SHAFAQNA – Easter is a time for thinking about Jesus, for Christians and others. Sadly, though, we in Britain today take too little notice of the example of the man whom the holiday commemorates. That might sound odd coming from a Muslim like me, but it’s true – and I’m not alone in thinking so.
Jesus, who is known as Isa in Arabic, is referred to by name 25 times in the Qur’an. That book calls him the “spirit” and the “word” of God, and believing in Jesus is a fundamental pillar of faith for a Muslim. Our belief is different, of course; we don’t accept the doctrine of the Trinity, or that Jesus was the son of God (in fact the Qu’ran has Jesus denying this in his own words). The Qur’an states that Jesus did not die nor was he crucified; instead, he ascended to Heaven. Still, for Muslims, he is one of the greatest prophets who was a precursor to Prophet Mohammed.
While many Christians may find it quite astounding, Islam reveres both Jesus and his mother. Mary, or Maryam as she is known in the Qur’an, is considered by Muslims as the most exalted amongst women. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and a whole chapter of the Qur’an is named after her. It contains incredible stories of the mother of Jesus, his miraculous birth and even some miracles not found in the Bible, such as Jesus speaking from his cradle.
So Jesus is without a shadow of doubt a symbol of overt selflessness and rectitude, revered by adherents of both faiths. And yet today, most Christians would agree that Easter as it is celebrated now has too much focus on chocolate eggs, bunnies and national holidays, with the religious message conspicuously missing.
For example, in 2005, a poll commissioned by Reader’s Digest found that less than half of Britons know why Christians celebrate Easter; only 48 per cent of adults questioned were aware that the festival marks the Resurrection of Jesus. Also, YouGov’s Eurotrack poll, which tracks public opinion in Europe, found in 2013 that in Britain 49 per cent of Christians said spending time with friends and family was the most central part of Easter, but 30 per cent said its religious significance was the most important. In every other European country surveyed, the majority of Christians said spending time with friends and family is the most important part of Easter for them.
I may not think Jesus died on the cross, but I do think the narratives depicting his suffering and persecution powerfully illustrate how he remained steadfast and selfless and upheld the values of truthfulness and justice. For me, this shows how Jesus embodied humility, selflessness, patience and compassion. These traditions of Jesus need to be remembered by both Muslims and Christians alike. The golden rule, of treating others as you would wish to be treated yourself, is at the heart of all morality. It requires us to put our self-interests to one side and have empathy for others by standing in their shoes. This propels us to critically analyse our assumptions and prejudices and have the humility to change our minds if necessary.
All of the Biblical Prophets, including Mohammed, articulated a similar vision of peace through justice and selflessness, and all were pillars of these qualities. We can’t be perfect, but we can try to emulate them. Iconic figures such as Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Ghandi were not prophets or divinely inspired, but chose a prophetic path, adhering to an abstemious way of life and a relentless pursuit of fairness for all. They provided a sense of conscience to believers and atheists and made our world a much better place.
Despite the violence and ignorance that have sometimes marred the relationship between Christians and Muslims, both traditions have, for centuries, shared a love for the Prophet of Galilee. And both should demonstrate this love by following Jesus. That means loving others, not only with our words, but selflessly, with a determination to oppose injustice and to stand with the forgotten and the abused. We must remember that Jesus was perpetually on their side.