Shuck and Jive

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jesus' Disciples Were Muslims

Did you know that?

I just discovered that today. We are reading (a translation of) the Qur'an cover to cover this year and for March the assignment is Surahs 3, 4, and 5. I am preaching on the Qur'an this Sunday and I have a preview on Qur'an and Jive. In Surah 3 verse 52, we find Jesus saying:

When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to (the work of) Allah." Said the disciples: "We are Allah's helpers: We believe in Allah, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims.
Son of a gun. I never learned that in Sunday School.

It is interesting how one religious tradition interprets another. Christianity interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures and said those texts were all about Jesus as Christ prefiguring Christianity. Islam interpreted the Gospels and said Jesus and his followers were Muslims prefiguring Islam.

It is more fun interpreting than being interpreted, isn't it?

I wonder when that will stop? Maybe it will end when we stop fighting for our interpretations, allow ourselves to draw truth from all, and let ambiguity be.

I kind of like thinking of the disciples as Muslims. Maybe the cure to our religious woes is to mix all of our religious stories. Rather than try to separate out the pure tradition and put people in boxes--Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu--let everybody be everything.

Alas, the sense of community that a common faith brings to a people spelled trouble for me. In time, my religious doings went from the notice of those to whom it didn’t matter and only amused, to that of those to whom it did matter—and they were not amused.

“What is your son doing going to temple?” asked the priest.

“Your son was seen in church crossing himself,” said the imam.

“Your son has gone Muslim,” said the pandit.

Yes, it was all forcefully brought to the attention of my bemused parents. You see, they didn’t know. They didn’t know that I was a practising Hindu, Christian and Muslim.
--Life of Pi

May his tribe increase.


  1. ahem....


    I believe I alerted you the fact that you would find such passages. Thank you for letting me know when you found them as I requested.

    You are doing well, grasshoper.

    Islamic text reveres Jesus of Nazareth. Though they do not recognize Him as the "son of God" so to speak, they recognize Him as among the greatest of prophets.

    I'm telling ya, John. When I lived among the Muslims as a teenager I was never safer. Never so well cared for, never before treated with an old worldly respect that still to this day remains only a memory.

    Americans have been conditioned to hate and fear Muslims. Thank God for those who have risen above this twisted mind game to see the truth or at least, strive to find it.

    BTW... Do you think Righty's head would explode if I told them John the Baptist was a Wicken?

    Better save it for later.


  2. Americans have been conditioned to hate and fear Muslims. Thank God for those who have risen above this twisted mind game to see the truth or at least, strive to find it.

    Well said, Master Po. :)

  3. It is true that Prophet Jesus(pbuh) is dear to us. However--please note--In the Quran--the word muslim refers not specifically to "followers of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh)" but is used in a more general sense to refer to "one who submits"(to God) and in this instance that would be the meaning of the verse--In that the desciples of Prophet Jesus (pbuh) are ones who submit to God--because they chose of their own free will to follow the teachings of the Prophet even though they may have faced hostility.

  4. Kat, thank you for that important clarification. We sometimes tend to think in terms of religion (beliefs, practices etc.) when we see the word Muslim or Islam in the Qur'an.

    But as you say, it points to a deeper sense of one who submits to God.

    I wonder if a person could be a practitioner of say the Christian religion but also be a Muslim at heart?

    What do you think?

  5. I've encountered the argument that Islam arose as a radical criticism of Christianity by those who felt that it had fallen too far from the pure monotheistic faith. I thought it was an interesting thesis at least, and fits with your observation about interpreting and being interpreted in turn.

  6. So, consider carefully Kat's clarification about the meaning of "muslim" as one who submits to the will of God.

    The early Christian community taught doctrine we believe in "only Jesus name."

    Jesus himself taught, "Not everyone who calls me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father." (7.21)

    It appears Islam and Jesus both hold the doing the will of God as the most important aspect of the religious life.

  7. I think Rob brings up an important point. Some have suggested that Christians took the religion of Jesus and made it a religion about him.

