Friday, December 24, 2010

Major Differences between Christianity and Islam

Post 19—:

Recently, the editor of Christian Courier (CC), a bi-weekly Christian newspaper published in Ontario, Canada ( ), asked me to write a series of six articles about Islam that would address the “faq” –most frequently asked questions--of their readers. Now, their readers are mostly Canadian Christians, as am I. I wrote those six articles. Some have already been published by CC, while others are still in the lineup. I plan to reproduce them in this blog in slightly edited form. The questions reflect the interests and concerns of Christian Courier’s constituency more than my own. Without these questions, I might not even address the issues of this series on my own. These posts then serve to satisfy their curiosity without reflecting my own preoccupation with Islam. My answer to today's question does not cover the entire subject. The women issue, for example, is one not covered today, but that is because there is a separate question on the subject that will be addressed in due time.

However, most of my experience with Muslims and most of my very extensive research on the subject has focused on Nigerian Islam, not Canadian Islam. My orientation, interests and response will definitely be coloured by my 30-year experience and 15 years of research in Nigeria. Some of the things I wrote and repeat in these posts may not fully reflect or apply to the majority of Canadian Islam or Muslims, but these articles reflect where I have been or am going. Every country’s Islam has its own local characteristics, sometimes even contradictory.

I was going to say that in spite of these local variations, the broad outlines are universal. But that would not be entirely true. Yes, the core of the religion, the five pillars, is indeed universal, but the relationship of Muslims to Christians, for example, varies widely from historical tolerance through different degrees of intolerance to outright and harsh persecution. While some Muslims consider the secularism or soft secularism adopted by Christians as the core relational difference between the two, other Muslims describe themselves calmly as secular. That difference even divides the Canadian Muslim community.

I encourage Muslim readers to correct me where they think I am wrong about their religion. It is the easiest thing for one describing a religion not his own to go in the wrong direction. So, please, be free. I will appreciate it.

The above comments are written as an introduction to each of the next six posts, including this one. Please remember them when you read the rest of the series. I promise to assist you by reminding you in each post in this series.

The first question: What are the differences between Christianity and Islam?

You can divide differences between these two religions in various ways. My favourite way is between the core differences that will always remain and cultural differences that have developed over time and could theoretically either change or be overcome. These changes could take place within either Christianity or Islam or within both.

The core difference between the two religions centres on a complex set of ideas about God, humanity, sin and salvation. Muslims fulminate against the notion of the Trinity and emphasize the unity of God exclusively. The thought of God having a son is the ultimate blasphemy to them. However, Jesus is a revered prophet, second only to Muhammad. They reject the notion of original sin—as do some major Christian traditions. They also reject the need for a mediating saviour. God just forgives—if He pleases. God has not bound Himself to any promises and is free to decide everyone’s ultimate destiny. He will weigh everybody’s deeds, but remains free to reject or accept each individual. Though there is no ground for assurance of salvation, in practice, Muslims do not seem to live in constant fear of hell. They emphasize that, though God is absolutely free, he is also the Merciful and Compassionate. These differences have been there from the beginning and will never disappear. This is where the basic antithesis resides. But there is more....

The Muslim attitude to sin is, compared to the Christian idea, superficial and often results in hypocrisy. I believe this helps explain why they seldom admit to wrongs. While they castigate the West for imperialism and intolerance, they seldom if ever recognize their own imperialism and intolerance and are not prone to apologize. They complain about intolerance in the West, while their (ancestral) home countries are shot through with it. They accuse the West of racism, while racism—or tribalism-- is rife on their ancestral turf. Some persecute Christians in their countries of origin and destroy churches, but demand freedom of religion for themselves in the West. Admittedly, they have no monopoly on hypocrisy; it just comes in different shapes and forms for different people. While the core differences are permanent, these results could potentially change due to internal shifts or to the influence of Western secular tolerance.

Then there is the core issue of church-state relations. While almost all Christian traditions support the separation of church and state-- not to be confused with the separation of religion from state/politics--, with the notable exception of minority secular Muslims, Muslims generally tend to insist on the unity of state and religion, including mosque. They see the state as the handmaiden of Islam that supports the latter’s institutions, pillars and mission, including financially. That is a major reason for violence in Nigeria. We don’t hear much of that emphasis in Canada, which does not mean it’s not there long-term in the minds of Muslim strategists.

As to historically conditioned differences, Muslims themselves often point to Western secularism as the most crucial difference. For today’s Western Christian, secularism is almost our “native air” with which we have grown up and become accustomed to. It has deeply penetrated our hearts and mind. Secularism confronted Muslims in the context of oppressive colonialism. Hence, to most Muslims it has always been a hostile and ungodly worldview. Although there are secular Muslims, most Muslims have resisted the influence of secularism much more than have Christians. Many have contempt for its adherents, especially for its Christian adherents. They hold secularism responsible for Western moral decadence and tend to be angry at Western attempts to impose this corrupt system on them in the context of imperialism and globalism. I do not consider this a core difference, for at its core Christianity is also anti-secular, even though most Christians have been unduly influenced by it.

Over against secularism, Islam is a wholistic, comprehensive religion that covers all of life, theoretically much like the Reformed Christian tradition. They are not shy about praying in public or dressing differently and are not averse to making public demands on issues that wimpy Western Christians have long surrendered to secularism or shoved with embarrassment into a hidden “religious” corner of life. Islam is a political religion that insists on using the organs of state, United Nations, corporations and all other structures, even its oil money, for its advance. Politics, economics, education—all of life is of one piece and all of it is to be harnessed to the global Islamic mission. In reaction to the aggressive push of Western secularism, Muslims have in recent decades revived and strengthened their wholism, while most Christians have at least partially cashed in theirs for a soft secularism. Christians can learn some powerful lessons from Muslims in this regard with respect to our politics, culture and personal lifestyles, including decreasing modesty in our dress codes and free-lance sex. Actually, not learn so much as to be reminded of what Christianity is meant to be about as well. Under the pressure of secularism, Christians have forgotten much and surrendered much that Muslims can remind them of.

No comments:

Post a Comment