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Belief in the existence of a supernatural being has perhaps been part of man’s everyday existence. Ever since the beginning of time man has turned to religion in explaining the changes in his environment and the events in his life. Consider the timeless tales of myths and legends which were handed down from generations to generations as means by which man cope with his daily struggles in his life. Indeed, religion has been part of man since time immemorial.
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Religion, however, is not merely about the belief in the existence of a supernatural deity. It is about man’s relationship with the world and the way he interacts with things around him. It is a way of life. Religion guides man’s actions. Perhaps this is what separates man from the rest of the creature in the Animal Kingdom. The man is not simply a physical being which lives on bread alone. Man needs the guidance and inspiration of his own religion. Most importantly, religion may be utilized for the purpose seeking solutions to the problems of the modern man such as the lack of respect for life and terrorism and thus foster international peace.
This essay is concerned with the two main religions in the world today – Christianity and Islam. A brief introduction will be made between the two religions which will be followed by the discussion of their similarities and their differences citing the Old and the New Testament and the Koran.
Christianity is a religion which adheres to the existence of one supreme deity, God. In essence, it is centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who is regarded as a Son of God and the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament. The basic teaching of Christianity is that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, for the redemption of the whole humanity. The faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is considered as the only means of salvation from both physical and spiritual death. Christians affirmed that: a) God is a Trinity, a single being with three persons – the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit; b) Jesus is both God and Fully human; c) Mary the virgin mother of Jesus bore in her womb and gave birth to the Son of God
It has an estimated that Christianity has 2.1 billion followers in the world and is considered as the world’s largest religion. (“Christianity”) It is the predominant religions in Europe, the United States, Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and the New Zealand and other South East Asian countries.
Islam is a monotheistic religion which adheres to the existence of one supernatural deity. The word “Islam” is literally translated to mean ‘submission.’ This means submission to the will of God. Islam is derived from the Arabic root “salam” which means peace and “salam” which means safety and security. Muslims or “Moslems” are adherents and followers of Islam. A Muslim literally means “one who submits.”
Muslims believe that God revealed his teachings to Muhammad, His last prophet. Though Muslims believe that there are other supernatural beings like Satan and Angels, they affirm the existence of only one God. Muslim follow the teachings of the Qur’an or the Koran which is considered as the word of God and the source of all God’s revelations and teachings. It is said that “For Muslims" it is the word of God revealed in Arabic by the archangel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad and thence to mankind. For them, Muhammad is the last of the prophets and thus the Koran is the final expression of God’s message to mankind.” Islam is not only a religion but also a way of life. The Koran not only teaches religion but it also guides the faithful on how to go about with their lives. It is also promoted as a political system.
Having more than 1.2 Billion followers in the world today, Islam is now considered the second largest religion in the world. Muslims can be found throughout the world, most especially in the Middle East and North, West and East Africa.
Both Christianity and Islam have the same concept of a deity. They both claim to believe in a monotheistic God who is the creator of all livings things in this world and who is supreme over all things on Earth. Muslims, however, refer to their God as Allah. God or Allah is a supernatural being who is omniscient, omnipotent and not bound by time. For both Christians and Muslims, God or Allah is the past, present and the future of all creation.
For the Christians, the Book of Genesis 1:14 states that 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: 1,2 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.”
The same story of creation is narrated in the Qur’an, which states that 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.” 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 regulates all affairs, explaining the signs in detail that ye may believe with certainty in the meeting with your Lord.
In both religions, God is viewed as a supreme creature which enters into covenants and agreements with the man. This agreement which God has entered into with man is that a time will come when the world will end and that everyone will be judged according to their actions on the basis of a Moral Code which God has given to us.
Both Christianity and Islam believe in the truth as expressed in the written revelations which are inspired by God himself. For the Christians, the truth about Christianity is affirmed in the Old and New Testament while the teachings of Muhammad are expressed in the Qur’an.
The teachings of Christianity and Islam are essentially the same. In Exodus 24:12, God instructed Moses to go up the mountains and revealed to Moses the 10 Commandments. The same is true in Qur’an 2:53 which states that “And remember we gave Moses the Scripture and the Criterion (between right and wrong): There was a chance for you to be guided aright.”
A look at the 10 commandments and comparing the same with the teachings of Islam will reveal that there are similarities between the two religions. One of the 10 Commandments is that You shall have no other gods before me. This emphasizes that reference should be directed only to one supreme God. The same commandment is found in the book of Qur’an which states that “Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him.”
