LIBERTY UNIVERSITY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Christianity and Islam: Historical and Current Differences Make Cooperation Unlikely
Submitted to Dr. A. J. Smith, in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the completion of the course
CHHI 510 B01
Survey of the History of Christianity
June 26, 2015
Table of Contents
Historical Religious Conflicts
Modern Attempt at Cooperation
Christianity and Islam have significantly different beginnings. The Christian era started as peaceful propagation of its beliefs and the ideals commensurate with those beliefs. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, forced conversions and corruption of ideas changed the way it spread. From the beginning of Islam, its spread was by the sword. Christians living under Islamic rule historically and currently face persecution and second-class citizenship with restrictions on their ability to share their faith and even worship. Muslims living in Western countries had various experiences, from peaceful relations to severe persecution. Currently, they have freedom of religion and no reduction in citizenship in most western nations although there is some cultural bias. Some blame the Crusades for Islam’s bias against Christianity. However, the ideological differences between Islam and Christianity are the same now as they were throughout history. Current appeals for peace and harmony by Muslim leaders do not reflect a significant minority of Muslims’ attitudes. This paper will examine the beginning and development of Christianity and Islam over the ages to demonstrate that it is not likely they will coexist peacefully as equals in the future.
It is necessary to understand the historical beginnings of both Christianity and Islam in order to demonstrate why conflicts continue. Comparisons include the founders and their claims, ideals, character, goals in addition to how the movements expanded after the founder’s death.
Jesus is the founder of Christianity. Being Jewish, he was without a doubt monotheistic. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and that he came not to establish an earthly kingdom but to serve and give his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45) to bring about his spiritual kingdom. He taught peace even in the presence of evil rather than retaliation (Matt 5:39). His theme was love of God and others (Matt 22:37-39). Jesus asked his opponents who could convict him of sin (John 8:46). Their only charge against him was that he made himself to be God (John 10:33) and the Messiah (Luke 22:67). After his crucifixion, he only had about 120 followers (Acts 1:15). After his resurrection, his disciples asked if he would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:7). Rather than establishing a ruling kingdom on earth, he directed them to make disciples and teach them his commandments (Matt 28:19-20).
In obedience to that command, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Christians suffered persecution from both Jews (Acts 8:1) and the Romans. They were persecuted by Rome not because they were in violent opposition to Rome but because of their exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ instead of the Roman emperor. Even though the Bible commands subjection to the government (Rom 13:1-7), Christians’ unwillingness to violate their conscience continued to generate persecution. It was not until Edict of Milan by Constantine in A.D. 313 that persecution ended.
In the following three hundred years before Islam came on the scene, Christianity merged with the state. Even though the emperors and the heads of the church remained separate, their influence on each other blurred the distinction between the advance of the secular and the religious kingdom. For instance, Emperors called church councils in A.D. 449 and A.D. 451, the latter at Pope Leo I’s request. Christianity and Christian nations were synonymous. This led to the advance of Christianity less by preaching the gospel but “with political influence, alliances of heathen princes with Christian wives, and in some cases … by military force.”
In like manner as Christianity, the beginning of Islam is associated with the claims and teaching of one man, Muhammad. Muhammad’s claim is that of a prophet who was the person through whom God’s holy book, the Qur’an came. His goals were, “to replace idolatry with monotheism; to replace tribal differences with Arab unity; and to replace tribal rules with a central state.” Unlike Jesus, he did not grow up under a unified monotheistic religion. The surrounding religions were Arab polytheism, Byzantine Christianity, and various Christian heresies. Muhammad and his followers related to Christians, and wrongly equated the Byzantine Empire with Christianity, a poor representative with its propensity to violent propagation. The Persian defeat of the Byzantines apparently confused Muhammad, as he believed that God’s people would prevail in sacred violence. This undoubtedly affected Muhammad and his later followers’ belief in holy wars. Muhammad did not start Islam with violence but later changed his view of religious tolerance to say that unbelievers must follow Islam, pay tribute, or die. While in Medina, Muhammad was not only a religious prophet but served as political leader and judge, thus fusing religion and state from the outset of Islam. This is when his violent advance started and He amassed an army of forty thousand over the next ten years.
