The Abrahamic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, so-called because they are all descendants of the religious tradition of Abraham, the biblical patriarch. The term desert monotheism offers an alternative descriptive categorisation. The standard Islamic name for the other two monotheistic religions is People of the Book.
There are six notable figures in the Bible prior to Abraham: Adam and Eve, their sons Cain and Abel, Enoch who was "taken by God" and Noah, his great-grandson, who saved his own family and all animal life in Noah's Ark. These people did not however leave any recorded moral code behind - they serve simply as good and bad examples of behaviour but there is no specific indication of how one interprets their actions in any religion.
Islam considers Adam and Noah to be prophets, and also considers the wisest lawgivers of other nations (Confucius, Hiawatha) to be prophets as long as they claimed no divinity on their own behalf. Judaism historically accepted that each people had its own god, of which theirs was simply the most powerful. Many strains of Christianity up to the 20th century considered followers of some or all other faiths to simply be idolators, heathens, heretics, pagans, blasphemers, or merely misguided.
So rather than being the sole "founding figure", it is more correct to say that Abraham is the first figure in Genesis that is (a) clearly not of direct divine origin such as Adam and Eve are claimed to be; (b) the three major desert monotheist faiths accept as playing some major role in the founding of their common civilization; (c) is not claimed as the male genetic forebear of all humans on the Earth (as Noah is, in more literal interpretations - Cain by contrast married a woman from the "Land of Nod" who was unrelated to him or Adam); and (d) is quite well-documented.
In the Book of Genesis, Abraham is specifically instructed to leave the city of Ur so that God will "make of you a great nation", and his travails thereby are well documented. Burton Visotzky, an ethicist, wrote Genesis of Ethics to explore the detailed implications of these adventures for a modern ethics.
According to the Bible, the patriarch Abraham (or Ibrahim, the Arabic version) had eight sons: one (Ishmael) by his wife's servant Hagar, and one (Isaac) by his wife Sarah. According to this account, Jews are descended from Isaac's son Jacob, also called Israel. Biblical Judaism is based on the covenant between God and the "children of Israel" (descendants of Israel's twelve sons) at Sinai.
Christianity recognizes Jesus, who had at least a Jewish mother, as its messiah, as the son of God, and as being part of the Godhead himself. Islam recognizes Jesus and the Jewish prophets after Abraham (such as Moses) as being divinely inspired (though not divinely born), and in a crucial distinction recognizes Muhammad (the religion's founder) as a prophet - the last.
Although the Bahá'í Faith is not traditionally included among the Abrahamic faiths, it recognizes the same prophets, plus Bahá'u'llá'h. Rastafarianism similarly recognizes Biblical authority and believes itself to be a descendant of the religion of Abraham. Most Biblical prophets are recognized, along with Emperor Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey.
There are other religions that recognize, to a greater or lesser degree, the prophets of the Bible, including the various Voodoo faiths (a syncretic blend of Christianity and African pagan religions) and Unitarian Universalism.
- Bahá'í Faith
- Orthodox Bahai Faith is a movement which started within the Bahá'í Faith, though now independent of it. Total membership is estimated at up to a few thousand. Although the beliefs of the main division and the Orthodox Bahá'ís are for the most part identical, they differ on the issue of ongoing leadership.
- Christianity is a monotheistic religion, and one of the major world religions recognized today. It includes groups of religious traditions that trace their origins to Jesus Christ, a Jew of the first century, and assert that he is the son of God and the Lord and sole Savior of all humanity as the Jewish Messiah.
- Druzism The druze are a small religious community, with members in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. They use the Arabic language and follow a social pattern very similar to the Arabs of the region, but consider themselves neither Arabs nor Muslims. Some 600,000 Druze live in the Middle East today.
- Islam Islam (Arabic: الإسلام) is a monotheistic religion that arose in the 7th century based on the religious teachings of Muhammed. Followers of Islam are known as Muslims (the spelling "Moslem" used to be more prevalent: in some older English texts they are referred to as "Muhammadans" or "Mohammadans", but these terms are deprecated because some people take them to imply that Muslims worship Muhammad, and that is incorrect).
