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Catholicism and Islam

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Today, a phenomenon of religious diversity has become a universally recognized fact; there are approximately 10,000 distinct religions in the world (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006). Trends of globalization have greatly influenced mono-religious societies creating communities with different religions. However, each religion is striving to preserve its uniqueness professing the particular spiritual traditions, articles of faith, ethical, cultural, political, social, economic, and behavioral patterns.

The distinctive characteristics of every religion are benevolence and love acting in the form of beliefs in God. “People in all cultures have a set of beliefs that go beyond both the self and the natural world. We use these beliefs to help explain reasons for human existence and to guide personal relationships and behavior” (Defining Religion and Culture, 2012). Comparative studies of religions should consider their historical background, doctrines, specificity of origin, sociocultural sources, interactions with social, political, and economic institutions, national peculiarities and mentality of the believers as well as other factors contributing to the development of religious identity.

The differences in environmental conditions, cultural characteristics, political development, national diversity, and historical circumstances predetermined the differences in Islam and Roman Catholicism. Encompassing the multifaceted sets of specific creeds, dogmas, rituals, and injunctions for religious practices, Islam and Catholicism are among the most influential and widely disseminated faiths in the world. Despite differences in their doctrines, both religions affirm a possibility of finding salvation and eternity.

The term “Catholicism” originates from the Greek language; its initial meaning was “general”, “universal”, thus, establishing the religion’s right to be the unique and exclusively fair way to God. Today, Roman Catholicism is one of the main directions in Christianity, along with Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The Roman Catholics are over a number of all other Christians combined globally including more than one billion believers (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006). Every religion is always associated with its identity development – i.e. formation of particular ethical, cultural, political, social, economic, and behavioral patterns. The identity of development is a durable process; numerous factors make impacts on it.

The formation of the Christian identity was influenced by the gradual decay of the Roman Empire in the West, the increasing role of Constantinople in the economic activities and religious authority, and “the legalization of the faith in 313” in the Middle Ages (Fiero, 2011, p. 199). Then, Christianity was in the center of all sociocultural processes subordinating and supervising all institutions of the medieval society. It penetrated all spheres of life and influenced all hierarchical systems of European countries in the Middle Ages. Medieval inquisitional persecutions, repressive measures against heretics, and the compulsory conversion to Christianity are perceived as the violation of human rights today. However, such specific features of Roman Catholicism as the papacy, diocesan organization of the Catholic Church, dogmatic heritage, theological grounds, etc. can be traced to the Middle Ages.

Roman Catholic doctrine is based on the Bible (Old and New Testament), the magisterium, decrees of ecumenical councils, papal encyclicals, and works of outstanding theologians, scholars and philosophers. It identifies Catholic religious traditions, relations between the church and the state, Christian dogmas, church hierarchy, and liturgy. The classical Christian dogmas of the Trinity and Jesus Christ based on Scripture and the Nicene Creed were systematized and propagated by scholars and theological spokesmen such as Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory in the fourth – sixth centuries having obtained their new specific vocabulary and symbols (Fiero, 2011, p. 200). The essence of Roman Catholic doctrine is comprised of the seven sacraments including baptism, extreme unction, confirmation, Eucharist, matrimony, penance, and holy orders as the channels of divine grace (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006; Flinn, 2007).

As well as Roman Catholicism, Islam is one of the most ancient religions; it originated in the Middle East and was propagated by the Prophet Muhammad ibn ‘abd Allah in Arabia in the 7th century A.D. The development of Islam occurred under the influence of Christianity and the Middle Eastern religious cults such as Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Like Roman Catholicism, Islam propagates its right to be a unique and exclusively fair way to Allah. The Islamic doctrine determines Muslims’ unconditional humility to the religious laws and the will of Allah. Muhammad’s recitations were collected and arranged in the Qur’an, which was later officially established as the religious guidelines by the community of Muslim scholars (Britannica Encyclopaedia, 2006; Polk, 2009; Curtis, 2010). This fundamental source of Islamic teaching includes 114 chapters (suras). Shari’a (Saria, Shariat) is a moral and legal code of the Muslim community (Britannica Encyclopaedia, 2006; World Religions in the Context, 2011). It has become the comprehensive set of Muslims’ obligations. Defining the objective of human existence as submission to the divine will, the Qur’an and Shari’a regulate Muslims’ daily living, calendar, behavioral patterns, relationships and attitudes to others, social services, business relations, civil and criminal laws, economics, culture, and activities in other spheres.

