Trade as well as religion has always been a part of world history. However when you put the two side by side, it is often questioned whether trade is encouraged or advocated in a specific religion or not. Within the time period of 600 CE to about 1500,Islam and Christianity were able to be the world’s dominant religions. As both religions rose to power they began to develop their own attitudes towards merchants and trade itself. The two religions differ in their initial attitudes towards trade and merchants.
While Christianity’s initial attitude did not accept trade and merchants, Islam’s initial attitude did accept rade and merchants. However both religions’ attitudes were similar in the fact that over time, they both changed their opinions on merchants and trade, and they both ended up accepting trade and set guidelines for merchants. Both Islam’s and Christianity’s initial attitudes regarding trade and merchants contrasted greatly. Islam’s initial attitude accepted trade and and merchants while Christianity’s initial attitude was not accepting of trade and merchants.
Christianity’s distaste for merchants and trade is displayed in an excerpt from the Christian Bible, New Testament (Matthew) where the author alks about how being wealthy makes it difficult to enter the kingdom of God (Doc 1). The document itself seems to be trustworthy since the Bible is Christianity’s first book and was written by Christianity’s earliest followers to simply tell the stories of the Christian faith (which shows no real ulterior motive). The mention of eternal life intensifies Christianity’s negative attitude towards merchants.
This is because merchants tended to be wealthy and if being a merchant jeopardized eternal life in heaven, Christianity would definitely see merchants and trade as bad. In The Life of St. Godric Reginald onk of Durham talks about how 12th century St. Godric was once a wealthy merchant but then abandoned that life (giving all of possessions to the poor) to become a hermit and follow God (Doc 3). Although the document itself may not be very trustworthy considering the author was a colleague to St.
Godric and may portray him in a better light, it does state the initial attitudes Christians had towards merchants and trade. Godric leaving all his possessions to the poor demonstrates the Christian value of charity as well as compassion towards the poor. Whether or not St. Godric’s story is true, the author ncluded him giving up his life as a merchant to show Christianity’s initial averse to merchants and trade. Islam however had a very different view on trade and merchants. As shown in the Muslim Qu’ran (Doc 2) the author talks about how as long as merchants trade fairly, they will be able to get into heaven.
Just like Doc 1, this document seems to be a trustworthy source since it is one of the first Muslim writings and was written by the founder of Islam. The mention of the coexistence between being a merchant and still being able to get into heaven depicts how Islam accepted trade and merchants (as long as the merchant is fair). This acceptance may be due to the fact that since the great prophet Muhammad (who muslims value greatly) was part of a caravan and was himself a merchant.
This is a contrast to the Doc 1 and 3 since they depicted Christianity’s belief of the impossibility for merchant to enter heaven because of their wealth. The differing attitudes is greatly shown due to the fact that both the Christian Bible (Doc 1) and the Muslim Qu’ran (Doc 2) are practically each other’s equivalence in each of their respective religion, but while Muslim Qu’ran (Doc 2) allows trade and Christian Bible (Doc 1) does not. All the sources were written before the 13th century epicting Islam’s early acceptance of trade and merchants and Christianity’s early non acceptance of merchants and trade.
Both Islam’s and Christianity’s attitudes were similar in the fact that over time, their their opinions on merchants and trade changed. This is evident in Universal History (Doc 5) where Ibn Khaldun condemns trade and calls merchants dishonest, corrupt and immoral. The document itself seems trustworthy since it’s not an interpretation, it’s a primary source. This is great change since in earlier writings on trade like the Muslim Qu’ran (Doc 2) trade and merchants were perfectly acceptable, but now Ibn Khaldun criticizes merchants and trade entirely.
This change in attitude is also found in an Islamic court decision (Doc 7) where people expensive and it states that business practices only for profit is wrong. Since this document is coming from the point of view of someone who is unhappy and is complaining there may be some exaggeration. However the addition of this exaggeration contradicts the original Islamic attitudes towards trade and merchants, where it was alright to be a merchant and gain a little profit (as long as there was no dishonesty).
This document portrays the gain of profit as dishonest since merchants make a iving from profit. The views of merchants in Christianity also changed over time. This is portrayed in Letters to and from Italian Merchants in the fourteenth century (Doc 6) where christians have begun to use trade and have come to even use it to sell religious paintings. The source seems to be trustworthy due to the fact that it come from the original letters between merchants with no altercations.
These letters seem to go directly against The Life of St. Godric (Doc 3) and perhaps even the Christian Bible (Doc 1) since they advocate trade and are able to allow christianity and trade to coexist. They make Christianity’s attitude towards trade and merchants seem more positive. This new outlook is probably due to the early Italian complaining that the price of cotton is Renaissance which was around the time the letters were written, and allowed for more trade to be exposed to Christianity.
The documents written later show that while Christianity became more accepting of trade and merchants, Islam became more conservative of it as well as more critical. A similarity between Christianity’s and Islam’s view on trade and merchants is that both religions set up guidelines for trade and merchants. For instance in Summa Theologica (Doc 4) Thomas Aquinas states that trade may be allowed as long as the trade is fair and just. This source is written by Thomas Aquinas so of course he would say things to support his philosophy, so one should be cautious of this source.
As Christianity became more accepting of trade they had to come up with guidelines for merchants such as not selling things for more than they are worth or buying something for less than its worth in order for it to align with the Bible’s teachings. Islamic guidelines for merchants can be found in the Muslim Qu’ran (Doc 2) where it states that trading should be fair and truthful. Both “rules” for erchants are practically the same in both religions making them similar in terms of guidelines.
Europe became more exposed to trade during the Crusades which allowed them to then bring back these ideas of trade to Europe. As trade began to become more popular in Europe, the continent was eventually pulled out of the Middle Ages due to the rise of cities because of trade. Soon afterwards the Renaissance came along and trade flourished everywhere throughout Europe. This led to search for quicker trade routes and to the eventual discovery of the Americas and of course one of the most important trading exchange of all, the Columbian Exchange.