My assignment for this week was to research and write about social justice in a tradition that is not my own and compare it to the tradition that is. The following is what I learned in comparing Islam and Christianity.
The concept of social justice transcends time, culture and religion because it is a matter of the heart. The priority of social justice varies among groups and religious sects in their context of time and culture, but the concept carries on because we are emotional beings. Social justice is a thread that ties dissimilar people interested in matters of the heart. This point became clear in exploring social justice from the point of view of the Islamic faith.
Foundational similarities of Christianity and Islam are that they are both monotheistic and use divinely inspired texts, the Bible and the Quran. More specific similarities regarding social justice include charity, concern for the poor, orphan, widow, exploited and oppressed, and the promotion of peace. Social justice is a prominent theme in the Quran and the Bible. An example from the Quran is , “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.” Q. 5:8 (Sahih International) and an example from the Bible, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
When looking at charity and giving specifically, in Islam there is a “zakat” also known as an alms tax and it is involuntary charity for the poor. Above and beyond a mandated tax the prophet Muhammed emphasizes the responsibility of the rich toward the poor in numerous verses of the Quran. For example, “They ask you about giving: say, ‘The charity you give shall go to the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, and the traveling alien.’ Any good you do, GOD is fully aware thereof." Q. 2:215 (Authorized English Version). Similarly, the Bible says, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42 and also “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:16.
Another interesting similarity that I wasn’t aware of between Christianity and Islam is the call for peace. Jesus says in a popular Biblical passage about peace, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” Matthew 5:38-40. The Quran says, “And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” Q. 41:34 (Sahih International) and “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion - [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” Q. 60:8-9 (Sahih International) There is an exception in the Islamic call to peace and according to Dr. John L. Esposito of Georgetown University that exception is found in Q. 4:74-76. Esposito says of that passage, Muhammed is calling for the defense of downtrodden, particularly women, children, the oppressed and that includes the right to engage in armed defense if necessary. (Esposito 2003, lecture) This is an area where Christianity and Islam differ and interpretations can be debated. Some Christians argue that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, promotes war. Again, I can see how alike the Islam and Christian faiths are.
As a Christian and one who has done a fair amount of Bible study, I know the Bible can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In Christianity there are conservatives, liberals, moderates and extremists. It did not occur to me until after I watched several of Dr. Esposito’s lectures that this is the same in the Muslim faith. As a Westerner I thought jihadists, as I knew them/it, was the majority in Islam and they hated Americans. First, I didn’t even understand the word in the correct part of speech and second, I had no idea what the term translated into. Coming to understand the meaning of the word “jihad” or “struggle” as reference to “the internal struggle of Muslims to live a moral life or external struggle for social justice or defense of Muslim community” (Esposito 2003, 80) and that jihad can be violent or nonviolent has made me more open minded to learning about the faith. The jihadists I have heard about on the news are extremists that don’t represent the faith as a whole. I can empathize with peaceful Muslims on this issue of misrepresentation as I often try to distance myself from extreme Christian fundamentalists such as the Westboro Baptists. (www.godhatesfags.com)
It has been a powerful lesson in comparing and contrasting Christianity and Islam and I know I have “barely scratched the surface” so to speak. I did not recognize the numerous similarities and knew little about the common root of Abrahamic faiths. Beforehand I assumed this assignment was to teach me more about another religion, which it has, but I have also gained a fresh and broader perspective on my own faith. I also feel less distance between me and my neighbor, the Muslim, and that my global citizenship is strengthening.
Esposito, John L. 2003. Great World Religions: Islam. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company.
Esposito, John L. “God’s Word – The Quranic Worldview.” Great World Religions: Islam. n.d. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, May 2003.