Friday, April 11, 2014

Jesus and the Muslims


Baby Jesus surrounded by the Holy Spirit

Stop by the church before heading out to Yankee Stadium with Ric for Yankees opening day. It’s a cold raw day. Back at the church after the game, Martin is proud of the new floor he’s added to the studio. Easier on the knees, quieter. Mitchell and I talk weather. And a little baseball. As I go in to get ready for Bible Study, Jeremy G and the Work Center choir and Seed group are arriving.

Tonight’s Bible Study is not exactly Bible, but more a look at the Quran and what the Muslims have to say about Jesus.

First of all, Jesus is seen as a SIGN (Aya). This term is highly technical and specific. It is that which evokes knowledge of and dependence on God. If you look at a sign, you see  God. It can be scripture, nature or human. (Very spiritually in tune people can see aya in nature, just like Taoists who see hexagrams in nature, all around them. )  As far as scripture goes, every verse in a text is an aya. (Only the Arabic original is considered the Quran.) As far as people in the Quran, Jesus and Mary are the only aya in Quran.

Next, Jesus is a PROPHET, a MESSENGER. An Abd  is a servant of God. The highest calling a human can have is to be a prophet. Nabi means prophet.   Moses, Joseph and Adam were all nabi. Prophets are faithful messengers of God. And in this regard,prophets don’t fail. It’s we who fail to listen. Being a servant of God  is an ideal human role.

And now for the first big question. Was Jesus the CHILD OF GOD? And the Quran’s answer is clearly No. The question answered after a section on the  Annunciation to Mary. The Quran states directly that it would not be fitting for God to have a child.

The focus is  always on the  omnipotence of God. There must always be a separation between creator/creation. This is a major difference between Christianity with its theology of incarnation, God in human form, God in the flesh, God in us, and Islam with the separation between creator and creature. Our appropriate response must always be Taqwa, or awe of God, piety, righteousness.

The next issue is that of MESSIAH. Isa, (Jesus), the son of Mary, is the only Messiah in Quran. The Messiah is historical, anointed. The friend of God, always in awe of God, and possessed with the spirit of God. In Islamic art, Jesus (and Mary) are always shown with flames, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. (Just like the flames on the official seal of the PCUSA).
PC(USA) seal

While  Islam traditionally does not use human imagery, the restriction is more to houses of worship where this would be idolatrous. In both the Persian and Asian Islamic tradition, pictures of Jesus…and other prophets…are not uncommon.

Most of what the Quran say about Jesus focuses on his birth and childhood  years. As prophet, Jesus was one of 24 prophets in the Quran. In the exegetical tradition however, there are more than 124000. Jesus is a Musadiq, one who is  (TRUSTWORTHY) one who comes to confirm. One who God sends us to remind us. Jesus was filled with taqwa, ie, piety, mindfulness, God consciousness. And the mission  of Jesus was also to remind us that for a Muslim, it is not enough to pray, one must also be socially conscious.

Jesus is important in Islam. In fact, the Quran talks more about Jesus than Mohammad. However, the need for Christ as (personal) Savior does not exist in Islam. Much like in Judaism, there is no fall. No basic sinfulness of humanity that must be redeemed by a blood sacrifice. In this regard, Islam has an optimistic idea of human capacity. We are capable of living pious, righteous lives.

In Islam, there is NO passion narrative or suffering, only RAISING. Jesus is taken away, not crucified. A substitute is placed on the cross. Jesus is taken up to heaven to live with God until his apocalyptic moment comes time. He will return for a  second coming. The Mahdi, like Elijah in Judaism  comes first, then Jesus will fight and defeat the Dujjdl (anti-christ). Jesus will convince all to become Muslims. Jesus will tip the scale on the day of standing on behalf of humanity.  Then he will marry, move to Medina,  have children, die and be resurrected like all other faithful.

Christians often assume that people of other religions ask the same theological questions and can’t understand why they can’t see Jesus as the answer. The point is, it is NOT different answers, but different questions that are at stake. In Judaism, the Messiah comes for the community, not individuals. It may even be about a messianic era, not an individual messiah. In Islam, the Messiah comes to point humanity in the right direction and again, tip the scale.

We talked a lot about how Islam emerged from an environment where Christianity and Judaism already existed. How its optimistic view would be appealing. How much of its predecessors is absorbed into its sacred text and theology. And the process of new religions emerging, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or  Mormonism, one of the only 19th century American cultic communities,
(including Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses) to survive into our own time. Only time will tell whether later phenomena like Scientology and Unification (Rev. Sun Myung Moon) will eventually become mainstream or whither and die out.

We talked about the different branches of Isalm, Sunni, Shia, the more extreme and conservative branches, the mystical, ecstatic Sufism and the dervish tradition.

For many of us, before 9/11, we mostly knew Islam from the Nation of Islam. We talked about Malcolm X’s journey to Mecca which led him to become a Sunni and take on the name el Malik Shabazz. How Mecca gave him a vision of a multiracial community. How this may have led to his death. How Elijah Muhammad’s NOI is not mainline Islam. How his own son, Wallace, now Warith Deen, became a Sunni. And how Louis Farrakhan replaced Wallace as Elijah Muhammad’s spiritual heir. And how today, most African-American Muslims are Sunni.

We also talked about how Mohammed had borrowed significantly from the gospels he was familiar with, including many that didn’t make it into the official canon which raised for us what gospel means. From the Roman evangelium, or good news, usually announcing military victories, it came in to use to describe an alternative victory, a subversive alternative so usually no what a Christian connotation.

Marsha says that much of her theology comes from the gospel of Lynn, that is her mother. And I responded that this is right in line with what James Cone argues in God of the Oppressed, that our canon includes not only scripture, but the sermons we hear, the hymns we sing and the prayers we hear and are taught. As I say this, I see heads nod. And for many of us, our theology began with our mothers.

Much of the above comes from the lectures of Jerusha Tanner Lamptey, PHD, from Union Theological Seminary and author of Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism  (


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