Islam, Christianity and Societal Problems

Islamic Education Trust, Australia

Islam and Christianity both claim to be not just religions, but complete ways of life, to guide and solve man’s problems. Though not commonly known, there are countless problems in daily life which Islam solves and which Christianity (among others) is incapable of realistically solving. We will examine just a few, insha’allah.

a. Crime and Corruption

Muslims are encouraged to forgive offences against them where this is reasonable, tolerable and promotes good human relations. However, where such benevolent behaviour would only allow the spread of crime, corruption, injustice and interference with basic human rights, then it is incumbent upon the members of that society or the authorities concerned to control and prevent such vice by any effective and equitable means.

Both Christianity and especially Islam provide detailed moral laws and principles for peaceful and progressive co-existence. These moral teachings if strictly followed are meant to minimize and if possible eliminate the role of the courts. However, some citizens are bent on defying moral appeals and counselling, and become threats to peace, justice and security. They engage in crimes of murder/assassination, robbery, drug trafficking, prostitution, smuggling, economic exploitation, general corruption etc.

To these problems, Christianity is incapable of offering any realistic and practical solution. This is because some teachings of the New Testament have been interpreted to imply that evil should not be resisted[1] and that the laws of the Old Testament were abrogated[2].

On the other hand Islam provides a complete and detailed, justly balanced legal system (from the Qur’an and Sunnah) that complements its moral teachings. Punishments under the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) are not administered in the spirit of vengeance but are aimed at reforming the society and deterring future vices. Mercifully, no punishment is administered if there is the slightest evidence of innocence. Relative to other legal systems, the Islamic legal system when fully implemented within the Islamic societal framework, has been the most successful in history.

b. Racism and Tribalism

Racism, tribalism and nationalism have been and still are major causes of injustices ranging from denial of simple human rights to full scale wars.

Quite apart from the fact that the numerous references in the Qur’an[3] and Prophetic examples[4] teach explicitly against racism and tribalism, Islam goes beyond mere moral appeal in uniting races and tribes.

Every Muslim male or female is required compulsorily to perform the Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) at least once in his/her lifetime (if affordable). The Pilgrimage to Makkah is one in which representatives from nearly every race, tribe or ethnic group on earth gather, wearing the same type of simple white clothing, living together and eating together, performing the same acts of worship to the same Creator. This is a proof of the equality, unity and brotherhood of humanity which Islam tries to inculcate in all Muslims. In the five compulsory daily prayers, Muslims of all races and colours stand foot-to-foot and shoulder-to-shoulder.

The first person in Islamic history to call prayer at the time of the Prophet was a black African, Bilal. He was also appointed as guardian of the Islamic State Treasury at the time of the Prophet(P). Even some of the Prophet’s wives were not of the same tribe or race as him. Also, no ancestor of any particular race or his descendants were cursed to become slaves to any other[5]. No religion or ideology in human history has taught and acted against racism and tribalism as strongly and as successfully as has Islam.

c. Alcohol And Other Intoxicants

It is a known fact that alcohol has been one of the world’s greatest destroyers. Its terrible violent consequences are felt all over the world.

According to AWAKE Magazine of February 8, 1991, it accounts for the death of one person in every 21 minutes in Brazil, about one-fifth of all traffic fatalities in England and Germany and up to 80 percent of 50,000 annual traffic fatalities in Mexico. In the United States, alcohol related accidents account for over 23,000 deaths per year.

Apart from these ugly accidents, alcohol has been the cause of innumerable other acts of violence, murder, rape, family break-ups, serious medical and psychological problems, economic hardship, despair and poverty to mention but a few. In view of this, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that alcohol, alongside other intoxicants (e.g. hard drugs) is the “mother” of evils.

Some of the world’s religions teach actively against intoxication. However, most of them are incapable of efficiently minimizing it, because they don’t usually go beyond moral admonition. Some Christians are against alcohol consumption however, there exists no clear statement in the Bible prohibiting it. On the contrary, some verses are shown to tolerate, appreciate and even encourage wine-drinking.[6] These verses, even if not actively enjoining the consumption of alcohol, at least encourage it.

Islam, on the other hand is the only religion which has waged total war against intoxicants. The prohibition of alcohol in the Qur’an was done gradually, first forbidding the participation in prayers when intoxicated; then stating that its harm outweighs its benefits; and then conclusively and unequivocally prohibiting it[7]. One of the principles of Shari’ah is that anything that is conducive for haram[8] is itself haram. That is why Islam prohibits a person engaging in anything conducive to intoxicants: the production of it, its sale, transportation, witness in its transaction, purchase, serving of it etc.

With this, Islam is the only religion on earth which seeks to eradicate or at least minimise intoxication and its evil consequences, by applying moral, legal, social as well as economic pressures on intoxicants and intoxicant-related vices.

d. Polygamy

To begin with, it must be understood that Islam (under normal circumstances) does not make polygamy mandatory, but only permits it. Nowhere in the Qur’an or the Tradition of the Prophet (P) are Muslims obliged to marry more than one wife. In fact, the verse in the Qur’an which permits polygamy[9] does so conditionally. The same verse restricts the number of wives to a maximum of four (4) and states it as a prime condition that the wives be offered justice and equal treatment.

