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Attitudes of Christianity and Islam Toward Merchants and Trade

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    From their origins to 1500, the attitudes of both Christian and Muslims toward trade shifted as conditions in the Christian and Islamic worlds changed. In the beginning, Christian attitudes were more negative, while Muslims tended to encourage and respect trade and merchants. Over time, Muslims became more like early Christians in that they were suspicious of traders whereas the Christians became more like the early Muslims, equating merchants (at least honest ones) with doing God’s work, reflecting the changed importance of trade in the high Middle Ages in Europe.

    At their origins, Christians and Muslims had different views about merchants and traders. This can be seen in the first two documents which are excerpts from the holy books of the two faiths. “A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God“(Document 1, Christian Bible, New Testament. ) This excerpt from the document can be clarified as bias because it means for a rich man to enter the presence of god, it is near to impossible—countless people may not believe so and disagree.

    The Christian bible uses a parable to compare riches to the kingdom of God. Wealth turns into greed and if one is obsessive to riches and has possession of greed, they may not be able to reach heaven. Reginald, monk of Durham and colleague of St. Godric, says not to follow the life if a husbandman, but rather to study, learn and exercise the rudiment of more subtle conceptions. Merchant’s trade is the way of life; learn how to gain in small bargains and thing of insignificant price and to gain from things of greater expense (Document 3, written before the death of St. Godric. Becoming a merchant means to donate to charity. To be a merchant and to follow Christ more freely, sell possessions and distribute them among the poor, for above all things coveted the life of a hermit; is dedication to god. A Muslim scholar of the name Ibn Khaldum, discusses the concept of commerce is believed to be deceitful; therefore one is less of a human being. Commerce is the increasing of capital by buying goods and attempting to sell them at a price higher than their cost. Waiting for a rise in the market price or by transporting the goods to another place where they are more keenly demanded.

    It is necessary to have enough initial capital to pay in cash the sellers from whom one buys goods, to sell for cash as honesty. Dishonesty leads on the one hand to fraud and the adulteration of goods and on the other to delays on payment which diminish profits because capital remains idle during the interval. (Document 5, fourteen century—Universal History. ) Evasiveness, litigation and disputation, all of which are characteristics of the profession and qualities lead to a decrease and weakening in virtue which can mistaken as bias because some may say this persona to commerce makes one a human being.

    This shows a much more respectful view towards merchants and may reflect the fact that Muhammad, the founder of Islam was a merchant himself. Since this question is about attitudes about trade it would be more complete with documents portraying the views of more groups. For example, letters from Muslim merchants would allow us to examine that group’s view about trade. Documents from Orthodox Christians would give a more complete picture of the attitudes of Christianity.

    Collection records from Muslim mosques or Christian churches would allow us to compare how each benefited from merchants and so be able to analyze why they might hold a particular view towards trade or merchants The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam. The Qur’an is considered by Muslims to be “The Word of Allah”. This book is different from other religious texts in that it is believed to be written directly by God, through the prophet Muhammad. Cheaters who when they take measure of their dues from men take it fully; and give full measure when you measure out and weigh with true balance.

    If the two parties speak the truth and make it manifest, their transaction shall be blessed, and if they conceal and tell a lie, the blessing of their transaction shall be obliterated (Document 2, Muslim Qur’an. ) Essentially, believing two people with truthful attitude, receive blessings. It is said if it is taken into consideration the objective facts of religious history will be understood. But numerous people can disagree with this statement and take it the wrong way, why would they get “obliterated”?

    Letters ordering religious paintings for sale discuses how a merchant wants to purchase painting, described as a panel of Our Lady on a background of fine gold with two doors. A merchant’s mother in a letter wrote “God had granted you to acquire great riches in this world, May he praised and you have borne and are bearing great burdens. ” Letters placing an order for English wool says “In the name of God and profit, you would have us buy Cotswold wool. With God always before us, we will carry out your bidding”(Document 6, Letters to and from Italian merchants in the fourteenth century. Transactions invocated to religion come to show their religious dedication to God. As time went on, the attitudes of both religions began to change. By the 13th century, Christians seem to be coming more in line with the Muslim attitude portrayed in document two. The Scholastic theologian is still condemning traders who are dishonest and selling something for more than it is worth which shows that Christian doctrine is still a bit uncomfortable with the ideas of profits and merchants. “All things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. But no man wishes to buy a thing for more than it’s worth.

    Therefore no man should sell a thing to another man for more than it’s worth. Contracts should be entirely free from double-dealing: the seller must not impose upon the bidder, nor the buyer upon those bids against him. Therefore if either the price exceed the quality of the thing’s worth or conversely the thing exceed the price, there is no longer the equality of justice; and consequently, to sell a thing for more than it’s worth, or to buy it for less that its worth, is in itself unjust and unlawful” (paraphrased from Document 4. ) Meaning one should not cheat others for what they need or want to satisfy them is unjust and disgraceful.

    This changing attitude reflects the changes in Western Europe as towns and trade revived and merchants like these from the Italian city-states became more prevalent and important. Also, in the 1500s, Islamic court case shows us the Islamic view of the time. During the 1400’s and 1500’s, a merchant from the Turkish guild always acquired the entire supply of yarn for himself instead of equally distributing it among all. (Document 7) This man was more worried about his own welfare that for the health of the group. This is a clear example of the merchants’ greediness and desire for self-advancement.

    The Islamic people saw this and disliked the merchant class. By the 1500s, Islamic and Christian beliefs are found to be nearly identical. From the beginning of Christianity and Islam to the 1500s, the views of merchants began apart and then formed together and appeared as one voice. As the 1500’s approached, the Christians and Islamic views were basically the same. To help assess the consequences of these views, one would need statistics or letters showing a comparison of merchant activities based on actions of governments and/ or people based on their views of merchants.

    You would need to see whether actions taken by those who disliked merchants actually decreased their ability to trade in certain regions. Documents that can be beneficial are: court records from a Christian court to see what they reveal about attitudes, collection records to see how churches/mosques in either the Christian or Muslim world are benefiting from merchants, the records of Ibn Battua who traveled widely, a statement from the Pope or an Imam or to get a more complete picture, documents from Muslim merchants themselves, documents from an orthodox Christian.

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