- Sunni Sunni Islam (سونى) is the largest denomination of Islam. Followers of the Sunni tradition are known as Sunnis or Sunnites.
It is widely believed among Sunnis that the name Sunni derives from the word Sunnah which represents the prophet Muhammad's manner of conduct. Some have argued that "Sunni" actually means or is derived from a word that means "a middle path" referring to the idea that Sunnism is a more neutral position than the perceivedly more extreme viewpoints of the Shias and the Kharjites.
- Shafi'i is one of the four schools of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam. Shafi'i is practiced in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and is the state religion of Brunei Darussalam. It is followed by approximately 15% of Muslims world-wide.
The Shafi'i tradition is particularly accessible to English speaking Muslims due to the availability of high quality translations of the Reliance of the Traveller.
The Shafi'i school of fiqh is named after it's "founder": Muhammad ibn Idris ibn al-`Abbas, al-Imam al-Shafi`i, Abu `Abd Allah al-Shafi`i al-Hijazi al-Qurashi al-Hashimi al-Muttalibi (better known as Imam Shafi).
- Hanafi is one of the four schools (madhabs) of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam. It is considered to be the school most open to modern ideas. Hanafi is predominant among Sunni Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, the Levant, the Indian subcontinent and parts of West Africa, although students of Islam throughout the world study and may choose to observe its conclusions about Islamic practise. Hanafi is the largest of the four schools; it is followed by approximately 30% of Muslims world-wide.
The presence of four different schools of religious law within Sunni Islam should not be viewed as a schism. On the contrary, there is little or no animousity between the schools. Instead there is a healthy cross-pollenation of ideas and logical argumentation that serves to refine each school's understanding of Islam. It is not uncommon, or disallowed, for an individual to follow one school but take the point of view of another school for a certain issue.
- Maliki is the oldest of the four schools of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam. Maliki is practiced in North Africa and parts of West Africa. It is the second-largest of the four schools, followed by approximately 25% of Muslims.
It differs from the 3 other schools of law mainly on the sources it uses for derivation of rulings. While all four schools use primarily the Quran as a source, followed by the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad transmitted as hadith (sayings), consensus of the scholars or Muslims (ijma) and analogy (qiyas). The Maliki school also uses the practice of the people of Medina (amal ahl al-medina) as a source. This accordinging to Imam Malik sometimes supersedes hadith, because the practice of the people of Medina was seen as the 'living sunna' since the Prophet migrated there, lived there and died there, and most of his companions lived there during his life and after his death. The result is a much more limited set of Hadith are observed than other schools.
- Hanbali is one of the four schools of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam. It is considered to be the most conservative of the four schools. The school was started by the students of Imam Hanbal. Hanbali is predominant among Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula, although students of Islam throughout the world study and may choose to observe its conclusions about Islamic practise. Hanbali is followed by less than 5% of the world's Muslim population. The Hanbali school was greatly supported by Muhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab who used this system of fiqh. It is thus the school of jurisprudence used in modern day Saudi Arabia.
- Shiite The Shi'a (also Shi'ite) make up the second largest group of believers in Islam, constituting about 10-15% of all Muslims. (The largest sect, the Sunni Muslims, make up about 85% of all Muslims). Shi'a Muslims accept Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, as the legal successor of Muhammad and disregard three of the other four caliphs who succeeded him.
- Alawites are a Middle-eastern religious group prominent in Syria, who backed the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad.
- Ismailis The Ismaili branch of Islam is the second largest Shi'a community, after the Twelvers based in Iran. The Ismailis are now scattered in more than twenty countries of Asia, Africa, Europe and The Americas. It is also known as "sevener Shi'a". The Ismailis believe that there were seven Imams that led the community of Muslims after the death of Muhammed. These two branches of Shi'a Islam split from each other over a century into their founding, so much of their early history is the same and they share several shrines.
