Christianity, Islam and Judaism are the most well-known of Western, monotheistic religions, and many of their symbols are recognized around the world. The Star of David, the cross and the crescent are synonymous, respectively, with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The origins of some, such as the cross, are obvious, while the origin of other symbols are more mysterious.

Symbols of Christianity

Close-up of a crucifix

The most common symbol associated with Christianity is the cross. The cross symbolizes Jesus' crucifixion, which in Christian belief atoned for the sins of humanity. The Roman Emperor Constantine marked the shields of his soldiers before a victory in the year 312, and according to Christianity Today, this is the most practical explanation for the cross supplanting the ichthys as the prime Christian symbol. The ichthus, which is Greek for "fish," is usually a simple fish drawn with a single line. Among Greek-speaking Christians, the word "ichthys" was once considered an acronym for various attributes of Jesus.

Symbols of Islam

Islamic symbol atop mosque

Islam is largely devoid of symbols, because the religion opposes using symbols that could be worshipped as the equivalent of God. This is why, for example, there are no statues of Muhammad. Despite this, the crescent symbol is widely associated with Islam, appearing in Islamic charities such as the Red Crescent, on mosques such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and on the flags of many Muslim-majority countries such as Algeria and Pakistan. The crescent was a counter-emblem to the cross starting at the time of the Crusades, according to "The Complete Dictionary of Symbols."

Symbols of Judaism

Boys lighting a menorah

The Star of David is the most prominent symbol associated with Judaism. It consists of two overlapped, equilateral triangles that form a six-pointed star. The "Encyclopedia of Judaism" states that this symbol has been dated back as far as the third century, but did not come into popular usage until much later. Its origins are unknown. The Star of David appears on the flag of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world. The Menorah, a nine-branched candle holder used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, is also recognized as a distinctly Jewish symbol.

Symbols Common to All Three

Abraham is the symbolic father of all three religions, symbolizing obedience to God. Judaism traces its heritage through Abraham and his son Isaac, as does Christianity. Abraham is an important figure in Islam as well, and Muslims trace their heritage through Abraham and his son Ishmael. All three religions also believe Jerusalem to be a gateway to the holy. Jerusalem was the site of the original Jewish temples, and it is also the city where Jesus was crucified and, in Christian belief, redeemed humanity. In Islam, Jerusalem was the site where Muhammad ascended to heaven during the Night Journey described in surah 17 of the Quran.