Taoism vs. Islam

by Alex Carpenter

Taoism and Islam are very different in many ways. The former is a Chinese quasi-mystical philosophy and theological practice that seeks accommodation and harmony with the natural world; the latter, a monotheistic faith with vast geopolitical significance and a long history of both cooperation and conflict with the West. In spite of these striking differences, there are also some similarities between Taoism and Islam.

Taoism

Lao Tzu is reputed to have been the founder of Taoism.

Taoism -- sometimes spelled "Daoism" -- is an ancient Chinese religious and philosophical tradition. It dates back to at least the third or fourth century B.C., and its advent is often associated with the figure of Lao Tzu, who purportedly wrote the Taoist classic text, the "Tao Te Ching." "Tao" means, roughly, "the Way," and refers to both the ordering principle of the universe and to the gentle seeking of accommodation with it. Religious Taoism is polytheistic, worshiping no single, omnipotent god, and instead venerating a pantheon of gods, many of whom have functional titles and roles.

Taoist Beliefs and Practices

The Yin-Yang symbol is central to the Taoist view of the world.

For Taoists, the natural order of the world is expressed though fundamental and interdependent pairs, such as light/dark, masculine/feminine and good/evil. This is most famously illustrated by the Yin-Yang Taoist symbol. As BBC Religions notes, Taoist religious practices include the study and recitation of canonical scriptures -- including Lao Tzu's the "Tao Te Ching" -- along with an array of physical practices, including meditation, yoga and martial arts.

Islam

Islam shares its roots with the other Abrahamic, monotheistic faiths.

The word "Islam" means "submission" -- in this case, to God. It was founded in the Arabian peninsula in first half of the seventh century CE. Muhammad, hailed by Muslims as the last prophet of the Abrahamic God of the Jews and Christians, established an Islamic theocracy first in Medina, and later in Mecca, eventually gaining power over most of the Arabian peninsula before his death in 632. Muslims believe that Muhammad received divine revelations through the angel Gabriel; these revelations were subsequently recorded in a holy book -- the Koran or Qur'an.

Islamic Beliefs and Practices

Pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam.

The core of Islam resides upon the "five pillars": belief in the oneness of God, daily prayer, ritual fasting, alms-giving and pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims also have six articles of faith: there is only one God, Allah; belief in holy books; belief in angels; belief in the prophets, who include Adam, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus; belief in predestination; and belief in the Day of Judgement.

Similarities

Taoism and Islam have a few general points in common. Both rely on a central holy text, and both advocate peacefulness at their cores. In addition, both Taoism and Islam hinge upon the concept of "submission" in one form or another: Taoists give themselves over to the Tao, the natural state and flow of the universe, while Muslims submit to God, who is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.

About the Author

Alex Carpenter has worked as a music, history and culture writer since 1998. He has contributed to a range of scholarly journals, online databases, websites, newspapers and encyclopedias, including the "All Music Guide" and the "Charlottetown Guardian." Carpenter holds master's degree and Ph.D. in music.

Photo Credits

  • Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images