- Religion and Philosophy
Islam and Christianity
There are many religions in the world a person can choose to have faith in. From polytheistic religions that worship many Gods or Deities; monotheistic religions that worship only one God, to agnostic religions that seek enlightenment rather than answers. There are icons to symbolize the heart of some religions, sacred texts that explain how the religion came about, stories of prophets to indulge in, rituals to partake in, and prayer centers to worship at, in the many religions available. Having learned about many religions, one religion that intrigued me most was Islam because of the misconception that Islam is a violent faith due to the Twin Tower attacks by Muslims on America’s Trade Center.
The central belief of Islam is that there is only one God, and no other. Islam’s foundation seems to rest on peace, unity, social organization and order, helping those who suffer, and not partaking in, or advocating, violence.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of the prophets and that he heard and wrote the word of God in the Qur’an. They believe in this unedited, authentic compilation of revelations heard by Muhammad. In addition, they believe in the Sunnah, or live/teachings of Muhammad captured in the Hadith. However, they do not worship him nor any other prophet as it is considered blasphemous.
The Five Pillars of Islam
The Five Pillars in which Muslims live by are:
1 Shahadah “There is no god but One God, and Muhammed is his messenger.” This is a belief that it is a sin to worship other idols, people, and even nature. God should be the only being worshipped as Divine.
2 Daily Prayers. Muslims pray 5 times per day, partaking in ablution with water, facing Mecca, and reciting a series of prayers.
3 Zakat. Muslims believe in giving to the suffering. For zakat they must tithe two and a half percent of their accumulated wealth yearly to suffering Muslims.
4 Fasting. Muslims believe fasting is cleansing of the body, mind and soul, producing a cleaner, lighter body to transcend to God. Although the only month during Ramadan is required they fast, it is recommended they do it often to remind them of how others suffer without. They will go without food, drink, intercourse, and more between sunrise and sunset, during an average of 30 day period.
5 Hajj. Finally Muslims believe they are commanded to take a pilgrimage to Mecca, where Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’bah, to worship God (Fisher, 2005).
The Five Pillars Of Islam
Interview With a Muslim
During an interview with Amir Khatri, a friend and a Muslim, I asked him about the history of his religion. I asked about his religion’s holy book and how it was said to be written, he replied “ The Quran is the holy book of Islam. Muslims consider the Quran to be the exact word of God. Muslims believe that it was spoken by the Angel Gabriel through the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran teaches monotheism, but it also provides guidance for every part of a follower’s life, including aspects that in the West would be considered social, political or legal, and not religious. The Quran is considered by Muslims to complete God's earlier revelations and is meant for all humanity, not for any exclusive group” (Khatri, 2011).
Amir stated that of all the books in religion the Quran was the only that had not been revised, edited, or in circulation with any differences between one or another. It was a pure book, proven to be unadulterated. For this reason, he believes everything it contained and for that reason, it is also used in legislation for guidance of civil expectations and laws (Khatri, 2011).
I then asked Amir, if he had not been born into Islam, would he choose it as a religion, he responded “Absolutely, because when I read about the way of life it prescribes from the general to intricate details, it makes sense to me. It feels right to me and gives me a sense of feeling whole with the earth/world” (Khatri, 2011)
When asked what religion most closely relates to Islam Amir (2011) stated “The original message brought by Jesus, so Christianity in its pure form, not the Christianity that has evolved into what it is today. Judaism is also close in terms of common beliefs as all 3 religions are “Abrahamic faiths”. Islam validates the original messages brought by Moses and Jesus. It reinforces those original beliefs and expounds on them, prescribing a way of life as opposed to a religion or practices” (Khatri, 2011).
I asked Amir, since Muslims seem to vehemently remind its followers that no one shall worship any other God, and that Muhammad was only a prophet, why when they make their pilgrimage to Ka’bah, are so many of the rituals in honor of Muhammad. For instance, they walk through the Ka’bah in circles 7 times, they trek the city the same number, in honor of the story that Muhammad traveled 7 planes during his enlightenment to meet and speak with God, Jesus and Moses (Fisher, 2005). I also asked why fast for 30 days in honor of Muhammad’s receipt of the revelation, is that not honoring him more than just a person to make such a sacrifice for someone other than their God? Although , only a brief summary of our discussion, Amir appreciated my questioning and replied that all things should be questioned, and I raised some good points, that he too would take away an open mind and more readily question the origin of the faith, but not take away from it.