In Islam, polygamy serves as a check against many societal evils, such as adultery, fornication and prostitution. If for instance a woman cannot find a single man to marry or becomes widowed, her options are:

    i. to pass the remainder of her life in bitter deprivation of her natural desires for a husband, children and societal security .
    ii. to fulfil her natural desire by becoming a sex object for exploitation (e.g. as a prostitute).
    iii. to become a mistress without rights or legitimacy for her children.
    iv. to opt for a polygamous marriage, where she is loved and appreciated by her spouse and treated equally as a co-wife.

The first option is unnatural and would not be chosen by most natural women; while the second and third lead to many crimes and erosion of the society’s moral values. The fourth, however, is an example of a practical “fair deal” solution to a real problem. The outright prohibition of polygamy closes the door to the solution of various physical, moral, social, emotional and practical problems which infest the society today in many parts of the world.

Polygamy has been a common practice throughout world civilisations, even before the advent of Islam. It was practiced by Biblical Prophets such as David[10], Solomon[11], Jacob[12] and Abraham[13]. Incidentally, despite the fact that these prophets practised polygamy, they are still regarded as righteous men of God: David[14]; Jacob[15] and Abraham[16].

The Christian Church generally teaches against polygamy, although some sects (e.g. Mormons) have practiced it. This means that if a man is denied the legitimate way of solving some of the above-mentioned problems (or related ones), then it becomes more likely that he would not be morally, legally, and financially responsible for the partner and offspring concerned.

The abuse of polygamy and different forms of injustice in marriage have been unequivocally condemned in Islam. Where some Muslims marry more than one wife for negative reasons or deliberately neglect kindness and justice between the wives, this cannot be blamed on Islam. Rather, such Muslims should be blamed for disregarding Islamic teachings.Since the Bible does not explicitly forbid, regulate or even restrict polygamy, we may wonder at what other practical solutions it can offer to solve the problems related to strict monogamy. If the verse in Lk. 16:18 is taken to mean that polygamy is prohibited, then there can be no practical means available for Christianity to solve such problems. If on the other hand, it is interpreted to implicitly permit polygamy (since it has not categorically prohibited it), then Christianity will face the problem of unrestricted polygamy, as neither such restrictions are made in the Bible nor are there any conditions.

e. Sexual Immorality

Adultery and fornication or prostitution are probably the most destructive forms of immorality. They have been major causes of embarrassment to families, family break-ups and divorce, illegitimate children, child abuse, increased abortion and unwanted pregnancies, and spread of sexually-transmitted diseases including AIDS.

Both Christianity and Islam teach against all forms of sexual immorality. However, only Islam provides effective and realistic means of preventing it. For example:

    i. Islam encourages marriage between males and females whenever possible and reasonable. Christianity on the other hand, views celibacy as being more righteous than marriage. Though not prohibiting marriage, it does not encourage it. Paul only said: “It is better to marry than to burn” (i.e. in hell, due to fornication).

    ii. Islam prescribes certain measures to guard against sexual immorality. It is an Islamic principle that whatever is conducive to something prohibited is itself prohibited. Consequently, any form of dress or behaviour that is conducive to sexual immorality is prohibited.

In Islam a comprehensive set of principles of dress code (hijab) is prescribed for both men and women. No such code is prescribed by Christianity.

Erotic and vulgar dancing especially between unmarried couples is strictly prohibited in Islam because it is conducive to sexual immorality even though such dances may initially have begun with “clean” intentions. This also applies to holding each other, staying in secluded places and so on. Such prohibitions are not explicit in the Bible.

Under the Islamic legal system four (4) reliable adult witnesses, of good reputation, who have seen the act in progress, are required to give evidence in court before any conviction or punishment can be given for adultery or fornication. This demonstrates that the severe punishments (of capital punishment for adultery, etc.) serve more as deterrents than anything else.

Such strong deterrents and punishments do not exist in Christianity because it lacks a legal system that would prevent or control those who are not God-conscious in their society. The Old Testament which prescribes capital punishment for adultery[17] is believed to have been abrogated in the New Testament[18]. The New Testament (NIV version) of the Bible says in a heading just before Jn. Chapter 8 that, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Jn. 7:53, 8:11.”

f. Protection of Honour

False witnessing and character-assassination especially of innocent men and women causes great pain to the individual and families concerned. This is especially true when a woman is accused falsely of marital unfaithfulness (i.e. adultery) because this can seriously affect the trust and relationship between the wife and her family.

In Islam, such accusation without necessary evidence (as explained earlier) calls for a legal punishment of 80 lashes, which also acts as a strong deterrent against false witness and slander based on hearsay.

Christianity on the other hand has no such effective solution for slandering.

g. Divorce

Marriage is the foundation of the family, which is the basic unit of society. Just like in other religions, Islam favours marriage as a means to psychological, emotional and physical gratification, as a mechanism for natural relief, legitimate procreation and social security, and as a medium for wide-ranging social intercourse and solidarity.