- Wahhabi a movement of Islam founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703 - 1792). It is a fundamentalist movement of the Sunni form of Islam and has become an object of surging interest because it is the major sect of the government and society of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, and claimed to be followed by Saudi Arabian-raised Osama bin-Laden.
- Sufism a Mystic school of Islamic thought that includes philosophers and muslims.
- Ahmadiyya Muslims (often known as Qadianis) are members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association (not to be confused with the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, ahmadiyya anjuman ishaat-i Islam), a heterodox Islamic sect created in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to be the Messiah advertised in the Holy Quran. The movement has been met with great resistance as it differs from the common belief amongst most Muslims that Muhammad was the last prophet of God. Ahmadis counter that Muhammad was the last law-bearing prophet and that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad did not create a new religion, but revived and rejuvenated Islam.
Figures for the total numbers of adherents vary greatly between different sources. Figures range from around 10 million, to around 200 million members, in over 176 countries. The supreme head is Mirza Masroor Ahmad, given the title Khalifatul Masih Khamis. On January 9, 2004 Bangladesh banned books published by Ahmadis.
- John the Baptizer John the Baptist or John the Baptizer is regarded as a prophet by at least three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Mandaeanism. According to the New Testament, he was a relative of Jesus. That he was a prophet is asserted by the Gospels of the Christian Bible and the Qur'an (see also prophets of Islam). Eastern Orthodox Christians also refer to him as John the Forerunner because he was the forerunner of Christ.
- Judaism is the religion and culture of the Jewish people. The tenets and history of Judaism constitute the historical foundation of many other religions including Christianity and Islam.
- Pre-Rabbinic sects
- Essenes The Essenes were a Jewish religious sect that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE.
They were opposed to the Pharisees and Saducees. They are discussed in detail by Josephus and Philo. Many scholars believe that the community at Qumran that allegedly produced the Dead Sea Scrolls was an offshoot of the Essenes; however, this theory has been disputed by Norman Golb and other scholars.
- Hebrew religion (syns. Heberites, Eberites, Hebreians, Israelites, descendants of biblical Patriarch Eber) were bands of nomads who wandered Syria, Palestine, and Canaan and as far as present day Egypt and Kuwait in the 2nd millenia BCE. The Hebrews were originally Canaanites, but gradually distinguished themselves based upon a religious difference. The Hebrews worshipped El or Elohim (meaning Shining One), the traditional head of the Canaanite pantheon who would later become the angry, jealous God of the Old Testament, whereas the Canaanite elite began to favor El's son, Adad, whom they referred to as "Baal" (translated as "The Lord").
- Pharisaism The Pharisees were one of the successor groups of the Hasidim (the "pious"), an anti-Hellenic Jewish movement that formed in the time of the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes ( 175 - 163 BCE). The first mention of them is by the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus, in a description of the four "schools of thought" (that is, social groups or movements) into which the Jews were divided in the 1st century CE.
- Sadducees their name in Hebrew was tsedduqim, indicating that they were followers of the teachings of the High Priest Zadok, who annointed Solomon king during the First Temple era. The Sadducees denied the immortality of the soul, they denied the existence of spirits or angels and they disputed the rabbis' interpretation of the Torah. They are often presented as denying that any of the Hebrew Bible, apart from the Torah, is authoritative.
- Samaritanism is a religion related to Judaism in that it accepts the Torah as its holy book. Samaritanists consider Jewish thinkers after the Torah as having been led astray while they themselves stayed to the true religion. Their temple was at Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem. Very few followers remain today: about 500 living near Mt. Gerizim.
When the Babylonian Empire conquered ancient Israel, it deported the middle and upper classes of the Jews to Babylonia, replacing them with settlers from other parts of the Babylonian Empire. The lower classes and the settlers intermarried and merged into one community. Decades later, the descendants of those Jews exiled in Babylon were permitted to return, and many did. The Jews who had returned to Israel refused to recognize the descendants of the lower class Jews who had remained as Jews, due to their intermarriage and merger with pagan settlers, even though they largely followed the same religion. It is believed that these descendants are the ancestors of the Samaritans.