Christianity and Islam
Both Christianity and Islam belong to the same group of Semitic or Abrahamic religions, and as the result, have many similar characteristics. Despite this fact, they are often disregarded throughout history and the accent is made on differences. It often leads to conflicts, and as the result, it separates the world into two irreconcilable parts — the Christian and the Muslim ones.
It is difficult to say whether these problems have a real solution, but in the nearest future they do not seem to be resolved. The Christians consider the Muslims to be terrorists who want to kill all disbelievers. The international community creates laws that are to reduce the terroristic menace, much attention is paid to this problem in the mass media. Even though, it is crucial to distinguish the world view of the Muslims and the one of the radical Islamics, who proclaim terror. In the current paper, an attempt to describe the main issues of the two Semitic religions will be made. It will give an opportunity for the Christians to understand that Islam is not the opposite to Christianity, and the minor differences can not separate people from each other. The promotion of the idea that the religion is not the stumbling block that divides the world into the enemies, but the ideology that permits the faithful to live in peace, is among the most important tasks of the modern ministry.
Similarities between Christianity and Islam
Christianity and Islam have much in common. To start with, they both belong to monotheistic group of religions, that supposes that there is only one God, or like it is in Islam, the only God and his Prophet. The Muslims believe that Allah has let Muhammad deliver His words to people. With the time, the divine revelation became the ethical and moral code of Islam. The nationality is not important if the person believes in Allah. 1 All human beings are equal in His eyes and thus there are no limitations concerning the question who can become a Muslim. In addition, the Muslims believe that Allah is the personified perfection. He can not die, He does not need to eat, to sleep, and He knows everything about everyone. It is considered that Allah is the only one who lives in the higher spheres of the divine universe. The Holy Quran describes it in the following way: “And Allah makes none to share in His decision and His rule”. 2 It is also impossible to claim that Islam is a bellicose religion. Its moral rules do not suppose that the Muslims must kill the disbelievers. Instead of it, all content of the Holy Quran is supposed to give the faithful hope.
The Christian religion has analogues of such basic rules that are well known even to those who do not believe in God, but who live in the Western world. There is no word in the Bible that people of the other religions must be killed, but the years of the Crusades show that there have been radical people who thought the other way. God is also the only one in Christianity, and he is all mighty and all knowing. The main aim of the Bible is to give people hope for the live after death and to provide them with the moral code that will guide them throughout pious life.
The ideas about afterlife are similar in the two religions. Muslims and Christians do not believe in the reincarnations of the soul. There is only one possible life, after which the person goes to heaven or hell, depending upon his/her life. The moral orientation in these Abrahamic religions is also common in numerous aspects. 3 It is seen from the example of the opposition of God to the evil, that is embodied in Shaitan in Islam and Satan in Christianity. The evil tries to make people disobey the moral rules of God, it tempts a believer and tries to make him/her sin. It is also possible to emphasize the importance of prophets in the Semitic religions. In both cases they are from the faithful people who led the most descent life, and God reveled Himself to them. The prophets are considered to be almost divine. It is also possible to note that both Christianity and Islam consider themselves to be the only right religion, and as the result think that the others will be punished for disbelieving.
In general, these Abrahamic religions are based on dualism of oppositions and monotheism. A person is born blessed by God, then he/she passes through a life full of sins and temptations, and in the end God will decide which side, sinful or pious, was prevailing during the life. Little attention is paid to the mystical side of the contact with the divine and to the inner personal experience that might help understand the essence of faith. The accent is made on the rituals that are supposed to be of the sacred character, on faith and on constant everyday work. It is also considered in both religions that the physical bodies will be resurrected, the dead will rise form their graves on the Judgment Day and unite with their immortal souls. 4
The Christians and the Muslims believe that there is an agreement, or a covenant, between people and God. The only difference is that the two religions have certain distinctive terms. The view point concerning such basic things like history and destiny are quite similar and can be characterized as eschatological. According to such position, the world was created by God only, and the humankind develops solely according to His plan. The entire history is guided by God and there is a predestination, that is called fate, which denotes the will of God and His power over a human being. 5
The historical background of the main books of Christianity and Islam, the Holy Quran and the Holy Scripture, is almost the same. The differences in depicting people and evaluating their actions are minor. For example, the city of Jerusalem plays an important role in both holy books. It was the province that belonged to Palestine from the fourth to the seventh century, and during this period of time the region was conquered by the Muslims. The allusions on Jerusalem that can be found in the New Testament are numerous. According to the Bible, it was the main Christian city of that time. There Jesus Christ was born and the temple of the new religion was built. In Jerusalem Jesus cured people and the biggest part of described miracles were made. He was tortured and crucified in this city. It is evident that such history of Jerusalem makes the city an attraction for millions of Christians who come there to pray and see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Golgotha. 6
