The World Religions by Ninian Smart was first published on August 1st 1998 by Cambridge University Press. This book includes six distinct areas of exploration between the world’s major religions. The book was written to describe the differences between these religions, such as their history, formation, rituals and their cultural practices, placing them in all in one context. Quite soon after the first book was published on August 1st 1998, the second edition was published which included another distinct area of exploration – the material dimension. This latest dimension added a new way of looking at the world’s major religions in their artistic form, such as paintings, models or sculptures.
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The three dimensions I have chosen to compare and contrast between Christianity and Islam are: the ethical and legal dimension, the social and institutional dimension and the experiential and emotional dimension. The ethical and legal dimension is the laws or rules a religious community follows to achieve enlightenment or fulfilment of their life. The social and institutional dimension is an order that a religious community follows to show their interactions with their religion. The experiential and emotional dimension is when people react emotionally when they encounter something that they find to be profound to their religion.
Christianity and Islam may be two different religions, but if we consider Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion, there are some similarities and also a few differences. In both of these religions there is a code of ethics that people must follow.
Christianity has the Ten Commandments and Islam has many different morals and laws stated in the Quran that a Muslim should follow, though the most important of these are the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam are essential for a Muslim to achieve to live a good and responsible life. There is also the Sharia Law in Islam; which dictates the way most Muslims live. ‘Reliance of the Traveller’ is an English translated book of the Sharia Law by Nuh Ha Mim Keller. It states eleven different categories of the Sharia Law: purification, prayer, funeral prayer, taxes, fasting, pilgrimage, trade, inheritance, marriage, divorce and justice. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia#Definitions_and_descriptions : Last Updated 28th February 2013.)
Another part of Sharia law that is still used today, is Hudud crimes. These are punishments for committing serious crimes. These crimes are: unlawful sexual intercourse, false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse, wine drinking, theft, and highway robbery. These crimes can result in: flogging, execution, stoning, amputation or exile. All these punishments are done in a public area. (See http://www.cfr.org/religion/islam-governing-under-sharia/p8034 by Toni Johnson, and Lauren Vriens. Last updated January 9, 2013.)
The Islamic Law (Sharia) and the Ten Commandments are different as Islam has many more laws than Christianity and are also stricter. Christianity focuses mainly on the daily life of a Christian, and the Ten Commandments teach a Christian how not to sin against their will. Similarities show that neither religion should commit adultery or murder. In addition, there is only one God, one cannot make an idol above God and one should not steal.
There are many ways that a Christian and a Muslim show their faith in their God. Mostly going to Church or a Mosque is very important if you want to show your faith in your God, but there is one important event both in Christianity and Islam that can show a person’s faith. These events are: Ramadan and Easter. In both Easter and Ramadan, Christians and Muslims have to fast, though they fast in different and yet similar ways. Christians fast for 40 days and Muslims fast for a month. The idea of fasting in the Christian point of view is that you sacrifice something that you would call a luxury, such as take away food or watching TV or anything that you would find difficult to do without for that period of time. In the Muslim point of view, fasting is used to teach self-sacrifice and it also shows you how the poor and needy live.
The big difference between Easter and Ramadan is that Easter reminds Christians of Jesus’s life, where Ash Wednesday represents the start of Lent, a time where Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the desert resisting Satan’s temptation. Then comes Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and crowds throw palm branches on the road. The Last Supper follows on Maundy Thursday and the Crucifixion of Jesus comes a day after, Good Friday. Finally three days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus resurrects and appears in front of his disciples.
Though Ramadan is simple to understand, where all Muslims try to re-focus with their religion, purify their soul and strengthen their relationships with their family members. This time is also used to reflect on their past life, to clear themselves of any wrong doing and to stop bad habits. The last day of Ramadan is called Eid ul Fitr where people celebrate and thank Allah for His strength to help them. In doing so, Muslims also are required to give a set amount of money to charity so that the poor and needy can be happy too.
There could be many different emotional or experiential moments in a Christian’s life, but there is also one main moment in a Muslims life that affects them emotionally. Experiential moments could be viewing a miracle in front of their eyes in a Christian’s life, or it could be attending the Hajj in a Muslims life.
The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia in which an act of solidarity and ultimate worship is performed to their God. This occurs between the 8th to the 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah (twelfth month on the Islamic calendar). The Hajj is attended by Muslims worldwide as it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and must be attended at least once in the life of a Muslims.
Another experiential moment is World Youth Day in a Christian’s life. World Youth Day is held every two to three years in a different country every time. The last World Youth Day was held in Madrid, Spain in 2011. World Youth Day is for all ages but mainly for people between the ages of 16 and 35. This is to encourage the younger generation to grow and understand the faith and life of Jesus Christ. Pilgrims use this time to reflect on their lives but mostly on the life of Jesus Christ and experience what He felt when He followed the path that was set out for Him.
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Similarly World Youth Day and the Hajj both have in common experience and emotion, as both religions do this in honour and worship of their God. The only difference is that they are different religions and that they honour their God in different ways. Another similarity is that both these experiences are attended by pilgrims who seek to find out more about their religion.
While using Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion to compare and contrast Christianity and Islam, I found that there are many good uses for this but there are limits to the areas of religion that you can sometimes miss.
The main reason for using Ninian Smart’s model is to discover the similarities and differences between religions in which his model allows you to decipher a religion between other religions and find how they could be alike or not alike. The main area that most religions have in common is a pilgrimage, where pilgrims go off to a significant place to honour and worship their God. The main difference is the way they use their laws, such as Christians say if you commit adultery you sin against God, but in Islam if you commit adultery you could be executed or stoned. The fact is that in Christianity even the most grievous sins can be confessed in the sacrament of confession, but in Islam the severe punishment for crimes committed could be considered as murder.
An area that has a limit is the ethical and legal dimension. In comparison to Christianity and Islam, Islam has many more laws, morals and rules than the Ten Commandments in Christianity. You can’t compare something when there is only so little to compare about between the two religions. It would be like saying Islam’s ethics and legal system is completely different to Christianity, which it is, but the fact is that it isn’t possible to compare.
Another area that has limitations is the narrative and mythical dimension. The reason that this dimension is limited is because they can be vastly different. If you compared the stories of Jesus Christ to The Budda they would be greatly different because they were founded at different times and places. Buddhism and Christianity also have different stories about how they began and different myths and legends about their religion.
One dimension that you could easily compare and contrast about is the material dimension. The material dimension allows you to look at the different artwork, sculptures and buildings created by the followers of that religion. Though the artworks, sculptures and buildings may be completely different, their meaning is the same that they honour and worship their God. They all signify something about their God, or a special day in a year, or a special person, but in all religions they mostly will honour that person, day or God.
Finally, the model of Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion is a useful tool that anyone can use to gauge similarities or differences about two religions. It can also teach you a lot about both religions if you research well.
In conclusion Christianity and Islam are different in many ways, but they also have a few things in common. The use of Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion is a useful way to compare and contradict different religion, whether they are major or small religions.