Historically, the roots of Islam and Christianity grow from similar philosophical, theological, cultural, and geographical underpinnings. Whatever their differences, these two major world religions can and do see eye-to-eye on a number of different subjects. However, Islam and Christianity are terms used to describe very diverse groups of people. There are many different sects within each religion, sect that often disagree on fundamental issues. The debates within Christianity and Islam can be heated, often hostile. By extension, the debates between the two religions often erupt into full-blown bloody battles. The Ottoman crusades are an example of this, showing also that both Christianity and Islam have had a history of marrying the religious with the political. As I delve into my own religious background and hope to better understand a religion other than my own, I observed much in common between Christianity and Islam. My research points to important historical, theological, philosophical, metaphysical, and cultural similarities. Attending the services of both traditions, I realized too that the ritualistic clothing each religion wears cloaks these fundamental facts in common. However, this is not to detract from the very real differences that exist between Christianity and Islam. On these very same issues: theology, philosophy, and culture, the two religions often appear to be from two different worlds. Unfortunately, it is mostly the differences between Christianity and Islam that preoccupy people, rather than what these two magnificent traditions have in common.
Because my parents espouse a Liberal Christian outlook, my upbringing differs from many other people who consider themselves to be Christian. Furthermore, my belief system probably differs greatly from other people who consider themselves also to be Liberal Christian. Like most people, I inherited my religious beliefs from my parents. Their direct and unspoken teachings helped me to formulate my own beliefs as well as my biases. Luckily, though, my parents were not overtly prejudiced against other religious groups and I therefore hold few strongly held biases. Nevertheless, I was taught that the Christian faith was fundamentally a good one and could very well be the best one. This belief in the supremacy of Christianity remains with me now on a subconscious level, even though I consciously deny it.
Contrary to conservative or fundamentalist sects of Christianity, liberal Christians do not take the Bible literally. Jesus is viewed as the ultimate role model. The miracles he worked may or may not have actually occurred; the fact that they appear in the Bible does not necessarily make them historical fact but rather these teachings have allegorical value. Furthermore, God is not personified. Although usually referred to as "He," God is a genderless power. Herein rests one of the fundamental and most significant similarities between Liberal Christianity and Islam: the nature of God. To the Muslim worshipper, Allah is an omniscient spiritual power that has no human form. Islam is actually even stricter than Christianity in this regard, forbidding any and all religious iconography. Mosques are noticeably devoid of any human portraits or statues, unlike most Christian churches which are replete with a depiction of Jesus somewhere. In Islam, there is no "Son of God," or any anthropomorphizing of deity. The closest human intercessor to Allah is Mohammad the Prophet; he is saint-like in status but is not revered as a God or Lord as Jesus is. Furthermore, Christianity and Islam are both strictly monotheistic and forbid the worship of more than one God.
These fundamental theological similarities between the two religions can be traced to the Old Testament, on which Islam is based. Mohammad is perceived as the last prophet in the esteemed Old Testament line which includes Moses and Jesus. Therefore, the two most significant spiritual notions shared by these two religions are a belief in one and only one God, and the belief that God has no human form. Again, the latter is only a belief of Liberal Christians and in fact is not shared by the majority of the Christian community which sees Jesus as Lord. A third similarity between Liberal Christianity and Islam is actually the belief in Jesus Christ as a Prophet of God. Although Christians rarely refer to Jesus in this manner, Liberal Christians would accept this interpretation of His role. Just as Christians believe that Jesus either embodies or teaches the Word of God, Muslims believe that Mohammad delivered the Word of God to the people. The only difference is that Muslims feel that Mohammad is a more relevant teacher.
Most Christians, especially Catholics, believe in angels to a degree. Liberal Christians are less apt to place credence in such supernatural entities but still might interpret such things as significant sources of spiritual power. Muslims, like the majority of conservative Christians, do believe in the presence of angels and believe that they can intervene in human affairs and carry out the will of God.
Conservative Christians and Muslims both believe in a Judgment Day and in the reality of Heaven and Hell. Liberal Christians like me do not necessarily believe that Heaven or Hell exist as actual physical locations but more as states of mind. However, these liberal beliefs in no way reflect the majority of Christians who firmly do believe in the presence of Heaven and Hell. Whether one goes to Heaven or Hell depends on one's actions in life and the number of sins committed.
Simply attending one service in a mosque was not enough to determine adequately the nature of Heaven or Hell as they are perceived in Muslim consciousness. Just as their concept of deity is definitively abstract, so too may be the Islamic concept of Heaven and Hell. However, I would imagine that because both religions have their basis in the Old Testament there is some degree of similarity between these afterlife "places." At the very least, Heaven is a positive place for people who led morally upright lives, while Hell is a horrible place reserved for those who sinned throughout their lives.
The religious ceremonies and services of Christianity and Islam are quite different. First, Islam is much more segregated along gender lines than Christianity is, especially Liberal Christianity. The mosque I attended held a handful of female worshippers, but I understand that many mosques forbid females from praying in the same space as men. The women sit separately from the men, at a further distance from the center. Their status in the religion is obviously inferior. The same is true for some sects of Christianity, but for most Liberal Christians, women can and do enjoy the same status as their male counterparts.
Muslims pray five times a day as a rule. Christians are told that attending Church once a week is sufficient and no prescription of daily prayer or meditation are outlined as they are in Islam. There is no "call to prayer" in any Christian sect, as there is in Islam. Furthermore, Muslims reserve Fridays as their holy or Sabbath day, while for Christians this day is Sunday. Another key difference I noticed when observing religious worship in a mosque is that Muslims prostrate themselves in a completely different way than Christians do. Muslim worshippers kneel on the floor when in the mosque and completely bend their body over in a real and symbolic submission to God. Christians might get on their knees to pray fervently, but hardly ever exhibit such gestures. Because the Muslim prayers are done directly on a rug placed on the floor, there are no pews. Christian churches of all denominations have pews or at least chairs.
Another key difference between Christianity and Islam is the absence of Hajj in Christianity. Hajj is the requisite pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must undertake at least once. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which also include the profession of faith,…