Religion is a complex cultural phenomenon and an important aspect of life that involves devotional exercises. Additionally, religion governs people as it has a moral code that determines people’s conduct. Humanity’s awareness of religion started during the upper Paleolithic revolution about 30,000 years ago and since then it has been a common trait among people across the world (Armstrong, 1993).
Being a belief system, religion relies on symbols and narratives to explain how people came to existence and how they believe in an unseen supernatural power alleged to have created the universe.
However, despite the fact that religion acts as a light to guide people, different religions have emerged in different ways over the years, which is attributed to the different cultures across the world. Different religions have emerged in the United States and this paper seeks to compare and contrast Christianity and Islam from an anthropological perspective.
Different religions in the United States: when they were established
The United States, as one of the most developed and populous countries in the world, has a broad spectrum of religious diversity. The country advocates for religious freedom and allows citizens to practice any kind of religion that they may choose to follow. The US has the largest number of religious groupings in the world due to religious freedom. Some of these religious groups in the US include Christianity and Islam.
Christianity is one of the many religious groups in the history of humanity and many believers in the US are affiliated to Christianity. It is the world’s biggest and organized religion and up to date, it has around 2.1 billion followers worldwide. This religion originated from the life and teachings of the savior of humanity known as Jesus Christ.
When Christ, who was a Jew, came to earth around 2013 years ago, his teachings revived the teachings of Judaism and this aspect established the foundation of Christianity due to the transformation of Judaism to Christianity. Originally, the major branches of Christianity were eastern orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism with each branch having sub-branches.
However, over the years, the divide between different Christian communities has continued to widen, which explains why in the 21st century there has been a creation of many branches of Christianity. For instance, Armstrong (1993) notes that in “North America alone, there are 1,500 different groups of Christianity, which have different conflicting Christian beliefs” (p.62).
On the other hand, the Islamic religion was formed in the Middle East based on the teachings of Prophet Mohamed in the 7th century A.D. and it is the world’s second largest religion after Christianity with a following of about a billion Muslims (Armstrong, 1993). Prophet Mohamed was the last messenger of a supreme being who was the only creator and sustainer of the world.
Before Mohamed started preaching his ideas to the people of Mecca at around 610 A.D., Islam was nonexistent and people were worshiping different kinds of gods (Becker, 2010). The teachings of Mohamed are written in a Holy book known as the Quran and Muslims are expected to adhere to these teachings.
Just like Christianity, this religion also has branches, which include the Sunni and Shi’a each maintaining different means of interpreting the teachings of the prophet with Sunni denomination having more followers than the Shi’a. Over the years, the United States, which has been dominated by Christianity, has experienced a rise in the number of Muslims with 4.2% of the total population being Islamic, and this growth has outpaced that of the other religious groups.
How the religious movements were spread throughout the world
According to the Bible, Jesus Christ started his mission on earth at the age of 30 years and later he was crucified to save humanity from sin and bring sinners closer to God. After Jesus’ death, missionaries took over the spreading of the gospel though this exercise was difficult as many doctrinal debates emerged within the church coupled with persecution targeting those who were spreading Christianity during the Roman Empire.
The spreading of Christianity by missionaries based on the teachings of Christ gained momentum around the 1st century, which led to the rapid growth of this religion (Armstrong, 1993). Paul, who was a Jew and had previously persecuted Christians, is one of the known instrumental missionaries who aided in the growth and spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. A remarkable development towards the spread of Christianity took place in 4th A.D. when the Roman Emperor, Constantine, converted to Christianity.
This move compelled many pagans to follow the footsteps of their leader by converting to Christianity. Since then, many missionaries have traveled to different parts of the world to spread the good news and by 1900; Christianity had spread to every continent, which contributed greatly to Christianity is the most dominant religion not only in the United States but also across the world.
Islam religion on the other hand also spread rapidly after the death of Prophet Mohamed since he had successfully established the new religion among his people. After his demise, other like-minded people emerged with the interest of abolishing paganism in society and promoting the worship of Allah.
One of these people was the 1st caliph, Abu Bakr, who during his reign saw the rapid growth of Islam. Mostly, the spread of Islamic religion was mainly influenced by wars as the political and military control of the Muslim leader led to many people liking and converting to this new religion (Kennedy, 2007). Since then, many people have converted to Islam after reading the teachings of Prophet Mohamed, which has led to the expansion of the Islamic community worldwide.
Religious believe system of these religions
Christianity holds that only one God should be worshiped and people are not supposed to worship any manmade gods. Christians also believe that after Adam and Eve sinned, every man fell out of God’s glory, which explains why God, through His unconditional love, sent His only son to come and save man from eternal punishment in hell.
Christians believe that Christ was the last sacrifice and the converts of Christianity are not supposed to offer any kind of sacrifice to God. According to the Christian religion, the main reason for man’s existence on earth is to glorify God and they have to live a godly life on earth if they want to have eternal life and see the kingdom of heaven after they die.
On the other hand, Islam, just like Christianity, holds that there is only one Supreme Being, Allah, to be worshiped and the man was created with a free will of serving and obeying Allah.
A person is accepted as a Muslim if s/he adheres to the teachings of Allah and prophet Mohamed. According to the Islamic faith, no one is responsible for any other person’s sin and if one has sinned, there is a need to ask for forgiveness from Allah directly without any intermediary through prayer, and thus any prayer directed to any other being is idolatry.
In both religious groups, leaders, as well as devotees, play a very critical role in forming a morally upright society and in indoctrinating faith on many non-believers across the world. In addition to this aspect, they have tried to bridge the gap that exists between the rich and the poor by advocating for equality since they believe that all human beings are equal and God did not create anyone to suffer.
However, in terms of some cultural issues, these religions differ and an example of this assertion lies in marriage. The Islamic religion does not allow a person to marry a non-Islamic faithful, which is different from the Christian religion that does not dictate the religion of one’s marriage partner. Additionally, in dissimilarity to Christianity, Islam does not allow its followers to eat pork, as they believe that pigs are unholy.
How the two religions coexist in a globalized world
These two religious denominations have realized the need to coexist with one another for the advancement of the society and to cut the animosity between the two faiths that have been in existence since their creation.
Efforts to encourage and foster mutual understanding have been put in place, which is a crucial move, as it will lead to more peace and harmony amongst believers in the future (Solomon & AL Maqdisi 2009). The two religions have also worked together by being instrumental in the control of population growth especially in developing third world countries.
As the two most favorite religious faiths across the world, both Christianity and Islam converge largely in the Old Testament, but they differ largely on the New Testament of the Bible. However, uniting these two faiths is very important especially in fighting social evils, poverty, and climate changes and in ensuring that people are taught effectively on how to be morally upright from a tender age.
Armstrong, K. (1993). A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Becker, C. (2010).Christianity and Islam. Charleston, SC: Bibliolife, LLC.
Kennedy, H. (2007). The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Solomon, S., & AL Maqdisi, E. (2009). A Common Word: The Undermining of the Church. Afton, VA: Advancing Native Missions Pub.
Comparison of Christianity and Islam