December 28, 2019


At Christmas, Christians and Muslims take time to talk about loving Jesus, and each other (Omar Suleiman, 12/27/19, Religion News Service)

Rev. Andy and I had started with the birth of Christ, then went on to his life, ending with our differences on the meaning of the crucifixion, then finally came to Jesus' second coming. In the first two weeks, we found little difference in how our two faiths viewed Jesus in birth and life.

Jesus is no ordinary figure to Muslims. He is one of the highest prophets and messengers of God, born of a virgin, chosen as the one to restore justice to this earth in its final days, and distinguished in the hereafter with a special place in paradise. He is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, with an entire chapter named after his honored mother, Mary.

Muhammad said about his relationship to him, "Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one."

In the last two weeks of study, however, we found many points of divergence, but we managed to focus on the similarities we'd expressed in the first two weeks to carry us through in the same spirit of friendship. As we reached our final class, the Christians who attended had developed relationships with some of the Muslims in the room, as well as a deep sense of admiration for the lofty regard that Muslims have for Jesus. Many hadn't known that Jesus occupied a place in Islam at all.

I ended the sessions by talking about the Muslim belief that after Jesus returns, he will die a natural death and occupy a grave next to Muhammad in Medina that has been preserved for him for more than 1,400 years. I asked the audience to put aside their personal beliefs about Jesus for a moment and think how much the Muslims must adore this man to have saved a space for him preserved over centuries next to the grave of Islam's most central figure.

While I was nervous to make the point, in that I feared it would be misunderstood or come across as insensitive, I was shocked at how well everyone in the church had received it.

The differences between how Christians and Muslims view him and his place are not trivial. They are core to our theology. In most forms of Christianity, the belief in Jesus as the begotten son of God and his death for the sins of humanity are central to eternal salvation. In Islam, the trinity is a violation of the Abrahamic monotheism meant to be upheld through the synchronized messages of all the prophets of God.

But as core as those differences are to our theologies, Jesus is as well. And if our two faiths could start from a place of understanding that the two largest faiths in the world share a love for Jesus, maybe we could learn to love one another a little bit more.

Posted by at December 28, 2019 7:27 PM