Christianity and Islam: A Case for Comparison and Contrast
The world is a place marked with essential diversity. In particular, one only has to take world religions as a composite phenomenon to best exemplify the diversified character of human affairs. But much too often, diversity can become a sure catalyst for misgivings and misunderstandings.
This for instance happens when, still pertaining to religion, a person pits on belief system in respect to another, or someone tries to compare one set of doctrines against another.
It is thus not surprising to learn that religion was often, and is in fact currently being taken as an unwarranted cause for heated debates, if not for human conflicts all together. In view of the foregoing, it is insightful to note that roadmap of this study aims not at sowing seeds of religious division as collocating the interesting correspondences that may be gleaned from juxtaposing Christianity on the one side of the spectrum, and Islam on the other side of the spectrum.
At the very least, the crux of this paper aims at pursuing a successful comparison and contrast between Christianity and Islam. In the process, this paper hopes to appreciate important strains of resemblances between the two religions in question, against the palpable differences that already define them. To this end, the central thesis of this paper lies in arguing that notwithstanding patent differences, Christianity and Islam can in fact manifest elements of correspondences, while upholding respectable uniqueness in their own beliefs.
Methodology and Scope Briefly, it needs to be cited that, for purposes of clarification and delineation, this paper employs an expository approach in discussing the major themes of the religions in question. An expository approach is done so as to elucidate on, with significant analyses, the topics that may be deemed appropriate for discussion.
Since this paper would not to attempt to exhaustively circumscribe all the aspects pertinent to the two religions, owing much to the limits provided for this particular study, the discussions shall zero in on expounding on the similarities and differences between the two religions in respect to at least three distinct aspects: the role which their own founders play in their respective belief-systems, the quality of the monotheism operative in both religions, and the differing notions of Abraham’s role in their faith and life.
Christianity and Islam: A Ponderous Juxtaposition Christianity emerged from a handful of followers of a man named Jesus the Christ, sometime during the first century. Put in other words, the Christian religious phenomenon takes root from a small community that first embraced the teachings of Jesus as a both compelling and sufficient cause to deflect from the more dominant religious force of the time – namely, Judaism. Thus, the “precipitating cause” of Christianity “was and is a man named Jesus” (McGrath 1).
Which is why, Tavard contends that Christianity is a religious movement that commenced when “an undetermined number of Jews believed that the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, who has ‘risen from the dead’ was alive in their midst by the power of God’s Spirit” (15); a movement which was greeted with much disdain and skepticism initially. For Christians, Jesus Christ is both the center and crux of their faith. They hold that Jesus Christ is Son of God, who was sent by God the Father to redeem humanity from misery and sinfulness.
Consequential to this belief is the equally important ascent to the divinity nature and mission of Jesus Christ here on earth. Thus, Christians unreservedly worship Jesus Christ as a divinity as well. Islam, like Christianity, started too from a small group of community who saw themselves glued by a gripping desire to follow their revered founder in the person of Mohammad. While the faith in Mohammed’s teachings started when Christianity was already an expansive religious force, the historical circumstances defining the emergence of Islam nevertheless manifest unmistakable strains of similarities with the Christian faith.
Like Christianity, Islam started on account of one man – Mohammad. And akin to Christianity, the small Mohammedan community was at the onset despised on account of the new faith it embraced (Renard 6). Unlike Christianity however, Islam does not give its founder a respect proper to a divinity. For Moslems, Mohammad is not a god; he is instead a prophet of plain human origin and descent. The prophet however is rendered with unparalleled importance within Islam because it is believed that Allah chose Mohammad to reveal his message (Renard 7).
Secondly, herein it is important to cite that the manner in which the Islamic faith refuses to render Mohammad a kind of reverence fit to a divinity reveals only the quality of monotheism which the religion professes. Islamic faith, it has to be mentioned, is operative on a type of monotheism in the strictest sense of the term – i. e. the belief that there is only one god, and that such deity, because he is absolutely supreme, does not have a competing divine force as its rival.
