Date: 15 April 201
To: Biblical Prophets in the Qur’an (Class Assignment)
Title: Belief vs. Faith
In considering Interfaith work… one question that seems to come up frequently is: WHY? Let’s be real, most of us are clear that it is important that we respect each other’s rights as conscious beings to self determine our believes. But that does not necessarily require that we take on the responsibility of doing interfaith work.
Some people consider interfaith work to be a response to years of religious oppression and othering one of the other… But, really, what is the point? In contemporary times, according to Ansari, “human religious life is characterized by the context of cultural and religious diversity in which it has to be lived.” Where in the past we were each able to somewhat live in religious isolation from traditions outside our own, in this day and age we are forced by the very nature of our societal reality to live in “communion”…I mean community with each other!
We are no longer insular but rather, we have begun the work of looking in[side] our faith traditions to determine how the tradition speaks truth to the work of justice that needs doing and then we look out[side] the tradition and surprise-surprise, we see that there are other people, or other traditions who are also doing the work of justice.
We have been busily building… each in our own community silos of knowledge, but the gap between our silos needs to be bridged in order that the work that needs doing be allowed the potential of creating justice for those who are on the outside… those who are unchurched/unmosqued, yet still are in need of justice.
Let me share with you a story from the Christian tradition of the birth of Jesus the Messiah as told in the Gospel of Luke: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
“May your words be fulfilled.” Let it be so…! How many of us today would react so blasé to a child being born? I don’t know about you, but I would be most likely to question how I would care for this child. I mean, I don’t have a job, I don’t know how my family would feel about the entire situation… but that is not what happens here, Mary simply says, “Let it be so!”
In the Christian context there is another person worth mentioning, Joseph, the intended husband to Mary and in the Gospel of Matthew we hear that: Jesus’ “mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
But what would have happened to Jesus if Joseph had not stepped in to “give her child a name”? Would Jesus have been left in a silo, or left on the outside looking in…in need of some sort of justice?
Here is where the situation gets interesting, in the Qur’an we read still another account: “in the Book [of the story of] Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east. And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man. She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah .” He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.” She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?” He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’ ” So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.” But he called her from below her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.
In contemporary times, our religious life is categorized by the cultural and religious diversity in which we life. Technological advances has in a way shattered the shell of isolation of our different religious communities… It would appear that “humankind is willy-nilly moving toward a “one world” in which aloofness, estrangement, and alienation are not only undesirable; [but] have…become impracticable.” That seems to be the reality of the modern day. According to Wilfred Cantwell Smith, “to be a Christian in the modern world, or a Jew or an agnostic, is to be so in a society in which other men, intelligent, devout, and righteous, are Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus.”
So, while I might feel the need to question our differences, there is something that is implicit truth in each of these accounts… In Islam and Christianity: God is our provider. God who sent an angel to proclaim Mary’s Virgin Birth is God who provided for Jesus. God who through an angel spoke to Joseph of Mary’s Virgin Birth is God who provided for Jesus. In the same way that it is God that provides for each of us; for it is ultimately ONLY through God that we receive care, guidance, nourishment and love. God’s bounty overflows to us and through us, but it is God’s bounty and not our own.
God, You have seen us hurt each other. You have seen our tears. You have seen our pain, the pain we have felt and the pain we have inflicted. Sometimes in the abuse of Your name and Your message. Lord, file us down, burn us, renew us that we might be reshaped in the image of your Hope…we are yours to protect. Amen.
Ansari, Zafar I. 1977. “Some reflections on Islamic bases for dialogue with Jews and Christians.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 14, no. 3: 433-447. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 14, 2015).
Cumming, Joseph. “Is Jesus Christ the son of God? Responding to the Muslim views of Jesus.” Asian Journal Of Pentecostal Studies 15, no. 2 (July 1, 2012): 133-142. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 7, 2015).
Dodds, Adam. 2009. “The Abrahamic faiths? continuity and discontinuity in Christian and Islamic doctrine.” Evangelical Quarterly 81, no. 3: 230-253. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 7, 2015).
Larson, Warren Fredrick. 2008. “Jesus in Islam and Christianity: discussing the similiarities and the differences.” Missiology 36, no. 3: 327-341. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 14, 2015).
McRoy, Anthony. 2006. “The Christ of Shia Islam.” Evangelical Review Of Theology 30, no. 4: 339-351. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 14, 2015).
Other Materials Cited
Faith of Other Men (Toronto, 1962), p. 3. Perhaps no other scholar perceived this development as sharply and called attention to it as emphatically as did Smith. In addition to the above, see The Meaning and End of Religion (New York, 1963), and his many other writings of which a good selection has come out recently: W. Oxtoby, ed., Religious Diversity, Essays by Wilfred Cantwell Smith (New York, 1976).
Ansari, Zafar I. 1977. “Some reflections on Islamic bases for dialogue with Jews and Christians.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 14, no. 3: 433-447. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 1, 2015).