time of Abraham and prior to Muhammed, pagan worship and deities had become part of the holy site. Muhammad cleansed the area and dedicated it to worship of the one God. This message of the true nature of God came to Mohammad when the angel of God appeared to him telling him to ‘recite’ the words of God. These recitations over a period of many years form the Qur’an considered by Muslims to be the literal words of God in Arabic, the holy language of God. [ii] While Muslim’s observe Hajj, what do Christians do to remember, practice, and declare their faith?
The lectionary reading also speaks of the delayed fulfillment of the promise: “all of these died in faith without having received the promises.” [11:13] Moreover, while the chapter tells of those who conquered through faith [11:23-34] it does not forget those who suffered. [35-40] Tisha B’Av is a Jewish holy day that has been called the saddest day of the year because it remembers suffering that Jews have experienced. The day normally comes on the 9th day of AV except for years when the day of mourning would take place on Shabbat as it does in 2019. The mourning is then one day later. So in 2019 the observance begins on the evening of Saturday, August 10 and continues through one hour after sunset on Sunday, August 11. This day actually ends three weeks of mourning. The 9th of AV has been selected because of the belief that both Temples had been destroyed on this day, the first by the Babylonians and the second by the Romans. Other sad events connected with this day include the expulsion of all Jews from England in 1290, the banishment of Jews from Spain in 1492, and the holocaust. Observant Jews follow many of the practices of other days of mourning like Yom Kippur. For 25 hours one does not eat or drink, wear leather footwear, bathe, apply ointments, or engage in marital relations. Everyday activities are set aside for focus upon mourning and fasting. Some emphasize repentance. Moreover, only the sad parts of the Torah are studied or read in the synagogue, such as Lamentations, and one does not even greet others in the synagogue. The ark would be without its decorative curtain and the lights dimmed. Work should be avoided once the fast has begun. Many other traditions are followed depending on the level of observance that an individual or synagogue practices.[iii] Certainly for all the children of Abraham, Christians, Jews and Muslims, suffering has to be addressed in the context of faith. Tragically, suffering has often been experienced when Muslims, Jews or Christians attack one another. The faith of Jesus calls Christians to show love and respect to Muslims and Jews. Christians should take action to get to know those of a different faith. We must break down the walls of unfamiliarity that can lead to violence. Do the memories of suffering shape our understanding of faith or does faith interpret our suffering? Perhaps a key element of faith for all people can be found in these words: “they confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” [11:13-14] People of faith could be called pilgrims who have a different vision of what the world should be. Secular people often do not understand what religious people see or value. The writer notes these pilgrims look ahead and not back from where they have come: “If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.” [11:15] The writer explains the motivation for their spiritual sight: “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed he has prepared a city for them.” [11:16] Will faith give us a vision of our world as it would appear if shaped by heavenly values? Would the children of Abraham treat each other differently if they saw each other from a heavenly perspective? On Sunday, August 11 when Christians worship will they join the other sons and daughters of Abraham in acknowledging that our faith in God must shape our living as well as our suffering? Christians have hope because of their faith in what Jesus has done for them through his own death and resurrection.
[i]Layma Hamad, “Faith: Belief in the unseen.” https://www.whyislam.org/character/faith-belief-in-the-unseen/