    Hey Doug,
    Some Christians have 'interpreted' Islam as well, largely as a Christian heresy.

    Everyone else is a heretic even as we try to follow the will of God/Allah.

  8. John asks:

    "I wonder if a person could be a practitioner of say the Christian religion but also be a Muslim at heart?"

    Absolutley John, in fact I learned of this from your blog:

    A common thread in spiritual journeys is that God works through paradox and irregular channels. Such is the case with Mazhar, an example of "Christian fruit" from Mahatma Gandhi's life. The great paradox is that it was Gandhi, a self-proclaimed Hindu, who through his life and writings, having been deeply influenced by the Jesus of the Gospels, led Mazhar from a Muslim background to faith in Christ. Within the various religious faiths, there are those in love with God who devoutly seek the deeper spiritual dimension. These individuals recognize each other across their faith traditions, as heart speaks to heart. (Chandler 2007: 13-14)

    Through Gandhi's eyes, Mazhar began to see a different Christ than he had encountered previously. He was fasinated to see how "Gandhi took Christian principles without Christ against a Christian nation [England] without Christian principles and own the battle. Gandhi stands out to me as the one person who most dramatically demonstrated Christ's teaching." (Chandler 2007: 21)

    (Chandler, Paul-Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road. New York: Cowley Publications; 2007; pp. 13-14; 21.)

  9. 1. Chandler, Paul-Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road. New York: Cowley Publications; 2007; pp. 52-53.

    Mazhar's belief was that one should be focused on naturally and relationally demonstrating the way of Christ in authentic friendships that have no ulterior "agenda," and sharing Christ's teachings with those who are genuinely interested, leaving the rest to God. (Chandler 2007: 52)

    It was also during this time that Mazhar began to consciously develop his own philosophy concerning the sharing and following of Christ in the Arab Muslim world; to Mazhar this entailed a respect for the individual above all else, the necessity of honoring the indigenous culture, and guaranteering that a foreign religious system is not imposed on them. Mazhar believed that his efforts toward seeing Christ becoming genuinely naturalized in an Arab Islamic socienty required taking a long-term perspective, perhaps as long as decades or even centuries. (Chandler 2007: 52)

    One writer who significantly influenced Mazhar's thinking was E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist minister and close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, who spent most of his life working in India. Having himself been greatly influenced by Gandhi, Mahar felt a kindred spirit with Jones, who not only loved Gandhi, but respected both Islam and Hinduism while in India, embodying a humble and gentle disposition toward their followers. Jones's primary focus was introducing people to the Christ of the Gospels, whom he experienced as a living person, as opposed to seeing people become part of another religion or religious institution. (Chandler 2007: 52)

    (....) Most of Mazhar's time in Tunis, however, was spent with the Muslim community, forming some of his deepest life friendships. Mazhar has been known for his "coffee get-togethers" wherever he has lived, and a typical day in Tunis would find him in a local Arab cafe, surrounded by Tunisian friends, mostly Muslim, writers, lawyers, artists, professors, publishers, historians, and literary critics, discussing politics, literature, art, religion, and faith. Often the conversation would naturally turn to Mazhar's experience of Christ. At one such coffee time, as Mazhar was sharing from the Gospels about Jesus, he noticed a secret plainclothes policeman sitting nearby, attempting to listen in without being observed. With nothing to hide, in typical Mazhar fashion, he stopped his sharing and graciously invited the man to come closer and join their group so he could hear more clearly. (Chandler 2007: 53)

    (....) For Christ to be naturally accepted in the Arab world, Mazhar sees it as critically important that we help correct any misunderstanding people have been taught about Christ. As he often says, "You cannot cook the meat if you do not warm the water around it." (Chandler 2007: 53)

  10. 1. Chandler, Paul-Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road. New York: Cowley Publications; 2007; pp. 74-76.

