Decolonising Jesus Christ

The figure of Jesus Christ goes way beyond the image of him which hegemonic European Christianity imposed on the world.

5ad05132e3834125be15b3de80432865_18Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Some do so on December 25 and others on January 7, depending on what church or liturgical calendar they follow. 

Given the overwhelming hegemony of Western Christianity in Europe, the Americas, Australia and throughout the colonised world where European Christianity has been the vehicle of colonisation, the fact of celebrating the birthday of Jesus early in January has become something of an afterthought.

But why? The difference is not just liturgical, canonical or doctrinal. It is also cultural, historical and the prelude of decolonising Christ and Christianity.

Eurocentric hegemony over Christian practices and perceptions of its central figure, Jesus Christ, have systematically sidelined various other rites and conceptualisations of his figure. Shifting the point of emphasis from one branch of Christianity to another – or any other religion – points to the multiplicity of ways in which a religious figure such as Jesus has been celebrated.

As millions of Eastern Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is an opportune time to revisit how he has been imagined throughout time and across the world. 

Revolutionary Jesus

For those familiar with Jaroslav Pelikan’s magnificent book Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1999), this is not unusual for a different cultural milieu giving birth to a different figure of Christ.

In his study, we encounter a floating figure of Jesus which moves from a Jewish Rabbi in the first century after his birth, to “the Light of Gentiles”, and “the King of Kings” during the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries, “the Cosmic Christ” in the aftermath of encounter with Platonism, “the Son of Man” in St Augustine’s work in the fifth century, and “the Prince of Peace” during the Reformation in 16th-century Western Europe.  

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA 

9/11 and the Challenge of Jesus

love your enemies

As an American Muslim, I felt the tension experienced by all Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yet all Muslims were and still are suspects. The media put Muslims on the defense, and we are still trying to prove our innocence. Explaining Islam became an urgent necessity especially in view of the hatred preached by Islamophobia.

During that infamous morning, my wife was in our house in Fairfax, VA, with my two boys who were attending George Mason University. I was in Saudi Arabia doing a project for a Saudi prince. My wife suddenly called and asked if I was watching TV. I said, “No, I’m busy working on a business plan for a client.” But with a horrified voice she said, “Oh my God, a plane hit the World Trade tower and another plane is going to hit the second tower!” She sounded horrified, and she asked again, “Are you watching?!” Moved by the urgency of her voice, I turned to CNN to see the most horrifying event I witnessed ever. A plane hit the second tower as I watched the screen. Suddenly it dawned on me this is not an accident, but a disaster of colossal dimension was taking place in front of my eyes. Additional disastrous events took place that day to make it one of the darkest days ever for the U.S. and for American Muslims.

My wife and I spoke several times that day. We were confused, angry, and scared. That evening my wife called to tell me that she was afraid and worried about the boys’ safety. A friend suggested that she join other friends for a prayer meeting and to bring the boys with her. This was a first for my wife, but she and my boys were welcomed and felt among friends. The group started praying for the President and other government officials, and then my wife was in for the surprise of her life when the group started praying for Osama bin Laden’s forgiveness.

This was the first time this Muslim woman was exposed to the concept of loving your enemies. I remember the long conversation I had with my wife about that concept and about Jesus. Jesus was well known to us through the Qur’an, where his miracles are stated in details. Culture teaches us to hate our enemies while, Jesus teaches us to love them. Talking about Jesus and his teachings seemed to take our minds away from the tragedy that surrounded us to another dimension of love. While 9/11 was a disaster for many, it was my first exposure to love, Jesus-style. I was challenged to start reading the Qur’an with fresh eyes looking for the concept of loving your enemy. It says, “Good and evil are never equal. Repel evil with good, until your enemy becomes like an intimate friend” (41: 34). Muslims often read this verse, but the principle of loving one’s enemies is not a part of our consciousness and it should be.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

What Would Jesus Do? 7 Things From A Muslim’s Perspective

post-121-wwjd-braceletWhen faced with certain situations, Christians often use the phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do’ as a reminder to them to behave in a manner that reflects their love for Jesus Christ. The phrase’ What Would Jesus Do’, or WWJD, can be traced as far back as the 19thcentury, when the evangelical Charles Spurgeon used it in his sermon, and in turn borrowed the concept from the early church’s Imitatio Christi (imitation of Christ). In its simplest form, it simply means following in the footsteps of Jesus, loving God and the neighbor, helping the poor and the needy. So it is not that hard to imagine what would Jesus do if he returned today.

There is a beautiful lecture by Robert Jeffrey at the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship Public Meeting during the Methodist Conference of 2006 in Edinburgh titled “Imitating Christ”, which goes in great depth as to what imitating Christ really means.

Muslims believe Jesus will return in the end of times to bring peace and justice to the world.