Muhammad’s character was not pure. He received revelations that excused actions even contrary to his own teaching. He obtained fourteen wives, ten more than allowed for the normal Muslim. One of his wives was nine years old when he married her. He also had his adopted son divorce his wife and then quickly married her. On his better side, he mended his own clothes, and appeared to be a good husband. His final commands to his followers before his death were “to protect the weak, the poor, and the women, and to abstain from usury.” However, he also planned a large crusade against the Greeks.
After the death of Muhammad, his followers continued to advance Islam by the sword. Within two hundred years, Islam dominated from India in the East to the Mediterranean. They conquered the southern Mediterranean from Egypt to Morocco and all of Spain. About fifty percent of the world’s Christians came under the rule of Islam. Government and religion were one. Conquered Christians and Jews faced the choices of conversion to Islam, paying poll tax and accepting a second-class citizenship, or death.
Within Islamic territories, Christians who did not convert fell under dhimmi status with restrictions placed on their religious activities and citizenship rights. They had the freedom to worship in their churches as long as they did not proselytize Muslims. They could also observe traditions and religious laws. While this appears to provide freedom of religion, the outcome is suppression of Christians as well as other religions. If a Muslim converted to Christianity, their penalty was anything from banishment to death,  a powerful deterrent to conversion. Suppression decimated Christianity in North Africa so that few Christians were there in the tenth century. In 2009, no churches could trace their past to pre-Islamic times. Islam either converted Christians or drove them from the area. The population of Asia Minor changed from a majority of Christian in the tenth century to 92 percent Muslim in the sixteenth.
A more modern example of Christianity within a Muslim nation is the case of Pakistan. In 1947, the formation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan included the promise of freedom of religion. However, the official policy of the government included an enforcement of blasphemy laws in 1982 to increase the cause of a pure Islamic state. At its formation, the nation included twenty-five percent minorities. Today, minorities comprise only five percent.
The interaction of Muslims within Christian nations after the rapid advance of Islam is quite different from that of Christians living under Islamic rule. Not until the First Crusade established Christian states in the Middle East were significant numbers of Muslims living under Christian rule. These states generally allowed Muslims to practice their religion and live in peace. However, they were subject to restrictions and taxation in the same way that the Muslims had restricted and taxed Christians. Until Muslims reclaimed these areas, the Christian states provided a better environment for Muslims than did those living in Islamic states. Burrell tells of Jews and Muslims mingling freely within the Roman culture in Sicily.
After the expulsion of the Moors in the late fifteenth Century, attitudes toward Muslims changed and European non-Christians had no legal rights. Both the state and the Roman Church sanctioned the Inquisitions. They identified Islam as one of the heretical elements, which allowed seizure of Muslim’s property, banishment, or burning.
After the Reformation and as Christianity began to get back to its original beliefs, the bloody persecution of other faiths and sects slowly diminished. This fostered an environment where Muslims could freely migrate to Europe and the United States. While the governments of these areas are secular, they still appear to be Christian from an Islamic viewpoint. There is still some cultural bias against them, but there is no widespread persecution against Muslims as indicated by recent studies. The majority of European Muslims do not feel hostility toward them. Seventy-eight percent of American Muslims express that they are happy with their lives.
Historical Religious Conflicts
Recent history paints a different picture of the historical wars between Islam and Western Christianity. It is now customary to compare the crusades and jihad and make them equivalent characteristics of Christianity and Islam just as is monotheism and other similarities. Some now believe that because of the Crusades, Muslims began to interpret the Qur’an in anti-Christian ways. However, the Qur’an is quite consistent in calling for war against unbelievers before the Crusades. Understanding that the root theological positions of Christianity and Islam are still the same helps predict future interaction.
John of Damascus lived under Islamic rule from the latter third of the seventh century. He was quite blunt, calling Mohammad a false prophet who invented his own heresy. His writing describes several claims of Islamic apologists and his Christian response. John reveals the Islamic claim that Jews did not crucify Jesus, but only his shadow, that he did not die but God took him to heaven where he denied being the Son of God. John refuted these claims while sarcastically attacking Mohammad’s character by marrying his adopted son’s wife. This clearly shows that even in the earliest days before the Crusades, Islamic thought did not include a physical crucifixion of Jesus. The use of the cross as a military symbol of conquest did not change Muslim’s theology of the cross as some have claimed.
