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Paper for the optional course Introduction to European Culture

A Comparative Study of Christianity and Islam

--Collaborated by Lin Chuangsen, Lin Fan, Zheng Feng & Zheng Jia
I. Introduction
Christianity and Islam, along with Buddhism, are considered to be the world’s
three largest religions. As a particular form of human experience with distinctive
qualities and patterns, they play an important part in all human cultures.
Christianity and Islam are closely related to each other, because they both revere
Abraham and certain other patriarchs mentioned in the Bible as their spiritual
ancestors. However, their similar points are not nearly guarantee that their
followers can get along, owing to numerous differences between them. And it has
been proved that most of the religiously motivated conflicts, mass crimes against
humanity and genocides in the 20th century were between Muslims and
Christians. Thus, it should be of great value to probe into the similarities and
differences between these two religions.
II. Similarities
Firstly, the origination for both religions has a lot to do with the class conflict
and oppression. They both came into being in response to people’s eagerness for
peace and stabilization. Secondly, both religions profess monotheism, holding
belief in a single God. Thirdly, they both have internal divisions, with various
wings of unique beliefs and practices. Christianity has many more wings, such as
Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, the Anglican, the Protestant and many others.
As for Islam, there’re three main wings, namely Shi’ite (conservative), Sunni
(moderate) and Sufi (mystical). Fourthly, they both believe in life after death,
maintaining that people will go to either Heaven or Hell according to their deeds,
good or evil. Fifthly, both religions show the same reaction to apostasy, practicing
execution to apostates. Finally, both religions have substantial representation in
all the populated continents.
III. Differences
1. About the religions themselves
1) Meaning of the name. “Christianity” is a Greek word meaning Messiah,
a believer in Christ. But the word “Islam”, in the Arabic language, means
“surrender” or “submission”—submission to the will of God.
2) Name of a believer. A follower of Christianity is called a Christian while
a follower of Islam is called a Muslim.
3) Date of founding. Christianity was founded by Yeshua (Jesus) of
Nazareth at the middle period of the 1st century, much earlier than the
founding of Islam which was created by Muhammad in the early 7th
4) Original home. Jerusalem had been the center of the Christian movement
at least until its destruction by Roman armies in AD 70, and it was from
this center that Christianity radiated to other cities and towns in Palestine
and beyond. Islam, however, was originated in the Arabian Peninsula and
gradually spread into Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain to the west,
and into Persia, India, and, by the end of the 10th century, beyond to the

Paper for the optional course Introduction to European Culture

5) Their development and percentage of the world’s population as
followers. It has been pointed out by most religion theorists that Islam is
the fastest-growing religion in the world. Today about 1 billion Muslims
are spread over 40 predominantly Muslim countries and 5 continents,
and their numbers are growing at a rate unmatched by that of any other
religion in the world. Despite the political and ethnic diversity of Muslim
countries, a core set of beliefs continues to provide the basis for a shared
identity and affinity among Muslims. According to some rough statistical
calculation, the percentage of the world’s population Muslims take is up
to 33% or so while Christianity occupies merely 20%. What’s more, it
has been noticed that numbers of Christians have remained quite steady
for decades while Muslims keep increasing with a growth rate of about
0.6% per year. And it is estimated that Islam, rather than Christianity, is
to become the most popular world religion in the near future.
2. About their beliefs
1) Concept of deity. Most Christians believe in the Trinity—three persons
in one Godhead, namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Muslims, however,
insist that there is only one all-powerful, all-knowing God, indivisible,
who created the universe. They call it Allah. This rigorous monotheism,
as well as the Islamic teaching that all Muslims are equal before God,
provides the basis for a collective sense of loyalty to God that transcends
class, race, nationality, and even differences in religious practice. Thus,
all Muslims belong to one community, irrespective of their ethnic or
national background.
2) Status of Yeshua. Christians generally consider Yeshua to be the Son of
God, part of the Trinity, and worship him as God. But Yeshua is very
highly respected as the second-last prophet.
3) Birth and death of Yeshua. Both Muslims and the Conservative
Christians insist on Yeshua’s virgin birth while the liberal Christians
maintain his normal birth. As for his death, Christians believed that
Yeshua was executed by Roman Army and eventually ascended to
Heaven while Muslims held that Yeshua was neither killed nor crucified
nor suffered death but he just ascended alive into Paradise.
4) Status of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve fall from Paradise as a result of
disobeying God’s prohibition, and all of humanity is cast out of Paradise
as punishment. In Christians’ eyes, man is born with such an original sin
and it’s Jesus Christ who came to redeem humans from this original sin
so that humankind can return to God at the end of time. In contrast, the
Muslims maintain that Adam and Eve were free from all major sins and
faults. After their initial disobedience, Adam and Eve repented and were
forgiven by God. Consequently, the descent by Adam and Eve to earth
from Paradise was not a fall, but an honor bestowed on them by God.
Adam and his progeny were appointed as God's messengers and vice

