DBQ: The attitudes of Christianity and Islam toward merchants and trade form the religion’s origins until about 1500.
Christianity and Islam have been the two of world’s most greatest religions for several hundreds years. Obviously, these two religions developed their own unique points of view toward commerce and trading through ever-changing society and different eras. Christianity’s first view toward the merchants is negative because Christians perceived that rich men cannot enter the heaven though Islam holds positive points toward trading because Islam’s founder, Muhammad was a merchant, therefore ranking merchant highly. Although the two religions initially have opposite ideas, before 16th century, they changed and assimilated individually and created their own peculiarity.
Doc 1, Doc 3, and Doc 2 are the early religious opinions about the trading. Doc 1 was from Christian Bible, the holy texts of the Christianity, documenting the words and major events from Jesus and his prophets, which is extremely important for Christianity. It demonstrates that the wealthy people have difficulty to access the heaven of God and that the business people are the sinners perhaps due to the background of Jesus Christ, who was a carpenter and devoted himself completely into spiritual pursuit. Therefore, Christians are opposed to merchants and trades at the beginning of the first millennium.
Later in the twelfth century, Reginald, peer and colleague of Godric, wrote the life of St. Godric, which shows that Godric started from a merchant although was very rich, abandoned all his possessions and donated to the charity in order to sincerely follow God and serve God. Therefore, it shows that following God for spiritual sublimation is much better that the materialistically owning wealth, foiling the disdain to commerce of Christianity. However, Doc 2, as Qur’an indicates, truthful and honest traders are blessed by and will rank as the same level with martyrs, which means that Islam originally regarded merchant respectively and highly.
Later, both Christians and Muslims have more neutralizing opinions as Christians decrease their dislike toward trade but Muslims increase their discontentment. As Thomas Aquinas (Doc 4), leader of Scholastic theologian illustrates, the honest and fair behaviors of gaining profit are condoned by people even though unjust and unlawful are not acceptable, manifesting the turning point of the Christianity’s viewpoint of commerce. Through this description, we can see that Christians became more and more inclusive about trades as long as trades are entirely free double-dealing. In Doc 5 from Ibn Khaldun, contrast to Doc 2, although didn’t straightly show that the dislike of trading, Muslims condemns the dishonest manners of tradesmen because they thought that these inferior behaviors decrease national virtue and weaken manliness, gradually becoming less and less support trade. Therefore, Muslims of the fourteenth century perceive these reprehensive merchants utilizing tricks for gaining profits are no doubt deceiving people and conducting unjust events.
Doc 6 and Doc 7 illustrate totally evolved ideas of trading system before 1500. As letters to and from Italian merchants and related to merchants from Doc 6 indicate, Christianity completely embraces business system. Letters of these merchants recorded increasing trades in Europe, which shows that Christianity accepts profit as businessmen’s goal, opposed to Bible. What’s more, letter B indicates that people didn’t think that God would disdain commerce any more, rather, have no disagreement with trading. Doc 7, in contrast with Doc 6 of Islamic idea, Islamic court condemns tradesman who only works for profit. And court perceives that trading should serve for one community instead of individual, which seems to belittle and control merchants.
Though the providing information show comprehensively the changes and continuities of the religious views of business, adding the words and opinions from non-Muslims and non-Christians can offer a better background because all we have are from the people who deeply contacted with the Christianity and Islam, they might have bias. Thus, views from people who did not believe in Islam or Christianity will offer a more thorough idea.
Thus, the originally receptive Islam and initially repulsive Christianity evolved into different specific ideas toward merchants with the development of society. The comparison and contrast of these two regions give us more understanding of the trade of Middle Ages accompanying with the bust and boom of Silk Road both on continent and sea.