When I asked Amir how religion shaped his life, he responded that it literally shaped every portion of it. Islam does not have separation from religion in their daily lives. Islam is part of every task and every duty and it has taught him to be a good person in all he does. The challenges he faces are the misconceptions of his religion after 9-11 as well as living in a community that expects you to be with only Muslims. In turn, the judgment he faces from the community when dating outside his religion, is difficult.
Islamic Center of America
My Visit to an Islamic Mosque
After meeting with him to discuss his religion and belief system, during the month of Ramadan, no less, I joined him at his Mosque to experience prayer.
I arrived at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati located in West Chester, Ohio. Upon entering the Mosque, I walked into the main lobby. With highly vaulted ceilings, the lobby was ornately decorated in marble and tile. It had a few sitting benches in the middle of the room constructed from meticulously designed tiles forming geometrical designs centering around a sun. Above was a stained glass ceiling with yellows and maroons used to shape small suns as well, with other geometrical shapes. As I walked straight ahead a doorway led to an open room with red carpeting. Upon the carpeting were several smaller rich rugs for prostrating while praying. The Mosque was very spacious. It was unique to see a church that lacked a stage, a podium, a cross, candles, statutes, and even pews. It was not overly decorated with gaudy statues and icons like most Christian churches I have been to. The upstairs is designated for women only and much smaller as they are not required to pray on Fridays. There was no service on the day I visited. This is the month of Ramadan for Muslims, they pray on Friday, but because of my choice not to believe in any scriptures, books, or rituals, I informed Amir I did not want to disrespect his faith during what Muslims feel is a very holy time commemorating the speaking of the Quran to Muhammad.
I personally do believe in God, and that we were created by a higher spiritual divinity, however; based on my research in theology, although many religions are extremely inspirational, I am not bound by a book or papal power. This is not to disrespect anyone who chooses to do so. It is a choice, and in that, we have our freedom in religion.
Do you look at Muslims differently since 9/11?
Islam and Christianity: A Comparison
As Amir stated, Islam and Christianity are similar. Let's take a look at the similarities:
Christianity and Islam both have a “prophet”, although Jesus was said to be the son of God, he, like Muhammad, came to spread the word. Both religions believe in Abraham and his sons’ legacy which relate closely to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam religions as the beginning of their religions. Islam acknowledges both Abraham and Jesus. Although Islamic followers believe Jesus was a prophet, like Muhammad, but not the son of God. Both religions have a set of “rules” to live by. Christianity lives by the 10 commandments handed down by Moses, and Islam believes in the 5 Pillars of Islam mentioned above. The differences in the religions are as numerous as the similarities. Christians typically attend church once per week. Islamic followers are to pray daily. Islam does not believe in papal power, or a man having spiritual authority over another, and Christians typically have priests or pastors (Fisher, 2005). Muslims have rituals such as ablution and prostration when praying, while most denominations of Christianity typically do not perform rituals. Christians use icons such as the Cross and Jesus, where Muslims have no icons to worship. The prophet Muhammad and Jesus are also comparable.
Jesus and Muhammad: A Comparison
After reviewing the similarities in the fundamentals of both faiths, let's look at a comparison of Jesus and Muhammad:
Jesus Christ was born about between 3-6 BC, in Bethlehem, in Palestine, others say he was born in Nazareth. They state he was born of the virgin, Mary. (Fisher, 2005). He was a carpenter, and at 30 he began teaching God’s Word and performing miracles. Jesus was said to be sinless, and allegedly turned water into wine, healed the sick, and brought back others from the dead. This was convincing enough to many that he was the Son of God, as he claimed (God Resources, 2010).
Jesus taught love, non violence, peace, and compassion. Known for his forgiving nature he was quoted as saying “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:26-49).
God Resources (2010), states “Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of his 12 disciples, and turned over to his Jewish enemies. The Romans then crucified Jesus on a cross and certified his death. After verifying his death, his body was placed into a rich man’s tomb in Jerusalem. Jesus had told his disciples he would rise from the grave three days after his crucifixion. His disciples didn’t believe his words at first, and they fled the scene, afraid they would be killed like their leader. But three days after Jesus' crucifixion, they were suddenly changed. In a dramatic turnaround, they began proclaiming that Jesus had risen, and eventually died as martyrs for what they believed to be true” (para. 5).
Thus his life and death had an impact on all believers and non-believers. His death was mourned, but was said to give all people forgiveness for their sins so they could live righteously. His subsequent resurrection solidified many people’s beliefs in him as the son of God.
About 600 years later, a man named Muhammad was born. Muhammad was born in 570 in Mecca, an orphan; he was raised by his uncle (Fisher, 2005). Around age 40, he reportedly heard from the angel Gabriel in a cave in Mecca (God Resources, 2010). He was scared and ran when hearing the Angel speak to him. He claims the sound of the angel’s voice was like a loud bell, maddening. After the ringing stopped, he remembered every word (Fisher, 2005).
