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Religious Beliefs

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Today's religious beliefs, governmental structures, laws and traditions of social behavior find their roots in the development of three main belief systems - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Although other religious movements have developed throughout the years, these three belief systems have had the most impact on civilizations of the West. To better understand this impact, it is important to trace the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and review the relationships between them. While each belief system is unique, there are many similarities due to their common beginnings.

The philosophies and traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam most prominently begin with the founder of the Hebrews known as Abraham ca 1800 BCE Historically, these teachings were also subscribed by nomadic tribes, which settled in present day Palestine, near Mt. Sinai. The people of these tribes did not label themselves as Hebrews, and referred to God as the god of Abraham.

This came about as God promised Abraham a son, and in the course of the events doubting that is old wife could give him a son, he had Ishmael with his maid, Hagar, and then later God's prophecy would be fulfilled with the birth of Isaac, by his wife Sarha. Due to their belief system, the tribe proliferated the idea that Isaac and his descendants were chosen by God to carry forward Abraham's holy lineage. Isaac was the forefather of what was to become the 12 tribes of Israel, while Ishmael and his descendents were to constitute a different Semitic tribe and follow Arabic traditions.

The term Judaism came about after the establishment of the state of Israel when the tribes divided into two, the northern and Judas kingdoms, ca 922-587 BCE The customs and belief systems of these nomadic tribes to be later identified as Arab tribes were very similar to the Hebrews'; however, the Arab tribes developed in some subtle ways. They remained nomadic, whereas the Hebrews tended to follow the teachings of the Holy Scriptures to the achievement of The Promised Land. As for the Arab nomadic tribes because of this development, a centralized governing agent who organized the religion did not develop as it did with the Hebrews.

In approximately ca 1290-1250 BCE, Moses further supplemented both traditions with a covenant between God and his believers. Moses married Zipphora, from a different Semitic tribe, (Ishmael descendants?) as they referred to God as the God of Abrahim; this would indicate the strong similarity of beliefs and customs between the Hebrew and Arab tribes at that time.

In approximately 600 CE, a somewhat modified revival of the beliefs and traditions of Abraham occurred, due to the persuasions of Mohammed. He disagreed with the commonly held belief that Isaac and his descendents were the chosen ones. He taught instead that Ishmael was the chosen one, and therefore, Ishmael's descendants, the Arabs, carried forth Abraham's holy lineage. Mohammed redefined the Arabic religious tradition on this point into the tradition of Islam. Islamic belief centered on "submission to the will of Allah by fulfilling the five duties know as the Pillars of Islam".

Within the organized movement of Islam, ca 570-632 BCE, a written tradition, as well as a central controlling agent of the Arab tribes, developed through compilation of the Qur'an. The Qur'an, although in some ways similar to the teachings in the Hebrew Holy Scriptures, totally and distinctly separated the Islamic belief system as a new, and competing, tradition from that of Judaism.

Another offspring of Judaism was Christianity. The belief that a Messiah would appear amongst the Jews by the end of the millennium came to life with the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem ca 29 B.C.E. Jesus was believed by many followers of Judaism to be the long-awaited Messiah, and served to divide Judaism once again. In contrast to Judaism, Christians believe that the appearance and teaching of Jesus represents a new covenant superseding the previous covenant between God and Moses. The Jews that chose to believe in this new covenant began the Christian movement.

A focused Christian movement began based on the documentation of his teachings by men who lived during the two to three generations following Jesus' death. The written tradition was called the New Testament, and was considered an addition to the Hebrew Holy Scriptures. Developments of Christianity are chiefly attributed to Paul, for his contributions to the New Testament, and Peter, the leader of the Roman Church. The influence of the Christian belief system is great - the socio-economic traditions of the western world revolve around traditions derived from Christianity (Catholicism).

Naturally, as both Christianity and Islam originated from Judaism, many of their teachings, beliefs and traditions are similar to Judaism. All three religions are similar in their description of the relationship with God and his followers, as the Holy Scriptures are part of the teachings of Christianity. There can be seen a great influence by the Tanakh and the Gospels in the Qur'an: "Praise be to God, the Lord of the universe, the merciful, the compassionate, the authority on judgment day".... He has created the heavens and the earths in accordance with the requirements of wisdom. Exalted is he above all that they associate with him."

While women played a key role in all three of these religious systems, they have been historically mistreated and overshadowed by their male counterparts. In Hebrew society, women were excluded from the priesthood, for the exception of a few, who played an active role in the religious observances and politics of the times. For example, Deborah was responsible for claiming territory for her tribe due to the defeat of the Canaates in 1125 BCE Throughout the history of Christianity, women were also restrained from achieving equality amongst men, with few exceptions, such as St. Catherine of Siena, who lived between 1347-1380 BCE She became involved with Church policy at the highest level, thus, playing a very important role in Church politics. In Islamic society, women were important in the home and yet subordinate to men. They could neither claim nor inherit what their husbands won in the battlefield and had no right to divorce. "Baby girls were regarded with such disdain that in some instances they were buried alive at birth." Although Mohammed tried to improve their treatment, women enjoyed no equality with men. Despite any differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, one incredible belief has remained - the decreased value and respect of women. This belief regarding women is responsible for the current

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