We have all noticed similarities between the Christian and Muslim religions. They share common Judaic origins. Both feature male clerics with special titles wearing special clothes and special hats, relaying versions of what God wants, in special halls built with special towers, designed for calling the faithful. They both feature prayers and ceremonials, monopolies on rights of passage, and morality based on ancient books which they imagine to have been written by God.
Secularists can point to many other similarities, but even they are often unaware of historic similarities, believing the two religions to be more different than they are.
When Christians look at the Moslem world today, they are often horrified by Islamic practices, which they see as primitive and backward. They are invariably judging the religion by modern western secular standards. If they knew a little more about the history of their own faith, they would know that Islam is not so very different from traditional Christianity. The worst aspects of Islam were all familiar and integral aspects of Christianity too. Here are a few examples.
Rape in order to Force Marriage
In many Islamic countries it is common practice for men to rape single women in order to force them to marry their rapist. Failure to consent to marry will mean that the raped woman is at best unmarriageable and at worst liable to execution. Having had sex, however unwillingly, she is guilty of fornication. Such unfair and unreasonable practices are not peculiar to Islam. They are based on the Jewish scriptures and were shared for most of its history by the Christian Church. (In Church Law marriage following rape was identified explicitly as one of three types of valid marriage). The practice is rare now in western countries, but was reported in Catholic areas well within living memory, for example in Italy.
|Brides and their Grooms|
The prophet Mohammed married Aisha bint Abu Bakr when he was 51 and she was 7 years old. They engaged in sexual activity, but not full sexual intercourse until she was 9 years old. For many Muslims this establishes beyond all doubt that child marriage is warranted by God. The idea horrifies many modern Christians, but not those familiar with the traditions of their own faith. Traditional Catholic teaching was that girls could marry at the age of 12 and boys at the age of 14 - or at puberty if earlier than 12 or 14. They could contract marriages at the age of seven, unless they were from royal or great noble houses in with case they could contract marriage at any age. We know from Church records that in practice, even in Protestant England, children and even babes-in-arms were routinely married in church.
The legal age for marriage remained at seven in the state of Delaware until the early twentieth century. In many other US states and European countries it was still 12. As in almost all western jurisdictions the age of consent was repeatedly raised during the twentieth century – only the Vatican State lagging behind. For Girls, it was eventually raised to 14 by Law No. VIII of 11 July 2013.
Veils, Head Coverings and Harems
|Muslima or Nun/|
The practice of women wearing veils, covering their hair and living together in total or partial seclusion in a well-defined section of the house is still common in many Muslim countries. In the west the restricted areas are often called harems, but they go by many local names. In Pakistan they are is popularly known as murgh khanas (literally “hen houses”). The memory of all these practices has faded in the West, though they were all widespread within Christendom, especially in the Eastern Church. The Greeks even had their own name for a harem – they called it a gynæceum. We have a few other small reminders of traditional Christian ideas of female modesty. A nun’s habit is almost identical to traditional forms of women’s clothing in some Muslim countries, and high status women still wear their traditional veils on special occasions, such as funerals and on meeting senior clerics. It made front page news in April 2014 when Queen Elizabeth II broke with tradition by not wearing a long black dress and a veil when she met Pope Francis. Ironically, the Muslim world might well have picked up all of these practices concerning female modesty, along with purdah, from Byzantine Christians.
|Catholic icons |
defaced by Protestants
Like the Jews both Christians and Muslims strictly prohibited the making of images of anything in heaven or on earth. Christianity gradually shifted ground on this: allowing successively images of inanimate objects, plants, animals, humans, prophets, supernatural beings, God;s limbs and finally God's face. All Muslims have taken the same path, but some are further along than others. (Images of Mohammed for example are common in Iran). Incidentally, The Christian journey was as rocky as the Muslim one, with separate iconoclastic controversies in the Eastern and Western Churches.
Mutilating criminals is widely considered in the west to be barbaric, but this view is characteristically secular and relatively recent. Christian Churches not only tolerated mutilation, but practised it. Cannon law set penalties for various crimes against the Church: amputations for stealing church property or striking a cleric, ripping out tongues for blasphemy, branding on the face for a range of crimes. Like modern Muslims they pointed out that mutilation was mandated by God – for Muslims in the Qur’an, for Christians in the Bible.
Execution for adultery
Modern Christians are fond of pointing out that Jesus took no action against a woman taken in adultery, and this is often contrasted with the Muslim practice of stoning women to death for adultery, a practice based on God’s eternal laws as specified in the Old Testament. Before the secular age, Christians too followed the Old Testament and imposed the death sentence for adultery. Indeed, the laws sometimes cited the Christian scriptures, chapter and verse, in their statutes, emphasizing their Christian nature.
Praying with Arms Out, Palms Open
|Orthodox icons show the |
original Christian way of praying
Muslims pray 5 times a day, facing a special direction with their arms held out in a characteristic pose. These features are often thought typically Muslim, but they are all equally Christian. The practice of praying 5 or 7 times a day at set times was once standard practice for all Christians - it was once a strict requirement - and the practice is still observed in religious institutions. The idea of facing a set direction was also common. European Christians faced East to the rising sun, or to Jerusalem, to pray. Muslims originally faced Jerusalem too when they prayed, but changed the direction to Mecca when they lost control over Jerusalem.
Christians praying with their hands together is an innovation. It derives from the feudal practice of swearing homage. Modern Christians pray as though they were swearing homage to God. Actually, not all of them do. Some evangelical Christians have recently switched to the traditional pose, identical to the one used by Muslims.
