Common Elements between Christianity and Islam: A Search for Peace
Published 16 Aug 2016
Table of content
Similarities between Christianity and Islam
Throughout centuries, the adherents and supporters of these two powerful religions have focused on the differences between their religions. They have refused to accept that there are fundamental similarities between these two religions. It bears stressing that the similarities are so substantial that one should begin to reflect on the reason for these conflicts and hostilities and why these conflicts started in the first place.
According to Amir Hussain, an associate professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University, Christian values can be seen in the English translation of the words Islam and Muslim. “Islam” means surrender to God while “Muslim” is someone who surrenders to God. On the other hand, Christian faith teaches us to love God, surrender ourselves to Him and renounce our desires for material things. It is impossible for any Christian to love God if he will not surrender himself to God (Annie Nelson, 2007 p.1).
The first main similarity is that both religions share the concept of a supreme deity.
Both religions claim to believe in a monotheistic God who created all living things in this world. He is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Timeless. For both Christians and Muslims, God or Allah is the past, present and the future of all creation. He is regarded as the ultimate judge of all mankind. Though the nature of God is different since Christians believe in the Holy Trinity, they share the same idea of His characteristics (Paul Mojzes, 2002, p.1).
Both religions acknowledged that God or Allah is the source of every life on this world. Christians rely for the Story of Creation on the Book of Genesis 1:14 which states how God created the world. “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Also, Genesis 1: 1 and 2 states that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1and 2)
The Qur’an shares similarities with Christianity on the story of creation. In Qur’an 35:13, Allah “merges Night into Day, and he merges Day into Night, and he has subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law): each one runs its course for a term appointed. Such is Allah your Lord: to Him belongs all Dominion. And those whom ye invoke besides Him have not the least power.” (Qur’an 35:13) Also, in Qur’an 13:2 it is said that “Allah is He who raised the heavens without any pillars that ye can see is firmly established on the throne (of authority). He has subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law)! Each one runs (its course) for a term appointed. He doth regulate all affairs, explaining the signs in detail that ye may believe with certainty in the meeting with your Lord.”
Taking into account the story of creation that we, regardless of our religions, social status, or political beliefs, came from God then we should begin to ask ourselves why do we hold suspicions against each other?
There are other similarities in their belief but the most substantial similarity lies in the fact that both Christians and Muslims believe in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Christians and Muslims are enjoined to communicate with God or Allah through prayer. Though the external practices and rituals are quite different the essence is the same. Prayers help the faithful become one with God or Allah. It is the time when the faithful leaves all of his earthly concerns and begins to think about his spiritual relationship with his creator. Fasting means sacrifice. It is the acceptance that the body is not pure and must be cleansed from all its impurities and that fasting is one means of cleansing the body. Almsgiving means helping other people especially the poor. It also means loving one another and avoiding conflicts. It bears stressing that when we love others it means we do not do or participate in anything that can cause serious injury or violence against other people.
It is because of this reason that some extremists really have no biblical basis for saying that Allah wanted the Muslims to engage in war. Jihad is one of the most abused and misused terms in Qur’an. Its common translation is “to strive or to make effort” in the way of Allah. It is also understood as “the exertion of one’s power in Allah’s”. Despite the positive meaning of this term, it has been utilized by terrorists to support their agenda and get support from our Muslim brothers and sisters. It could be remembered that Saddam Hussein once made an announcement to his fellow Muslim leaders to join him in his Jihad against the United States. Osama bin Laden once remarked that the Muslim world was at war with the worlds of Christianity and Judaism (Smock p.1). As a result many people mistakenly think that jihad means “holy war.” Today, this term is understood as a divinely sanctioned means to combat the enemy and is a justification for going to war. Terrorists have frequently used this term to justify endless violence against the United States and any part of the world. What adds to the confusion is that Jihad is frequently used as a justification for the biblical stories of the wars between Muslims and Christians. As a result, Western countries have associated this term with the political meaning of the culture of violence in the Muslim world for the purpose of extending the religion of Islam. Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, a scholar, cautions the people to the use and misuse of the term Jihad by Muslim Extremist Groups, to wit:
“Such an evaluation of jihad is essentialist and based entirely on a narrow range of theological-juridical sources that responded to the real as well as idealized history of the last fourteen centuries. The theological-juridical expression of the doctrine and the legal issues surrounding jihad’d, as well as modern interpretations required by such momentous changes for the Muslim world as colonialism and responses to modernity and the West, require us to be cautious in linking the past heritage to the contemporary Muslim responses to oppression and aggression by Muslim and non-Muslim forces.”(p.4)
Differences between Christianity and Islam
Christians and Muslims differ in their understanding of the nature of God. The Christians believe that God is a complex being composed of three persons in one God: the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. This concept is called the Holy Trinity. Thus, in prayers, Christians communicate not only to God the Father but also to the Son and the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, Islam strictly believes in monotheism. There is only one God and that is the Allah.
As the son of God, Christians worship Jesus Christ. Christian faith reveals that Jesus Christ is divine who was born of the Virgin Mary to save all of mankind. John 1:1, 14 “states that Jesus was God, was with God in the beginning, and became flesh to dwell among men a man.” The death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is revealed in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) is the focal both of Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross and sacrificed himself so that all of mankind may be saved from their sins. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was the ultimate act that cleansed us from our sins. “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22)
On the other hand, Islam teaches that there is only one God. Islam denies the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Islam acknowledges that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was virgin at the time of His birth, but denies that Jesus is the Son of God. Islam faith reveals and accepts that Jesus Christ was a great man, a great prophet but did not consider Jesus as God. (Qur’an, 4:160-171 – pp60,61; 6:90-100 – pp77,78; 9:130; 19:135 – p168) It is therefore not possible for Jesus Christ to save mankind from their sins. The death in the Cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ are also denied. Qur’an 4:157 and 158 emphasizes the Islamic teaching that Christ was neither crucified nor killed by the Jews.
Christianity believes in the concept of original sin. The Holy Bible says that man inherit a sinful nature because of our forefathers which makes man unworthy of salvation. “None is born without the mark of sin upon his soul, all have sinned.” (2 Chronicles 6:36) He is by nature weak and incapable of becoming righteous. All men therefore are not worthy of salvation but because of the grace of God he gave us another chance for salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9) On the other hand, Islam faith rejects the concept of original sin. Man therefore was not born a sinner but because of man’s weakness he leads to sin. Islam teaches that faith alone will not assure man of salvation. Muslims can gain entrance to heaven by actions such as good deeds and strict observance of the five (5) pillars. (Qur’an 23:101-103).