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Saint Augustine
Christianity and Islam: The Differences in the Societies They Create - The Second Major Difference: What is Man?
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Article Index
Christianity and Islam: The Differences in the Societies They Create
The First Major Difference: What is God?
The Second Major Difference: What is Man?
The Third Major Difference: How does man relate to nature?
The Fourth Major Difference: How do people get to heaven?
The Fifth Major Difference: What is the ideal future?
The Sixth Major Difference: What is divine revelation?
Conclusion and Endnotes
All Pages

The Second Major Difference: What is man?

Tawhid has implications for the nature of man as well as the nature of God. It means not only that there is one God, but also that nothing in creation can be associated with God and that God cannot associate himself with anything in creation. It means that the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is metaphysically impossible. It also means that there can be no image of God in human beings.

Since the Christian God is a trinity with eternally relational moral attributes like integrity and love, when God bestows those attributes upon part of His creation, then that part of creation becomes "made in the image of God." But the Muslim God, as a singularity without eternal relational attributes, cannot bestow moral attributes upon any creatures as any portion of his own nature.

How does belief about man affect civic structures?

In Christian anthropology, the moral attributes of human beings participate in the infinite and eternal qualities of God. This makes each human life equally sacred and valuable with each other human life. God is infinite, so the likeness of God in mankind is also infinite. Compared to the infinity of God's likeness in mankind, other differences between people (like gender, race, status, intelligence, disability, or religious affiliation) disappear into relative insignificance. Compared to infinity, anything else that is not also infinite resolves to zero. Therefore, before God all people are not only equal, but also significant because they participate in infinity. If human beings are "made in the image of God," then laws against oppression based on race, or persecution based on religion, or discrimination based on disability, or disadvantage based on gender, are rooted in the eternal nature of God.

But in the Muslim theology of mankind, nothing in man can be anything like God. This means that mankind's worth and moral attributes are part of creation and have no part in God or in eternity. Therefore, anti-discrimination laws in Muslim societies cannot be rooted in values associated with God's nature, but must be rooted in values associated with creation. No part of human essence is either divinely sacred or joined to infinity in a way that by comparison eclipses physical and social differences. Islam does teach that God has created human beings with higher dignity than the rest of creation (Qur'an 17:70). However, in Islam, differences in gender and religious affiliation matter. In most versions of Muslim law, a man's testimony has more weight than a woman's.7 Even in its most liberal interpretations, Muslim law has different citizenship categories for Muslims and non-Muslims.8 Furthermore, in Muslim law, only non-Muslims have the freedom to change their religion. Non-Muslims may convert to any faith they choose, but Muslims are not free to leave Islam.9

Because of tawhid, in Islam, human dignity for Muslims flows from the specific, concrete ways that people are created or from the way that people behave rather than from any infinite likeness of God in mankind. As a result, human dignity varies from person to person depending upon physical characteristics, behaviors, and social affiliations. Because of the trinity, in Christian thought human dignity for each person flows from his infinite likeness to God  rather than from specific varieties of created characteristics or chosen behaviors. As a result, human dignity is the same among all people regardless of their differences or affiliations. Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians are all worth the same as human beings created in the image of God. Gender, race, and interfaith relations are a challenge in all societies, but gender, race, and religious discrimination pose much greater problems in societies with Muslim majorities such as Egypt than in societies with Christian  majorities, all because of different beliefs about the image of God in man.

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 April 2013 20:30