The role of Islam as a religious doctrine and a form of social organization has always differed from the role of Catholicism in European countries in particular and throughout the world in general. Roman Catholicism has never been completely substituted by either secular or official power, while Islam has always determined economic relations, political and social structures, culture, and Muslims’ way of life. Therefore, Muslims’ attempts to oppose religious constraints are frequently perceived as illegal behavior. Islam’s instructions penetrate into Muslims’ life from their birth to death defining their social behavior in many respects. Problems of social and economic justice and fair distribution of incomes are an integral part of moral philosophy in Islam. Stratification of the Muslim society, wealth, and poverty are identified in the Qur’an as the natural fact established by Allah. According to Muslims’ viewpoints, accumulation of wealth is a natural consequence of a person’s participation in the monetary system, exchange, trade, and other financial operations. Spiritual and secular powers are seamless in Islam. Thus, beyond simple performance of cult ceremonies, Islam has become an influential driving force in Muslims’ life involving economic, social, political, cultural, and behavioral aspects.

Although Islam is generally perceived as the Arabic religion, Muslims differ in their nationalities and origins to a great extent. While Islam remains the most popular religion in the countries of the Middle East today, its branches are found throughout the world. Estimates of Muslims worldwide vary significantly depending on the way Islam adherence is defined. According to approximate calculations provided by Islamic organizations, the total number of Muslims is nearly 800 million people in the world; more than two thirds of them live in Asia; almost 30 % of Muslims dwell in Africa comprising 49 % of the continent population. “Most Muslims are Sunnis, although there is a Shiite minority, as well as other strands, like Alevis and Sufis” (Muslims in the European Union, 2006, p. 8). Muslims speak different languages and observe different customs, culture, and traditions. They essentially differ from each other, and the Muslim doctrine in the various countries and regions is frequently influenced and, thus, modified by specific national beliefs and traditions.

Muslim communities exist in more than 120 countries of the world; the followers of Islam are citizens of Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Lebanon, Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, etc. (Kern, 2012). The most populated Muslim communities are in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; the considerable number of Muslims lives in China, Thailand, Ethiopia, Tanzania, some European countries (Yugoslavia, Albania, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, etc.), the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, and Australia. Islam is recognized as the official religion in Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, etc. Furthermore, the official definition "Islamic" is included in the names of such countries as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

The community’s and personal aspects of the Muslims’ life are determined by the “Pillars of Islam”. Those include five fundamental principles and obligations: 1) the shahada, or profession of faith; 2) five obligatory daily prayers; 3) the obligatory tax (zakat), which is collected by the state and should be used for the poor, “but the Qur’an mentions other purposes: ransoming Muslim war captives, redeeming chronic debts, paying tax collectors’ fees, jihad (and, by extension, education and health), and creating facilities for travellers” (Britannica Encyclopaedia, 2006, p. 521); 4) fasting during the period of Ramadan; 5) participation in the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

However, the socio-political ideas and concepts of Islamic clergy do not remain invariable, as well as the specificity of public life in the Muslim countries. The Islamic Doctrine is gradually modifying in order to adapt to rapidly changing external conditions. Contemporary trends in Islam provide Muslims with more freedom in spheres related to laws, sciences, culture, education, business, etc.  “Among modern Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran retain the Shari’a as the law of the land, secular as well as religious, but the westernized civil codes of most other Muslim countries have departed from the precepts of Shari’a when this was deemed unavoidable” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, p. 991). Nevertheless, despite all contemporary modifications, provision of the Islam doctrine is based on the precepts of Koran and norms of Shari’a. Islamic traditions significantly influence socio-political life of the Muslim community. Deliberate preservation and restoration of strict Islamic regulations occur in such countries as Afghanistan and Syria possessing radical and even revolutionary nature.

