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Jesus Through a Muslim Lens

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    From Elizabeth at CRSH ... Jesus Through a Muslim Lens By Michael Wolfe Jesus of Nazareth is the most widely revered religious figure in the world. Not only is
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15, 2004
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      From Elizabeth at CRSH

      Jesus Through a Muslim Lens
      By Michael Wolfe

      Jesus of Nazareth is the most widely revered religious figure in the world.
      Not only is he central to Christianity, the largest religion in the world,
      he is also venerated throughout Islam, the world's second largest faith.

      Christians may be surprised to learn that Muslims believe in the Virgin
      Birth and Jesus' miracles. But this shared interest in his message goes much

      In our scientific age, the miraculous side of Jesus' story has greatly
      obscured his role in the prophetic tradition. In this sense, there may be
      more important questions for Muslims and Christians than whether he walked
      on water or raised the dead.

      In the Muslim view, Jesus' essential work was not to replicate magic bread
      or to test our credulity, but to complement the legalism of the Torah with a
      leavening compassion rarely expressed in the older testament. His actions
      and words introduce something new to monotheism: They develop the merciful
      spirit of God's nature. Jesus confirmed the Torah, stressing the continuity
      of his lineage, but he also developed the importance of compassion and
      self-purification as crucial links between learning the words of God's
      message and possessing the wisdom to carry it out.

      Oddly enough, some of the recent work by New Testament scholars seems to
      have reached a view of Christ not all that different from Muslims'. For us
      and for these scholars, Jesus appears not as a literal son of God in human
      form, but as an inspired human being, a teacher of wisdom with a talent for
      love drawn from an unbroken relationship to God. Both versions present him
      as a man who spoke to common people in universal terms.

      Two events in the life of the prophet Muhammad may help explain why Muslims
      revere the Christian Jesus.

      The first event involves an elder resident of Mecca named Waraqa bin Nawfal.
      This man was an early Arab Christian and an uncle of Muhammad's wife,
      Khadija. We know he could read Hebrew, that he was mystical by nature, and
      that he attended Khadija and Muhammad's wedding in about 595 C.E. Fifteen
      years later, a worried Khadija sought Waraqa out and brought her husband to

      At the time, Muhammad was a 40-year-old respected family man. He attended
      this "family therapy" session in a rare state of agitation. He was
      frightened. He had been meditating one evening in a cave on the outskirts of
      town. There, while half asleep, he had experienced something so disturbing
      that he feared he was possessed. A voice had spoken to him.

      Waraqa listened to his story, which Muslims will recognize as a description
      of Muhammad's first encounter with the angel Gabriel. When it was finished,
      Waraqa assured him he was not possessed.

      "What you have heard is the voice of the same spiritual messenger God sent
      to Moses. I wish I could be a young man when you become a prophet! I would
      like to be alive when your own people expel you."

      "Will they expel me?" Muhammad asked.

      "Yes," the old man said. "No one has ever brought his people the news you
      bring without meeting hostility. If I live to see the day, I will support

      Christians will recognize in Waraqa's remarks an aphorism associated with
      Jesus: "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country." But that a
      Christian should first have verified Muhammad's role as a prophet may come
      as a surprise.

      The second important event concerning Islam and Christianity dates from 616,
      a few years after Muhammad began to preach publicly. This first attempt to
      reinstate the Abrahamic tradition in Mecca met (as Waraqa had warned) with
      violent opposition.

      Perhaps the Meccans resented Muhammad's special claim. Perhaps his message
      of a single, invisible, ever-present God threatened the economy of their
      city. A month's ride south from the centers of power in Syria and Persia,
      poor remote Mecca depended on long-distance trade and on seasonal pilgrims
      who came there each year to honor hundreds of pagan idols, paying a tax to
      do so.

      At any rate, Muhammad's disruptive suggestion that "God was One" and could
      be found anywhere did not sit well with the businessmen of Mecca.

      Many new Muslims were being tortured. Their livelihoods were threatened,
      their families persecuted. As matters grew worse, in 616 Muhammad sent a
      small band of followers across the Red Sea to seek shelter in the Christian
      kingdom of Axum. There, he told them, they would find a just ruler, the
      Negus, who could protect them. The Muslims found the Negus in his palace,
      somewhere in the borderland between modern Ethiopia and Eritrea.

      And protect them he did, after one Muslim recited to him some lines on the
      Virgin Mary from the Qur'an. The Negus wept at what he heard. Between
      Christians and Muslims, he said, he could not make out more difference than
      the thickness of a twig.

      These two stories underscore the support Christians gave Muhammad in times
      of trial. The Qur'an distils the meaning from the drama:

      Those who feel the most affection
      For us (who put our faith in the Qur'an),
      Are those that say, "We are Christians,"
      For priests and monks live among them
      Who are not arrogant. When they listen
      To what We have shown Muhammad,
      Their eyes brim over with tears
      At the truth they find there....

      Even today, when a Muslim mentions Jesus' name, you will hear it followed by
      the phrase "peace and blessings be upon him," because Muslims still revere
      him as a prophet.

      We believe in God
      And in what has been sent down to us,
      What has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael
      And Isaac and Jacob and their offspring,
      And what was given to Moses and to Jesus
      And all the other prophets of the Lord.
      We make no distinction among them.

      As these lines from the Qur'an make clear, Muslims regard Jesus as one of
      the world's great teachers. He and his mentor John the Baptist stand in a
      lineage stretching back to the founder of ethical monotheism. Moreover,
      among Muslims, Jesus is a special type of prophet, a messenger empowered to
      communicate divinity not only in words but by miracles as well.

      Muslims, it must be said, part company with some Christians over the
      portrait of Jesus developed in the fourth and fifth centuries. Certain
      fictions, Muslims think, were added then. Three of these come in for special
      mention: First, Muslims consider monastic asceticism a latter-day
      innovation, not an original part of Jesus' way. Second, the New Testament
      suffers from deletions and embellishments added after Jesus' death by men
      who did not know him. Third, the description of Jesus as God's son is
      considered by Muslims a later, blasphemous suggestion.

      Muslims venerate Jesus as a divinely inspired human but never, ever as "the
      son of God." In the same vein, we treat the concept of the Trinity as a late
      footnote to Jesus' teachings, an unnecessary "mystery" introduced by the
      North African theologian Tertullian two centuries after Jesus' death. Nor do
      Muslims view his death as an act of atonement for mankind's sins. Rather,
      along with the early Christian theologian Pelagius, Islam rejects the
      doctrine of original sin, a notion argued into church doctrine by St.
      Augustine around the year 400.

      It might almost be said that Islam holds a view of Jesus similar to some of
      the early apostolic versions condemned by the fourth-century Byzantine
      Church. Once Constantine installed Christianity as the Roman Empire's state
      religion, a rage for orthodoxy followed. The Councils of Nicaea (325), Tyre
      (335), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) were
      official, often brutal attempts to stamp out heterodox views of Jesus held
      by "heretical" theologians.

      Rulings by these councils led to the persecution and deaths of tens of
      thousands of early Christians at the hands of more "orthodox" Christians who
      condemned them. Most disputes centered on divergent interpretations of the

      For this reason, historians of religion sometimes see in these bloody
      divisions one of the root causes for early Islam's firmly unitarian outlook.

      Then and now, no more dangerous religious mistake exists for a Muslim than
      dividing the Oneness of God by twos or threes.

      Despite these important differences, however, the Qur'an repeatedly counsels
      Muslims not to dispute with other monotheists over matters of doctrine.
      People, it says, believe differently for good reasons. In fact, that is a
      part of Allah's will.

      Michael Wolfe's story can be found at:


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