Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Prophet Isa: Part 1- A Sign for Humanity

This is one of the most interesting topics I've ever read in Islamic theology. Before I read or knew anything about the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) I thought Christianity and Islam had very little in common. They still don't have much in common but I think this hope they share in Jesus' message and eventual return is vital to any remaining dialogue between the two faiths in this post 9\11 world.

Islamic Jesus (Isa) miniature of Sermon on the Mount]

Part 2
Part 3

First, a quick overview on what Muslims believe about Jesus:
  • A prophet/Messenger of God
  • Miraculously born of the Virgin Mary
  • Given the ability to perform miracles by the permission of God
  • Preached for people to adopt the straight path in submission to God's will
  • The Christian concept of the deity of Jesus is blasphemous and seen as a form of polytheism.
  • Neither killed nor crucified, but rather he was raised alive up to heaven.
  • He will return to Earth before the Day of Judgment to restore justice and defeat al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl (The False Messiah or the Antichrist).
  • Precursor to and foretelling of Muhammad's coming
Jesus is very highly revered in the Muslim world and is considered the second greatest prophet next to Muhammad but like all created beings he must return to the earth. Muslims even have a grave prepared for him in Medina next to the resting place of the Prophet Muhammad. Even with all the similarities (and I just named a few) why is it that Christians and Muslims can't see eye to eye on this important religious figure?

It is said in the Qur'an that Allah sent Jesus to confirm the previous revelation to the Israelites, the Tawrat, and sent him with a new revelation the Injil (the Gospel). Even Christians agree that Jesus came as the fulfillment of the Law even though this is interpreted as fulfillment through his Death and Resurrection.
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 NIV
Even with all the similarities the main issue is that of Divinity. Was he Divine or not? Was he fully man, fully Divine, or fully Divine and fully man? The only problem with this question (and every theological question) is that it's all theory based on text based on events thousands of years ago, and this applies to both Islam and Christianity. Of course this is where faith steps in but that's a topic for another day.

If you want to understand Islam you must understand the concept of Tawhid, the Islamic doctrine of the Oneness of God.

[Excerpt taken from Wikipedia]
It holds God (Arabic: Allah) is one (wāḥid) and unique (ahad). The Qur'an asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being, who is independent of the entire creation.The indivisibility of God implies the indivisibility of God's sovereignty which, in turn, leads to the concept of a just, moral and coherent universe, rather than an existential and moral chaos. Similarly, the Qur'an rejects such ideas as the duality of God arguing that both good and evil generate from God's creative act and asserting that the evil forces have no power to create anything. The Qur'an also rejects the concept of Trinity as prevalent in Christianity. God in Islam is a universal god, rather than a local, tribal or parochial one -- is an absolute, who integrates all affirmative values and brooks no evil.
This is the foundation stone of Islam and if we are to understand the Islamic Jesus we must understand their view of God. Isa's message, as well as the other prophets mentioned in the Qur'an, is to bring the people back to God whenever they stray. Muslims believe that most nations and tribes have been sent a prophet throughout history and that Isa was just one of them.

There are a lot of similarities between the Christian and Muslim Jesus life stories as well. As I mentioned Mary miraculously gave birth to Isa not as the son of God but as a sign to humanity. [There is no Joseph in the Qur'anic version.] The Qur'an mentions signs of all sorts that reveals the majesty of God from the complex design of nature to the verses of the Qur'an itself. Isa even speaks from the cradle to calm Mary's fears and silence scandalous rumors.
30 He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; 31 And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; 32 (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; Qur'an 19:30–32
Isa is a sign of God's power and majesty being created by the decree of God, no different than the Christian Jesus. But in Islam the sign is not worshiped nor becomes God. Even though Christians and Muslims will continue to battle over the divinity of Jesus they both understand the power of signs and symbols that point to something greater. These signs hold a hidden knowledge that contain divine elements which in some cases results in the sign being worshiped instead of what it represents. When Christians worship Jesus do they bow down to merely a man? No, but a person that led a sinless life as fully divine and yet also fully man as a symbol pointing to the divine. It is in these tangible symbols that both Christians and Muslims share in an attempt to worship the Unseen, the Unknowable. They may continue to battle over which symbols more clearly represents the Divine but in the end they are just symbols. Even though Humanity may never do away with symbols it is only when we transcend these symbols can we truly begin to recognize the Divine.


Anonymous said...

[It is in these tangible symbols that both Christians and Muslims share in an attempt to worship the Unseen, the Unknowable. They may continue to battle over which symbols more clearly represents the Divine but in the end they are just symbols.]

There are strong cultural elements within our symbols. Jesus/Bible may “more clearly represent the Divine” in one culture whereas Allah/Qur’an serves best in another. Does God really care what symbols humankind uses to help us approximate a vision of the Unseen/Unknowable as long as we strive to understand and fulfill our moral obligations? Do we deny God when we choose hatred/violence against another's vision as a means to "worship" Him?

Unknown said...

That is why I can not say that a Muslim in Egypt or a Hindu in India does not commune with the Divine because their symbols differ from mine. Even if I accept my symbols as true and all others false I still can't believe that they fail to worship God correctly because of ignorance due to cultural differences. If you're born a Sikh in a third world country you'll probably die a Sikh without ever crossing paths with another religion. Whatever God may be (or even if it cares) it is a force (or being) of eternal acts of creation. To act destructively in any manner towards our fellow Man hinders and separates us from that Spirit of Creation.

Islam In Us said...

Euresso you have a great blog.

God isn't mere "symbol". He exists. But He isnt like any of us or other creations.
As a Muslim I believe Allah also the God for Sikhs, Hindus, Christians etc. Only they don't admit Him. That's why we call them disbelievers - nothing deragatory about that word.

Beginning of a journey to learn Islam is to know God, what He's like. Then how to worship Him and how to coexist with others (muslimms, non-muslims). Then to purify your heart. Because the heart is where God evaluates you. If the heart is clean, then your actions will be clean.

Unknown said...

What I meant is that Humanity as a whole can not come close to truly understanding God and therefore uses symbols that points towards the Divine. I can not say there IS a God as if it were a fact as some (not all) atheist might claim. It would not be faith if I did but science where we can tangibly measure and observe in our Universe like gravity. I truly believe there is a God but I can not say without a doubt that he exists. Your very description is what I truly love about Islam. The concept of Tawhid is what initially drew me to Islam and is now the basis of how I view God even though I'm not a Muslim. Thank you for your comment.

Islam In Us said...

Yes I respect your opinion whether or not if God actually exists.

I think problem is many of us have been tricked by own ego into endless debates. They don't pause a while and think..."Maybe I should step back and absorb the basics first like ABC and multiplication table instead of jumping directly to establish advanced rules and logics".

Post a Comment