The Lord also revealed to us in the 10 Commandments to always honor and respect our parents who brought us to this world and who took care of us when we were still young. The same teaching is found in the Qur’an which states that “Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor.”
The 10 Commandments prohibits the spouses from committing adultery. The same teaching is found in the book of Qur’an which states that Nor comes nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). (Qur’an 17:32) Also, Qur’an 2:188 prohibits stealing, to wit: “And do not eat up unjustly the property of each other among yourselves nor convey their cases to the authorities for devouring unlawfully some portion of the property of the people knowingly.”
Though both religions adhere to the same concept of a monotheistic God, they differ in their understanding of the nature of their divine God. The Christians believe that God is a Trinity composed of three persons in one God: the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christians pray not only to God the Father but also to the Son and the Holy Spirit in acknowledgment of the Holy Trinity. Islamic religion believes in a strict monotheism. There is only one God and that is the Allah.
Christians acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and they worship Jesus as God himself being a part of the Holy Trinity. John 1:1,14 “states that Jesus was God, was with God in the beginning, and became flesh to dwell among men a man.” Christians, therefore, accept Jesus Christ’s divinity who was crucified and died on the cross and later ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the father. They also believe that Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from our sins and this paved the way for our salvation. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 states that “He died for our sins, was buried, and arose as prophesied and as testified by eyewitnesses who saw Him alive.”
On the other hand, Islamic religion does not consider Jesus as a God. They acknowledge that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was virgin at the time of His birth, but they deny that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is not a divine creature. He is merely an ordinary man. Islamic doctrines acknowledge that Jesus had a prophetic function of teaching the good news to the world but they deny his authority and power to give salvation to mankind. Jesus is merely regarded as a second-to-the-last prophet, the last prophet being Muhammad. Qur’an 4:157 and 158 emphasize the Islamic teaching that Christ was neither crucified nor killed by the Jews but he was raised by God himself.
Christianity gives emphasis on the fallen nature of man. From the moment of man’s birth, he inherits the original sin of his 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. On the other hand, Islamic teachings affirm the weakness of man but they reject the doctrine of the original sin. Thus, it is said that "Every human being is born in a state of a pure nature; but through the influence of his parents, he may become non-Moslem."
Considering man’s sinful nature, Christianity teaches that man does not deserve salvation. Nobody is worthy of salvation. It can only be attained through the help of a mediator who will suffer and sacrifice himself for us and that is why God sent us his only Son. We must, therefore, have faith in Jesus Christ. "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."
On the other hand, Islamic religion teaches that faith alone will not assure us of salvation. Muslims believe that one gains entrance to heaven not by salvation but by actions such as good deeds and strict observance of the five pillars. "Every man's actions have we hung around his neck, and on the last day shall be laid before him a wide-open book.". Almsgiving will also help attain salvation.
Christianity and Islam also differ in their treatment of women. Islamic teachings consider men as superior to women. "Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the others and because they spend their wealth to maintain them." (Koran 4:34) Also, it is said that “women who disobey their husband will go to hell.” (Koran 66:10). They also tolerate and allow a man to have several wives at the same time. In stark contrast, Christianity gives respect for women and women are considered to have the important role throughout the New Testament. It is contrary to the teachings of Christianity to abuse women. (Fundamentalism: Contrasting Christianity and Islam, 2004) Jesus himself affirmed the sanctity of marriage with one woman. The husband’s primary obligation is to love his wife. Thus in Ephesians 5:28 states that "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her... So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church..."
Christianity and Islam teachings likewise have differences on their external rituals like prayer and fasting. For Christians, prayer, fasting, and worship are not considered obligations but are deeds which arise wholly from the heart. There is nothing in the bible that mandates Christians to pray several times in a year or too fast at least once a year. On the other hand, Muslims are required to recite prayers in praise of Allah five times daily while facing Mecca. They are also required to perform prayers at prescribed hours and in a definite pattern of word and posture. Thus, it is said that Every Muslim “who can find a way thither" - must make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his/her life: "Fulfill the pilgrimage and the visitation unto God."
Diversity is a reality that we should not ignore. Religious conflicts have happened because of our lack of understanding of each other. People have different religions convictions and practice different religious beliefs. It is important that we should all be able to understand each other’s religious faith as a first step toward understanding each other. Once we have fully understood each other’s religious and practices then it may become possible that someday there will be complete harmony among all the religions in the world today.
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