    Much of the Christian literature written for Muslims attacks the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad, seeking to alienate the individual form Islam.... Christians are in danger of repeating harmful periods of history when the West has gone to war on the Muslim East to conquer, physically or spiritually, in the name of God. Muslims rarely hear "Good News" from Christians; instead they feel targeted as enemies in a new war. As Christians, we must honestly ask ourselves, "Do Muslims know we are Christians by our hostility?" It is time to lay aside warefare rhetoric and antagonistic strategies; this only creates an unnecessary enmity between us. The Christian faith will continue to be suspect to Muslims while the Christian West sees the Muslim world as an enemy. (Chandler 2007: 74)

    Muslim writer Ziauddin Sardar concluded his book Why do People Hate America? with the prayer of St. Fancis of Assisi: "O Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled, as to console, To be understood as to understand. To be loved, as to love, with all my soul." Sardar's wise counsel for the West is to put down the crusader's sword and unwrap ourselves from national flags and envelop ourselves instead in the Prayer of St. Francis. (Chandler 2007: 75)

    (....) The tendency to depersonalize Muslims dehumanizes the individuals and their beliefs. Most Westerners wouldn't talk about a colleague from France by using a category such as, "my colleague, a secular humanist." Instead they would use their name and see them as a person. We need to give Muslims the same respect. They are "persons" who believe in Islam. (Chandler 2007: 75)

    (....) "Muslim" can mean many things, as there are many kinds of Muslims, so generalization is not wise. When some Christians say to Mazhar that they hate Islam, he asks them, "What Islam do you hate?" Mazhar goes on to say, "There are so many expressions of it.... I cannot affort to hate Islam, or anything. For me, hate connects with fear, desire for revenge and unforgiveness. These things are debilitating and constricting.... Waging a war takes a huge effort and God doesn't need us to defend Him. Islam actually does this from time to time, and it's not one of the things I want to take on. It conveys a fear of not being right. I want all my energy to be given to the quest to live in a spirit of openness and forgiveness." (Chandler 2007: 75)

    Christ gave his followers a simple mission related to the Other and to others: "Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself." God's love is indiscriminate. Christ was all about breaking down the ethnic conflict between "Jew and Gentile." Jesus was all about fighting any type of evil with good: "If we treat others the way they treat us, or only show compassion ... when our friends and family suffer: how are we different from others?" Christ's Sermon on the Mount provides the foundation for loving our "enemies." (Chanler 2007: 76)

    Christians need a grace-oriented approach to Muslims. Jesus focused on overcoming fear with love, for as St. John writes, "perfect love drives out fear" (I John 4:18). The enemy is not the other--whether Muslim or Christian; instead we have a common enemy--evil, injustice, intolerance, and so forth. (Chandler 2007: 76)

  11. 1. Chandler, Paul-Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road. New York: Cowley Publications; 2007; pp. 78-80.

    I have never heard Mazhar debate a point about Islam with a Muslim. He refuses to get into theological arguments and is against pushing one system over another (i.e., Christianity vs. Islam). His focus is instead on the person of Jesus Christ and what Jesus means to him. If someone asks him about the Prophet Muhammad, or Islam, Mazhar will often tell them to ask someone, such as a Muslim sheik, who can give them a far better answer than he is able to. However, if they want to learn about Jesus, he will eargerly spend all day helping them do so. As he explains, "I desire to be a person of honor who treats Muslims with respect, and I don't want to get sucked into debates." (Chandler 2007: 78-79)

    (....) While Mazhar actively affirms the good in Islam, he also sees it as an ideology or religious system that at times victimizes its followers. In this sense, over time he has become less and less tolerant of Islamic fundamentalism, which prioritizes law over relationships and distorts something that he believes was meant to be simple and nonjudgmental. Within the Muslim community he identifies most easily with Muslim liberals and Sufis (mystics). (Chandler 2007: 79)

