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World Religions: Islam vs Christianity

Without a doubt, the three major religions on the planet earth are Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. Available literature shows that these religions have followers in every region and sphere of the earth. Numerical evidence points out that Christianity is the largest religion accounting for an estimated 1.8 billion followers. It is followed closely by Islam with a billion followers.

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Other religions fall way back and cannot even fall within comparing limits. Being the major religions, one would want to understand the basic teachings making comparisons through the identification of similarities and differences. In this paper, Islamic knowledge will be attained from an interview with a Sheikh (a teacher of the Islamic faith in a Mosque) (Faruqi & Faruqi, 1986).

Islam is a religion that was formed about five centuries after the death of Jesus. It was founded by Allah’s last true prophet, Mohammed. It was started in Saudi Arabia where it later gained acclaim to other regions. This is attributed to the nature of the founders and the teachings. The founder was a tradesman and hence had the opportunity to spread it far and wide. In addition, the teachings of the religion allowed for the forceful conversion of non-believers. This meant that people could be killed if they refused to accept conversion to this religion (Faruqi & Sopher, 1975).

In my quest to have a deeper understanding of the Islamic faith, I had to approach Sheikh Ali Ahmed Ali who is the teacher at a local mosque in my neighborhood called Dallas FT- Worth Islamic Center. A mosque is the building where Moslems assemble to ensure that they meet the Islamic teaching requirement of five prayers every day. In comparison, a mosque is a church in a Christian context. Ali’s mosque is situated on Jackson Street in Irving, Texas. After an hour of an interview with the Sheikh, I managed to amass enough knowledge to enable me to make a comparison between the religion and Christianity which could be deemed its closest rival in terms of membership.

The first question I asked Sheikh Ali was whether he was American by origin or he had assumed American residence later in his life. Ali was an American by all characters. However, his parents had migrated from Turkey and were working in America where they got married and sired him. Asked whether he was the only Moslem in his family, he responded that the whole family was made up of Moslems. His father, mother, and four brothers were all Moslems. In addition, his wife and kids were pure Moslems.

In the interview, I asked Sheikh Ali how religion impacted his day-to-day life. It was at this point that I realized a small difference between Islam and Christianity. According to Ali, Islam was more than a religion or faith. He clearly noted, “Islam is not just a religion. It is a way of life. It is a lifestyle.” He posited that Islam teaches people not just a belief or a faith. The teachings of Islam go beyond the boundaries of deity and spiritual life. They cover the way a person should behave, personal hygiene, architecture, trade et cetera. The Shariah law covers all these aspects of human life. Therefore, religion impacted every aspect of Ali’s life.

What was the origin of Islam then? Ali was generous enough to give me the roots of the Islamic religion. Being a non-conformist, Mohamed could not accept the trend in the existing religion as handed over during the days of Abraham. Originally, Ka’bah, the House of Allah was not meant for the worship of any other god but Allah. Sadly, other idols had gained entrance into Ka’bah and people had started worshipping them within this holy house. Therefore, Hunafa, who were other non-conformists like him sought to understand the true religion as passed down by Abraham and avoid the worship of idols within the holy house. This marked the beginning of the Islam faith that later came to impact the whole world (Armstrong, 2002).

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I later asked Sheikh Ali about the regions covered by the religion. Islam is found in every corner and sphere of human existence. Everywhere you go, you will meet a Moslem brother. Most people tend to think that Islam is practiced only in Arabic countries. However, the truth is that Islam has followers in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Australia, and any other place that one could mention. The difference is just the concentration where most Arabic countries tend to have a higher concentration as compared to other regions. Then comes North Africa that has most of the countries practicing the religion.

Is Islam a very independent religion or does it have similarities with any other religion? Prior to the interview, I had thought that Islam had no similarities with any other religion. However, this perception was changed after Sheikh Ali clarified to me that Islam and Christianity had several similarities despite the fact that they have similarly a great number of differences. The teachings of Islam are closely similar to the teachings in the Old Testament Christianity.

What is taught in Christianity about the great people of God like Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, and many others are found in the Quran. In fact, the Quran also contains a large part of it teaching about Mary the mother of Jesus and how she conceived while a virgin and gave birth to Jesus (referred to as Nabii Isa in the religion). He went ahead to talk about several other similarities with Christianity and Judaism which I will explain in detail in the final part of this paper (Faruqi & Faruqi, 1986).

One question that I could not have failed to ask Sheikh Ali was the synonymy between Islam and violence. To me, Islam was a religion that advocated for violence. I therefore asked him whether this conception of mine was true or false. He was quick to answer that Islam was a peaceful religion. However, it is the Western countries that have tried to build an identification of violence with Islamic countries. Sheikh Ali purports that violence is witnessed in many parts of the world.

