In the name of Allah (God), most gracious, most merciful, these are the words that are uttered by Muslims countless times throughout the day. At the beginning of each and every action, from waking up to going to sleep, eating and drinking, putting on one's clothes, while driving, before entering and leaving home, and before commencement and completion of an action small or big. Muslims invoke the name of Almighty God not merely in religious matters but in the course of daily life. If one forgets to invoke the name of God in any action, it is believed to be lacking in some respect because it fails to acknowledge that our actions must be in harmony with the will and pleasure of God. Most readers in the Western world are unaware of the extent to which God plays a central role in the daily life of Muslims. For Muslims, Islam is a way of life that encompasses the totality of one's being. Our very existence and meaning is derived from our faith. Islam defines who we are and is the source of a Muslim's identity. Since God has created us, our primary love and devotion should reflect that reality. In fact, the word Islam in Arabic means to surrender. An additional meaning of the root word is peace. As such, Islam is the inner peace that one attains after the complete surrender to the One God. The word Muslim means the one who has surrendered and found inner peace in that surrender. Hence, everything that a Muslim does or does not do must be in consonance with what God wants of us. Some Christians may label Islam as too legalistic and rigid, but more accurately it is how Muslims are instructed to live their lives.
Most of those in the Western Hemisphere cannot comprehend the level of devotion and passion that a Muslim has for God and for Prophet Muhammad who is considered to be the final messenger sent by God to humanity. Muslims know the sacrifices that Prophet Muhammad endured so that Muslims can practice their faith in the Oneness of God. Prophet Muhammad endured severe persecution for thirteen years, which led him to leave his birth city of Mecca to Medina where he established a small Muslim community. Additionally, prior to his migration, Prophet Muhammad and his followers survived on leaves and roots after the Arab idolaters boycotted so that no trade could be made with the Muslims. Hence, our love of God and Prophet Muhammad is immeasurable and nothing vaguely comes close to that love. Many Muslims are moved to tears at the mere mention of Prophet Muhammad's name and during recitation of the Holy Quran.
Failure to fully comprehend and appreciate these sentiments leads to great fissures between the Islamic world and the West. Consider the recent controversy over the publication of denigrating cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. Millions of Muslims all over the world took to the streets to protest against this great insult. It is unfortunate that many people cannot fully grasp why something as simple as cartoons would be offensive to Muslims that would spark such an outcry. If we are a civilized and enlightened society, as the Western world claims to be, we must be respectful of these cultural orientations and religious beliefs that are considered to be so sacred. The great virtue of civility is rooted in notions of inclusiveness and tolerance of all people. From this perspective, it is fundamentally wrong to defile the sacred symbols of all religions. The cartoons were satirical and published for entertainment purposes. Consider what the Quran has to say on this subject. According to the Quran, the Holy book for Muslims, defamation of sacred symbols is strictly condemned. In Surah (the word for "chapter" in Arabic) 5:2, the Quran states "Believers, do not violate the rites of God, or the sacred month, or the offering, or the ornaments." Moreover, the Quran in another passage states (6:108) "And do not insult what they pray to besides God, lest they revile God in a hostile way, without knowledge." These verses explicitly assert that Muslims are not allowed to destroy or disrespect what other people sanctify. It is deeply unsettling as an American Muslim to watch the American flag being defiled by Muslims in other countries. This is clearly un-Islamic because the flag reflects and embodies American ideals. For this reason, all Americans by law, including Muslims, must respect the flag. By disrespecting such symbols, intolerant Muslims perpetuate negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam. The roots of the problem stem from this disconnect which prevents any meaningful dialogue between divergent faiths. Muslims for many generations have done very little in terms of interfaith dialogue and Islamic outreach in the West. In my assessment, there may be two possible explanations for this lack of Muslim initiative. The first is that Muslims today have become overly materialistic and self-absorbed. This is especially true of Muslims who migrated to the West in order to pursue greater economic opportunities. With such a mundane disposition, they purchased bigger homes and luxurious cars, sent their children to exclusive schools, and occupied themselves in worldly competition. The promotion of Islam has become the least of their concern. The second may be attributed to the fact that Western imperial powers had ruthlessly colonized the Muslim world after World War I, and indeed centuries prior. As such, Muslims have regarded Western governments as enemies while failing to separate the people from their state sanctioned foreign policies. All Muslims must learn to distinguish between foreign policy and the respective citizenry within a country. The vast majority of the people in the West are open-minded, pluralistic, and tolerant of religions. In fact, this book is dedicated to such individuals who surely will benefit from this book. To be very clear, this book is not intended to convert Christians or others to Islam. Instead, the purpose of this book is to respond to two extreme viewpoints that dominate Western perceptions of Islam.
