Islam as new religion or old heresy?
Leaving aside the fact that priests commit sexual abuse at a far lower rate than the general public, it is interesting to consider that Islam was at first considered a heresy rather than a new faith. Originally it was refered to as “Muhammadism”, much like Arianism is named after Arius.
The similarity between Islam and Christianity is quite remarkable. Most obviously, both are monotheist. But deeper than that, the five pillars of Islam might be equally valid of Catholics, who make a profession of faith every Sunday, who engage in ritual prayer (with monks and nuns even required to pray 7 times a day, twice more than Muslims pray), who practice almsgiving and have about a month of fasting (Ramadan and Lent are quite similar). Last of the five pillars, both Muslims and Catholics practice pilgrimages. Finally, another similarity between both Muslims and Catholics is that we all believe in a radical equality before God; with Muhammad writing “We are all equal in the sight of God” sounding a lot like all “enjoy an equal dignity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1934).
Where the serious differences begin is the the conception of Christ. Muhammad agreed with Arius that Jesus could not be God — because how can one God be both Father and Son? From this comes the idea that a new prophet (Muhammad himself) was needed to straighten things out both with the tribal polytheists on the Arabian peninsula as well as with the Christians in northern Africa and Europe. To Muhammad, all seemed to practice polytheism.
With Muhammad’s conception of Christ as only man and not also God, it hardly seems coincidental that Arianism was thriving right near where Muhammad lived, as Muhammad’s belief was a type of Arainism. From this perspective, Islam is a revival of an older form of heresy with some mild new twists. Arius taught around three hundred years after Christ, and three hundred years after that Muhammad taught. One wonders: perhaps if the Church did better explaining why Arius was incorrect, maybe Islam wouldn’t have started because Muhammad’s grievances against Christianity would have been addressed. Difference in person but one in essence is hard to understand (it is a mystery), and maybe if there had been a better explanation for Muhammad, he would now be known as a Catholic saint instead of the founder of a religion.