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Comparing and contrasting Christianity and Islam

Introduction. About the religions themselves

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Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are three closely related religions and are often linked together as Abrahamic religions.

However, their many points of similarity are no guarantee that their followers can get along. Most of the serious religiously motivated conflicts, mass crimes against humanity and genocides in the 20th century have been between Muslims and Christians. This has included genocides in Bosnia Herzegovina, East Timor, and the Sudan, as well as serious conflicts in Cyprus, Kosovo, Macedonia, and the Philippines. As of early 2011, two of these conflicts (Sudan and Philippines) are still active. However, a plebescite in Sudan during 2011-JAN may end the slaughter by separating the predominately Muslin north from the Christian/Animist south. Three other past conflicts are relatively inert only because of peacekeepers on the ground; however, the hatred continues.

It is difficult to compare Christianity to any other religion, because there is such a wide range of beliefs and practices among various wings of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican communion, and the tens of thousands of Protestant faith groups. Some commentators have suggested that Christianity consists of a number of different religions which share little more than the Bible and the name of their religion. Protestant Christianity is obviously divided into a least liberal and conservative wings -- divisions which hold few beliefs in common. Some of the descriptions below will thus necessarily be somewhat simplistic and lacking in precision.

Similarly, Islam is divided into many different traditions including Sunni, Shii'te, Sufi, and many minority groups.

To complicate matters further, religious practices and beliefs throughout the world are influenced by many factors:

bulletWhat the religion's holy book says.

bullet How passages in the book is interpreted by theologians and clergy

bulletThe impact of scientific findings.

bulletIndividuals' personal experience, and above all:

bullet The culture in which the religion is embedded.

These factors vary from country to country. This leads to selective reading of the Holy Books to find justification for local practices. To take one example, consider what different faiths in various countries teach about homosexual behavior, and how their legal systems treat lesbians, gays, and bisexuals:

bulletSame-sex behavior is a capital crime in six Muslim countries.

bullet One mainly Christian country in Africa, Uganda, is considering making such behavior a capital crime.

bulletMany countries, both Muslim and Christian, assign long term jail sentences to sexually active gays and lesbians.

bulletOther countries have no laws on the books regarding same-sex behavior.

bullet Same-sex couples in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, a few other countries, five states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia -- all at least nominally Christian jurisdictions -- can marry. Other U.S. states have civil unions or registered domestic partnerships that grant same-sex couples some or all of the privileges, rights and protections of marriage without the right to be considered married.

Thus, it is quite impossible to compare the Muslim and Christian beliefs and practices concerning same-sex behavior without going into a major explanation -- something for which we have no room in this section.

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About the religions themselves:

Name of the religion: Christianity Islam
Meaning of the name: Follower of Christ (a Greek word meaning Messiah). Submission to the will of God.
Name of a believer: Christian. Muslim.
Date of founding: circa 30 CE. 1 622 CE. 2
Name of founder(s): Yeshua of Nazareth (aka Jesus Christ, 3 and Paul. Most religious historians credit Muhammad (pbuh) as the founder. 3 However, Muslims generally regard Islam as dating back to the time of creation
% of world's population as followers: 33%. 20%.
Worldwide growth rate in numbers of members 4  2.3%/year. 2.9%/yr.
Growth rate of the religion as a % of the world's population: About 0.0%. Percentage has been static for decades. Increase of about 0.6%/yr.
Estimated year when Islam will become the most popular world religion: As early as 2023 CE (if above numbers are valid and remain stable) to as late as 2200 CE (as estimated by some religious futurists)
% of U.S. population as followers: 2008 ARIS study estimates 76%, and declining. 2008 ARIS study estimates 0.6%; some Muslim groups estimate 6 million (2%).
Major traditions or denominations: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, and others. Shi'ite, Sunni, Sufi. (Sufi is a mystical tradition).

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  1. The Christian church is normally considered to have begun at Pentecost, 50 days after Christians believe that Jesus was executed. Unfortunately, the year, month, and day of his death are all unknown.

  2. Most religious historians view Islam as having been founded in 622 CE. However, many if not most of the followers of Islam believe that:

    bulletIslam existed before Muhammad (pbuh) was born.

    bulletThe origins of Islam date back to the creation of the world.

  3. Muslims traditionally acknowledge respect for Muhammad, Jesus and other prophets (peace be upon them) by adding this phrase or an abbreviation "(pbuh)" after their names.

  4. Greg H. Parsons, Executive Director, "U.S. Center for World Mission," Pasadena, CA; quoted in Zondervan News Service, 1997-FEB-21.
Copyright © 2001 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-AUG-4
Latest update: 2011-MAR-11
Author: B.A. Robinson
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