In this paper we will examine some relevant similarities and differences between two widely known and practiced religions: Islam and Christianity. Although, these two religions have easily identifiable similarities and differences, they are both large players in the religious world today with an impressive number of followers.
Also, each of these religions had been delivered with basic rules of guidance, although the rules in themselves were different. Islam had, from Mohammad, the Five Pillars, while Christians had been given the Ten Commandments, delivered by Moses. Another aspect of each of these religions that is very similar is that each is a “Book” religion. They each have their own book written down by disciples of their respective religion. The Islamic religion has the Koran, and the Christian religion has the Bible.
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Because Islam diverged from Christianity’s beliefs, there are also some notable differences between the two. For example, the way in which each religion is expected to pray. Muslims pray alone and in congregation. When congregational prayer is executed, there are many rules and strict adherences to which they abide. They must pray this way a certain number of times each day and faces in a certain cardinal direction. For Christians, the prayer which is done alone is informal and at one’s own discretion, as it is for the Islamic religion. However, congregational prayer for Christians is much less rigorous and strict, and can be done in a number of acceptable ways. Muslims are also expected to take a journey, called a pilgrimage, to their Holy Land whereas, this is not expected of Christians. Another notable difference is the way in which money is given to the church. In earlier days, and in some cases modern days, Muslims giving was in the form of a tax which was mandated. Christians give in the form of a tithe and are asked to give ten percent of their income. A very large and widely disputed part of these religions is the interpretation of the Bible. Some events that are disputed include which son Abraham sacrificed, the Virgin Birth and nature of Jesus, and the interpretation of monotheism and the Trinity.
Islam and Christianity are religions based on many similar and different beliefs based on the fact that one was borne of the other. For this reason, we can pick up on a number of things that ring true in each religion and a number of things that are completely different between the two of them. Aside from the similarities and differences, each of these religions is still recognized in today’s society despite the fact that they are both centuries old.
Islam vs. Christianity
Despite the fact that there are many similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, both religions are significant in today’s society, which is apparent in the grand number of followers each has amassed. Islam and Christianity are in themselves, complete religions with many followers. Islam was born of Christianity in that a large part of Islam’s basic belief structure is based on that of Christianity and some portions of the Bible. Because of this fact, there are a number of similarities and a comparative number of differences between the two religions.
The beginnings of Islam are actually deeply rooted in Christianity, based on the conviction by the prophet of Islam, Mohammed that Christians had departed from belief in God’s message as revealed in their scriptures (Pike, 67). Approximately 610, the first of many revelations came to him and these visions were believed to have been delivered from God by the angel Gabriel (Pike, 17). Here we begin to see the similarities between the two religions as Gabriel is also the angel that brings news of Jesus’ birth (Jesus being the founder of Christianity) in Luke 1:26-32, of the Bible. The message that Mohammed received was that there was only one God, not many Gods as the then present day Arabs believed. This God was the creator of the world (Lewis, 8). For Christians the message of a single God was given during the inception of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3 of the Bible, “You shall have no other God before me.” The creation of the world by this singular God is documented in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the Islamic faith it is believed that this God would judge mankind, which also rings true in Christianity in Hebrews 10:30, “The Lord will judge his people.” For Muslims, followers of the Islamic faith, their single God (known as Allah) was considered just because he would judge every person according to his deeds (Catherwood, 99). In both religions, the result of this judgment day was either heaven or hell. Another similarity between both Islam and Christianity was the idea of forgiveness. Islam teaches that God is always ready to pardon the individual and restore him to the sinless state in which he started life. In Christianity, this same basic concept of forgiveness is accepted (Wiles, 561).
After the death of Mohammed, certain essential principles were singled out from his teachings to serve as anchoring points for the Islamic community. These have come to be called the “five pillars of Islam” (Pike, 99-100). Comparably for Christians, the Ten Commandments are considered daily, divine laws. Also, each of these religions is one that has a “book” by which believers follow. For Christians this is the Bible, which was recorded by prophets and disciples to Jesus including Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and many others. The Bible is for the most part, ordered chronologically and Jesus teaches in parables (Bowie, 66). Likewise for Muslims their book is the Koran, which was a collection of the sayings and deeds of Mohammad, who was believed to be inspired to teach these things by Allah (Lewis, 44-45). However, because the Koran was assembled from remembrances of those who had learned it by heart, the chronological order is not used. The passages or suras were arranged from longest to shortest. In the beginning, for both religions, these teachings were passed along orally, but were later captured via the written word. These books serve as an additional guide for believers and stress the one idea of one God (Pike, 62).
