On Tuesday, the 25th of December, 2019, our compatriots who follow the teachings of Prophet Isa (Jesus Christ upon him be peace and blessings of Almighty) will be celebrating his birthday. Even though much controversy exists over his birth and death, there is consensus among Christians on his mission while on earth; whereas much ignorance exists outside Islam on his position and status in Islamic annals and culture, Prophet Isa remains an adorable Prophethood and one in whom Muslims must express their belief and strive to emulate.
In other words, “many Christians are unaware that the true spirit of reverence which Muslims display towards Jesus and his mother Maryam spring from the fountainhead of their faith as prescribed in the Holy Quran.
Most do not know that a Muslim does not mention the name of Jesus without saying alayhi salaam i.e. upon him be peace. Many Christians do not know that in the Holy Quran Jesus is mentioned by name twenty-five times.
For example, the Almighty says: …We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit (Q 2:87); Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be al-Masih Isa (Christ Jesus), the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah. (Q3:45); Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah (Quran 4:171).
Thus, a Muslim who scorns at or treat Prophet Isa (alyhi salam) with disrespect has disbelieved a cardinal aspect of Islam. In fact, to read and reread his life history, though short but eventful, is to lead a successful life here on earth and partake of the eternal bliss in the hereafter.
Aside from the Quran, one book which constantly reminds me of Prophet Isa (alyhi salam) is al-Mawardi’s Adab al-din wa Dunya (Ethic of Religion and the World).
I am always fascinated by the report that Prophet Isa alyhi salam was once asked by his followers: why don’t you get married? Prophet Isa was reported to have said: “We prefer the prosperity and the plenitude of the hereafter”.
Thus one of the challenges confronting Christendom today is how to bridge the gap between the eternal messages preached by Prophet Isa (alayhi salam) while he was alive – the message of abstinence and continence, the message of ascetism and humility and the ephemerality of the “gospel” of prosperity and success which now Christian praxis in the jugular.
In a recent conference organized by the Dominican Institute in Ibadan, one of the questions I sought answers to is whether Muslims and Christians have indeed not completely deviated from the noble teachings of the Prophets of Allah they claim to follow?
In other words, should Jesus Christ appear today, which of these Churches would he identify with? Were Prophet Muhammad (upon him be and blessings of Allah) to rise up today, would he not take flight from the oddities in Muslims’ existential realities?
Prophet Isa’s birth, upon him be peace, was a sign of and from the Almighty. His prophetic enterprise while on earth, like that of all Prophets of the divine, was a touchstone of service, integrity, love and compassion.
Thus his life on earth will forever remain an important point of reference particularly for those who truly identify with his path and desire eternal redemption. Commemoration of his birthday, therefore, should be an opportunity for the church to do self-introspection.
The Christian world should use the occasion to question the chasm between what he stood for while on earth and what Christianity has become of today. To what extent is the argument valid that material prosperity occupies the epicenter of Jesus Christ’s ministry? Is it true that to be a true Christian is to be rich and affluent?