Only God knows what would Jesus do if he returned today. This list is purely my imagination. I am pulling a David Letterman and going in reverse order (except this is a list of 7, not 10).

#7: Tell TV Evangelicals and the mega churches to stop commercializing his name-just the same way he did to the money-making machines of his times.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS

Muslims love Jesus. So why does everyone think we hate Christmas?

MuslimConfusionAboutLoveOfJesus-640x640While most British Muslims might be indifferent to the celebrations underway this season, perhaps we can play a small part in reviving the generosity, kindness and true Christmas spirit associated with the holiday.

It’s Christmas time and so it hasn’t taken long for a national newspaper to run a feature implying British Muslims are poorly integrated for “refusing to celebrate a Christian holiday”. The irony of this pernicious Islamophobia, feebly hiding behind the banner of defending the Judeo-Christian values of our country, is that it is bereft of any meaningful understanding of Islam.

You see, the thing is, Muslims love Jesus.

In fact, the Prophet Muhammad said: “The dearest person to me in friendship and in love, in this world and the next is Jesus, the son of Mary.”

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Jesus is mentioned in the Quran over 100 times, while the Prophet Muhammad, by contrast, is mentioned just five times. Described as the best woman ever to have set foot on earth, there is a whole chapter in the Quran named “Mary” and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the holy book.

It’s not just that Muslims love Jesus – we believe him to be one of the greatest messengers of god. We believe in his miraculous birth. We believe that god gifted him with the ability to bring the dead back to life, heal the leper and bring sight back to the blind and, like Christians, we believe in his second coming back to this world.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE INDEPENDENT (UK)

 

What a Muslim Could Teach Trump Supporters About Jesus

merlin_148323441_f8d6e8cd-6cc0-4408-bf02-86e6eac5fd60-superJumbo.jpgAt Bellarmine, an all-boys Catholic school in San Jose, Calif., I was often the token Muslim and probably the only person who began freshman year thinking the Eucharist sounded like the name of a comic book villain. I eventually learned it’s a ritual commemorating the Last Supper. At the monthly Masses that were part of the curriculum, that meant grape juice and stale wafers were offered to pimpled, dorky teenagers as the blood and body of Christ.

During my time there, I also read the King James Bible and stories about Jesus, learned about Christian morality, debated the Trinity with Jesuit priests and received an A every semester in religious studies class. Twenty years later, I can still recite the “Our Father” prayer from memory.

Growing up, I’d been taught that Jesus was a major prophet in Islam, known as “Isa” and also referred to as “ruh Allah,” the spirit of God born to the Virgin Mary and sent as a mercy to all people. Like Christians, we Muslims believe he will return to fight Dajjal, or the Antichrist, and establish peace and justice on earth. But it was everything I learned in high school that came together to make me love Jesus in a way that made me a better Muslim.

Even though I don’t personally celebrate Christmas, the season always makes me think of his legacy of radical love. This year, it’s especially hard to understand how Trump-supporting Christians have turned their back on that unconditional love and exchanged it for nativism, fear and fealty to a reality TV show host turned president.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Ifty Rafiq: Being a Muslim at Christmas

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AS the build up to Christmas reaches its climax with last minute shopping on the agenda for many this weekend, Ifty Rafiq is prepared for the inevitable question.

“Growing up as a Muslim in Britain I often get asked, frequently with a note of either guilt or trepidation, “what do you do for Christmas?

“As though, upon coming into contact with a bauble or a candy cane, I might shrivel up or turn to dust, like a vampire eating garlic, or the Wicked Witch of the West getting wet.

“The short answer is, I celebrate Christmas too.”

He is not the only one. Contrary to what some believe, millions of Muslims around the world will join in the festive celebrations over the coming days, which includes recognising the birth of Jesus.

“Perhaps it’s a lesser known fact that Jesus is mentioned, directly and indirectly, 187 times in the Quran, including in an account of his birth,” said Ifty.

“In Islam, we believe that Christ was the penultimate prophet of God, before Muhammad.

“We have absolute respect and reverence for the life and teachings of Christ, whose messages are a fundamental guide to embracing compassion and tolerance.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NORTHERN ECHO (UK)

Muslim group launches effort to show faith’s regard for Jesus

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What do Muslims think of Jesus? It’s a question Dr. Sabeel Ahmed said he gets often.

To help educate people on the significance of Jesus in Islam, Ahmed’s group, The Humanitarians, a Muslim interfaith organization, is launching a monthlong campaign that includes billboards along high-trafficked areas in Arizona along with radio ads.

Ahmed, the group’s founder and outreach coordinator, said the intent is to highlight similarities between Islam and Christianity and bring people together during the holidays.

“We want to educate people on who we (Muslims) are and who we are not and show people that there are more similarities between the faiths than differences,” Ahmed said Tuesday during a news conference at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe.

