Most of us have grown up with the idea that there are three forms of monotheism: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, each one of them being a quite monolithic, unified, self-consistent system. But that is far from the case, and it is important for us to remember this fact.
Judaism has always, for the last 3,000 years, been composed of various groups and interpretations, especially so today — all the way from atheistic, secular Jews to the ultra-Orthodox. Christianity was of many conflicting stripes for the first few centuries up until the First Council of Nicea was held in 325 and the Nicene Creed was agreed upon; then there was the great schism in 1054, when the Roman Church and the Greek Orthodox split apart. Then in 1517, Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation, which has gone on ever since. And Islam has never had a strong central leadership structure; to name just a few of the strains, there are the Shia, the Sunni, the Sufis, the Wahabis, the Salafis, etc.
Today, there is a new form of Islam and Christianity beginning to take shape — or perhaps, it is a recurrence to an original form of Islam. In Nigeria, a country with a large presence of both Christians and Muslims, there are those who practice a form of religion that has come to be called “Chrislam,” which is a fascinating form of monotheism — and it is spreading into the United States, as well. Those who practice Chrislam follow both Christian and Muslim traditions and theologies. They don’t think of Christianity and Islam as incompatible religions, but rather see each as being an augmentation of the other. (See “A New Religion Flourishes in Nigeria & USA,” at the website malawimuslims.com.)
Needless to say, Chrislam may hold a key or two for a more peaceful world.
Most Westerners, whether Christian or not, have no idea that both Jesus (Isa in Arabic) and his mother, Mary (Maryam in Arabic), are prominent figures in Islam’s holy book, the Quran. Muslims, in accordance with various explicit passages in the Quran, hold that Jesus was born via a virgin birth and that his mother was Mary. Islam holds that Jesus was a great prophet and teacher of major importance and in the Quran, Jesus is called “the Messiah,” “the Word of God” and “the Spirit of God” — but Islam does not go the further step, the step holding that Jesus is the Son of God and of one substance with God the Father. Muhammad, in Islam, is also a great prophet/teacher, but he is not called the Son of God, not of the same substance as God, nor is Muhammad in the Quran called the Messiah, the Word of God or the Spirit of God. In Islam, Jesus occupies the highest place among the prophets in terms of his proximity and similarity to God, but Jesus is not the “final prophet;” the final prophet is Muhammad — yet Muhammad is human and not in any sense divine. (See the recent book “The Islamic Jesus” by Mustafa Akyol, 2017.)
There is an intriguing irony here: For the first several hundred years of Christianity, there were many Christians who did not view Jesus as God and of the same substance as God. This non-divine idea of Jesus was not something Muhammad and his followers “made up.” The early Jewish-Christians, who were living in the Middle East for hundreds of years after the destruction of Jerusalem (in 70 CE), did not believe Jesus was God — for the Jewish-Christians (and many other Christians east of Palestine), Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, “messiah” meaning “anointed one,” a human anointed by God, but not equal to God. The Jesus-as-fully-God-and-fully-human position was solidified over three Councils: the Council of Nicea held in 325, the Council of Chalcedon held in 451 and finally, the Third Council of Constantinople in 681. Note that the year 681 is a half century after the birth of Islam. This explains a lot about Jesus in the Quran.
Another irony is that I personally know a good number of people, living here in the northeastern United States today, who consider themselves Christian, but who do not hold that Jesus is God and is of the same substance as God — rather, they view Jesus as a great, even the greatest, teacher and prophet, but not divine. This is not an uncommon attitude among some Christians in First World countries today. Unknowingly, these people are practicing a type of Christianity that is very much in keeping with the attitude toward Jesus held in Islam. When I mention this to them, they look at me in disbelief, which, in a way, is unfortunate — because they are living proof that the divide between Christianity and Islam is not so wide as many think it is. Presently, Chrislam is (unconsciously) becoming more widely practiced than people have yet to realize.
Unfortunately, many American evangelical preachers are highly upset at this new Chrislamic development, and even go so far as to claim it is the work of the devil. In fact, if you Google “Chrislam” you will get a fistful of their negative rants flying at you. However, just being loud and angry doesn’t put one on the right side of history.
The good news is that as the world becomes smaller and smaller and more and more interconnected, Christians and Muslims are going to become better and better informed about each others’ religion. Especially in Europe and Africa, Christians and Muslims are now living cheek by jowl and even inter-marrying. Truth will come out, and the truth is that Islam and Christianity have a great deal in common — especially 21st century liberal and progressive Christianity, which is a well-established movement.
Taking a long historical perspective of monotheism: Judaism evolved into Jewish-Christianity; Jewish-Christianity evolved, via mixing with Greek philosophy, into Roman and Greek Orthodox Christianity; a strain of those Christianities evolved into Islam in the East; a strain of Christianity in the West evolved into Protestantism; and now in the 21st century, a strain of Christianity and a strain of Islam are evolving into a new form of monotheism, going by the name of Chrislam.
Having seen the clearly evident tendency of monotheism to evolve, build upon itself and augment its breadth and depth, why should it come as a surprise that it now seems possible in the near future we will see something known as Chrislam — embracing both Christianity and Islam — having a wider and wider footprint around the globe? In a real sense, Chrislam has been with us ever since the founding of Islam in the 600s. We just lost sight of it for a while.
As the Quran says in Surah 29: 45-49: “Dispute not with the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) ... but say, We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we all bow.”
May God, Allah and Chrislam be with you.
John Nassivera is a former professor who retains affiliation with Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. He lives in Vermont and part-time in Mexico.