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Despite these many similarities between Islam and Christianity many differences exist as well. One of these differences is prayer. Islam recognizes two forms of prayer, one being the personal and more informal form of prayer. The other is a ritual prayer which is often congregational with specific words and postures, to be offered five times a day: sunrise, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and before bed. Before Muslims pray ablutions are performed by washing the hands, feet, and face. A person called the muezzin calls for prayer and chants from a raised platform or minaret tower at the mosque. This prayer is started with the imam, the prayer leader, standing at the front of the mosque facing Mecca, the holy city of Islam. (This is the holy city because it was the death place of Mohammad). Each prayer consists of several units, during which the individual is standing, kneeling, or prostrate. 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 a sermon based on the text. The sermon may have moral, social, or political content. Islam has no ordained clergy, but there are men trained specifically in religion, tradition, and law (Peters, 126-129). For Christians prayer is done alone as well as in a congregation like Islam, but the rigors are far less painstaking. Prayer alone is done at one’s own discretion, but traditionally is done at night or in the morning. Congregational prayer is usually headed by the preacher, priest, or another prominent member of the church. The congregation is usually seated in pews, but this can be done standing as well. Christians have a clergy that have been trained in theology and matters of religion and posses a degree from a seminary. The chief days of gathering is on Sundays, and believers pray, sing, listen to sermons, and read from the Bible during their communal gathering (Morris, 218). As you can see, this is quite different from the Islamic religion.
Another large difference in the two religions is the pilgrimage. For Muslims, the pilgrimage, or hajj, is an annual Muslim rite that every believer is expected to take part in at least once in his lifetime. From the seventh to the tenth day in Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, thousands of Muslims converge on the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to visit the holy shrine of the Kaaba in the Great Mosque, which tradition says was built by Abraham. The pilgrimage was intended to reenact the hegira, the flight of Mohammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 (Catherwood, 100). Christians do not have such a pilgrimage but many do visit the birth place of Jesus, the city of Jerusalem, and consider it an honor to do so. Fasting and the giving of money are two more distinct differences between the two religions. Because the Koran was first revealed to Mohammad in the month of Ramadan, the whole month was set aside as a period of fasting. During each day, from first light to darkness, all eating, drinking, and smoking are forbidden. Upon the end of the fasting period, the second major festival of the Islamic year ensues and lasts several days. In contrast, Christians have the Lenten period, where Jesus was sent to the desert for forty days and forty nights, and was tempted by the devil. During this time, Christians usually give up something of importance, and although some fasting does happen, it is generally not as long as in the Islamic religion. The end of this forty day period is known as Ash Wednesday, which begins the holiest point on the Christian calendar (Good Friday and Easter) (Ware, 146-147). Also, the giving of money is somewhat different. For Muslims, the zakat is an obligatory tax, which is contributed to the state or community. In the modern period, the zakat has become a voluntary charitable contribution (Pike, 100). For Christians, this is known as tithe. Believers are expected to contribute ten percent of there salary to the church for God’s purposes (Morris, 197).
Also, some of the differences between Islam and Christianity are clearly discerned in the holy books of the Bible and the Koran. One such example is the sacrifice of Abraham. This event is interpreted very differently in both religions. Both books make the acknowledgement that Abraham was willing to make a “tremendous sacrifice” (Shamoun, 57). However, the difference between the interpretations lies in the name of Abraham’s son. For example the bible 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” (Hebrews, 11:17). With this the Bible affirms that it was indeed Isaac who was offered up as the sacrifice. In Koran, however, Ishmael is the one who is purportedly offered up for sacrifice as Abraham’s only son (Sura 11: 69-73).
Another incident that is disputed between the two religions is the Virgin Birth and the Nature of Jesus. The Koran does support the virgin birth of Christ, but does not support the notion that Christ was resurrected. The Koran suggests instead that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a prophet, who was free from innate sin because he was virgin born (Dew, 1). The Bible then, supports the notion that the virgin birth existed, and the Virgin Mary gave birth to the son of God, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (Dew, 1 John 4:9, 1). Islam states that Christ is not divine, it rejects this ideal and is seen in the Koran, “The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than Allah’s apostle and His Word which he cast to Mary; a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His apostles and do not say: Three. Allah is but one God” (Dew, Koran 4: 171, 1). Jesus in the Bible, however, is believed to be “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). This leads into the Trinity of the Christian faith. Islam is monotheistic in nature, stating, “For God hath said, ‘Take not to yourselves two Gods, for He is one God.” (Dew, Sura 16:53,1). Christianity is also monotheistic, but that God is made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; otherwise known as the “Trinity”. Christianity says, “The Spirit the Lord Him” (Dew, Isaiah 11:2, 1), which refers to the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God. Islam does not support this idea and the Koran argues that Christianity supports the notion of polytheism by stating that the Godhead represents three different Gods, not one (Dew, 1).
In conclusion, Islam and Christianity are two intricately woven religions that have some basic framework in common, but their beliefs diverge as well. For example, some of the similarities shared in the two are the angel Gabriel as a deliverer of important news, monotheism, God as the creator of the world, and judgment by God after death. Most of the differences seem to stem from Jesus’ role as a savior. For example, Muslims do not believe that Jesus was anything more than a prophet and therefore, the Trinity can not exist. Also, there are some deviations in similar stories that are related by each religion, like that of Abraham and his sacrificial son. Despite these difference and similarities, we can agree that Christianity and Islam are both significant players in the world of religion and today’s society.
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