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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Differences Between Islam and Christianity

Until the 15th century, science had flourished in the Muslim world, with important centres of research in Spain and other Muslim countries. There had been no clash between religion and science while science was based in Muslim countries, because there is no clash between a true religion and true knowledge. The God who has revealed His religion in the scriptures has also created the universe which science explores. How, then, can revelation and knowledge (science) come into clash with one another?

But when the work of scientific research shifted from Muslim Spain to Italy, France and Britain, a third party soon came in the way of scientific activity. This third, hitherto disinterested party was the Christian Church. When Christianity was disseminated from Syria and Palestine into Europe, it came into contact with Greek thought. Instead of resisting it, the Church molded its whole theology according to Platonic logic. Eventually, after a few hundred years, the Christians came to revere Greek philosophy as sacred. Later, when scientific research exposed Greek thought as baseless conjecture, the Church felt that if science were to become popular, the whole foundation of Christian belief would become suspect. Instead of admitting its own mistakes, it determined to suppress science by force. At this time the Church was a mighty power in European affairs and it perpetrated dreadful oppression and tyranny in its attempt to eradicate science. But without success.

The fact that Christianity and Science clashed, whereas Islam and Science did not, is explainable in terms of the difference between the two religions.

Here is an example that illustrates the difference between Islam and Christianity in this matter. The ancient Greeks had two theories concerning the revolution of the sun and earth. One was the theory of Aristotle, (384-322 B.C.) according to which the earth was stationary and the sun revolved around it. The other was theory of Aristarchus, (2nd century B.C.) according to which the earth revolved around the sun.

The theory of Aristotle became very popular with the Christians. According to his geocentric theory, the earth was of prime importance, and it seemed more appropriate to the Christians, who believed in the divinity of Christ, that the center of the solar system should be the planet where the Lord Jesus was born. At the time when Copernicus (1473-1543) put forward his heliocentric theory, churchmen reigned supreme in Europe. To preserve their belief, they suppressed Copernicus’s views. The portrayal of the place of the Lord Jesus’s birth as a mere satellite was a crime, which Christianity could never tolerate.

It was Christianity in its corrupt form, which was an impediment to scientific progress, not divine religion in its pure sense. The Muslims, not having deified their Prophet as the Christians had done, had no scruples about accepting the very reasonable theory that the sun was the center of our solar system. The question of rejecting it on the basis of religion did not arise. In this connection Professor Burns, in his book entitled Western Civilization, writes: “In no subject were the Sarracens further advanced than in Science. In fact, their achievements in this field were the best the world had seen since the end of the Hellenistic civilization. The Sarracens were brilliant astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, chemists and physicians… Despite their reverence for Aristotle, they did not hesitate to criticize his notion of a universe of concentric spheres, with the world at the center, and they admitted the possibility that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun.”

Changes in Christianity

When Christianity made its way into Europe from Syria and Palestine, Greek philosophy dominated European thought. In order to facilitate the spread of their religion, Christian theologians presented the faith of Jesus in a manner, which would fit into the intellectual framework of the day. In the words of the Quran, ‘They imitated the sayings of those who disbelieved before them.’ (9:30) The Greeks, for instance, worshipped Zeus and considered him to be the only son of Saturn, the oldest divinity. The Christians imitated this by calling Jesus the only son of God. They also adopted prevalent theories in the fields of geography and physics as explanations of the Holy Scriptures. These theories were then incorporated into their religious books, as if God had also revealed them.

The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity provided the Church with a welcome boost. Constantine presided over the mighty Roman empire for more than thirty years (306-337), and under his imperial influence the Christian faith spread throughout Europe. But the people who entered the Church during his reign did not do so because of any deep-rooted intellectual conviction.

They became Christians without changing their thoughts and attitudes. For most of them, faith was a matter of expediency, not conviction. They started molding Christian beliefs according to their previous, non-Christian beliefs. Eventually a religion with little relation to the teachings of Jesus came into being. The historian, Adolf Harnack, has quite rightly pointed out that ‘by the 4th century the living Gospel had been masked in Greek philosophy,’ (Adolf Harnack, Outline of the History of Dogma).

Anything that is associated with a religion for a long time becomes sacrosanct. So after a few hundred years, this altered version of Christianity came to be revered as sacred. That which had initially been adopted on the grounds of expediency came to be considered as a genuine part of the religion taught by Jesus. The Greek sciences, which had no evidence to support them, came to be known as Christian science. Subjects such as ‘Christian topography’ came into existence, which in fact were only a new expression of old Greek ideas

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