The importance of Jerusalem for the Muslims is not that high as it is for the Christians. It is on the third place after Mecca and Medina. Though, Jerusalem is mentioned in the Holy Quran and it can be found there under the name of the Holy Land. Jerusalem is the city not only of Christian churches. The mosque Al-Aqsa is situated there. The first Muslims prayed in the direction of this mosque when Islam appeared. Only thirteen years after Prophet Muhammad decided to change the Al-Aqsa mosque to Kaaba. Another important historical place in Jerusalem that is mentioned the Holy Quran is the Miraj, where Prophet Muhammad together with the Archangel Gabriel ascended to the earth on the winged mule Buraq. 7
Differences between Christianity and Islam
As it was mentioned earlier, there are certain differences between Islam and Christianity, but the most essential things are common in both Abrahamic religions. It is possible to claim that these distinctions emphasize the similarities between them even more. Such thought was first mentioned in the works of the 5th century theologian and philosopher Pseudo-Dionysius. He is considered to be the founder of the so-called apophatic or negative theology. He used the Neoplatonic method of cognition of God, which supposes that it is better to analyze the unknown, and the divine obviously belongs to this category, through negations rather than through affirmations. According to the ideas of Pseudo-Dionysius, when a person prays, he/she needs to reject the material world that can be defined in simple words. Such simplification decreases the importance and ruins the unknown essence of the divine. He introduces the notion of the divine darkness in his works. God is considered to be a personification of the mystical power that is impossible to find in the everyday life. It is necessary to forget about the things that are easy to understand and can be touched, when a person wants to understand God in the way proposed by Pseudo-Dionysius. Only through detachment from emotions and feelings a person might feel the essence of the divine. Negations, stating what is not God, is a better way of understanding something that can not be found in the ordinary life than affirmations. 8
Pseudo-Dionysius claims that God is superior to everything that can be found in the real world, but at the same time He is present in everything. 9 The philosopher thinks that it is incorrect to state that the negations are in the opposition to the affirmations, because they are prior to them. The cause and the nature of all things lies beyond the words. Such philosophical approach illustrates in a more persuasive way the difference between Christianity and Islam.
It is necessary to investigate into the details that are different in the two Abrahamic religions. To start with, the Christians believe that God created people in his image, while the Muslims do not write about the image of Allah at all. Another peculiar difference is in the way the faithful of the two Semitic religions communicate with God. 10 The majority of Christians believe that they need a mediator in the fact of the church to contact God. Some Christian confessions like the Protestants disagree with the idea that the church is an indispensable part of praying, but still the ideas about the rituals and the importance of the clergy are the same. 11 Muslims claim that Allah hears the prays from everyone’s heart without any rituals and in all places of the world. Such distinctions can be also explained by cultural setting and national mentality, that has formed the tradition. 12
There are several most important components that form the Muslim faith: Allah, His Prophet, the Holy Quran, destiny, angels and the Day of Judgment. All these notions are present in the Christian religion, but the attention the faithful pay to them is various. 13 For example, the Christians do not consider the Day of Judgment and destiny to be the most important issues in the life of believers. However, the attitude towards destiny and the Day of Judgment is similar in the two religions. They both claim that only those who have lives a pious and righteous life will be given a chance for paradise, and they will rise on the Judgment Day. It is necessary to make everything possible to become better, to be good to the others, and only in that case the Christians and the Muslims talk about destiny. It is absolutely wrong and sinful in both religions to be idle and to say that they are poor, ill and smothered by problems because it is their destiny and they can do nothing with it. 14
The names of the hell and the heaven also differ in Christianity and Islam, which is not strange, because the initial language in which the holy books were written vary. In the Christian religion the sinners go to hell, and the righteous faithful go to the paradise. In Islam the sinners whom Allah does not forgive are tortured in the Hellfire, or Jahannam. Those Muslims who did many good things to the others and lived according to the Holy Quran go to the paradise called Jannah. 15
The philosophical attitude to the questions of life and death in Christianity and Islam also vary only by terminology. The Muslims think that the Destiny is the will of Allah that determines everything in the world, and it is called in Arabian Qada wal-Qada. 16 Even though it is not right to wait silently until the will of Allah will become real, every person is individually responsible for his/her life. The main aim of both Christian and Islamic faith is to give people hope, and this aspect unites them the most. When a person tries hard to do something, for example, to fight with the serious malady, and nothing helps, the only thing that eases his/her pain and struggling is faith and hope, that can be found in Islam just like in Christianity.