Thomas Aquinas’ Reasons for the Faith against Muslim Objections did not engage much in the way of specifics of Islam. In Chapter 1, he outlined their claims against the Trinity, atonement of Christ, Jesus’ death, and Jesus being the Son of God in opposition to their charges based on the Qur’an (6:110, 72:3, and 4:157-8). The remaining chapters are his arguments simply putting forth the Christian doctrines without detailed counter points. While there is little mention of Islamic theology, it is clear that Aquinas addressed the primary concerns and confirms most of the same errors of Islam as understood by John of Damascus.
Martin Luther also understood the precepts of Islam in conflict with Christianity. He listed Islamic denials including, “Christ is the son of God … that he died for our sins … he arose for our life … by faith in him our sins are forgiven and we are justified … that he will come as judge of the living and the dead … the Holy Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit.” Current Christian apologetics confirm that there is little if any difference between historical Christendom’s understanding of Islam and that of today. James White addressed their rejection of the Trinity based on Surah 4:166-172. Neal Robinson addresses the deity of Christ, and the crucifixion of a substitute Jesus.
There is not space in this study to go into detail of the Islamic arguments. However, the historical viewpoints of John of Damascus, Aquinas, Luther, and the current apologetics of White and Robinson indicate no substantial changes in Islam over the ages.
Modern Attempt at Cooperation
In 2007, 138 Muslim leaders issued an open letter to Christians, “A Common Word between Us and You.” This is an attempt to explain why Muslims and Christians can cooperate for a better world with peace and harmony. The basis is that both religions have, “love of one God, and love of neighbor.” While the letter quotes the Bible and Qur’an to show this, it reads more like Islamic propaganda with references to the oneness of Allah and Muhammad as his prophet, but no acknowledgment of the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus and even implies that not all Christians believe in his deity. The letter ends with an appeal to let differences not cause problems and to live together doing good works. Within a year of the open letter, seventy Christian leaders responded favorably to the letter. As of April 7, 2013, 405 Christian and Muslim leaders have signed on to the letter.
This proposed cooperation between Christians completely ignores two basic aspects of Christianity and Islam. Both religions have as their goal, the complete evangelism of the world. The Christian view is to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). The Islamic view is to make known all that Muhammad received (Al-Ma’idah 5:67). If both Christianity and Islam follow the basic tenets of their faiths, then each must try to convert each other in accordance with the methods ascribed to them by their faith. For Christianity it will involve peaceful means according to its roots in the first four hundred years and restoration to that evangelical faith expressed in the Lausanne Covenant. However, in accordance with Islam’s beginning and the current working of ISIS toward an Islamic state and other militant organizations, it is highly speculative to believe that they would long work in harmony with Christians. The Qur’an discourages Muslims to seek support from others (Al-Imran 3:28). In addition there are multiple references in the Qur’an supporting violent aggression (Al-Anfal 8:12) or retaliation (Al-Baqarah 2:190-191).
Statistical studies by the PEW Research Center reveal that while there may be many leaders seeking peace, there are frightening attitudes among Muslims that may predict the future. The first is that an overwhelming percentage of Muslims in many countries want Islamic law (sharia) to govern their land. The second is that while most Muslims do not support suicide terrorism, younger Muslims aged 19-29 in Western countries support it, as many as twenty-six percent in the U.S. As these younger people replace the older generations, it is highly doubtful that there will be peaceful cooperation between Christians and Muslims.
The significant differences between the historical beginnings of Christianity and Islam are evident as described. Christianity developed as a peaceful religion while being severely persecuted. Islam developed as a violent religion spread by force. Both religions passed through years forcing conversion by warfare and persecuting opponents. In recent years, it is clear that Christianity returned to its peaceful roots and methods of proselytizing. Islam continues with violence against other religions in armed conflicts, as with ISIS, or suppression of minorities, such as in Pakistan. Studies of Muslim attitudes reveal that many favor living under Muslim law and younger Muslims are prone to use or condone violence. Christians will continue to proselytize Muslims and Muslims, Christians. One cannot be both Christian and Muslim. It is possible for Christians to work with Muslims. However, the question is whether Muslims will allow Christians to proselytize them in Islamic controlled countries while working for a better world. The precepts of Islam indicate that preventing proselytization and continued minority suppression is the norm. The attitudes of younger Muslims show that the likelihood of suppression is greater than meaningful long-term cooperation. Coexistence peacefully as equals while working to improve the world is highly unlikely.
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 John Rutherfurd, “Persecution,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, ed., (Chicago: Howard-Severance Company, 1915), Biblesoft Electronic Database.
 J.A. Sheppard, Christendom at the Crossroads: the Medieval Era (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), Kindle 194-198.
 Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. IV, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1888), 18, accessed June 12, 2015, http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951d00541797u;view=1up;seq=3.
 Kazem Almandari, “Religion and Development Revisited: Comparing Islam and Christianity with Reference to the Case of Iran,” Journal of Developing Societies 20, no. 1-2 (June 2004): 124-44, accessed June 16, 2015, http://jds.sagepub.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/content/20/1-2/125.full.pdf+html.
 Neal Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 17.
 Thomas Szgorich, “Sanctified Violence: Monotheist Militancy as the Tie That Bound Christian Rome and Islam,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70, no. 4 (December 2009): 901, accessed May 27, 2015, http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/content/77/4/895.
 Schaff, 165.
 Chad Owen Brand, “As Far as the East Is from the West: Islam, Holy War, and the Possibility of Rapprochement,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 8, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 7, accessed May 20, 2015, http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/sbjt08-1-02.
 Schaff, 166.
 Schaff, 170.
 Ibid., 162.
 Robert Louis Wilken, “Christianity Face to Face with Islam,” First Things 189 (January 2009): 21, accessed May 27, 2015, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/religion/docview/209942045/
 George W. Braswell Jr., “Four Faces of Islam: Before and After the Terrorist Attack Upon America,” Faith and Mission 19, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 5-6, accessed May 20, 2015, http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/fm19-2-01.
 Braswell, 5-6.
 Wilken, 21.
 Ibid., 22.
 Farahnaz Ispahani, “Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology 15 (2013): 58.
 Ibid., 64-65.
 Ibid., 63.
 Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades) (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2005), 131, 149.
 David B. Burrell “Thomas Aquinas and Islam,” Modern Theology 20, no. 1 (January 2004): 72, accessed May 18, 2015, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?
 Alan Neely, “Conquest as Christian Evangelization,” Faith and Mission 10, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 62-75, accessed June 20, 2015, http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/fm10-2-05.
 PEW Research Center, “Muslims in Europe: Economic Worries Top Concerns about Religious and Cultural Identity,” PEW Research Center, July 6, 2006, accessed June 21, 2015, http://www.pewglobal.org/2006/07/06/muslims-in-europe-economic-worries-top-concerns-about-religious-and-cultural-identity/.
 PEW Research Center, “Muslim Americans Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream,” PEW Research Center, May 22, 2007, accessed June 8, 2015, http://pewresearch.org/files/old-assets/pdf/muslim-americans.pdf.
 Alamadari, 131.
 Ralph D. Winter, “The Kingdom Strikes Back,” in Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: a Reader (Perspectives), eds. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, 4th ed. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013), 222.
 Spencer, 19.
 John of Damascus, Heresies, 101.
 Winter, 222.
 Thomas Aquinas, Reasons for the Faith against Muslim Objections (and One Objection of the Greeks and Armenians) to the Cantor of Antioch.
 Sarah S. Henrich and James L. Boyce, “Martin Luther--translations of Two Prefaces On Islam: Preface to the Libellus de Ritu Et Moribus Turcorum (1530), and Preface to Bibliander's Edition of the Qur'ān (1543),” Word and World 16, no. 2 (Spring 1996): 250-66, accessed May 18, 2015, http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/16-2_Islam/16-2_Boyce-Henrich.pdf.
 James R. White, “’Say Not Three’: The Qur’an and the Trinity” in What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an, 4.1.2013 ed. (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 946.
 Robinson, 47.
 Ibid., 114.
 MABDA, A Common Word between Us and You, 5-Year Anniversary ed. (Amman: MABDA, 2012), 53, accessed May 26, 2015,http://rissc.jo/docs/20-acw/20-ACW-5.pdf.
 Ibid., 71.
 Ibid., 73.
 “New Signatories | a Common Word between You and Us,” A Common Word, April 7, 2013, accessed June 25, 2015, http://www.acommonword.com/sigtype/newsig.
 “The Lausanne Covenant” in Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: a Reader (Perspectives), eds. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, 4th ed. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013), 764-768.
 Elliott Balch, “Myth Busting: Robert Pape on ISIS, Suicide Terrorism, and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Chicago Policy Review (Online). (May 5, 2015), accessed June 25, 2015, http://search.proquest.com/docview/1678619265?accountid=12085.
 “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” PEW Research Center, April 30, 2013, accessed June 8, 2015, http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-overview.
 PEW, Muslim Americans, 60.