Term Paper: Christianity and Islam

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Islam and Christianity

Religion serves as one of several socializing factors in a society, and religion helps shape the culture, determines aspects of the legal system, governs how the people are ruled, and achieves a number of other functions in the social order. Christianity and Islam are among the major religions in the world, serving primary populations in specific areas of the world, Christianity Europe and Europe-influenced areas, Islam in the Middle East where the religion was founded and other parts of the world to which it has been exported. These religions differ in terms of numerous beliefs even though they are related in some ways as well. One similarity can be found in the way the religions emphasize certain personalities as leaders and role models. Differences can be found in terms of the sacred texts for each religion and the view taken of right behavior in this world and possible rewards in the next.

Different religions have different views of the idea of a perfect or perfected being and of the possibility of attaining this level of existence. Such a person is one in whom the religion's highest ideals are embodied. In Christianity such a person may achieve sainthood in the Catholic Church or merely an exalted position in Protestant sects. Christ is considered the most perfected being. In Islam, Muhammad stands as the example of perfection to which the faithful are to aspire. Those who achieve near perfection are highly revered as saints or holy men, and the living holy men are accorded great respect. In some religious vies, though, the achievement of this perfection serves a special purpose. In this regard, Islam is much like Christianity -- the perfect being serves as a guide to others and may indeed take their sins on his head in order to allow salvation for others than himself. Muhammad as the Apostle of God is seen as having this role, and the holy men at least serve as examples and are able to heal the sick and otherwise help their fellow man. Religious practices in each case are affected first by the conception of the perfectibility of the individual and second by the concept of salvation as it may be related to that perfectibility. Religious practices are clearly defined in terms of the route to perfectibility even if the individual cannot himself or herself be one of the perfect beings. The same prescriptions apply.

In his time, Christ was seen as a reformer, correcting the bad practices and false doctrines that had developed and standing as an example, including an example of sacrifice and love. He was seen as a teacher, though not with a clear doctrine that was written out or that formed the sort of tenets many expected. It was his example that meant more, while his teachings would be perpetuated and expanded by his followers, his disciples, and by the writers of the gospels that followed his death and told of his life.

The first great personality to shape the Arab world was thus the founder of Islam, Muhammad. The story of Muhammad is embodied in the Quran. He received the call from God when he was nearing his fortieth year, and in his own time his story of this call was controversial. His early preaching was seen as harmless by the Meccans, though the people of that city were indifferent to the creation of a new religion. Muhammad moved to the city of Medina, a move known as the Hijara, and this was a turning point and would become the starting point in the Muslim calendar. In Medina Muhammad was the chief magistrate of the community, and he could now not only preach Islam but practice it. As a reformer, Muhammad addressed not only the need to change religious teaching but also political action, and he became not only a religious but a military and political leader, a pattern often followed in Islamic thought since that time.

Just as Christ was a reformer in the sense that he wanted the people to turn back to original teachings, so did Muhammad follow the same pattern: "The Quran clearly affirms that Islam is a return to the purity of the religion of Abraham, who was neither Jew nor Christian" (Jomier 14).

In Islam, those who achieve near perfection are highly revered as saints or holy men, and the living holy men are accorded great respect:

Their blessing and touch has almost magical power. They are appealed to in time of war as arbitrators. They are akin to the members of religious orders which have convents here teaching is given and hospitality is available (Parrinder 18-19).

The primary tenets of Islam are found in the pillars of faith, upheld by conforming to the laws of God as explained in the Quran. Prayer is an essential duty and has a specific method, time, and place. Almsgiving is a duty of all Muslims and is seen as a mark of piety. Fasting is enjoined as well at different times of the year. Pilgrimage to Mecca is a duty at least once in a lifetime. The fifth pillar of faith is the profession of faith in Allah and his Apostle, Muhammad (Parrinder, 15-16).

The Quran is the chief foundation of Islam and stands as the highest authority on doctrine, ethics, and customs. The Five Pillars of Faith constitute the practical duties of the Muslim, while a secondary division involves the doctrines to be believed, of which there are also five -- that of God, that of the angels as servants of God, that of the books (the Quran, the Pentateuch, the Zabur, and the Injil), that of the prophets, and that of the resurrection on the last day (Soper 215-216).

Europe developed primarily as a Christian nation, and the major influence in European history involved the Catholic Church first, and later the Protestant religions that differentiated themselves from Catholicism. The Catholic Church emerged as the major unifying power throughout Europe once the Roman Empire collapsed. Christianity and Judaism derive from the same roots and then diverge with the issue of the life and meaning of Christ.

The societies of Europe were shaped by political actions taken by Christian leaders like Charlemagne, who established borders and a military presence along the borders, offered lands to support the Church, and use Church structures such as monasteries to provide a bureaucratic infrastructure. As the Roman Empire collapsed, the former empire divided into a more romanized culture in the West and a more Germanic culture in the East, with the Rhine River dividing the two. Monarchies developed as various leaders sought to establish control. These new kingdoms established an identity based on geography and underlying religious belief, with the leaders often gaining power by a claim to a more direct connection to the Church and to Church teachings (Module 3).

Christianity suggested a direct relationship between the worshiper and his or her God. Under Catholicism, the mediating influence of the priesthood was important, while this would be given less importance under the Protestant sects that developed after Luther challenged Catholic authority. Luther was reacting to a variety of specific abuses he perceived in the Catholic hierarchy and in terms of doctrinaire differences Luther had with Church teachings. His protest may have challenged the rule of the Catholic Church, but it affirmed the importance of religion and religious belief. It also demonstrated the human resistance to any perceived tyranny, physical or intellectual, and the human tendency to develop new modes of thought and action to counter such tyranny, which have also been hallmarks in European thought and political action over the centuries. Luther was thus not attacking the underlying doctrine of Christianity in any way but only the manner in which it was being interpreted and adjudicated by the papal structure of his time. His challenge caught the public imagination as other protests had not, and a number of circumstances came into focus at the same time. Luther affirmed the importance of Christian faith by pointing to the scriptures as the only true authority. Luther benefited from the political and social realities of his time even as he challenged the way the Church was using those same forces.

The Christian Bible is actually made up of a number of books written by different people at different times and then gathered together later. Some books originally deemed sacred have been omitted by tradition, many of which are collected today as the Apocrypha. The Christian Bible is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. The composition of the Bible took over 1,000 years, with the Old Testament being developed between c. 1200 B.C. To 100 B.C. The process took place in Palestine, Babylonia, and peripheral regions. The Bible includes oral material handed down over several generations, and it was then put into written form by various people. Each book was rewritten by numerous hands (Miller and Miller 71). The primary segment of the Old Testament is a historical… [END OF PREVIEW]

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