Muslims have practised slavery for over fourteen centuries since the time of Mohammed. Christians practised slavery for a rather longer time, starting from the time of Jesus. God’s approval of the practice of slavery is very clear – it is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Archaeologists have found examples of Christian slave collars from early times. It is still possible to read the owners' names - names such as Felix the Archdeacon. In medieval times monasteries owned slaves and unlike other slave-owners refused ever to emancipate their slaves - arguing that they belonged to God, so he could emancipate them himself if he wanted to. Up until the rise of secular thought during the Enlightenment, no Christian seems to have criticized the practice, and when the first Christians followed free-thinkers, like Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, they were roundly denounced by the Churches as atheists intent on attacking the word of God. Modern Christians, almost all follow secular opinion, and imagine it to represent historical Christianity. For them it is sobering to think that Christians practised slavery for centuries longer than Muslims have practised it.
Christians often attribute the success of Islam to forced conversions. Islam conquered many lands by the sword and then prohibited the practice of any religion other than the “religions of the book”. There is a great deal of truth in this, but a critical fact is that Christianity was spread in exactly the same way. Both religions won territory by force of arms, made deals with existing rulers, and enforced conformity to the new religion. Holy pagan artefacts were destroyed and holy pagan temples appropriated as Mosques or Churches. People had were presented with a straight choice between conversion and death. Lucky ones were given a third option, exile. We know from Christian records that Christian forces were prepared to kill tens of thousands of people a day if they refused to convert – the Saxons are just one example well known to historians. Again the Moslem practice was modelled on existing Christian practices.
Execution for apostasy
It seems absurd and barbaric to try and execute people for exercising what is now seen as a basic human right, the right to reject religious beliefs. It is well known that some Muslim countries enforce belief in Islam, and execute any citizen who dissents – Saudi Arabia is a notable example. What is less well known is that Christians did the same thing, when they had the power to do so. When the Church was able to enforce cannon law it was a capital crime to abandon the Christian faith. From historical records we know that Christians executed not only atheists, but Pantheists and Deists, and even Christians who opted for a sect other than the one currently in favour. We even have records of cases of a trainee monk in England being executed for adopting Judaism. So death for apostates is not a particularly Islamic idea. When they could, Christians did exactly the same thing.
A fatwah is an Islamic religious judgement, but in the popular Christian mind it is a sentence of death, passed by a religious leader without any sort of trial. The very idea is contrary to the secular concept of Justice and the rule of law. For Catholics at least, the idea of such a fatwah should not be so alien. For many centuries Popes, speaking on behalf of God, routinely called for the deaths of people they regarded as their enemies. Perhaps the best known example is Pope St Pius V calling for the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England. His idea was to free her subjects “from the sordid libidinous slavery to women” (ex turpissima muliebris libidinis servitute). In Regnans in Excelsis, he purported to liberate her subjects from their allegiance to her, and called on them to “send her out of this world”.
Jihad is another Arabic term that has a range of meanings, one of which has become well known in the west. For many Jihad means holy war, a war sanctioned by God. The idea of a holy war is familiar to Christians. The Church has a long history of preaching holy war. The best known examples were the Crusades to the Holy Land, but there were many other examples. As is many other cases, the Muslim practice seems to have been based on the Christian one. The very concept of a Holy War became popular in Islam as a direct reaction the Christian “Holy Wars” to recover Jerusalem for Christendom. As Saint Bernard said “It is not homicide to kill a Muslim, but malicide” – killing an evil, not a man.
God’s representative on earth
The idea that a man might be God’s personal representative on earth now seems implausible, but both Muslims and Christians believed that a succession of men fulfilled this role. Muslims considered the Caliph to be “God’s Shadow on Earth”. This is comparable to the claim made by the bishops of Rome. Since the thirteenth century they have claimed to be “God’s Vicar on Earth”. In both cases religious leaders were claiming to be God’s deputy on earth.
One aspect of Islam that scares many Christians is the intention to convert the whole world. Everyone must adopt the Islamic religion. This global community is known as the Ummah (another Arabic word with a range of related meanings). The idea is not peculiar to Islam. Medieval Christians believed that the end of the world could not arrive until the whole world had accepted God's one true religion and become Christian – a phenomenon that the Franciscans imagined to be imminent. Christians belonging to some evangelical sects still believe that it is their duty to convert the whole world in order to allow the End Times to begin.
God was known to have been opposed to lying. He said so in one of his ten Commandments. On the other hand it did not suit His followers to tell the truth in all circumstances. The answer to this problem was to invent rules that permitted lying, but calling the practice something else. For Shi’a Muslims it is Taqiyya. For Catholics it is called “equivocation” or “mental reservation”. Broadly the Catholic method works like this: You find a form of words that you know will be interpreted in one way, although in your own mind it has a totally different meaning. To give a (genuine) example, a Catholic bishop might say that he is not aware of hush money being paid to cover up child abuse, even though he aware of such payments. He justifies it to himself by saying that he meant he was not aware of such a payment having been made today. Similarly, a Muslim cleric might say that he does not know of any terrorist activities. He justifies it by saying that he does not regard bomb making as a terrorist activity. In both cases, secular opinion is that the person has lied, but for the religious mind, God has allowed them a way out of telling the truth without lying.
So there it is. Many aspects of modern Islam and traditional Christianity are remarkably similar. And this is no coincidence – Islam was long regarded as an heretical branch of Christianity. The two religions have common origins. They have borrowed liberally from each other. They have fought each other for adherents. They have developed the same dangerous and immoral ideas. We could have added a host of other similarities: interference in politics, indoctrination, censorship, institutional corruption, concealing serious crimes, religious restrictions on many normal activities, etc. In fact, apart from polygamy, it is not at all easy the find areas where Christianity and Islam have consistently held different views.