The two most populous religious belief systems in the world today are Christianity and Islam; however they are in constant conflict with each other. The problems exhibited by each religion toward the other have their beginnings in Ancient times when Christianity had finally reached a large part of civilization, while Islam sprouted up almost overnight.
There are many differences in the historical context as well as belief systems of both religions, which lead to their constant disputes. The statement, "Islam and Christianity have similar origins and spread in a similar fashion," is inaccurate, and the differences of origin and spread of these religions, as well as other factors, have lead to the clashing of the two most popular religions in the world.
Christianity was the first of the two dominant religions to arrive and was brought about by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in Ancient Roman times. Judaism was the dominant religion at the time, but there was much bickering over how the Savior would come. Jesus of Nazareth replaced the common teachings of the 10 Commandments with the Golden Rule; treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Jesus was crucified in 30 CE with a small but passionate following (Burton 552).
Paul of Tarsus was one of Jesus' persecutors at the time, but eventually became a follower of the teachings of Jesus. He coined the term Christianity' and was a vital part of the writings of the New Testament, where Jesus was the Messiah. Despite the passionate following that Christianity exhibited, there were major conflicts with Rome. Christianity was a culture shock to the Romans as their belief system included many gods of mythological creation, while Christianity was monotheistic.
There were many misunderstandings between the two worlds, as emperors blamed all the misfortunes on the Christians (such as Nero blaming the Great Fire of 64 on them), giving the religion a bad public image and reducing its following to an underground cult.
Christianity finally started to catch on with the people of Rome and in 312, more than 300 years after the birth of Jesus, the Roman emperor Constantine converted on his deathbed; Christianity had now become the official religion of the state, and all other pagan religions were banned by 395. The spread of Christianity was very slow as three centuries expired between its birth and its mainstream affect on civilization. Islam's appearance into society arose with the birth of the prophet Mohammed in 571.
He was born in the city of Mecca, which at the time was very paganistic and was the home of the Kaba, where the paganistic paintings and idols were kept. Mohammed had a revelation from god, Allah, and began to teach that "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet." Mohammed was kicked out of Mecca and made a flight to the neighboring city of Medina, where he gathered an extensive following. Then he led an attack on Medina, winning a battle at Abu-Bakr (a city between Mecca and Medina), and then rushed into the city of Medina.
Mohammed then destroyed the Kaba and all of the pagan literature; thus Mecca became a sacred city in the development of Islam (Katsh 401). In contrast to the very slow spread of Christianity, the spread of Islam was extraordinarily rapid. All of the Middle East was touched by Islam before Mohammed's death in 632, and expansion continued to occur throughout the Mediterranean and parts of Europe.
In 732, Islamic forces were turned away from spreading through all of Europe at the Battle of Tours in present-day Spain. The first two caliphs, or successors to Mohammed, were Abu Bakr and Omar. Abu Bakr brought central Asia under Islamic control, as well as being responsible for writing the Koran, the direct word of Allah (Katsh 402). Omar attacked the Byzantine and Persian empires with success, conquering the entire Middle East in fifteen years.
The basic, important members of both religions, Jesus of Nazareth and Mohammed, differ, causing many discrepancies in the origins and acceptance of both religions. Jesus was relatively poor and his religion attracted many peasants and merchants in Rome, many of which had no money themselves or political power (Burton 549). Mohammed had a sufficient amount of money in his family, and therefore his followers were not only of the lower class, but of the upper and middle classes as well.
This allowed Mohammed to acquire a military and conquer people all over the world. Christianity's reasons for success included the hard life of the working class, and their willingness to accept new beliefs, which would put them in a better place after their current life. There were also many conflicts in Judaism, the dominant religion in Rome, of how the Savior would come, so many lower class people were willing to accept a new belief system.
The conditions for the rise of Islam were ripe, as the major empires of Persian and Byzantium (Eastern Christian belief systems) were at constant battle with each other. Islamic forces were more equipped with people and much stronger than the depleted forces of either the Byzantines or Persians. There was a sense of mission for Islamic followers, as the war was holy since they stopped Byzantine influence in Palestine. Dying in battle for Muslims was seen as a free ticket to go to a better place.
This made the Islam forces that much more powerful, as they had passion in their fighting. Since most of the following of Jesus had no political power, the religion became more of an underground cult during the first 300 years of its existence (Burton 550). It was not until the conversion of Constantine that a majority of people accepted Christian beliefs. Also there was much forced conversion with Christianity, as Theodosius banned all pagan religions in 395, resulting in the forced conversion of all Roman citizens. Although Islam was spread by force, it allowed the conquered people to retain their belief system if they desired, there was no forced conversion, unlike Christianity.
