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In Dialogue: A Muslim's View of Jesus

John Hubers:   Safi, Christians are often surprised to discover that Jesus’ story, at least part of it, is found in the Qur’an.  They are even more surprised when they come to realize that the Qur’an speaks of the virgin birth and his miracles.  Clearly, Jesus is significant to Muslims.  I’m wondering if you can help my Christian friends who may know little of Muslim beliefs to understand the role that Jesus plays in Islam.  Even more I’m wondering if you could speak of what he means to you which may not be the same for all Muslims (who represent the same kind of diversity in their beliefs as Christians do in theirs)

Safi Kaskas:  I first encountered Jesus while reading the Qur’an where we learn that Jesus had a miraculous birth, life, death and resurrection.* He is a Word from God, born of and full of the spirit. The Qur’an also teaches that he did not need two years to learn to speak like other children. He spoke from the cradle knowing The Book (Qur’an), The Wisdom (Psalms), the Torah (Old Testament) and the Gospel. The Qur’an records Jesus saying this:  

 "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I will create a bird for you out of clay, then breathe into it and, with God's permission, it will become a bird; I will heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead back to life with God's permission…

 I have come to confirm the truth of the Torah which preceded me, and to make some things lawful to you which used to be forbidden. I have come to you as a sign and with a sign from your Lord. Be mindful of God and obey me— 

God is my Lord and your Lord—so serve Him: that is a straight path." 

Al Umran 3:49-51

Such is Jesus – a “statement of truth”- as the Qur’an calls him (19:34). This means that all Muslims are required to believe in Jesus, as I do.   I am a Muslim and I love Jesus. But what does it mean to love Jesus? Is it a statement of faith or a plan for how one intends to live his life?  

Hubers: This is a great question with which Christians themselves wrestle, even the very first Christians as evidenced in the book of James (“faith without works is dead.”).  I will be interested to see how you answer it. 

Kaskas: Jesus’ teachings, I believe, remain only words unless I practice them. Love God and love your neighbor he said. But he went even further than this when he said: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:43-44

Those who want to follow his teachings of love cannot be like others.

Hubers:  I am happy to hear you quoting Jesus’ words from the Bible, Safi, as I think many Christians assume that Muslims reject the Bible and its teaching.  And clearly the words you have quoted give weight to what we would agree to be central to Jesus’ teaching: a radical love for neighbor. I only wish that we could say that this radical love was more definitive of how we live as Christians.  Too often it isn’t.  

Kaskas: I noticed that there were two groups of Evangelicals in the post 9/11 era: those who follow religion and those who follow Jesus. One group was seeking revenge while the other was praying for the enemy. From that moment on Jesus and his teachings became very important to me.

Those who pray for their enemies are not the same as those who celebrate the death of their enemies. If you want to love your enemies, you must have a new heart; the heart of a servant. If you want to lead you need to serve. If you want to be first you have to be last. If you want life you have to be prepared to die in order to obtain eternal life.

These paradoxical teachings are not from an ordinary man. The Jesus whom I know and love was not.  He was a sign from God; a miracle, a gift and a mercy for all human beings.

Hubers:  What you are saying here, Safi, shows that while our view of Jesus is not identical, with some significant points of difference, there are, at the same time, a number of things about which we can agree. 

Kaskas:  Yes, that is true. And it is because of who Jesus is.  He is the great unifier.  

When Muslims and Christians sit around an interfaith dialogue table Jesus is the one who establishes our common ground. His teachings are what we agree on. The hope that he represents is a reality for reconciliation. 

I think about John 17:3 for instance:

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  

These words express our belief as Muslims, as well. 

Christians are waiting for his second coming. Do you know that Muslims are waiting for him too? Many evangelicals say he is our hope for a future millennium of peace, prosperity and justice. Don’t we realize that if we follow his teachings now we will have peace, prosperity and justice in the present time? Why wait? 

Hubers:  I would echo that sentiment, Safi, which is one that Reformed Christians in particular emphasize – that those who put their faith in Jesus become, or should become, peacemakers and agents of reconciliation, committed to the transformation of a world that has turned away from God. The fact that you have put an emphasis on the radical love of Christ which extends even towards one’s enemies, shows that despite our differences, there are significant points of agreement when it comes to the person and teachings of Jesus. 

Kaskas:   Yes.  And it is so crucial that we get this right because in the post 9/11 world, loving my enemy is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. To ignore reconciliation is to invite destruction. If we do not find ways to live together in dignity we will die together in agony. If we love him, we need to start loving each other now. 

Click the link for a short video clip of Safi giving a talk on this topic to a mixed religious audience at the National Prayer Breakfast.  

*Traditional Muslim teaching denies Jesus’ death and resurrection.

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