It has been nearly two weeks since an arsonist destroyed the Bellevue Islamic Center. The person who did it has been apprehended. The specific reason behind the arsonist’s actions is not known but appears to be something other than a hate-crime. In many ways, this has been a catalyzing event for our community. It has brought many of us together in a stand of sympathy and support for our Muslim neighbors. It has also opened our eyes to the changing demographics of our neighborhoods.
This is the fifth blog in a series on Islam. I am writing this because more and more Muslims are moving to the Eastside. Some are moving here because of jobs they have received with high-tech businesses like Microsoft. Others have come because they are fleeing traumatic places in the world like Iran, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. Some Muslims are not immigrants. They are natural born citizens of the United States who have converted to Islam.
The point of this series is to help us understand our Muslim neighbors better. The subject of today’s blog is the main figures of each religion, Muhammad for Muslims and Jesus for Christians.
The Arabic world, prior to the rise of Islam, was primarily tribal, nomadic and polytheistic. Mecca served as a crossroads for the region and featured a shrine, called the “Ka’aba”, which recognized some 360 gods. Muhammad was born into this context in AD 570. He grew up questioning why Arabs worshiped so many idols rather than one God like the Christians and Jews. Muhammad became a successful businessman and married a wealthy widow. Her wealth enabled him to spend much of his time thinking, reflecting and meditating. It was during one of these times, that Muhammad received his first revelation and understood from that moment on that he was the final messenger of God. Muhammad soon felt compelled to warn Arabs of the coming judgment day and to bring them to complete obedience and submission to the one God so they could escape his anger. The religious group that formed around him became known as ‘Islam’, meaning surrender, i.e. those surrendered to Allah.
Although Muhammad was just a man; Muslims believe his love for all humankind and revelations from God, which are recorded in the Quran word for word, make him unique and unlike any other man who ever lived. Muslims believe in the same prophets as Christians, most notably, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. They believe each prophet was sent by God to speak to a specific people at a specific time but Muhammad is the last and greatest prophet. He has spoken to all humankind for all time.
By contrast, the Bible tells us Jesus is much more than the Quran or Islam recognizes. John starts his gospel with these words; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1. The beginning John is speaking about here is the antecedent to all time and space. It is the beginning of all beginnings. The point in time where there was nothing else and no one else but God. Then John says something so scandalous and unthinkable that its blasphemy to a Muslim. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” John 1:14.
God became one of us and assumed all the frailty that comes with being human. Jesus got hurt, stubbed his toe, bled, laughed, cried, went hungry, and became thirsty. Jesus experienced everything we will experience in this life. Since he has experienced it all, he knows what we need when we go through those times too. Hebrews 5:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…”
Jesus perfectly identifies with us. That means so much more than that he can relate with us. The Bible tells us he took all the sin and brokenness of every human being and placed it on Himself. He became our substitute. By his death on the cross, Jesus paid the price and served the sentence justice requires.
The claim of the Old Testament is that God is One. Muslims can agree with that. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior over heaven and earth. “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11. That is the great dividing line between Jesus and Muhammad, Christianity and Islam.
Jesus shows us the radical, unrelenting, fierce love of God for you and for me. His love is like no other. His love pursues us, never gives up on us, seeks us until we are found, changes us and makes us radical lovers ourselves. It is not the mountains, or the oceans or the stars or all of creation that so spectacularly reveals our Heavenly Father. It is the incarnation. God became one of us and lived among us.
Without Jesus, it is possible to know who God is but it is impossible to know God personally.