Also because of the power and wealth, Islam expanded much quicker than Christianity. Islamic teachings had more stability and rigidity to them than Christian beliefs, as well as relating social and spiritual life. The 5 pillars of faith described in the Koran are exact things that Muslims need to do throughout their life and gives them a sense of social standing (Katsh 402).
The Golden Rule presented by Christians is more of a guideline to living rather than exact things that one must do. The two documents that spread each religion, the Bible and the Koran, differ as well. The Koran is the unchallenged word of Allah. Everything that is mentioned in the Koran were the exact things that Allah told Mohammed during his revelation. The Bible is more story-oriented, as it tells tales of Jesus, and allow for many different interpretations of certain concepts, which is one of the reasons why there are so many branches of Christianity today.
The Koran is complete and is the final say; there are no deviations or interpretations that could differ, since it contains the exact word of Allah (Katsh 402). Christianity split between Catholic (acknowledging the Pope and centering on Rome) and Eastern Orthodox (acknowledging the Patriarch and centering on Constantinople, also known as Byzantium), officially in 1054, but the two had major disputes before that. When the Roman empire of the west collapsed and was taken over by barbarians in the fifth century, Catholic Christianity spread among the Germanic tribes that inhibited the area.
Western Europe and ideas then entered into a dark age, where there were many declines in society, as well as Christianity. Christian beliefs in Constantinople were still strong with the Byzantine Empire, as in Eastern Orthodoxy there was no split between the church and state; they were integrated with each other. This flourishing of Christianity in the Middle East gave the religion a constant hold and influence over the holy lands of Palestine and Jerusalem (Peri 98). However, the Byzantines were at constant war with the Persians, resulting in depleted sources for both forces. Islam rose in the Middle East just in time to take advantage of this factor.
Muslim forces easily defeated the Byzantines and stopped all influence of Christianity in the holy lands by 638. The Christian followers in Western Europe were still deep into their dark ages during the flourishing of Islamic culture over the next 300 years. Finally in the tenth century, the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy nor Roman, united tribes in Western Europe under one rule. Step by step Europe was climbing out of the dark ages, as trade began to prosper again and new farming technology allowed for specialization. These advances led to the growth and importance of monasteries to spread knowledge to the general public, in turn giving the church much power and money (Munro 349).
With the emerging wealth of the church, the Pope initiated military campaigns, called the Crusades, in 1094. These were attempts to obtain Jerusalem and Palestine from Islamic influence and control, and regain influence in the Middle East (Munro 352). The execution of the Crusades on the part of Christianity was not very good, as Muslim forces were very strong. Even if the Christians made several advances and conquered cities, they could not hold their ground and defend the city.
The Muslims were not impacted by the Crusades, since they had superior armies and never surrendered the land that they originally controlled. As a result, the Crusades were unsuccessful for the Christians in the way that they did not regain influence on the holy land; however, it did bring the newer more innovative technology of the Islamic world to Western Europe. These new imported ideas became the basis for the European renaissance in the 1500's.
The origins and spread of Christianity and Islam differ from each other greatly, which resulted in much clashing in Ancient times. The Christian
faith came from a poor background, spread through forced conversion, and was an underground cult before its maturation into a dominant religion some 300 years after its birth. Islam on the other hand came from a relatively wealthy background, spread through choice of conversion, and emerged as a dominant religion within the lifetime of its founder, Mohammed.
The Bible and the Koran, the basis of the teachings of each religion, differ in the context, as well as the interpretation of their meaning. These differences lead to the constant battling between the two great belief systems seen throughout history and even exist in the world today.
The final difference of the Islam and Christian worlds is how each religion perceives on another. Islam is very accepting of opposing religious beliefs. In its teachings, the Koran mentions all the prophets in high regard. It was also built on the same monotheistic belief system as Christianity, but is more refined; this too is acknowledged among the Islamic faith.
Christians, however, do not perceive Muslims in the same light. Islam is a threat to Christian belief, since Christianity used forced conversion to create a following. Islam also conquered the powerful Byzantine Empire, the last remnants of the once powerful Roman Empire that Christianity originally came out of (Meyendorff 115). This upset Christians as Palestine was no longer under their influence. All of these differences eventually led to many Ancient clashes between the two dominant religions of their time.
Burton, Ernest D. "Jesus of Nazareth: How He Thought, Lived, Worked, and Achieved." The Biblical World. 53.5 (1919): 547-554. Jstor.
Katsh, Abraham I. "Judaism and Islam." Journal of Educational Sociology. 36.8 (1963): 400-406. Jstor.
Meyendorff, John. "Byzantine Views of Islam." Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 18 (1964): 113-132. Jstor.
Munro, Dana C. "The Popes and the Crusades." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 55.5 (1916): 348-356. Jstor.
Peri, Oded. "Islamic Law and Christian Holy Sites: Jerusalem and its Vicinity in early Ottoman Times." Islamic Law and Society. 6.1 (1999): 97-111. Jstor.