Religious beliefs have a strong influence on the culture of a community. Indeed, for many people around the world, religious beliefs are central to their culture and provide the moral codes by which they live. Psychological, sociological, theological, and other scholarly approaches to a religion differ in its accurate definition. However, the term “religion” is always associated with a specific worldview and a system of particular dogmas and beliefs in god or gods. “Religion is a system of communal beliefs and practices relative to superhuman beings” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006, p. 915). Dogmas are only theories, and a human’s life is much more diverse than any theory.

Islam and Roman Catholicism aspire to preserve and even expand their powers to authority over individuals, community, and the state in both material and spiritual spheres.

Since the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church is involved in religious, social, public, administrative, and political issues. Issues associated with family relations, political contradictions, military conflicts, social stratification, poverty, economic inequality, race discrimination, living conditions in developing countries, health care, substance abuse, and education have been brought sharply into a focus of the Catholic Church today. “A variety of social or political movements in which Catholic laypersons have taken an active and leading part are collectively referred to as Catholic Action” (Flinn, 2007, p. 140); those include religious education programs, liberation movements, the Christian Family Movement (CFM), social reforms, irenic activities, etc. The family crisis connected with a high incidence of divorce, same-sex marriage, destruction of patriarchal bases, and growth of sexual freedom induces the implementation of specific practices of the Catholic Church. In accordance with Catholic creeds, abortions are considered to be one of the most immoral acts. “Many dioceses provide resources and programs to aid the Catholic family” (Flinn, 2007, p. 275).  

Controversial issues related to scientific development and technological advances trigger religious restrictions. Despite the high efficiency and obvious potential of stem cells application for the therapeutic purposes, this method challenges the fundamental  and  basic principles of Roman Catholicism, according to which human personhood  begins at conception, and an embryo has a soul and  human dignity in conformity with  a clerical document   "Human dignity" (“Dignitas personae”). Thus, the utilization of embryonic stem cells is viewed as a violent intervention in human life. Moreover, it is evaluated by the Catholic Church as a murder of a person. Though cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hepatitis, incomplete bladder control, leukemia, lupus, muscular dystrophy, sclerosis, osteoarthritis, respiratory diseases, spinal cord injuries, and many other severe illnesses could be cured using stem cells. Religious dogmas influence and determine the Vatican policy; therefore, it called governments of the USA and European countries to abandon the use of embryonic stem cells. Nevertheless, the science and the church are gradually reaching an agreement on the use of stem cells in general and embryonic ones in particular. In 2011, the Vatican Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital, famous for maintaining Catholic ethos, launched a project of treatment for different forms of cancer by utilizing transplantations of stem cells.

Islam is frequently criticized for the limitation of Muslims’ rights and freedoms. Specific Islamic limitations and restrictions are often identified as religious contrasts. Those include such ideological contradictions and restrictions as Muslims’ attitude to adherents of different faiths, female rights, polygamy and marriage, freedoms of speech and confession, and contradictory interpretations of the Qur’an. Moreover, “whereas many Muslims have taught the equality of all races, the Nation of Islam responded to racial discrimination against blacks by prohibiting whites from becoming members” (Curtis, 2010, p. 488). The contrasts of Islam impede Muslims’ assimilation abroad and induce the occurrence of anti-Islamic movements and Islamophobia. Contemporary Islamic fundamentalists purposefully promote the idea of interconnections between the spiritual and secular aspects of the Muslim community worldwide claiming “Shariat is the foundation, and the government is its defender” (World Religions in the Context, 2011, p. 36).

