Identify and discuss the main beliefs Christianity and Islam - Christianity Essay Example

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Identify and discuss the main beliefs which divide Judaism, Christianity and Islam
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Identify and discuss the main beliefs Christianity and Islam


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It is extremely difficult to generalize about what most people call the three major religions in the world today i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as all are extremely diverse traditions. However, this paper will discuss and focus more on the difference in main beliefs between the religions of Islam and Christianity. It is important to discuss this in order to find more about the religion you belong to and its place among other religions in the world. I intend to address this paper with the intention of reflecting fairly on all three religions with respect to their beliefs and norms. I intend to use my own knowledge on comparative religion, some books and a few articles on the internet.

Islam rose suddenly and quickly gained a hold in Europe in the 8th century and remained Solid also it was well established in Spain, Near East and Africa all through this period.

There was an increasing amount of tension with the eastern churches that were Orthodox rather than being Catholic and refused to be under the control of the bishop of Rome (Pope).

The prominent population of these others also known as Jews in Europe led to numerous cultural, political, and intellectual attempts to strengthen the strength and unity of the European Christian identity.

Theological complexity included philosophical ideas which clarified increasing complex notion of Theology, Atonement, Sin and Salvation or definitions of God, often in the new scholasticism in the catholic university; this notion was taken up from Islam. Powerful popes often undertook spiritual innovations.

During this period both external and internal attempts to strengthen catholic unity was launched: an attempt to re Christianize the Iberian Peninsula also known as the reconquista; also an attempt to root out heretics called the Inquisition; a military religious effort taken to seize the sites of biblical history from the unfaithful also known as the Crusades.

In east Byzantine Empire, contact and conflict with the thinkers of Islam toughened the religious and political boundaries of the Roman Empire and also led to meticulous religious developments and conflicts such as the debate of sacredness of images. After the end of this period the east empire of Byzantine vanished under military development of the Islamic Ottoman Turks.

These religions have disagreements within their own communities even about what broad areas of belief and practice ought to be part of the authentic beliefs and practices of their particular religion. First, “there are many ways to be a Muslim, or a Christian.”(Ruthven 2000, 128) We must always bear in mind that what is true of one group of believers may not be true of others. Second, not only do Jews differ among themselves in actual beliefs and practices and Christians among themselves in actual beliefs and practices, but members of all religions also differ among themselves about the theoretical questions of what broad areas of belief and practice ought to be part of their respective religions.

Despite all the difficulties inherent in describing Islam and Christianity, it is possible to identify certain key beliefs as central to most forms of these religions. A list of key Christian beliefs would include “beliefs concerning God, as well as affirmations about the Trinity, Christ, grace, church, and sacraments.”(Zetterholm 2003, 213) In Islam most of these beliefs are present though with some difference of opinion on certain fundamental questions which include the presence of jinn in this world and also that human beings have a spirit rather than a soul. These are substantially different lists of beliefs. While “Islam and Christianity share a commitment to the one God, they incorporate wide areas of difference.”(Esposito 1998, 167)

Even their central point of agreement – belief in God – subsumes topics of substantial disagreement. In Judaism, belief in God cannot be isolated from other foundational beliefs; rather, it is closely linked to beliefs about People hood, the Land, and the Torah. For many forms of Judaism, God is essentially the God of the Torah, the God who makes a covenant with the Jewish people, who promises the land of Israel, and who is found through the Torah that God reveals. Christianity and Islam do not share these Jewish beliefs in and commitments to the Jewish People, the Land, and the Torah, Christianity’s understanding of God is substantially different from that of Judaism. Moreover, the Christian understanding of God is essentially Trinitarian, a belief unacceptable to Judaism. Christian belief in God is also closely related to other doctrines, especially those about Christ, that are not part of Judaism. “Muslims do not believe in the trinity, and Jesus is viewed as a prophet of God rather than as God.”(Ahmed 2002, 95) Muslims also believe that all mankind is born pure and he/she is responsible for his or her own sins and not someone else’s. Thus, while Jews and Christians share a commitment to one God, they are at odds over important elements of their beliefs in God. Islam also conforms with the view of the above mentioned religions regarding the oneness of God (Allah). However, it has a belief that is unacceptable to Judaism and Christianity.

The differences between Islam and Christianity extend also to their holy books – both to the texts and to how they are read. While Christianity share a large body of biblical texts (no small matter of agreement), still the texts of the Bibles themselves are quite different. Christianity has the Second Testament. Islam has the Quran, for many Muslims the Quran is the single greatest sign of God in the physical universe. In fact, individual verses of the Quran are called ayat (literally ‘signs’). The text refers to itself as “guidance for the world” (Murata 1994, 14) and “a clear sign for those who can understand.”(Murata, 1994, 16) It provides instructions on how to live one’s life and acts as a source of ethical guidance for the things for which it does not provide clear instructions. It is a common Muslim belief that, as God’s final revelation, the Quran contains the sum total of what God plans to reveal to humanity; therefore, behind the finite, literal message of the Quran is an infinite reservoir of divine wisdom. Somewhat similar books of Judaism and Christianity agree in accepting the Hebrew Scriptures (the Jewish Bible that is also the Christian First Testament), Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians – together the majority of Christians – include books in their First Testaments that are not found in the Tanakh. Even the Protestant First Testament is not identical to the Tanakh, because it is a reordering of the books of the Jewish Bible. The Orthodox and Catholic First Testaments are also similarly reordered. The reordering eliminates the distinction between the Prophets and the Writings and tends to focus attention on the Prophets. Placed at the end of the First Testament and thus immediately before the Second Testament, the Prophets can and often do serve Christian readers as a bridge to the Second Testament, thus playing a role in Christianity antithetical to their role in Judaism.