While Islam takes the continuity and permanance of marriage for granted, it also allows for its dissolution when the marriage fails to achieve its purpose. However, the general ground for divorce in the Qur’an is the extreme difficulty or impossibility of either of the parties to fulfil their duties to each other or to live in kindness, compassion and tranquillity. It is clear from this that divorce is pronounced as a last resort after all avenues for reconciliation have been exhausted. The Prophet(P) was reported as saying “Of all things made permissible by Allah, divorce is the most disliked by Him.”[19]

In the New Testament, divorce is prohibited[20], except in the case of adultery. This is obviously extreme and unrealistic and does not solve the problem of a marriage where one partner exploits the other through all sorts of injustices (e.g. alcoholism, abuse, child molestation, etc.) Even in the case of divorce as a result of adultery, Christianity gives no hope to either divorced party in finding happiness with a new and more compatible partner, because his/her remarriage is considered as adultery in the Bible[21]. Even a woman who for example, wants to part from a sterile or impotent husband in order to pursue the natural wish for bearing children with another husband is denied that wish through legitimate means, thus leaving only illegitimate alternatives.

Seeing that Christianity provides no answer for such an unhappy marriage where all attempts at reconciliation have failed, many have sought civil litigation to divorce, which in reality is a non-Christian way out. That is to say, all Christians who seek divorce through this means are going out of Christianity to find solutions to problems which Christianity cannot practically solve. However, this has led to extreme and unrestricted freedom of divorce, even for trivial reasons, which results in the dilution of the sanctity of the marital bond and the erosion of family life. That in turn leads to chaos and immorality in the society.

This problem of divorcing for trivial reasons is solved in Islam by the very nature of the divorce process. Firstly, all means of reconciliation must be tried, through mutual dialogue, intercession or arbitration by relations, etc. Secondly, the period between the pronouncement of (revocable) divorce and actual separation (approximately three months) allows time for tempers to cool and differences to be resolved. Moreover, this process of revocable divorce can be followed twice before it becomes irrevocable. Because of provisions such as these, Islam encourages reconciliation before the divorce becomes binding.

The Islamic position concerning divorce is unique and moderate between the two extremes of categorical prohibition of remarriage after divorce, and total liberty. Islam is a truly realistic, complete and perfect way of life (Qur’an 5:4). Thus it only prescribes what is humanly attainable for the social, moral, and spiritual well-being of mankind.

h. Problems with Inheritance

The Muslim is permitted and even encouraged to write a will which would cover a maximum of one-third of his/her estate or property. This is to cover the needs of special cases that would otherwise not be guaranteed a share of the estate, for instance charitable bequests, the needs of orphans and adopted children and also extra needs required by heirs (such as the chronically ill).

If due to the testator’s insanity, illiteracy, minority or sudden death, there exists no will, or the will has been corrupted, destroyed or is unjust, then all legitimate heirs are guaranteed an equitable proportion of inheritance in the Qur’an.[22]

Christianity, on the other hand, has no such dimension of inheritance rules and nobody (not even a wife, children or parents) is guaranteed anything. A problem also arises when, for one reason of the other a will does not exist, or is corrupted or unjust. In this case, Christianity cannot enforce justice based on the Bible. To turn to civil courts is to find a “secular” solution for an unjust will.

The New Testament mentioned absolutely nothing concerning the distribution of the estate or property of a deceased. Christianity, probably in compliance with Paul’s teachings[23] has even abandoned the laws prescribed in the Old Testament.

The question to the reader then is, if a religion cannot solve human societal problems in this life, how reasonable will it be for me to rely upon it to solve human problems in the Hereafter?

And only God knows best.


[1] Matthew 5:38 – 42

[2] Gal.5:18, Rom. 10:4 and 13:10

[3] Qur’an, 49:13, 39:6, 2:213, etc.

[4] “… the white man is not superior to the black, nor is the black man superior to the white…” (reported by al-Bukhari)

[5] See Gen.9:25-27

[6] See, for instance: Psalms 78:65; 1 Tim. 5:23; Prov. 31:6-7; John 2:1-11

[7] See Qur’an 2:219; 5:93-94)

[8] A forbidden act or thing.

[9] Qur’an, 4:3

[10] 2 Samuel 12:8

[11] 1 Kings 11:3

[12] Genesis 29:15-30

[13] Genesis 16:3-4; 25:1

[14] Acts 2:30

[15] Hosea 12:12-13

[16] Genesis 20:7

[17] Deut. 22:22

[18] Jn. 8:1-11

[19] Reported by Abu Dawud

[20] Mk. 10:1-12; Lk. 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10-11

[21] Mk. 10:11-12, Lk. 16:18 — “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries a another woman commits adultery and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

[22] Qur’an 2:180; 4:7-9, 11-12, 19, 33 and 176.

[23] Gal. 5:18, Rom. 10:4; 13:10.

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