The first perpetrators that exploit faith are the terrorists who invoke Islam and its teachings to commit vile and senseless acts of murder. An overwhelming majority of the 1.57 billion Muslims condemn suicide bombings and the killing of innocent civilians (Pew Forum). All acts of terrorism go against the principle teachings of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad. For example, it is clearly stated in a Hadith (quotations of Prophet Muhammad) that women, children, the elderly, and non-combatants are never to be attacked even during times of war. This restriction extends to trees, animals, and places of worship. Upon what basis, then, do the terrorists justify carrying out such acts of indiscriminate violence? The answer remains elusive. It has been proposed that suicide bombings are the only alternative weapons that are capable of instilling fear and causing casualties. Recall that on 9/11, fear was our initial and base emotion. People from all backgrounds and faiths came together as one collective. We were one grieving nation. However, soon afterwards, America's growing apprehension translated into an outpouring of negative emotions toward Muslims. Mosques (Muslim places of worship) were vandalized, Muslim women wearing the traditional head covering were harassed, and men with brown skin and beards began to be profiled. American Muslims were the target of hate crimes and were made to feel like strangers in their own country. America and her citizens are better than that. We should have learned from the persecution of the Native Americans, African Americans, and the internment of the Japanese during World War II. We cannot afford to repeat our previous transgressions. Any attack on America is an attack on all Americans, whether white, black, brown, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or otherwise. Only if we stand together as one nation can we hope to defeat our common enemies. Terrorism perpetrated by Muslims has no place in Islam or any civilized society. I call on every Muslim to make their voices heard through the media and renounce any act of terrorism as a violation of the core teachings of Islam. Muslims must be more organized in getting their message so that misinformation cannot be promulgated by Christian extremists who share the other extreme viewpoint.
After 9/11, Islam was exploited by terrorists. However, the event also crystallized fundamentalist Christians who had latent hatred for Islam and were unable to voice such beliefs due to political correctness. Religious figures such as Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, John Haggee, Jerry Falwell, Rod Parsley, and numerous others began the open assault on Islam. Through their pulpits and Christian networks, they spread the word that Islam is an evil pagan religion, Allah is not the same God of the Bible, the Quran orders the killing of all Christian and Jewish people, and that Muslims are primitive and uncivilized people who oppress their women. All sorts of vitriolic attacks were propagated that exposed the hatred they possessed for Muslims. I apologize if I have offended those Christians who have respect for these preachers. But spreading false and odious teachings of an Abrahamic faith is not in keeping with those who claim to speak with God, or claim that even more profoundly that God speaks to them. Does their God command them to speak ill of a people who believe in Jesus Christ, his miraculous birth, the miracles he performed, his second coming, and believe he was a prophet and a man of God, believe in the Holy Spirit, who love and respect Lady Mary, Prophet Zachariah, and John the Baptist? All of these beliefs are the articles of faith for Muslims, and any deviation from these beliefs signifies a departure from Islam. In fact, the Quran specifically describes the relationship between Muslims and Christians as being close. Surah 5 verse 82 states, "And you will certainly find the closest of them in affection to the believers are those who say, ‘We are Christians.'" Most Christians have no knowledge of the true beliefs and practices that Islam upholds. In my opinion, Muslims are more culpable for the lack of understanding that Christians have with regard to Islam than those hateful preachers. After all, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and the West.
Muslims have a greater responsibility and obligation to teach Islam to those who have not heard its message. In Prophet Muhammad's farewell sermon, he specifically stated that those who were present should deliver the message of Islam to those who are to come. There should be a group of Muslims that invite people to Islam and promote good (see "The Farewell Sermon," in the Appendix). Islam encourages interfaith dialogue especially with those who share a common belief system and uphold a similar moral code. Unfortunately, Muslims have not engaged in dialogue with Christians. This is especially unfortunate since both faiths have the belief in Jesus Christ and Lady Mary. Of all the major religions, there is no other religion that believes in Jesus Christ except for Islam and Christianity. This includes the Jewish faith as they rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah. On the other hand, Muslims uphold this truth as they believe that he was sent by God to teach the Scripture. This is the wonderful reality that Christians and Muslims exclusively share as part of our faiths. Hence, the purpose of this book is to begin the dialogue between Muslims and Christians by having Jesus Christ as the central figure of our discussion.
