by Mark Durie (February 2014)
Presented at Ahavath Torah Synagogue, Stoughton, Massachusetts January 9, 2014
and at Children of Holocaust Survivors in Las Angeles, California, January 21,2014
The Abrahamic Fallacy is the belief that Abraham is a figure of unity for Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
The phrase “Abrahamic Religions” has become very popular as a cover-term for these three faiths. It is particularly popular among Jewish and Christian progressives on the one hand, and Muslim apologists on the other. The term implies a kind of unity or brotherhood across the three faiths.
More broadly, the term “Abrahamic religions” has become the standard term, both in comparative religions and popular parlance, to refer to the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in contrast, for example, to Indian religions and East Asian religions.
In essence the claim embodied by the expression is that Abraham is “shared” as a point of common origin by all three monotheistic religions, and naming him as their shared identity is meant to signal that these three faiths are linked together in some kind of theological continuity.
The expression is in fact used in a variety of ways. Adam Dodds points out that for some, it is simply a cover term for the grouping of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, a kind of functional shorthand without any intended theological content. Others – perhaps the majority of writers – use the phrase to imply some degree of “historical and theological commonality,” perhaps unspecified. For still others the term implies an intimate unity, namely that it is one and the same God who has authored the Bible and the Qur’an, and the same eternal message is presented in both books.
But is the construct of “Abrahamic religion” helpful, or quite the opposite, a bad idea? And specifically, is the multi-faith Abraham the same person found in the pages of the Torah, or is he merely a product of wishful thinking?
The prototypical Muslim
From the Quran’s perspective, Abraham was the prototypical Muslim. He is used by Muhammad in the Quran as a stick to beat over the heads of Christians and Jews. This arises for example in the context of Muhammad’s disputes with the Jews of Medina (specifically in this Sura: 4:44-57, 156-162). Muhammad is in effect saying, “You quote the name Abraham to me, but Abraham was a Muslim, one of a long line of prophets. If you accept Abraham, you must accept me.”
Islam is the true Judaism and the true Christianity
Not only Abraham, but Moses and Jesus were Muslim prophets according to the Quran. So Islam is the true heritage of Jews and Christians. Jews and Christians who convert to Islam are actually reverting to the faith of the patriarchs, returning to the one true religion.
An Abrahamic political vision for America
According to this view, the “religion of Abraham” is a kind of code for Islam’s precedence over all other religions. Islamic da’waor mission to Christians and Jews involves calling them to the “religion of Abraham,” i.e. to Islam. Shamin A. Siddiqi of Flushing, New York put this position in a letter to Daniel Pipes:
Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were all prophets of Islam. Islam is the common heritage of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim community of America, and establishing the Kingdom of God is the joint responsibility of all three Abrahamic faiths. Islam was the din (faith, way of life) of both Jews and Christians, who later lost it through human innovations. Now the Muslims want to remind their Jews and Christian brothers and sisters of their original din. These are the facts of history.
This vision, clothed in harmonious-sounding language, in fact is of a sharia-compliant United States led by Muslims and created with the help of Jews and Christians. It is “Abrahamic” in the sense that it is Islamic, as Islam is the common heritage of the three faiths. And within this vision of sharia America, non-Muslims should be relegated to the subservient role of promoters of Islam.
Today the phrase “Abrahamic religion” has become a touchstone of interfaith dialogue and unity between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. But ironically this phrase is another rendering of the “religion of Abraham” of the Quran: the phrase refers to Abraham as a Muslim.
Abraham a Figure of Division Between the Three Faiths
In reality Abraham is an intensely divisive figure between Jews, Christians and Muslims. For many Christians he is the apostle of salvation by faith alone, in opposition to Torah-observance. For Jews he is the Torah-observant father of the Jewish nation, and a reminder of God’s irrevocable covenant with the Jews. For Muslims he is the prototypical Muslim prophet, a prominent forerunner and validator of Muhammad’s claim and the ground of Muslim claims that Islam both predates and supersedes the Biblical faiths.
