Christianity and Islam are considered to be two of three major faiths that are practiced throughout the world. Both faiths are derivatives of Judaism, as all three faiths share a common ancestor in the form of Abraham. The focus of this paper, however, will be to examine Christianity and Islam through tracing the lives of each religion’s main prophet. Christianity takes its name from Jesus Christ, who was born a few years prior to the first year of what is now known as the Common Era. The traditional story of his birth is that his mother, Mary, was a virgin who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit.
Towards the end of her pregnancy, she and her carpenter husband Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to participate in a census. Once there, they were unable to secure a room in an inn, and were forced to stay in a stable. It would be in this humble setting that Jesus would be born. His birth would be announced by angels to shepherds, who would come to the stable to worship him as the Messiah. He would also be visited by the Magi, who would present Jesus with “symbolic gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, confirming his divine kingship…” (p. 289).
Nothing is written or known about Jesus’ childhood until he reaches the age of twelve, at which time he attended the Passover with his parents. However, he is left behind and is found in the Temple speaking with the rabbis about the Torah. The point of this particular episode is to demonstrate Jesus’ “sense of mission…, his knowledge of Jewish tradition, and the close personal connection between Jesus and God” (p. 290). From this point until the age of approximately thirty, nothing is known of Jesus’ life. At age thirty, he goes to where his cousin John is baptizing people, and despite hesitancy to do so, he baptizes Jesus.
Many view this baptism as the official start of Jesus’ ministry, which would last a mere three years. During that period, he gathered around him twelve disciples, and together they traveled. Along the way, Jesus would teach his disciples the message of God, as well as perform miracles to show the mighty power of God. Jesus’ simple teachings concerning God and how people should live and worship bring hope to the people who listen, but cause a great deal of mistrust on the part of the Jewish rabbis, who feel Jesus is usurping their power and authority.
Furthermore, one of his disciples is becoming disillusioned with the message that Jesus is preaching. Judas Iscariot was hoping that Jesus would be a warrior Messiah, but upon realizing that he is not, he has a moment of weakness in which he betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus is duly taken into custody, and after being beaten and chosen by the people as the one to be crucified, he goes through the horrible experience of being crucified. However, three days later, he rises from the dead, thus having the victory over all those who condemned him.
Following his death, the followers of Jesus would endure a great deal of persecution. Many of his disciples would be killed for preaching his teachings. Meanwhile, there would be splinter groups of Christians, all of which would maintain the basic foundation of Jesus’ teachings while altering minor details to suit their own beliefs. The life of Mohammad is a bit different from that lived by Jesus. He was born into a poor clan of a powerful tribe. However, his father died before his birth, and later his mother and grandfather would die as well.
This left him a ward of his uncle, who gave him the responsibility of being a shepherd. As a teenager, he went on a trip with his uncle to Syria, and while there was noticed by a Christian monk who stated that marks on Muhammad’s body were signs indicating his status as a prophet (p. 365). There is a jump in time from this event to when Muhammad met and married his wife Khadijah. She was forty and he was twenty-five. She would be his strongest supporter during the early years of his mission.
Muhammad would often go on spiritual retreats, but it would be at the age of forty that his spiritual retreat would result in something more. The angel Gabriel demands him to recite what would be the first words of the Qur’an. Following this first experience, Muhammad was a bit shaken up, but was encouraged by his wife to not fear the responsibilities of being a prophet. He would continue to have revelations, all of which asserted the “theme that it was the One God who spoke and who called people to Islam (which means complete, trusting surrender to God) (p. 366).
Initially, Muhammad only shared his revelations with a small group of followers: his wife, his cousin Ali, his friend Abu Bakr, and a freed slave named Zayd. This would continue for three years, at which time Muhammad was instructed to begin preaching publicly. He went through a great deal of ridicule, but was somewhat protected by his uncle. However, his followers were not so lucky, as they were subject to harsh persecution. Eventually, Muhammad and his followers would be banished for three years, struggling to survive in the wild.
They would return to Mecca, but the persecutions would continue. Furthermore, Muhammad would suffer a great loss at the age of fifty, when his wife and uncle both passed away. The loss of these two supporters opened the door for increased persecution of Muhammad himself. In the midst of all this difficulty, Muhammad experienced the Night of Ascension, in which he ascended through the seven heavens, reaching the farthest limits of the cosmos and then into the Divine Proximity.
In this place, he would see former prophets and teachers, paradise and hell, and would receive blessings from the Divine Presence. Meanwhile, pilgrims from Yathrib would journey to Mecca and request that Muhammad come and help their city deal with its social and political problems. This move from Mecca to Yathrib, later known as al-Medina, would be known as the hijrah. Occurring in the year 622 CE, it would be from this point that the Muslim year would begin. It is also from this point on that the Islamic faith would be spread through warfare.