Several of all these parts are not Islamic. However, history brings down the conquest of Spain, the famous crusades and the long period of Eastern Europe under the Ottoman dominion. All these have been put together by the Western world to taint the image of Islamic religion. More recently, the Middle East crisis and the proliferation of several illegal organizations fighting in the name of religion (Islam) i.e. Al Qaeda have completely sealed the fate of the Islamic outfit as a violent religion.

What, therefore, are the Islamic religion teachings concerning violence? Ali was very clear with this question. To begin with, the name of the religion (Islam) comes from the word salaam which is Arabic for peace and therefore its teachings are against violence. And truly, Islamic world has not been characterized by violence in a higher degree than the western civilizations.

Secondly, the stability of the world is maintained by various forces that act one against the other in order to come up to an equilibrium which is the optimum point of operation. Whenever one force becomes weaker, other forces might work against it leading to disequilibrium. However, it is the situation that determines how equilibrium has to be established. Some situations call for negotiations and diplomatic approach while others call for violent force in order to achieve ta-adul (equilibrium).

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Therefore, Islam teaches that violence is not good. However, equilibrium must be attained. Equilibrium is the foundation of justice (al-adl) which is derived from ta-adul (equilibrium). As a result, some Islamic movements use violence- because the situation calls for that- to seek justice failure of which could lead to disequilibrium. These forces fight against the forces that lead to disequilibrium. Therefore, violence is not encouraged except if it meant to attain justice.

As a result, terrorism is not a teaching of Islam. At no point does the Quran teach Moslems to take up arms and fight as terrorists. However, the act of terrorism is just a force of nature to ensure that equilibrium is maintained. Maintenance of equilibrium is ensuring justice. The small groups simply try to ensure that justice is attained by every community within the country (Faruqi & Faruqi, 1986).

When I finally asked Sheikh Ali on how religion had shaped his life, he had a lot say. As mentioned earlier, Islam is a lifestyle. It touches every part of a believer’s life. How is supposed to live in the society. In his life, Islam had taught him honesty. Through Shariah law, he learnt to be honest with everything in life. He has also learnt to take care of his body through proper hygienic practices. Through Islam, Sheikh Ali has learnt to rely on God in everything he does. He believes that Allah is the creator and controller of everything in the world.

What are the challenges when practicing Islam? This was one question Sheikh Ali was anticipating. It is very difficult practicing Islam especially outside Arabian countries. This is facilitated by the western perspective and conception which strongly associates Islamic faith and terrorism. This makes every Moslem be a suspected terrorist. Possessing a Moslem name means that you face stricter measures as pertains terrorism. This trend has spread to non western countries that are also forced to follow the western conception Islam. Failure to treat Islam in a western manner puts a country out of favour from western countries and hence no financial aid.

After a lengthy conversation with Sheikh Ali I found out that there are several similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. Just like Christianity, Islam is also characterized by several branches that are funded on similar teachings but with slight differences. While Christianity is characterized by Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, Islam has two main branches which are Sunnis and Shi’as. Second, both religions believe in the virgin. They both believe that Jesus was born of Virgin Mary only the teachings to differ in the deity of Jesus. While Christians believe that Jesus is part of the trinity, Moslems believe that he was just a prophet. Both religions also teach that Jesus Christ ascended to heaven but Islam does believe in the resurrection (Faruqi & Sopher, 1975).

Despite these similarities, the two religions are marked by many differences. The first difference is the founders. Christianity was founded by Christ Jesus while Islam was founded by Mohamed. Second, Christianity teachings are contained in the holy book called the bible while Islamic teachings are contained in the Quran. The mission of Christ on earth marks another difference between the two religions. Christianity believes that Jesus’ mission on earth was to reconcile man to God.

On their part, Moslems believe that Jesus came to earth with a principle mission of proclaiming the gospel known as injil. Religious beliefs and practices mark another difference. While Christians have rituals like Christmas, Easter Monday, Good Friday, baptism, etc Moslem faith is founded on the five pillars which are Shahadah which is the profession of faith, salat calling upon Moslems to pray five times a day, Zakat which means giving of alms, Sawm which means fasting during the month of Ramadhan, and Hajj which is pilgrimage to Mecca.

In conclusion, Islam is a religion that has a great following. Although closely related to Christianity, it has several different views. Also, it is clear that the teachings of Islam do not directly advocate for violence. However, it allows the oppressed group to defend its rights through appropriate means. Finally, it is clear that terrorism and other forms of violence are not the very outfit of Islam. Most of this perception is the creation of the Western world. Whether this is true or false, it takes one to read deeply in order to understand it.

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Reference List

Armstrong, K. (2002). Islam: A Short History. New York: Modern Library Chronicles.

Faruqi, L. & Sopher, D. (1975). Historical Atlas of the Religions of the World. New York: Macmillan.

Faruqi, R. & Faruqi, L. (1986) The Cultural Atlas of Islam. New York: Macmillan.

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