Paper for the optional course Introduction to European Culture

regents, and were entrusted by God with the guardianship of the earth.
5) Holy book and its status and original languages. The Holy book
embraced by Christians is the Bible which the Conservatives consider to
be the inerrant word of God while the Liberals look upon as a historical
spiritual document. Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek are all its original
languages. Muslims’ Holy book is Qu’ran which is regarded as the
timeless word of God, “the like of which no human can produce”,
originally written in Arabic.
6) Status at birth. Christians hold that a baby is born with a sin nature,
separated from God. And God needs to give him grace so that he may be
saved. In Muslims’ view, however, a baby is born in a pure state of
submission to Islam.
7) Confessing sins. A Christian always confesses his sins to either God or a
priest while a Muslim would do to Allah.
3. About their practices
1) Name of worship center. The worship center for Christians is called
church or cathedral while that for Muslims is called Mosque.
2) Worship date. The Christians practice their worship on Sundays while
the Muslims do it on Fridays.
3) The relation between church and state. For Christianity, church and state
are largely considered to be separated from each other. Thus, we can find
that most Christian countries are democracies. On the contrary, as of
Islam, church and state are invariably integrated. And we can therefore
discover that most Muslim countries are dictatorships.
4) Law and legislation. To Christians, their law is generally restricted to
legal matters and the legislation lays strong emphasis on the prerogative
of the people. But to Muslims, their law covers both moral and legal
matters and the legislation stresses the prerogative of God.
5) Use of statues. Statues are quite common in some denominations in
Christian communities while statues are absolutely forbidden in Muslim
6) Status of women. Conservative and Liberal Christians differ greatly in
their attitudes towards women. But in Muslim countries, women are
always severely oppressed, due to strong influence by cultural traditions.
7) Marriage. In the Eastern Orthodox church, inter-faith marriages are
practiced. But within Conservative Christianity, marriages between
conservative Christians and others are allowed. The case in Muslim
countries is more or less the same as that in the Eastern Orthodox. A
Muslim woman may not be married to a non-Muslim man.
8) Treatment of Jewish people. Historically, Christians practiced prolonged
and widespread anti-Judaism, anti-semitism, oppression and mass
murder to Jewish people while Muslims showed general tolerance to
them apart from the additional taxation. But recently, changes in their
attitudes have taken place. Christians have lessened their anti-semitism

Paper for the optional course Introduction to European Culture

from historical levels and gradually showed support of Israel,

particularly since the Second World War. Muslims, however, have turned
their tolerance into massive opposition, discrimination and physical
attacks since the creation of the State of Israel and the occupation of
9) Openness to new members. Relatively speaking, Islam is much more
open to new members than Christianity. Children born to Muslim parents
are automatically considered Muslim. And at any time, a non-Muslim
can convert to Islam by declaring himself or herself to be a Muslim. A
person’s declaration of faith is sufficient evidence of conversion to Islam
and need not be confirmed by others or by religious authorities. And this
openness to new members may partly account for the faster growth of
the Muslim community.
IV. Conclusion

All in all, as the world’s major religions, Christianity and Islam do have some
features in common, such as the cause for their creation, their internal divisibility into
various wings, their belief in monotheism and life after death, their reaction to
apostasy and so on. But we should admit that a lot more differences regarding
different aspects lie between the two religions, which probably become the main
origin of many current religious conflicts. And it must be pointed out that owing to
our superficial knowledge on religion and the scarcity of relevant materials on hand,
such a comparative study of the two religions must necessarily be somewhat
simplistic and lacking in precision.


1. 程裕祯《中国文化要略》,外语教学与研究出版社,1998
2. 罗选民《英美社会与文化》,华中理工大学出版社,1997
3. Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft


英语双学位班:林创森(学号:000114154)林 帆(学号:000114155)

郑 峰(学号:000334548)郑 佳(学号:000334547)