His wife convinced him he was sane, and that he was a prophet. He then began his belief, and preaching of Islam and his prophecy. According to God Resources, (2010), “Muhammad was illiterate and recited his revelations orally. It wasn’t until after his death that they were compiled and written down in the Qur’an. Muslims accept the Qur’an as a miracle, believing it is 100% inspired with no human error. Much of what we know as Islam — the lives and sayings of the Prophet — is based on texts from between 130 and 300 years after Muhammad's death” (para. 5).
He then began a crusade to convert those to Islam, or conquer those who did not believe, otherwise referred to as infidels. Stories are conflicting whether he was cruel and murderous in his quest to spread Islam, or whether he was peaceful and compassionate in his message.
God Resources, (2010), continues “Prior to his death, Muhammad led several military campaigns. He proved to be a courageous and capable military leader. By the time of his death in 632, Muslims ruled only in Arabia. But within ten years the Arab Muslims conquered Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and then Persia (Iran). In one generation Muhammad and his followers had changed the political landscape of the Eastern world. Today Muslims around the world honor Muhammad as Allah’s one ‘True Prophet’ (para. 8).
Muhammad’s message is carried out today, with Islam being the second largest religion next to Christianity. Many live by the Five Pillars, give generously, and in the middle East, laws are drawn off the Quran and Hadith as ways of life.
God Resources (2010) reports “Jesus and Muhammad established the world’s two largest religions, Christianity with 2.1 billion, and Islam with 1.8 billion people, together half of the world’s population” (para. 1).
The differences between the two men are far greater than the similarities.
Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and Muhammad claimed only to be a prophet (Fisher, 2005). Jesus was said to be free of sin, and Muhammad was a man who sinned (God Resources, 2010). Jesus was said to have performed Miracles, while Muhammad did not.
According to God Resources (2010) “Jesus fulfilled ancient Hebrew prophecies; Muhammad did not. Muhammad offered no credentials but his revelation. Yet, nearly 300 Old Testament prophecies with 61 specific details were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Only God could have brought all those details to pass. Thus, Jesus is a perfect match for each of them. Jesus’ divine credentials were established by his fulfillment of God’s prophetic Word” (para. 6).
And finally, different messages were brought by each man. Jesus taught love and forgiveness while Muhammad taught to be structured in living and subservient to Allah/God.
Muhammad is honored during Ramadan. Muslims fast for 30 days as they commemorate the delivering of the Qur’an by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad. When Pilgrimages are taken, Muslims walk around the Ka’bah 7 times in honor of Muhammad’s transcendence 7 planes to heaven to speak with God, Moses and Jesus before returning. His Five Pillars of Islam are honored daily.
As you can see the similarities between Islam and Christianity are very similar. The monotheistic belief, charismatic leaders who spread the word, the belief in the Old Testament, and the original message of: “live in a good way.”
Although there may be thousands of religions to choose from in this world, and many different ways to worship, one message in all religions is the same: be a good person, treat others fairly, love deeply, and be compassionate. If the followers of these many religions would stop drawing lines in the sand, and think about the foundation of their religion, they would find their neighbors are not their enemy, but the same as them; a person in need of Faith.
9/11's Impact on Amir
After my experience, the association many non-Muslims Americans have when seeing the golden roof of a Mosque is fear and anger, associating the attacks with all Muslims. I was compelled to ask about 9/11 and how it affected his treatment by non-Muslims in America. Amir responded
“The opinion of Islam went from a respected, peaceful religion to violent, intolerant and barbaric one almost in a matter of hours. My family and friends who are Muslim were subject to countless comments that displayed others’ ignorance. This ignorance came from all walks of life….from professors, to police officers, to peers. I never hid the fact that I am Muslim, but maybe I wasn’t as willing to make it voluntarily known in the immediate aftermath of the tragic day. Life has become different since. Legislation has been enacted across the world to ensure this. Muslims are no longer able to pray in public without being looked at with suspicion and in some countries, it is simply illegal to practice the way of life in public. Ironic, we’re able to display (semi) nude images in public and become intoxicated in public, yet praying to God is looked at as wrong. Christians are mostly behind the condemning of the Muslim faith. Whether it is because of a misunderstanding of the religion, or loss of a loved one in the terrorist attacks by extreme Muslims, the prejudice is thick in America. It is disheartening that so many judge the Muslim faith with the misconception it is a faith of violence. When, in actuality, Christianity and Islam are very similar"