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There have been many books on Islam and comparative religions written by great scholars. However, this book is different as it focuses on Jesus Christ and his family as depicted in the Quran and the Bible. The name Jesus Christ appears twenty-five times in the Quran, and this book will identify these verses and examine their meaning and significance. Through this type of inductive analysis the reader will acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the belief system espoused by Muslims. I have substantiated the Muslim position by utilizing the New American Standard Bible. Of the numerous versions of the Bible, I chose the New American Standard Bible because it is believed to be closest to the Greek translation. Although it is my understanding that Christian theologians have postulated that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and, therefore, the gospel translated from Aramaic to English would have been more accurate. However, such a translation of the original language of Jesus does not exist. All modern English versions are derived from the translation from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Notwithstanding these disputes over translations and versions, what is unique is that no single entry on Jesus Christ has been added or deleted in the Quran throughout Islamic history over the span of 1,400 years. Conversely, Christian theology has evolved and developed into what exists today. Numerous ecumenical councils met to resolve various disputes concerning the identity of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Lady Mary. In addition, when the Bible was first being compiled in the fourth century, bishops gathered to determine the makeup of the New Testament, approving the veracity of some books while rejecting others. Even today, there are differences between Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox versions of the Bible.
It took nearly a thousand years for Christianity to fully explain the doctrine of the Trinity which remains a mystery to many. As such, I have devoted a chapter to the Trinity since it is the greatest point of disagreement between Christians and Muslims. Muslims and Jews do not uphold the triune conceptualization of God as being the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is not consistent with the Abrahamic monotheistic tradition. However, this disagreement should not overshadow the great bond that Muslims and Christians share, and as such, a synthesis of understanding becomes possible.
A superb example of this inclusive approach in history was the writing of St. John of Damascus in the seventh century. His critique of Islam developed in his work On Heresy implied that Islam was a heretical sect of Christianity. He concluded that common ground existed for the union of the two faiths. However, Islam is no more a Christian heresy than Christianity is a heresy of Judaism. In truth, the overlap of these three Abrahamic faiths is the result of the divine inspiration and revelation that the prophets proclaimed. In other words, the original source is the One true God, and therefore the three traditions embody universal teachings and share a common pedigree. Moreover, the implication that Islam is a Christian heresy insinuates that Prophet Muhammad plagiarized from the Bible. This assumption is completely erroneous because Prophet Muhammad never learned to read or write. The revelation of the Quran is the words revealed to Prophet Muhammad from the Angel Gabriel. Muslims believe all divine revelation emanated in this manner. This includes the Torah, the Ingeel (the gospel of Prophet Jesus), and the Quran. If it were the case the Prophet Muhammad took from the Bible, we would not have the specificity and details that are only found in the Quran about the lives of Mary, Jesus Christ, Zachariah, and John the Baptist. These details are not found in any Christian texts. By studying the accounts of the family of Jesus Christ in the Quran, the reader will hopefully come to understand that this is not simply a reproduction of what is found in the Bible. At the same time, there are stark differences between the two accounts. Muslims nevertheless respect both Judaism and Christianity. Muslims regard Jews and Christians as People of the Book. This gives the followers of these faiths a special status over others. For example, it is permissible for Muslim males to marry Christians and Jews. However, it is unlawful for Muslims to marry Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and members of other faiths.
This shared bond was further illustrated during the wars between the Persians and the Christian Byzantine army in the seventh century. The Muslim Arabs would rally and cheer for the Christians to be victorious because the Persians were considered idolaters as they worshiped pagan deities. From the earliest advent of Islam, Muslims had an affinity towards Christians. Even casual observers can contrast this early Muslim sentiment with the views of St. John of Damascus and today's Christian preachers and their contempt for Islam. Preachers like Rod Parsley are quintessential examples of this growing intolerant rhetoric. In one of his sermons, Parsley proclaimed "Islam is an antichrist religion that intends through violence to conquer the world. America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed." (Ross, 2008) Such people preach hate speech from the pulpit and this will invariably lead to discrimination and persecution against Muslims. To say that America was "founded to destroy this false religion" is exactly what terrorists want to hear to recruit moderate Muslims to embrace radical extremism. Islam does not teach extremism, and nor does Christianity, but it seems that both of these religions are being exploited by these fundamentalist minorities. It is up to us, Muslims and Christians, to drown out the voices of hate and come together and begin a dialogue that facilitates a greater understanding of both our religions and our people. There is far more that we share in common than the differences that divide us. The critical differences cannot be overlooked, but with a greater understanding we can learn to respectfully disagree. This is the categorical purpose of this book. It is each reader's responsibility to share this mission with others, and may each generation learn more from the ones that came before.