A series of special religious observances - for Muslims,
Christians and Jews - unfold in the coming two weeks, each
of the occasions signifying humanity's dependence on God.
But they differ in form and procedure.
Islam's month of Ramadan starts this Sunday evening. Christianity's
holy week begins the following Palm Sunday, March 24, leading
to Easter Sunday, March 31. Judaism's Passover week commences March 29.
All three monotheistic religions are interlinked, both Christianity
and Islam finding prophetic roots in the older "mother
religion" of Judaism.
The chain of observances opens in Islam which, in its own
way, includes champions of all three faiths - Islam's founder
Mohammed, the Jewish hero of Passover, Moses, and Christianity's
Muslims regard Jews and Christians as the "People of the
Book," the designation applied to them by Islam's Scriptures,
the Koran, referring to the Bible.
While many Westerners of predominantly Judeo-Christian affiliations
regard Islam as a remote, foreign faith of which they know
little, the Koran says of Jews and Christians in Sura 3:64:
"O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between
us and you: That we worship none but God."
Ramadan, ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a period
of daytime fasting whose observance is obligatory except
for travelers, the pregnant or sick. It is one of "five
pillars of Islam."
The period customarily begins in many Muslim countries with
repeated firing of cannons on the eve of the first day.
Days are marked from sunset to sunset in the Islamic calendar,
as in the Jewish calendar.
In Islamic thought, fasting points up limitations of self,
that without recognizing limitations real knowledge is impossible,
that only in seeing the limits of anything does its true
nature become evident.
By imposing limits through curbing indulgence day after
day, Ramadan is seen as underscoring a spiritual lesson
of full truth only in God, as well as being a kind of sacrificial
purification bringing renewal and fresh strength.
The observance also is meant to accent sympathy for the hungry.
Somewhat similarly, the week-long Jewish observance Passover,
recalling the slavery of Jews in Egypt and their deliverance
through God's intervention, also points up hopes of ultimate
redemption from human limitations.
A kindred note runs through the Christian concept of liberation
of humanity from its failings and sin through the resurrection
of their Godly trailblazer, Jesus Christ, from crucifixion and death.
Although Muslims have become a growing part of the U.S.
population, Islamic specialists say there is scant understanding
of that faith among others, or of its expressed connections
with Judaism and Christianity.
A principle of Islam is belief not only in the Koran, but
also respect for the Bible's Old and New Testaments, although
contemporary versions of them are said to have become adulterated.
Jewish and Christian scholars also regard many of the Koran's
retelling of biblical events as fragmentary and sometimes mistaken.
The main biblical stories are retold in the Koran, often
with less detail and differing incidentals. Regarding Jesus,
he is protrayed as born of the Virgin Mary, bringing the
Gospel, performing miracles and finally ascending to God.