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Batavick: Christians, Muslims have many common beliefs

Yesterday's sunset marked the end of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and a period of fasting for all observant Muslims. The holiday began at sunset on Wednesday, June 17. During the past month, practicing Muslims were expected to abstain from food, drink, sex and tobacco from dawn to sunset, pray frequently, avoid sinful behavior and read from their holy book, the Quran. Eid al-Fitr, a holiday of feasting and gift-giving, begins today.

Ramadan commemorates the first time God began to reveal the Quran to Muhammad. Muslims believe that God did so gradually over a period of 23 years beginning in 609 A.D. The holiday's observance is just one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the foundation of the faith system for Muslims. The other four require them to believe in one God and in Mohammad as his messenger; pray ritually five times a day; donate 2.5 percent of savings to the poor and needy; and make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, if able.

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I wonder how many practicing Christians could abide by such stringent faith requirements? We might say that Lent is our Ramadan, though few if any Christians fast from dawn to sunset and offer ritual prayers, like the Our Father, five times a day.

We hear much about the "sword verses" in the Quran — those that call for violence against nonbelievers. These passages provide the motive for the Holy War that ISIS and al-Qaida are waging against the West, though the majority of Muslims don't subscribe to such a hateful and bloody ideology. They prefer instead to cite the Quran's "peace verses" that prohibit coercion regarding matters of faith. Historian and journalist Nissim Rejwan notes "violence and cruelty are not in the spirit of the Quran, nor are they found in the life of the Prophet, nor in the lives of saintly Muslims."

In fairness, we should admit to the murder and mayhem found throughout our own Old Testament. Witness the slaughter of innocent people, including infants, in the Great Flood, the plagues of Egypt, the battles against the Canaanites, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. A big difference is that these stories transpired in the context of God's abiding relationship with his people and are never interpreted like the notorious "sword verses" as open-ended dictums to kill infidels.

Christianity and Islam are the world's largest religions, and I'll bet most Christians don't know how many beliefs we have in common. Muslims hold that there is only one God, though like some Christian Unitarians, they don't subscribe to the Trinity. Muslims also believe that the Old Testament and New Testament are holy Scripture; that Satan is real and there's a heaven (paradise) and a hell; that Abraham, Moses, David, Joseph, John the Baptist, and Jesus were prophets sent to reveal God's message; that the angel Gabriel (Jibril), the same angel who appeared to Mary during the Annunciation, revealed the Quran to Muhammad; that Mary was a virgin when she conceived; that Jesus performed miracles and was the Messiah but not the Son of God; that He will return in a Second Coming to slay the Anti-Christ, and that there will be a Final Judgment. Though denying the divinity of Christ is a major distinction, we should keep these other faith similarities in mind when we hear some say that Muslims are different because they don't share our belief system.

As if to underscore our commonalities, a coalition of Muslim groups began an online campaign in early July to help rebuild the seven African-American churches that have burned in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shootings. Four of the fires were caused by arson, one by faulty wiring, and the other two are still under investigation. Imam Zaid Shakir explained that Muslims "understand the climate of racially inspired hate and bigotry that is being reignited in this country. We want to let our African-American brothers and sisters know that we stand in solidarity with them during this dark hour."

In our conflicted world, we are challenged to build many more such bridges of compassion and understanding between Christianity and Islam. We mustn't forget that, along with our Jewish friends, we are all sons and daughters of Abraham and People of the Book.

Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at fjbatavick@gmail.com.

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