In the last weeks, I explored themes of ecumenism. I emphasised the urgency of ecumenism to improve the leverage of Christians in inter-religious dialogue and to promote holistic salvation according to the mind of Christ. Today and in the coming weeks, I will explore themes of inter-religious dialogue. These posts will primarily focus on Christianity and Islam, Nigeria’s two major religions. I adopt an existential and comparative approach to inter-religious dialogue because a fruitful discussion requires a mutual understanding of the basics of the other religion.
Although Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions, Christianity primarily focuses on an individual’s private life and relationship with the sacred. On the other hand, Islam is more than a religion in the strict sense of the term.
Islam is similar to Judaism, where religion permeates every facet of human life. The Old Testament, the sacred text for Judaism, contains laws and instructions for virtually every aspect of life: type of food to eat, marriage, relationship with foreigners, sexual relations, circumcision, mensuration, polygamy, divorce, trade, politics, health, various forms of crime and their penalties.
The five pillars of Islam are practices considered obligatory for every Muslim. They are the declaration of faith (Shahadah, that is, testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah), performing the prayers (Salah), paying the Zakah (obligatory charity), making the pilgrimage to the House (Hajj), and fasting in the month of Ramadan.
Like Judaism, Islam regulates almost aspect of human life – puberty and adulthood, status and role of women and children, status and role of men and husbands, clothing, and parent-child relationship. Consider these two quotations:
«Believers! At three times let those whom your right hands possess and those of your children who have not yet reached puberty ask leave of you before entering your quarters: before the Morning Prayer and when you take off your clothes at noon, and after the Night Prayer. These are the three times of privacy for you. If they come to you at other times then there is no sin for them nor for you, for you have to visit one another frequently. Thus does Allah clearly explain His directives to you. Allah is All- Knowing, All-Wise. And when your children attain puberty let them ask leave to come to you like their elders used to ask leave. Thus does Allah clearly explain to you His Signs. He is All-Knowing, All-Wise» (Qur’an 24:58-59).
«Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has made one of them excel over the other, and because they spend out of their possessions (to support them). Thus righteous women are obedient and guard the rights of men in their absence under Allah’s protection. As for women of whom you fear rebellion, admonish them, and remain apart from them in beds, and beat them. Then if they obey you, do not seek ways to harm them. Allah is Exalted, Great» (Qur’an 4:34).
Islam also regulates sexual relations, marriage, polygamy, divorce, various forms of crime and their penalties, politics, economics and trade, banking and finance (Jaiz Bank is an Islamic bank in Nigeria), inheritance and wills, what not to eat and drink, when to eat and fast, times for prayers and where to face while praying, inter-religious and intra-religious relations, and when to make pilgrimages.
Christianity is not exactly this way. The New Testament, the main sacred text for Christians, focuses more on the individual’s life with the sacred. It does not explicitly regulate what to eat and drink, clothing, sexual relations, puberty, times of the day to pray and where to face while praying, inheritance and wills, forms of crime (legal dimension of offence – Christianity only talks of the moral dimension of an offence) and penalties.
Jesus showed the dichotomy between religion and politics when he said: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17). He refused to intervene in litigations about inheritance (Luke 12:14). A further example of the separation is Peter’s rejection of eating what he considered unclean. As a Jew bound by Jewish law, Peter believed that some animals could not be eaten. However, God replied: “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane” (Acts 10:14).
The apostles convoked the Jerusalem Council when Jewish Christians insisted that non-Jewish Christians must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. The Jerusalem Council resolved that non-Jewish Christians should “abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” (Acts 15:20).
Since religion permeates every aspect of people’s lives and these need to be promoted and respected, one understands why Muslims tend to crave a Muslim leader, and some wouldn’t mind voting for a corrupt and incompetent Muslim instead of an incorrupt and competent non-Muslim. Understanding the difference between the two religions is essential in inter-religious dialogue.
May God continue to help us🙏🏾