Jesus in Islam

Ahmed said Muslims recognize Jesus as one of Allah’s prophets. His mission, Ahmed said, was to invite people to worship God.

He said there are six articles of faith in Islam that include believing in all of God’s prophets. That includes Jesus, he said.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, then you cannot be Muslim,” he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AZCENTRAL

Abu Dhabi priest’s book about Jesus in Arabia to be published in Arabic

na25-JUL-Religious-Tolerance.jpgJesus of Arabia was translated by a four-person Christian and Muslim Arab team from publishers Motivate

A UAE-based Christian priest’s book showing how Jesus had more in common with Arabian Islamic culture rather than western is to be published into Arabic.

Jesus of Arabia was penned by Rev Andy Thompson, the chaplain at St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, and it also examines the bridges between Islam and Christianity.

The book was first published in English in 2014 and now the Arabic version will launch at St Andrew’s on Tuesday. It is rare that a book written by a Christian resident about Jesus receives such a treatment and Rev Thompson says the event is a pre-Christmas celebration of Jesus for both Muslims and Christians.

“A lot of conversations between Muslims and Christians get bogged down in dogma and it is not really helpful,” said Mr Thompson. “I want to promote education between our two communities which is different from proselytising.

“Education helps us to know one another – meeting with respect and mutual acceptance and we can only do that by recognising our shared heritage in Jesus,” he said.

The Arabic version took about a year to produce, spans 200 pages and was translated by a four-person Christian and Muslim Arab team from publishers Motivate over a two to three-month period. The team carefully translated the text to maintain the respectful tone of the English version.

“Getting the Arabic flavour for that was important so we need both Christian and Muslim Arab translators to make it work. There was an ongoing dialogue between them,” said Mr Thompson.

Over the centuries, Jesus has been recreated in a western image.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL (UAE)

FINDING JESUS AMONG MUSLIMS: A Q&A WITH JORDAN DENARI DUFFNER

ISN recently spoke with Jordan Denari Duffner, author of Finding Jesus among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic. While a student at Georgetown University, Duffner spoke from the main stage at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) on dialogue with Muslims. She has continued to join ISN at IFTJ as a breakout presenter through her work with the Bridge Initiative, a research initiative on Islamophobia based at Georgetown University where she previously worked as a research fellow and is now an associate. Duffner is a graduate of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, IN and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Theological and Religious Studies at Georgetown University.

Can you explain how this book came to be? How and when did you find yourself as a voice for Christian-Muslim relations?

In many ways, the book emerges from my own experience. I have studied Islam and Islamophobia, and have also lived and worked among Muslims both in the United States and in Amman, Jordan in the Middle East. The book is a call for Catholics and other Christians to engage in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. In it, I talk about how dialogue doesn’t draw us away from our faith, but how it can deepen our relationship with God, which has been my experience.

I also hope the book fills a need. When I worked as a research fellow for the Bridge Initiative, I spent much of my time doing research on Catholic media portrayals of Islam. I realized that there were very few books about Islam out there for Catholics that reflected the approach the Catholic Church wants us to take. I hope my book can serve as an invitation for Catholics—both students and adults—to engage in the positive relationships the Church calls us to.

FULL ARTICLE FROM IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NET 

Muslims revere Jesus too, but this Turkish author sees the Islamic Jesus in a new light

RTX35KZENewcomers to the Quran might be surprised to find that the Prophet Muhammad is only mentioned a handful of times in the Muslim holy book.

The prophet whose name is mentioned most? That would be Moses — indeed, the very same Moses from the Book of Exodus.

Jesus, the son of Mary, is mentioned numerous times in the Quran. And the Islamic version of the Jesus story, it turns out, tracks quite closely to the one that Christians know.

The Quran has a whole chapter about Mary, who is the only woman mentioned by name in the holy book.

In one scene after the birth of her child, Mary is confronted by holy men accusing her of being impure. That is when baby Jesus speaks up in his mother’s defense, performing one of a couple of miracles that never show up in the New Testament version of the Jesus story.

About 15 years ago, the Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol was handed a copy of the New Testament for the first time by a missionary on the street in Istanbul. Akyol says he went home and started reading it, and what struck him most was how much of the story of Jesus was already so familiar to him as a Muslim.

Such as the angel visiting the Virgin Mary to tell her that she would give birth to a son, and the description of Jesus as a messenger of God.

“It was so similar,” Akyol says.

The author took out a pen and started underlining the passages about Jesus in the Bible that he agreed with as a Muslim. Those sections turned out to be extensive. And they prompted Akyol to start working on his new book, “The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims.”

While both the Quran and mainstream Muslim teachings emphasize the importance of Jesus as a prophet, Akyol is going a bit further.

 

FULL ARTICLE (AND AUDIO CLIP) FROM PRI INTERNATIONAL