The Spread of Christianity and Islamby Rit Nosotro
Compare the spread of Christianity with the spread of Islam during the first two centuries of each religion's existence.
A strange historical significance seems to surround the Middle East. It has served as the birth place for many cultures and religions. Its Fertile Crescent contained one of the earliest culture hearths where civilization developed. In this area great kingdoms of the ancient world, such as Babylon and Persia, arose to shape history. Judaism had its roots in the Middle East, and Israel-the country of God's chosen people-was formed here. Later two of the largest and most historically important religions on earth-Christianity and Islam-also emerged and spread from the Middle East. As they expanded from this region, both of these religions had substantial impact on the course of history. Both of them also made considerable progress during their first 200 years of expansion. However, during the first two centuries of the existence of each religion there were fundamental differences between the expansion of Christianity and that of Islam, despite early similarities in the way they spread.
Christianity existed several centuries prior to the birth of Islam, and by the time Muhammad founded Islam in the Middle East, Christianity had moved its center to Europe, where it had firmly established itself as the official religion. But Christianity originally sprouted in the Middle East after Christ's resurrection in A.D. 30. The church began in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and it initially preached the Gospel only to the Jews. It grew quite rapidly for a time-in fact, the book of Acts records the conversion of 3000 Jews in a single, extraordinary day.1 During this early period, however, Christianity2 did not expand far beyond Jerusalem and its vicinity. That would soon change. After the first few years of relative peace for the church, a terrible persecution broke out following the stoning of Stephen.3 Jewish leaders hunted down the followers of Jesus and threw them into prison. At this time many in the church scattered to the surrounding countryside of Judea and Samaria. Christianity's worldwide expansion was beginning.
When Islam was founded about 550 years later, around the beginning of the seventh century, its initial experience was strikingly similar to the early experience of the persecuted Christian church as persecution spread Islam from Mecca to Medina. In 610 A.D. Muhammad-a native of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca, Saudi Arabia-claimed that he received revelations from God that called him to preach a new religion called Islam. At first he began to do so secretly, but after three years he found the courage to proclaim his new faith publicly and gained a growing number of followers.4 However, his monotheistic message was not well received by many in his polytheistic city, where people were used to profiting from pagan pilgrims to the Kaaba.5 As a result, the early Muslim converts faced persecution, just as the early Christians had. Islam's growth was limited during this time, and it did not spread far beyond Mecca. Eventually the harassment forced Muhammad to leave Mecca, so he fled to Medina in what is known as the hejira of 622 AD. Here the Medinan and Meccan Surahs of the Koran reveal a changed Muhammad. He gathered many converts who became his militant followers. Persecution against Muslims had essentially ended by the time Muhammad died.
The histories of Christian and Muslim expansion diverged from the similarity of initial dispersions caused by persecution. Although Christians continued to be persecuted until the "Edict of Toleration" of 311 AD, they were able to hide in house churches within the cities, intending that the gospel would diffuse into the countryside from there.6 But this made the spread of Christianity during the first two centuries an essentially urban phenomenon, and it became an urban religion. In contrast, Arabia had very few cities, so militant Islam spread mostly through unprotected villages and rural areas. That the Christian church continued to grow in the face of persecution throughout its first two centuries, served as a testimony to the power and truth of the Gosple of Christ for Christians. That Islam was able to so easily win battles across northern Africa, and eastward into India, served as testimony to Muslims as their having the favor of Allah. These distinctions made the spread of Christianity and the spread of Islam extremely different.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the first two centuries of the expansion of Christianity and Islam was between the methods used to spread their messages. These methods stemmed from the beliefs of each religion. Christians were taught to "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies". The Apostle Paul wrote, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). While Christians taught that God loves all people and wants them to have a personal relationship with Him, Muhammad taught that "Allah loveth not those who reject Faith."7 These contrasting attitudes caused Christians and Muslims to go about conversion in different manners. During their first two centuries, Christians did not force their religion on others but relied on missionaries, preaching, and leading godly lives as ambassadors of God.8 Muslims, on the other hand, did not rely solely on preaching to spread their faith-they turned also to the sword to conquer vast areas of land in the Middle East and Northern Africa during the seventh and eighth centuries. When they attacked or occupied new territory, they gave its inhabitants three options: convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or die. Under these circumstances many chose to pay the tax, and many others chose to convert to Islam. Clearly, the Islamic method of expansion did not match the loving approach of Christianity. However, as Christianity fell under the control of Roman Catholicism, instances of conversion by the sword were used as had been the norm in Islam. Emporers from Constantine to Charlemagne had forced baptism into Christianity by conquered peoples. The Spanish Inquisition also used violence to enhance the position of the Church. This serves to demonstate the danger of state sponsored religious persecution. This is at the heart of Islam as the Caliph embodies the head of the military and religion as patterned after Mohammad. The combimed authority has the unchecked power to engage in violent Islamic Jihad.
The differing methods of expansion actually helped determine the area each religion would cover as it spread. Christians during the first two centuries traveled from city to city in the Roman Empire, taking advantage of the excellent Roman roads. As a result, the first two centuries saw the Gospel spread primarily in Roman territory,9 although it was also carried to some other areas, including Ethiopia and perhaps even India.10 By the year 200 A.D., Christian communities existed throughout the Middle East and Turkey, and there were several in Greece and Italy as well. Islam, however, spread from Saudi Arabia and conquered most of the Middle East and North Africa. Muslims even extended themselves into the Iberian Peninsula and pressed north, nearly reaching Paris before Charles Martel checked their advance by defeating them at the Battle of Tours in 732.11 Because Islam advanced by force, it met with hostility and resistance where Christianity was already strong such as Europe Alexandria, Egypt and Damascas, Syria. However, it was hesitantly welcomed where people had been living under suppressive rule.12 As a result of its method of expansion, therefore, Islam could not spread far north into Europe-as Christianity had done during the Roman Empire-but remained in the territory south of Europe instead.
