The two largest religions in the world, Christianity and Islam, approach the practice of merchants and trade in various ways. While both religions address their beliefs on money and trade, each hold to different values. Over time each religion evolved in their understanding and practice but also changed from their original teachings.
The New Testament of the Christian Bible which was documented around 70-80 C.E., teaches that “a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Document 1). Jesus Christ, whom Christianity is centered on, instructs his followers that wealth is not the goal of their lives and gives warning to the danger of acquiring riches. To enter the kingdom of heaven, one must surrender wealth or it will be very hard for them. According to Document 3, a twelfth century merchant, St. Godric, who served sixteen years as a merchant and acquired much wealth, “took the cross as a pilgrim to Jerusalem” and “sold all his possessions and distributed them among the poor” (Document 2). In giving himself “entirely to God’s service” (Document 2), Godric was led to give away his wealth and possessions in order follow Christ. It appears that to fully serve God one must surrender wealth. Thomas Aquinas, an influential Christian theologian, wrote in 1273 that “no man should sell a thing to another man for more than its worth” and added that “it is altogether sinful to have recourse to deceit in order to sell a thing for more than its just price” (Document 4). Aquinas does not find anything wrong with merchants and trade but is against the practice of making profit because it is unfair. Each of these documents support the original teaching of Jesus on entering the kingdom of heaven.
However, in the fourteenth-century Italian merchants demonstrate their own understanding of Jesus’s teaching through a sale of English wool. These Italian merchants approve of the practice of making profit and that “God has granted you to acquire great riches in this world” (Document 6). Along with believing that one should acquire great riches, these merchants put God and profit together: “In the name of God and profit, you wold have us buy Cotswold Wool” (Document 6). It looks like that followers of Christianity have changed in their understanding of Jesus’s teaching and followed a new practice in gaining wealth through trade and profit.
Islam’s beginnings share similarity to Christianity. The Muslim Qur’an, which was written around 620-650 C.E., states “the honest, truthful Muslim merchant will take rank with the martyrs of the faith” (Document 2). Early Islam does not disagree merchants and trading, but supports it as long as each party “speaks the truth and make it manifest” (Document 2). The practice of trading must be honest and truthful and if it is that person will be elevated to the place of martyrs who have died for their faith. However, Ibn Khaldun, a leading Muslim scholar in the fourteenth century, disagrees with the profession of merchants and states “the manners of tradesmen are inferior to those of rulers, and far removed from manliness and uprightness” (Document 5). According to Khaldun, the life of a merchant is dishonest and the practice of this profession will not only affect a person’s character, but also their soul (Document 5).
Although early Christianity and Islam supported merchants and trading, each religion’s beliefs evolved over time. Christianity did not state that merchant and trade was wrong but acquiring wealth for oneself was not accepted. Islam supports the practice of merchants as long as they are honest and truthful. However, over time each religion failed to be faithful to their original teachings and commands.