    Certainly, the two groups with which Mazhar still has the most difficulty are Muslim fundamentalists and Christian conservative evangelicals: those who are "too black and white on truth" and who in his mind do not therefore reflect the spirit of Christ. "There are many things in the Qur'an I say yes, yes, yes to--and there are many things in Christianity I say no, no, no to." Unlike many Christians, Mazhar does not call Islam "evil," but rather sees Muslims (and Christians too) as being "incomplete" until they grasp the radical message of God in Christ above all earthly, political kingdoms, whether Islamic, Christian, or secular. Seeing Islam in a neutral and, at times, positive light, greatly shapes how he relates to Muslims. One of the foundational principles that he seeks to put into practice at all times is honoring their culture and religion. (Chandler 2007: 79-80)

    (....) Often, when moving into a new neighborhood, Mazhar will seek out a respected Muslim spiritual leader in the community and share with him that he has no spiritual mentor in his new community and that for him "the Bible contains guidelines to live according to God's desire." Then, Mazhar will ask, "Can you please read these Scriptures in order to help me live up to them? In other words, I would like you to observe me as I live in your country and am accountable to you." Asking his Muslim friends to help him journey closer to God requires that he be vulnerable with them--allowing them to see his weaknesses. (Chandler 2007: 80)

  12. Thanks John for leading me to this book.

  13. 1. Chandler, Paul-Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road. New York: Cowley Publications; 2007; pp. 87-89.

    In the midst of the increasing chasm of discord and misunderstanding between the "Christian" West and the Islamic East, there has never been a greater need for a new movement of Christians to build on what we have in common with Muslims.... In our relationships with Muslims, we can proactively build on the guiding principles of Christianity and Islam. Discussing the basis for a healthy dialogue between Christians and Muslims, Lord Carey comments, "First, and foremost is the theological basis of a common humanity. Both Islam and Christianity have a very high view of what it is to be a human being, made in the image of God. We have a shared sense of the sheer wonder of creation by God, and also of the dignity of our vocation as human beings. Both faiths resist racism and all other attempts to deny the equal dignity before God of all people. From this base other things can develop. Indeed, from this flows our common spiritual quest. Our journey is a shared one ..."[11] (Chandler 2007: 87-88)

    If we truly look through the lens of Jesus, we will see Muslims as children of God who are on a journey of faith as we are. The renowned Islamic scholar and Arabist, Anglican Bishop Kenneth Cragg, writes, "The differences, which undoubtedly exist, between the Muslim and Christian understanding of God are far-reaching and must be patiently studied. But it would be fatal to all our mutual tasks to doubt that one and the same God over all was the reality in both."[12] (Chandler 2007: 89)

    Christianity and Islam indeed have much in common and we need to rediscover our family connections. Each is monotheistic, and each claims universality. Each fosters strong traditions of piety, social action, and justice. Each even claims to be a religion of peace. Both honor the authority of Moses and the Hebrew prophets, believe in the Creator God of Abraham, and know that God desires that we exhibit justice, mercy, and humility before him. (Chandler 2007: 89)

    One effective approach is to build on the commonalities within our respective theological beliefs. Rev. Colin Chapman, Anglican priest, Islamist, and author of Cross and the Crescent, suggests we can build on what we naturally agree on together: God Creates, God is One, God Reveals, God Loves, God Forgives, God Judges, God Rules--though we may of course differ on how God does each. Another approach is to begin by building on our similar worship practices: traditions, liturgica practices, pillars--fasting, pilgrimage, charity, creed, prayers. (Chandler 2007: 89)

    (....) In the Qur'an Jesus is called the Messiah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Word, and Spirit of God. Mazhar's experience is that the Qur'an, for many Muslims, can be a path to Jesus.... As Mazhar says, "Muhammad was partially a victim of Christianity at the time." Christianity as it reached Arabia included a mixture of heresies--preaching not the Trinity, but a triad of God Father, God Mother [i.e., Mary], and God Son. Muhammand challenged this idea and made his central message "la illah il-Allah": there is no god but God. (Chandler 2007: 89)

  14. Rob,

    Thanks for all the great quotes from the Chandler book!