Although postulates and ideas of the Qur’an and Shari’a are used by authorities of the Muslim community in order to consolidate the adherents of Islam all over the world, strengthen social influence, and implement specific domestic and foreign policies, the religion can be weakened due to internal contradictions. Religious disagreements between the adherents of Islam are based on their implicit goals of obtaining political influence both nationwide and globally. Today’s contradictions between the Shiites and the Sunnites are caused by different religious practices and views on Islamic leadership.

Since Islam was initially a religion of invaders, conquerors, and winners, the militant character of the Muslim beliefs is frequently exaggerated; the main mission of Islam is often unreasonably identified as a war and an unlawful oppositional activity. Such perceptions of Muslims, the Madrid and London bombings, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the terrorist attacks against the USA in 2001 led to the widespread occurrence of Islamophobia, discrimination against Muslims, and xenophobic resentments (Muslims in the European Union, 2006; Polk, 2009).

Islamophobia and debates associated with it are based on the definition of Islam as a static and unresponsive to change religion, aggressive, supportive of terrorism, threatening creeds, and a militarization oriented policy. However, “Muslims in general want to be seen as partners who have much at stake in ensuring community safety” (Muslims in the European Union, 2006, p. 3). Therefore, Islamophobic attitudes and prejudiced viewpoints towards Islam aggravate cooperation between the world community and Islamic countries result in deleterious stereotypical generalizations. Moreover, the Muslim immigrants in the European Union and the USA frequently suffer from direct and indirect manifestations of Islamophobia such as verbal threats, attacks on mosques, racist violence and crimes against Muslims and their property or graffiti with anti-Muslim drawings or statements. In order to combat adverse effects of Islamophobia and reduce the rates of incidents specifically targeted against Muslims, the Documentation and Advisory Centre on Racial Discrimination (DACoRD), the American Muslim Council (AMC), the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme (CNCDH), and other organizations were established all over the world.

Muslim communities in the countries of the European Union and the USA are characterized by their ethnic diversity. “Muslims from Turkey, the Maghreb, and the former Yugoslavia predominate among the Muslim populations of Europe, which now include significant numbers of migrants and refugees from the Middle East” (Muslims in the European Union, 2006, p. 24). There are also Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa in Europe. Their ethnic and sectarian differences influence Muslims’ integration into the American and European societies, relationships with non-Muslims, political activities, employment, businesses, and education.

Numerous Islamic institutions and organizations function abroad providing the Muslim community with religious education, social services, and advocacy on the issues connected with civil rights and liberties as well as maintaining collaborative relationships with the governmental, judicial, legislative, and social bodies. Islamic principles are promulgated in the Muslim mass media, on the Internet, and TV. Muslims’ political choice in foreign countries is stipulated by demographic, socio-economic, national, cultural, and economic reasons.

Generations of the Muslim immigrants aspire to preserve and develop their original ethnic and religious consciousness. The truest prospect for the improvement and development of ethnic relations is provided by a model, which combines “pluralism and competition”, and according to which struggle for the equal access to education, qualitative health care, social institutions, employment, civil rights, and power is a continuous dynamical process. “Most Muslims in Europe live in lower-income households and experience higher levels of unemployment” (Kern, 2012). Social and economic disparities can result in constantly increasing poverty, high criminal activity, imprisonment, social alienation, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and other negative displays. Thus, politicians, authorities, businesspersons, economists, and sociologists should unite their efforts in order to overcome moral, social, and economic inequality posed to Muslim minorities.

In conclusion, the adherents of all religious confessions and institutions should not escalate social and political tensions performing their activities without manifestations of proselytism. Clergy should create favorable conditions for the establishment of peace and harmony among the representatives of diverse confessions and faiths. Although Islam is viewed by Muslims as more ethical, moral, humane, fair, and rational than any other religion, such beliefs do not differ from those of the Catholics. Irrespective of their origin, “religious beliefs have a strong influence on the culture of a community. Indeed, for many people around the world, religious beliefs are central to their culture and provide the moral codes by which they live” (Defining Religion and Culture, 2012). Preserving their religious identity, the adherents of different faiths can peacefully coexist with each other.

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