Ground Zero Imam: I’ve ‘Always Been’ a Jew and a Christian

NEW YORK–Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are one in the same. That’s according to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque. And New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg agrees.

In a 2003 speech at a memorial service for slain journalist Daniel Pearl, Rauf claimed that based on the “common ground of our faiths,” he has “always been” a Jew and a Christian.

“If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul: ‘Shma Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,'” Rauf said, “not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.”

Last week, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (who is Jewish) supported the statement. At a dinner he hosted to commemorate Ramadan, Bloomberg added, “In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been.”

But equating Islam with Judaism and Christianity is considered by some Jews and Christians as a gross misinterpretation.

“To claim that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are essentially the same thing ignores the fact that they make competing theological claims about God, humanity, and the relationship between the two,” says Darian Lockett, assistant professor of biblical and theological studies at BIOLA University in Los Angeles. “Though these three monotheistic religions share a connection to Abraham, these three groups make significantly different claims about God.”

Additionally, by claiming to be all three, Lockett argues, Rauf strips each faith of its specific truth claim: “Christianity focuses upon the finished work of Christ as the only path to God, while Judaism focuses on following Torah and Islam demands following the law of Allah as a means to salvation.” Rauf’s statement, he adds, is grossly contradictory.

Still, the three faiths do share a common theme of loving God and neighbor. One of the five pillars of Islam is giving alms to the needy, and both Old and New Testament scriptures admonish Jews and Christians to love God and care for others. But those similarities do not mean the faiths are interchangeable, according Arthur Hyman and Adam Mintz, two Jewish scholars in New York City.

Hyman, dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University says that sharing some beliefs does not make the religions identical. “While to love God and your neighbor are parts of the three religions,” he explains, “these cannot be considered as determining the essential part of each religion.” For example, he points out that Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith (considered the Son of God), while he is only a prophet in Islam and completely absent from orthodox Judaism.

Adam Mintz, an orthodox Rabbi in New York City and adjunct professor at Queens College, also recognizes that some practices are shared by the three faiths. But when asked if Judaism is simply about loving God and neighbor, he responded, “That is definitely not what Judaism is.”

According to Lockett, neither are the other faiths. To define them as such, “papers over the different ways each community understands God, love, and neighbor.” And while “it is ‘cool’ in our culture to use the same words and import our own meaning into them,” he adds, “this is both theologically and intellectually dishonest.” To him, then, the Imam’s statement appears disingenuous.

Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About Christianity and the newly appointed president of The King’s College in New York City, offers a slightly different view. He says the Imam’s and the mayor’s statements can be defined in two ways–as either political or theological.

Theologically, the statements cannot be justified: “Certainly in the sense of salvation Christianity is unique; It has distinctive differences form Judaism and Islam.” But politically the statements make sense. “Politics is about how we live together,” he explains,”not about what happens to our souls when we die.” He believes the mayor’s statement may have been intended to find the lowest common denominator. The Imam’s statement still, however, “gives me pause.”

Lockett puts it much more forcefully: “It is impossible to be rationally coherent and claim to be all three.”

–Calls and e-mails to Muslim leaders were not returned