Social problems connected with Islam in Christian society
Much has been written about the similarities of the two Abrahamic religions and their differences that only emphasize the common nature. However, the problems connected with so-living of the Christians and the Muslims exist nowadays and they are considered to be among the most urgent issues of the world security. It is possible to explain the social problems that appear in the contemporariness society on the basis of the distinct religion by different traditional ways to see the world and live, that have developed for centuries. In the United States or in Europe the problems arise because the Muslims live in the predominantly Christian society and the norms of behavior are different.
The first thing that can be described as the religious bias that results in a serious social problem is the traditional way of Muslim women to dress. When the knowledge of people about Islam is not very profound, they mostly always recall that Muslim women in black look like terrorists and they are afraid of them. Another issue is that the Europeans or the supposedly Christian Americans consider those women to be unhappy with their traditional strict dress code. Many Western people can not understand without explanations that wearing a hijab and covering all body with cloth is not the way in which Muslims humiliate women. They can wear the most luxurious dresses at home, but it is considered unmoral to show sexuality to the other men.
Such misunderstanding leads to scandals when the government makes Muslim women take their hidjab when they are driving, because other people think that it is a potential menace. Another example connected with women is that there are often problems with health care, when only female doctors can see female patients who are Muslims without clothes. Sometimes when the situation needs quick help there can be no female doctors and female patients can even die without prompt medical help. 17
Another social problem connected with the co-living of two cultures with different religions is the terrorist menace. It has been an urgent theme discussed by the mass media and the government in the United States for many years, especially after the terroristic attack in the World Trade Center. This menace is closely connected with the Islamic jihad in the minds of non-Muslim people, and the negative attitude towards the peaceful Muslims who live in the United States becomes worse. The government sends American troops to solve the armed conflicts in the Middle East, because their Islamic community lacks democracy, the ambassadors proclaim during international conferences that the US guarantees the world security from the Islamic terrorists, and all these issues combine and create an image of a religious armed fanatic, who is supposedly every Muslim person. It is evident that such misunderstanding does not lead to peaceful communication of the Muslims and the other world, because they are constantly insulted. 18
The tension in the relationships can not lead to anything but the intensification of the opposition and the aggravation of problems withing the community. The examples of such stereotypical thinking can be found in the recent history of New York, when the local government made police spy on the Muslim communities as potentially dangerous. 19 It is possible to imagine how nervous the spies in civil clothes can made the Muslims when they follow them mostly everywhere, from the supermarket to the mosque. It is also possible to assume that the number of terroristic attacks might increase, because it will be perceived by the Muslim community as the adequate answer to the actions of the American government. 20
It is difficult to underestimate the number of similarities between Christianity and Islam, that both belong to the Abrahamic, or Semitic religions. The differences in details that are present in the holy books of the two religions are determined mostly by the cultural and language context, and their nature only emphasizes their common aspects. In fact, Islam is a world religion that gains popularity every day and it is crucial to understand that the Muslims do not want to kill all disbelievers and their ethical code is similar with the Christian one. For example, the Holy Quran tells the Muslims to honor the elderly, to take care of the ill and to feed the poor. The stereotypical thinking about Islam lead to social tension that is difficult to overcome. Making the Christians understand that the Muslims are not potential enemies of their peaceful living and their religion also teaches people to live in a righteous way is one of the most important goals in the contemporary Christian ministry.
Common English Bible. Accessed August 26, 2014. https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Common-English-Bible-CEB/#booklist
Hillenbrand, Carole. Islam: A New Historical Introduction. Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2015.
Husain, Ed. The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left. Penguin, 2007.
Ladd, George E. The New Testament and Criticism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967.
Lane, Tony. A Concise History of Christian Thought. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.
Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.
Pseudo-Dionysius. The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality). New York: Paulist Press, 1988.
Shaw, Mark. Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution. Downers Grove: IVP, 2010.
The Holy Quran. Accessed August 26, 2014. http://quran.com/
1Hillenbrand, Carole, Islam: A New Historical Introduction (Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2015), 35.
2The Holy Quran, accessed August 26, 2014. http://quran.com/
3Hillenbrand, 24 – 25.
4George E. Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 15 – 16.
5Reza, Aslan. No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam (Arrow, 2011), 64..
7Saeed Bin Ahmed Al Lootah. The Essentials of Islam (New Delhi: Goodword Books, 2003), 63.
8Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 53-54.
10Saeed Bin Ahmed Al Lootah, 103.
11Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 240 – 243.
13Reza, 54 – 55.
15Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 63.
16 Al Lootah, The Essentials of Islam (New Delhi: Goodword Books, 2003), 82.
17Husain, Ed, The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left (Penguin, 2007), 92.
19Mark Shaw, Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 152.