Since September 11th, major confrontation between the Christian and the Muslim world has been quite tense these days, yet it is important to understand that there are similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam, both of which are very significant in today’s society. Within this paper we will look at some of these significant similarities and differences between these two commonly known and practiced religions: that being Christianity and Islam.
Also, both Christianity and Islam were given through the message of God basic rules of guidance to follow within each religion, although these rules in themselves were different and/or had different meanings. The Christians had been given the Ten Commandments through Gods messenger Moses, while Islam had been given the Five Pillars Muhammad himself. Another key characteristic of both of these religions which is very comparable is that each has its own “Book” of and/or about the religion within itself. Each respective religion has their own book, which has been authored by followers, messengers, apostles and/or disciples of the religion. The Christian religion has the Holy Bible, a collection of sacred scriptures and the Islamic religion has the Koran or Qur’an, the Holy Scripture of Islam.
Later, as Islam began to differentiate itself from the beliefs of Christianity, many significant differences evolved between Christianity and Islam. For example, within each religion followers are expected to pray certain ways, different from each other. For instance, within Islam Muslims pray alone and in congregation. Muslims follow and adhere too many strict rules for which must be abided by during the execution of congregational prayer. For instance, each day Muslims must pray this way many times a day, while facing in certain fundamentally important directions. On the other hand, Christians, which prayer is done alone tends to be informal and at one’s own discretion, as it is for the Islamic religion. Meanwhile congregational prayer for Christians is much less demanding and stringent, and may be performed in a number of suitable traditions. Within Islam Muslims are also expected to take a pilgrimage, to the religious Holy Land of Islam while, Christians have no such expectations. A further difference for which the two religions differ is the way money is donated to the church in the name of the religion. In Islamic ways, during previous and modern days, donations were given in the form of a mandated religious tax. Meanwhile Christians are asked to give if one wishes any form of monetary donation. Another major arguable difference between Christianity and Islam is how the Holy Bible is and/or has been interpreted. Amongst the many arguments disputed events, one being which of Abraham sons was sacrificed and the other event of the Virgin Birth and the nature of Jesus. As well as the disputed interpretation of the belief in a single God and the belief of God being in the three forms of the Trinity, the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
As stated earlier Christianity and Islam are religions based on many similar and different ideals and beliefs based on the fact that one was derived from the other. It is for this reason, one can see a number of things that very similar and ring true within each religion and a number of things that are completely different between each religion. In addition to the similarities and differences, both of these religions are well recognized within society today even though both religions are centuries old.
Regardless of the fact that there are similarities and differences between the two religions, Christianity and Islam, each plays an integral role within society now a days, this is obvious in the number of followers each religion has. These in themselves are complete religions to many of their followers. Born of Christianity, a lot Islam’s basic belief structure is based on that of Christianity and pieces of the Holy Bible. Do to these facts there are many comparative similarities and differences between the two religions.
The beginnings of Islam are actually deeply rooted in Christianity, for it was Muhammad’s contention that both Judaism and Christianity had strayed far from the law of God, first revealed through Abraham (Hunt, Crotty and Crotty, 85). So when is it that Islam began?
One day around the year 610, Muhammad began to undergo some troubling auditory and visual experiences. Encouraged not to dismiss the experiences, Muhammad came to understand them as divine revelations that he was meant to communicate to his fellow Meccans. He was to be a messenger of God, a prophet charged with delivering a message that would set straight misinterpretations of earlier revelations of earlier revelations given through the prophets God had sent to the Jews and Christians. (Renard, 187)
It was during these revelations that it is believed that Muhammad had spoken to Allah by means of the angel Gabriel. This is where we begin to see the similarities between the two religions as it is the angel Gabriel that brings news as described in Luke 1:26-32, of the Bible, of Jesus’ birth (Jesus being the founder of Christianity). The message that Muhammad received was that there was only one God, not many Gods as the then believed. This God was the creator of the world, that there exists one sole God, whose name is Allah (Hume, 231). In Christianity, it is in Exodus 20:3 of the Bible, the message of a single God was inscribed within the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other God before me.” Furthermore, it is documented in Genesis 1:1of the creation of the world by this singular God. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” At the same time, it is believed in the Islamic faith that this God would be the judge of man, which in Hebrews 10:30 also rings true within Christianity, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is the same within both religions that the result of this judgment day was either to be that of heaven or hell. The idea of forgiveness is yet another similarity between both Christianity and Islam. Islam teaches to:
Seek forgiveness of your Lord and turn to Him in repentance. A goodly provision He will make for you till an appointed day, and will bestow His grace on those that have merit. But if you give no heed, then beware the torment of a fateful day. (Voorst, 304)
In Christianity, this same basic concept of forgiveness is accepted:
God forgives sins not merely upon condition of personal repentance, but also upon condition of the sinner himself having given forgiveness to all who may have done wrong to him, even his enemies, because God also gives unfailing good treatment to all. (Hume, 259).
