Friday, January 16, 2009

The Prophet Isa: Part 2- A Long Awaited Hope

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.

[Turkish-Islamic picture of the ascension of Jesus (Isa)]

Part 1
Part 3

In Part 1- A Sign for Humanity I went over the basic beliefs Muslims have on Jesus and what he represents. 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. Because he is a created being, although special, he must one day return to earth in a Second Coming, live out the rest of his life, and die. Muslims look forward to Jesus returning as much as (but probably not more than) their Christians cousins. Whatever the beliefs, traditions, or sayings either group attributes to this one man he is a sign of hope for all mankind who is prophesied to usher in a new age.
“And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.”[Qur'an 43:61]
According to Islamic theology and eschatology Jesus was not crucified but was taken up alive to God and will return before the Day of Judgment. He will return one day during the conflict between the Mahdi ("the rightly guided one") and the Antichrist (al-Masīh ad-Dajjāl, "false messiah"). Jesus will then kill the Antichrist and the people of the book (the Jews and the Christians) will come to believe in him. After the death of the Mahdi Jesus establishes universal peace and justice, rule for 40 years, marry (if I remember correctly), and eventually die. Even though the details and purpose of Jesus' Second Coming differ between Christians and Muslims the important point is that BOTH groups are awaiting his return to establish an era of peace.

Both religions have fought, bled, and died over their faiths yet both have a shared hope in Jesus. Regrettably we have all but lost Jesus' original teachings and his message of love your neighbor has been garbled and enmeshed with rituals and beliefs that it is hard to find true practitioners of love. Maybe since we lost his message the first time we hope that he will return to teach us once more. What would we do then? Will we try to follow it the second time in hopes of establishing universal brotherhood and peace, or will we fight over the meaning of the message once more and return to endless cycles of violence? How many times must God keep sending revelations; when will we learn from our mistakes?

Each community, tribe, and nation says "here is what God revealed to us!" but instead of being grateful we fight amongst ourselves in which truth is correct instead of letting these truths guide us. If there is a universal truth beneath and behind the curtains of the competing religions how can we find it amongst the others with our feeble and mortal minds? Man's fallibility hinders us from grasping the truth with every ounce of our souls so how can Man, who is known to make mistakes, determine that which is true without making a mistake?

I believe that is why Humanity relies on that which we describe as Infallible, Eternal, and Incorruptible. If we learn from our past mistakes maybe God won't need to send Jesus back. Maybe if we take the lessons we've learned from our myths and carve them into DNA maybe we won't need to hope for something greater to save us if we could just save ourselves. I'm not saying we should do away with God but we can at least give Him a break so that He doesn't have to keep reminding us "thou shalt not kill". Islam explains that humanity has forgotten its true nature, purpose, and way of life. This is why God sends us messengers, reminders, to lead us back to our natural state. Everything in Nature (birds, animals, trees) is a natural Muslim acting in harmony with their surroundings and their true nature. A bird doesn't stop being a bird so that it can be a fish likewise we should act in harmony with one another. Why should we steal our neighbor's bread when we have enough of our own or why horde our bread from those that don't have enough? As caretakers of this world we must also be caretakers of its citizens, our brothers. One day God may not need to send us reminders once we have finally instilled these spiritual truths into our hearts, and on that day God will once again step back and say that it was good.

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