Growing up as one of six children in a traditional Roman Catholic home, I have always understood the vital role that religion plays in ones life. I learned from a young age about the catechism of the church, the sacraments, the importance of prayer, fasting during Lent, tithing and of pilgrimage. I learned about the idea that faith without action does not exist and was taught that I must participate actively in a faith life and really live a religious and pious life to show God my love and adoration. In addition to this, I was taught about purgatory, God’s mercy and grace, the practice of ritual cleansing through holy water, and was taught that God is large, vast, expansive, the creator of all matter, and is the first mover.
I never encountered the idea of a personal and friend-like relationship with a deity until I was introduced to more reformed and other Christian practices of their faith. All of that being said, through various conversations with Muslims, including a friend named Ziat, and through the various speakers brought into the MESP program, I am beginning to see that Islam and Catholicism are extremely similar in both faith and practice.
In Islam, the five pillars are declaration and submission to God by declaring the Oneness of God, Allah, prayer, tithing, fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Like Catholicism, Islam is often seen as a religion where one must earn their way to God. I understand this misconception and see, because of my own upbringing, the bigger picture of the religion. Ones faith in God is primary and the rest is simply a privilege. Prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and tithing are all ways we get to show God our endless love and surrender for God’s goodness and love. We don’t “have” to do anything, we “get” to serve God in such ways since we love God. Catholicism, as mentioned previously, follows these same ideas.
In addition to this, both religions believe that their religions are a continuation of another religious tradition, for Christians they are founded on the fundamentals of Judaism, and Islam is founded upon and believed to be a continuation of Christianity and Judaism.
In Islam, the Qur’an is highly elevated and holy and seen as many Christians see Jesus. The Hadith may be more comparable to how Christians view the bible. But, in Catholicism, church doctrine and law is also seen like the Hadith, along with the prayers and writings of the saints. Like the Qur’an, Jesus is seen to be living and eternal and a message of the one living God. In addition to this, I believe that the intercession of Muhammad, where Muslims send salutations to Muhammad and follow the way he lives his life, is similar to how Catholics view and honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is seen to be an intercessor between Jesus and the world in the eyes of the Church. Like Muhammad is not worshiped, so too is Mary not worshipped by the Catholic Church, though this is a common misconception by many people who are not themselves practicing the faiths.
The sacraments in the Catholic Church, like the Pillars of Islam, meet you at whatever stage one is in their life. In the Catholic Church one is baptized as a baby, receives first reconciliation and first communion around age 8, confirmation in the church around age 15, later on in life either enters a religious vocation or a marriage and eventually a prayer of the sick and anointing when on their deathbed. Like the sacraments in the Catholic Church, that meet individuals throughout different parts of their life, the ritual prayers meet Muslims at different points during their day. And, like Catholicism’s sacraments, the ritual prayer in Islam reminds believers to worship God at every moment and every stage in their walk.
Prayer is essential for both Catholics and Muslims. Both religious practices emphasize ritual prayer and use prayer beads. Many Catholics, especially those in religious orders, will pray a rosary multiple times per day including early in the morning, mid morning, at noon, at 3pm and before bed. This is similar to the call to prayer that occurs five times per day in Islam.
Tithing and charity work are clearly and have historically played an essential role in both Islam and Catholicism. Both religious practices elevate social justice and emphasize ones duty to the poor, the needy and the less fortunate. In addition to this, both religions focus on cleansing oneself and remaining humble in ones walk with God. They do this through ritual cleansing. For Muslims, they must cleanse themselves with water before entering a mosque and their prayer postures throughout their ritual prayer services are organized and display an individual’s submission to Allah. Similarly, when a Catholic enters a church, she must anoint herself with holy water which represents the cleansing waters of baptism, redemption, the removal of original sin, and God’s power and mercy.
During mass, like during prayer in Islam, there are also various postures, like kneeling that Catholics must do in order to show their submission and surrender to God.
Another essential aspect of both Catholicism and Islam, is fasting. While Muslims observe fasting in the 9th month of their calendar year what muslims refer to as Ramadan, Catholics observe fasting during Lent for forty days prior to Easter, commemorating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In addition to fasting, both religions stress the importance of pilgrimaging to holy sites, if ones health and wallet permits doing so. I, myself, have participated in a 520-mile Catholic pilgrimage in Spain in 2014. This has helped me grow spiritually and also helps me understand the beauty and religious significance of pilgrimage for both Muslims and Catholics.
There are many other similarities between the religions that this brief blog post cannot address. A few other similar aspects, are: Muslims believe in levels of paradise and that ones actions determine which level an individual may go and Catholics believe something similar. Catholics believe in purgatory, where sinful individuals must be cleansed before they can enter the kingdom of heaven, which is somewhat similar to the belief in Islam since the amount of time that an individual spends in purgatory is solely dependent upon the number and the gravity of their sins.
In addition to this, Catholics and Muslims both see God as large and vast and not necessarily a personal God. Both also believe in the concept of free-will under an all knowing and powerful God. And, in many traditional churches, like in Mosques, women will cover their hair with veils to honor and show their surrender to God. Also, both faith practices have mystic scholars and practices, which I find rather interesting.
Throughout my time in Jordan I have observed and appreciated the similarities that exist between the two religions. This journal only scratches the surface upon my thoughts on the unity between the two religions. I look forward to learning more and growing in my own faith as I continue to study Islam and see its similarities to that of my own religious practice.
Stay true, live justly and always travel on.
Peace and love