Islamic faith believes that Allah – the proper name of God as provided by the Qur’an – is identified as the principle of ‘tawid’ or simply, the unity of God. And “according to this central Islamic idea, (God) is utterly and inevitably One, a perfect unity (and) uniqueness unto himself” (Gordon 24). Simply put, the Islam religion believes that Allah, and him alone, is the accepted singular expression of divinity. Christianity meanwhile is operative on a unique kind of monotheism.
On the one hand, it has to be noted that like Islam, Christianity concurs to a belief that there is only one God to whom unqualified human obedience and worship is due. On the other hand however, Christianity does not subscribe to a radical type of monotheism; for while Christianity believes that God is essentially one, it nonetheless takes such oneness as revelatory of a further sociality within it. Christians call this the Trinitarian unity of the God, or simply, the Trinity.
And according to this doctrine, “the divine life consists in three persons of equal and same nature – the Father, the Son (i. e. , Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit (Neuner and Ross 86). As such, the Trinity does not speak of three separate divine entities; otherwise, Christianity would have been best described as a polytheistic rather than monotheistic faith. What this doctrine instead teaches is that the three persons of the Trinity are distinct expressions of that same divine reality which is God.
Last but not least, it is certainly insightful to appreciate that both Christianity and Islam places high premium on the role of Abraham in their own profession of faiths. This is because both religions share a belief that the remotest roots of their faith necessarily throw them back to the heritage which Abraham bequeathed thousands of years passed. In fact, both the Christian Bible and the Islamic Qur’an give Abraham a special importance precisely on account of the fact that it was through him that the first strains of monotheistic faith was successfully practiced.
Far more essential, both Christianity and Islam see the supreme importance of Abraham’s promethean response to God’s invitation as the primordial inspiration required for living one’s own faith; and this is for the plain reason that Abraham showed how to adore God who requires “submission to His decrees, even when they are inscrutable” (McLean). Still, it is imperative to carefully note that both Christianity and Islam differ in their particular understandings of their respective Abrahamic heritage.
Christians on the one hand believe that Abraham’s faith acts as a precursor to the coming of the Messiah – who is Jesus Christ. The Christian Bible speaks of Abraham as the progenitor to a myriad of descendants commencing through Isaac, his only son to Sarah (Gen 17: 21). Thus, Christianity holds that God’s covenantal relationship with Abraham, and his children, marked the beginning of the long preparation that would welcome the sending of His Son into the world at an appointed time. On the other hand, Islam believes that the great Mohammedan tradition draws directly from the fount of the Abrahamic legacy.
In other words, Islam maintains that the Moslems are the direct, nay rightful descendants and legitimate heirs to the heritage of Abraham. This is because the Islamic Qur’an speaks of Ishmael, Abraham’s son to Hagar, as the legitimate heir and the primordial progenitor of the Islamic faith. Ishmael, if only to remind, also figures in the Christian Bible as the son of Abraham to his maidservant Hagar. Both Ishmael and Hagar were thrown out of Abraham’s household “to find a life of their own” after Isaac was born to Sarah (Maxwell 168).
Notwithstanding conflicting narratives, it still can be said that both Christianity and Islam recognize that the gratuitous love of God for humankind is the initial act that brings into play the faith with which both religions so sacredly profess. Conclusion This paper ends with a brief thought that affirms its central thesis expressed hereinabove – i. e. , notwithstanding differences, one can glean unmistakable similarities in juxtaposing the teachings and tenets of both Christianity and Islam. In the discussions, patterns of differences and similarities were discussed in respect to three aspects.
First, it was seen that both Christianity and Islam places high regard and respect to their revered founders; second, both religion embrace monotheism as an axiomatic aspect for their respective belief-systems; and third, Christianity and Islam believe that their common Abrahamic heritage lends an initial inspiration to the subsequent coming about of the faith they now both profess. In the end, it must be acknowledged that efforts to draw similarities against the larger backdrop of defining differences surely constitute a welcome avenue not only for inter-religious dialogue but also mutual respect.