In the Prophet Muhammad’s opinion and that of the majority of pious believers, the Quran revelations came from Heaven, where they were preserved on a “Well-guarded Tablet,” a concealed supernatural book that existed in the presence of God. Muhammad did not become acquainted with the whole of the Quran at once but only with isolated sections of it. The Quran contains only a few obscure hints to how it was communicated to Muhammad. In fact, it is from later Islamic writings that we learn how Muhammad would occasionally go into trances when he received a revelation and would then recite it to those around him.

Muhammad believed that not only his prophetic mission but also the revelations of the earlier Hebrew prophets and the holy scriptures of the Jews and Christians were based on the original heavenly book, so that they coincided in part with what he himself taught. The Quran thus confirms what was revealed earlier: the laws, which were given to Moses, the Gospel of Jesus, and other prophetic texts.

Although the stories contained in the Quran and the concept of revelation through a series of prophets are shared with the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the style of the Quran is more in keeping with that of the pre-Islamic Arab religious tradition of soothsayers. The text is written neither in prose nor poetry, but consists of rhymed prose, which is easier to remember than normal prose but is not as restricted in style as poetry.

The text is arranged in 114 chapters called suras. These are unequal in length, some being several pages while others are only a few lines. The chapters are not arranged in a way that reflects the order of revelation. In fact, they seem to be in roughly the opposite of the chronological order. They appear to be arranged by length, going from the longest to the shortest. Their names rather than their numbers traditionally identify suras. These names are normally distinctive or unusual words that appear somewhere in the early part of the sura, for example The Cow, The Bee, The Fig, Day Break, and The Clatterer. The suras are further subdivided into verses called ayat. Twenty-nine of the chapters begin with seemingly disjointed letters which are referred to as the “mysterious letters.” which may convey some secret religious meaning, or may just signify a filing system for organizing the Quran.

The Quran was not put together during Muhammad’s lifetime but was preserved on whatever material was then available: bits of parchment, leaves, shoulder blades of camels, and in the memory of his followers. After Muhammad’s death people decided to start collecting the work, but the process took several years. Some say that the Quran was collected in its present form within two years of his death under the leadership of his friend and successor, Abu Bakr (d. 634). Others contend that the Caliph Umar (d. 644) was the first to compile the Quran. (Malise Ruthven, 26) Vast arguments have raged ever since, concerning issues of theology and early Arab history, over who gathered together the first edition, and what it consisted of. Today, however, most agree that the established canon of the Quran, the written text Muslims use today, was completed between 650 and 656, during the reign of Umar’s successor, the Caliph Uthman. His commission decided what was to be included and what excluded: it also fixed the number and order of the Suras. That said, unofficial versions of the Quran were not entirely forgotten, and these were referred to in subsequent histories and commentaries on the Quran.

While the promulgation of the official text of the Quran under Uthman was a major step toward uniformity in versions of the scripture, its importance may easily be exaggerated. For one thing, knowledge of the Quran among Muslims was based far more on memory than on writing. For another, the early Arabic script of the Quran was a sort of shorthand: only consonants were written, and the same letter shape could indicate more than one sound. This script was simply an aid to memorization; it presupposed that the reader had some familiarity with the text. It was not until the reign of Abd al-Malik (685-705) that the modern Arabic script was created, with its vowels and use of one letter shape for one sound. (Malise Ruthven, 46-49)

Christians find themselves in a rather different position. The human problem is not seen, by them, as simply one of ignorance, but as a kind of rebellion – as self-assertion instead of response to God. Ignorance may promote this, but the problem is not merely to see the Truth but to overcome all reluctance to submit to it as it is expressed by the term “God,” and to accept the humbling fact that one needs forgiveness. Yet the Christian finds in his tradition grounds for eager exploration of non-Christian beliefs. Insofar as Christianity is a system of ideas and actions (a “religious tradition”) it knows that it can no more adequately verbalize the character of God. Further, even the Christian’s belief that the saving event of Christ is unique opens him to dialogue, for he sees his own religious “system” and every other as companions under the common judgment of that event. His own Scriptures speak of “other sheep” who are also God’s, and the Christian cannot automatically conclude that his alone is the voice through which God may speak. (H Tristham Engelhardt Jr, 61-62)

The central message of both beliefs demands an “existential commitment to the cause of human freedom” (Krell 2000, 2), by liberating human consciousness from a fetishistic attachment to limiting objectives. Particularism is replaced by religious universalism; the perception of objects as things-in-themselves gives way to recognition of the contingent character of all existing things. The whole universe is seen as a hugely complex allegory or metaphor of the divinity.

Works Cited

·         Malise Ruthven. Islam in the World; Oxford University Press, 2000. 482 pgs.

·         Magnus Zetterholm. The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 2003.

·         John L. Esposito. Islam and Development: Religion and Sociopolitical Change; Syracuse University Press, 1998. 268 pgs.

·         Akbar S. Ahmed. Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society; Routledge, 2002. 252 pgs.

·         William C. Chittick. The Vision of Islam Book. Paragon House, 1994. 372 pgs.

·         Marc A. Krell. Decentering Judaism and Christianity: Using Feminist Theory to Construct a Postmodern Jewish-Christian Theology. Magazine Title: Cross Currents. Volume: 50. Issue: 4. Publication Date: Winter 2000.

·         H Tristham Engelhardt Jr, the Foundations of Christian Bioethics. Swets & Zeitlinger, Widdows J Med Ethics.2002; 28: 61-62


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