The first two centuries of Christian expansion differed greatly from Islam's first two centuries of expansion, in spite of some early similarities. Although the spread of both religions was initially sparked by persecution, they went about spreading their messages in very different ways. As a result of Christianity's reliance on missionaries-who used the Roman roads-it spread primarily in the Roman Empire. By the time Islam came on the scene, it met military opposition Europe. Instead it engulfed most of the Middle East and North Africa. Even today the marks of Christianity and Islam can be seen in the areas where they first spread.
After its first two centuries of expansion, Christianity eventually became the official religion of the Roman Empire,13 and it profoundly influenced the development of Europe and, consequently, of the Americas. Islam still remains dominant in much of the Middle East and North Africa where it once created an empire, and this area has now become a hot spot for conflict. As prophesied in Genesis 16:11-12, "...Ishmael ... will be a wild donkey of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; and he will live at odds with all his kin." Prime examples of this are Arab nations attacks on Israel and wars between Sunnis and Shiites such as the Iraq - Iran war (that left perhaps a million dead) and Iraq's invasion into Kuwait. Ishmael's descendants have pursued a course of violence that only increased with the spread of Islam. A twisted Christianity reacted to Ishmael's agression during the Crusades but true Christianity follows Christ, the Prince of Peace. Unlike Ishmael's children who follow Mohammad's example of coercive and violent expansion. Over time, therefore, the spread of these two religions continues to drastically impact the stability of the entire world.
Return7Quoted from Chapter 3, verse 32 of the Yusufali translation of the Qur'an. (Compare this verse to the Bible verse John 3:16.) "Al-E-Imran (The Family of 'Imran, the House of Imran)," The Noble Qur'an, http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/003.qmt.html (8 January 2004).
Return8In 1 Peter 2:12 the Apostle Peter instructed his readers to "live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (NIV)
Return11At the Battle of Tours Charles Martel accomplished a rare feat by overcoming Muslim cavalry with infantry. This turned back the tide of Islam at a crucial point and prevented it from sweeping across Europe. In retrospect, it seems that God used this apparently miraculous victory to protect Christian Europe from an invasion that would have drastically changed history and severely damaged the church.
Anderson, Ken. "Expansion of Christianity." Christianity Expands. http://www.kenanderson.net/bible/expansion.html (6 January 2004).
"Al-E-Imran (The Family of 'Imran, the House of Imran)." The Noble Qur'an, http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/003.qmt.html (8 January 2004).
Kimball, Charles. "The Development of the Early Church." A History of Christianity. http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/church/xr01.html (6 January 2004).
Kimball, Charles. "The Islamic Explosion." A General History of the Middle East. http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/neareast/ne09.html (7 January 2004).
A reader commented and our reply is in all caps:
You have written information on there about Muslims that do seem bias.
YES, THERE IS BIAS. BUT I HOPE THERE ARE NOT LIES.
You say that in the Prophet Muhammad taught Allah loveth not those who reject faith. Well. Dont Christians say that if you dont believe that Jesus is the son of God you will go to hell and the whole trinity concept.
Or is it that you dont believe in that either? Why wasn't that put in there?
“FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON SO THAT ANYWAY WHO BELIEVES IN HIM MIGHT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE” (John 3:16)
Apparently God loves those who reject the faith- and sends them to hell anyway.
“GOD SHOWED HIS LOVE TO US, IN THAT, WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US” (Romans 5:8).
What about the fact that Christians did fight in wars. Are you forgetting about
the crusades and how they wanted Jerusalem back.
THE ARTICLE MENTIONS THE CRUSADES IN THE LAST PARAGRAPH WHICH NEEDS STRONGER EMPHASIS. THE SPANISH INQUISITION SHOULD ALSO BE ADDED AS AN EXAMPLE OF VIOLENTLY SPREADING CHRISTIANITY.
That group was especially made to fight "holy wars" And not to mention the fact that Catholicism started as a result of Priests selling indulgences. The bishops, popes, priests, monks and other functionaries collected huge revenues from tenant farmers, donations, penance fees, grants taxes. They had church full of holy corrupters.
YES, ROMAN CATHOLICISM HAD BECOME TERRIBLY CORRUPT. THE ESSAY NEEDS TO BE MORE CRITICAL OF THAT BEHAVIOR.
Ye I guess Christianity is so true and loving after all! By the way I think
you also forgot to mention this, " Charlemagne (d. 184) decreed that any
one who would not accept Christianity should be put to the sword."Readings
in Medieval History" Patrick Geary. Broadview Press, 1991(BAM!!!!).
THAT IS A GREAT CITATION. I MIGHT ADD THAT TO THE ESSAY.
C'mon I learned all this in history class for God sakes. Im not saying your
sitting here dissing Muslims. What I am saying is that if you are going to put
religious articles on the net, you should keep them as accurate as possible.
As far as im concerned, you have alot of bias info on their.If you do want to get proper information about Islam. Please consult a Muslim who knows about Islam. I hope you are not offended in any way.
NO OFFENSE TAKEN. THANKS AGAIN FOR TAKING THE TIME TO WRITE.
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