After Muhammad’s death, certain basic practices were singled out from his teachings to serve as a foundation for the Islamic community. These basic spiritual practices incumbent on all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam (Fisher, 392). To Christians this would be compared to the Ten Commandments which are considered to be daily, divine laws. Plus, each of these religions has a “book” by which followers use as a guide for their religion, Islam has the Koran/Qur’an while Christianity has the Holy Bible. The Koran/Qur’an is the basic authority for Islamic religious life, Islam’s continuing guide during 1,400 years of history (Voorst, 297). The Koran/Qur’an was believed to be interpreted from the oral revelations between the angel Gabriel and Muhammad to inspire the teachings of Allah. Likewise for Christians this would be the Holy Bible, which was recorded by prophets and disciples to Jesus. The Bible is for the most part, arranged chronologically and the parables of Jesus parables. These parables were Jesus’ distinctive for of teaching (Voorst, 270). For both Christianity and Islam, these early teachings were passed through verbal teachings but were later cataloged in written text. This text became the books which serve as a guide for its followers and continually stress the idea of one true God.
Despite the many similarities between Christianity and Islam there are many differences that exist as well. One of these differences is the form at which each religion does prayer. Within Islam there are two forms of prayer that are recognized. One form being the more personal and informal of prayer. The other form being a ritual style of prayer which often is congregational with specific words and postures, which occurs five times a day: during sunrise, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and just before bedtime. Before the performance of their prayers Muslims must perform ritual washings of the hands, feet, and face. Calls for payer by a mosque official, known as a muezzin, calls on Muslims from a minaret tower of a mosque five times a day. This prayer is started with the Imam, the prayer leader, standing at the front of the mosque facing in the direction of the holy city of Islam, Mecca, the death place of the prophet Muhammad. Prayers consist of several units, during which individuals are standing, kneeling, and/or lie face downward. At every change in posture, “God is great” is recited. The chief day of communal worship is Friday and believers gather at the mosque to pray, listen to portions of the Koran, and hear sermons based on the text. The sermons may consist of moral, social, or political content. Within Islam, there is no ordained Muslim clergy as such, but a category of specialists, known as religious scholars (Renard, 206). In Christianity, Christians pray is alone as well as congregational like Islam, but not as disciplinary like Islam. Traditionally one’s own personal prayer is done at the individuals own discretion, and tends to be performed in the morning and/or the evening. A preacher, priest, or other prominent member of the church usually and normally will head up congregational prayer. Congregations are normally seated in pews, but may be done standing as well. Within Christianity a clergy is schooled in theology and matters of religion and rewarded degree from a seminary in order to preacher the way/word of the lord unto others. For Christians, principal day of gathering is on; on any given Sundays, most Christians hear the same scripture readings and sermons based on more or less on them (Voorst, 259). Followers also pray and sing, to God. Obviously, one can see that this is quite different from Islam.
Another major difference between the two religions is that of a pilgrimage. Every Muslim is required once in his lifetime to go to Mecca, to circumambulate the Sacred Mosque, and to kiss the Kaaba Black Stone seven times (Hume, 238). The Sacred Mosques Kaaba which by tradition was believed to be built by Abraham. The pilgrimage was intended to reenact the hegira, Muhammad’s withdrawal from Mecca, recalling the beginnings of the Islamic religion (Hunt, Crotty, Crotty, 100). In Christianity there is no such pilgrimage, but many travel to the city of Jerusalem, the birth place of Jesus. Pilgrimage was once occasionally prescribed for individuals as penance for sins but it has never been a central requirement for Christians as it has for Muslims (Renard, 182). Fasting and the giving of monetary gifts are yet another set of distinct differences between the two religions.
In the month of Ramadan the Koran/Qur’an was revealed, a book of guidance with proofs of guidance distinguishing right from wrong. Therefore whoever of you is present in the month let him fast. (Voorst, 328)
During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, each day, from first light to darkness, all eating, drinking, and smoking are forbidden. Upon the end of the fasting period, the festival Eid ul-Fitr, a three-day Muslim marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. In contrast, Christianity has the Lenten period:
Canons of the Council of Nicea in 325 represent the first references to the later observance of a forty-day fast recalling symbolically similar practices by Moses and Jesus. (Renard, 172)
During this time, Christians usually give up something of importance, and although some fasting does happen, generally abstained entirely of meat, it is generally not as long as the Islamic religion. Liturgically, Easter is preceded by a forty-day period of repentance and fasting, called Lent (Fisher, 352). Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, beginning the holiest point on the calendar of Christianity. Also, the giving of monetary donations is somewhat different. For Muslims, the zakat is an obligatory tax, which is contributed to the state or community.