The Origins of the Expression “Abrahamic Religion”
I have been tracing the origins of the concept of “Abrahamic faith” in reference to monotheistic dialogue. Its most important and influential promoter was a Lebanese Maronite priest, Youakim Moubarac, following in the footsteps of his teacher, Massignon, who regarded Islam as a faith of genuine revelation — and Muhammad as a prophet — but in more primitive stage than Christianity.
Moubarac devoted his 1951 doctoral dissertation Abraham dans le Coran to the topic of Abraham in Islam. He was subsequently a significant influence on Vatican II’s policy on Islam, which has shaped the current Catholic catechism, which sees Islam and Christianity as united by adoration of the one God:
841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.” 
An Abrahamic utopia and dhimmi theology
Moubarac saw in the theme of Abrahamic faith a force which could unite Christians, Jews and Arabs into one family. Thus he wrote that one should “promote an egalitarian Palestine in which Jews, Christians and Muslims demonstrate together its abrahamic and ecumenical vocation.”
This vision of a political and spiritual reconciliation between faiths based upon a shared identity as followers of “Abrahamic faith” is fundamentally flawed. In fact it leads to Islamization, as a society based on the Quranic concept of Abrahamic faith is a sharia state, which by virtue of the structure of Islamic law, is devoted to the decline and ultimate disappearance of Christianity and Judaism.
It should not be surprising that a Christian from a dhimmi background, from a nation traumatized by the massacres of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, would produce an quintessential dhimmi theology, one which offers to Christians the option of serving Islam by embracing the legitimacy of Islam and thus of Muslim power. Bat Ye’or writes:
Moubarac interpreted the end of Christian political power [i.e. in Lebanon] as a religious liberation which would restore to the Church the vocation that Islam had assigned to it: a service of charity and love toward Muslims. (Islam and Dhimmitude p. 183.)
The promotion of “Abrahamic faith” as the touchstone of interfaith religious dialogue was linked in its origins with a vision of a Middle Eastern utopia in which Christians, Muslims and Jews would live side by side in unity. In reality this vision encouraged Islamophile church leaders in Lebanon to fight alongside Palestinians to destroy the political and national structures of Christianity in Lebanon. The ultimate outcome has been, and will continue to be, the progressive Islamization of that nation and destruction of the church – in accordance with the internal goals of Islamic doctrine, a process which is now reaching end-game stage in Iraq and perhaps also Syria.
Rowan Williams on Sharia law in Europe
I am minded to recall the previous Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s suggestion that the British embrace aspects of Sharia law, claiming that “It is not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system.” Undoubtedly Williams’ views were based upon his experiences of interfaith dialogue, which had schooled him in the underlying unity of the Abrahamic faiths. Thus he became an apologist for sharia law and its alien and abhorrent treatment of women: the pointy end of Williams’s proposal is of course the entrenchment of sharia courts in the UK, which are not good for the rights of Muslim women. By making this statement he became, albeit unwittingly, an apologist for the sharia itself, including by implication its demand that Muslims be politically dominant.
The concept of “Abrahamic faiths” is a fallacy. Its contemporary influence was, tragically, born out of a century of Christian suffering in the Middle East and foisted upon the unsuspecting West. It is reasonable to ask whether this is a theological Trojan horse designed to promote an Islamic worldview of relations between faiths.
By all means, let us discuss Abraham and what he stands for in different faiths, and note that the narratives of the three monotheistic faiths refer to Abraham. But it is unwise to take Abraham as a touchstone of unity and theological continuity. On the contrary, the name of Abraham stands for the profound divisions between the three monotheistic faiths.
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Dr Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist and pastor of an Anglican church. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992. at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.The Third Choice, Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom is reviewed under the title Dhimmitude Dominates and excerpted in theNew English Review. An interview with Dr. Durie can be found in The West Speaks published by the New English Review Press. He also is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Also see: Jewish Myopia Towards Islam (newenglishreview.org)