The Koran/Qur’an links prayer with zakat, charity or almsgiving, the third pillar. One’s prayer is accepted only if one also shares with others. Accordingly, at the end of the year, all Muslims must donate at least two and a half percent of their accumulated wealth to needy Muslims. (Fisher, 394)
In Christianity, this is known as tithe. For Christians this would be one tenth of somebody’s income paid voluntarily in support of the church and/or its clergy.
Also, other differences between Christianity and Islam are clearly discerned in the holy books of the Holy Bible and the Koran/Qur’an. The first example is the sacrifice of and/or by Abraham, which is interpreted very differently within the text of both religions.
Since Islamic interpretation of history overlaps in significant ways with those of Judaism and Christianity, one should not be surprised to find that some material in the Koran/Qur’an parallels some biblical material.
Sprinkled throughout the scripture are references to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son (whom Islamic tradition takes to be Ishmael rather than Isaac). (Renard, 191)
The difference between the interpretations lies in the name of Abraham’s son. For example, Hebrews 11:17 says, “By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son.” The Holy Bible specifies that it was in fact Isaac for whom was offered up as the sacrifice. However, within the Koran/Qur’an, Sura 11:69-73, states that “Ishmael is the one who is purportedly offered up for sacrifice as Abraham’s only son.”
One more occurrence that is disputed between these two religions is that of the Virgin Birth and the Nature of Jesus. In the Koran/Qur’an there is definite support concerning the virgin birth of Christ, yet there is no evidence within the Koran/Qur’an that would support the notion that Christ was resurrected. It is suggested within the text that a prophet was born of the Virgin Mary, a prophet free from natural sin. Within the Holy Bible:
The gospels of Matthew and Luke present Jesus as conceived by the action of the Spirit of God in the Virgin Mary. This miraculous conception signifies in a narrative way the divine Sonship of Jesus, a sonship that the entire New Testament affirms in other ways. The passage from Matthew also focuses on the name Jesus, which in Aramaic language of Palestine means “God will save.” Although the Virgin Birth (more properly called a “virginal conception”) is found explicitly only in Matthew and Luke, by the second century it became a commonly held Christian teaching. (Voorst, 262)
In Islam it is believed that Christ was not the divine and rejects this ideal, this supported by the Koran/Qur’an, “O FOLLOWERS of the Gospel! Do not overstep the bounds (of truth) in your religious beliefs, and do not say of God anything but the truth. The Christ Jesus, son of Mary, was but God’s Apostle – (the fulfillment of) His promise which He had conveyed unto Mary – and a soul created by Him” Sura 4:171. However, Jesus within the Holy Bible, 1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” This guides us to the Trinity of the Christian religion. Islam is based on a monotheistic nature.
Monotheism is Muhammad’s pre-eminent religious message. Yet in referring to himself, Allah always is represented as using the plural number, “We,” “Us,” and “Our,” even as was done by the “Elohim” god in the early part of the Old Testament (Genesis 1:26), as is still done in the official utterances of some modern monarchs, and also in the literary device of editorial “we.” However, the main teaching of the Koran/Qur’an is clear-that there exists one sole God, whose name is Allah. (Hume, 231)
Monotheism is also the basis of Christianity, except that God is made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; better known as the “Holy Trinity”.
Christians believed that the transcendent and invisible God had become immanent and visible within Jesus. This led to the early development of the doctrine of the “Holy Trinity,” which speaks of three equal “persons” within one divine being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Fisher, 319)
Islam does not support this idea and the Koran argues that Christianity supports the notion of polytheism by stating that Christianity with the “Holy Trinity,” ideology represents three different Gods, not one true God.
In conclusion, the two religions Christianity and Islam have some basic framework in common, but begin to drift apart with their beliefs. For example, some of the similarities shared between the two are of Gabriel the angel as a messenger, monotheism, God as the creator of life and the world, and judgment by God for all mankind. The role of Jesus as the savior tends to play a key role with most of the differences between the two. For instance, Muslims do not believe that Jesus was anything more than a prophet and therefore, the “Holy Trinity” cannot exist. Additionally, there are some differences in interpretation of similar stories that are related by each religion, such as the sacrifice of Abraham’s son. Regardless of these similarities and differences, we can all be in agreement that Christianity and Islam are both major players in the world as religions within today’s society.