Thank you first of all for outlining what you as a Muslim believe about Prophet Isa (Jesus). This is very helpful to me.
I am a follower of Jesus, a Christian. I am a priest in the Christian tradition. Still, I want to make it clear that my words on being a follower of Jesus are MY words and do not represent every belief about Jesus or following him.
I say this because I believe great damage has been done to both our faiths by people both within and without them who try to describe them by their most extremes as if all followers believe that way. My experience is the truth is much more complex. There are many, many different interpretations of Jesus’ teachings, many different ideas of who Jesus is and many different ideas of what it means to follow him.
Even in my own denomination, Anglicanism, there is considerable divergence on some of these things … divergence that causes conflict. I do not fear divergence of opinion … I believe that sort of conflict is an opportunity for learning and growth.
So what follows is what I believe.
I believe Jesus is the Son of God. By that I mean that Jesus was at the same time fully human and fully divine. He was more than just a messenger, but he was the actual presence of God on earth among us.
I believe Jesus’ life and teachings instruct us how we are to live – how we are to be the people God dreams for us to be, individually and collectively. Jesus lived a life of pure love for all that God has created. He proclaimed justice where he found injustice. He brought healing where he found brokenness. He was also not afraid of conflict and often brought conflict where there was the appearance of peace … I say the “appearance” of peace because in those places the peace was only the peace of the powerful, and Jesus continually confronted the powerful with their need to give up the trappings of power. He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. To follow Christ is to live by these teachings, to fashion my life in accordance with them.
I believe Jesus died and rose again. I do not believe, as some Christians do, that Jesus’ death was a blood sacrifice for the sins of the world. I believe that Jesus’ death was the natural consequence of living a life of extreme love in a world that is characterized not by that love but by self-interest. Jesus’ way of life and the power he had through love was extremely threatening to those in power and so they had him killed. His rising again is also a natural consequence of his divinity (you cannot kill God) and also a sign of the triumph of love over death.
I do believe in the Trinity – but not as a literal description of the construction of God. No human can know God in this way. The Trinity is a way of describing the indescribable. It is important to note that a belief in the Trinity is still a belief that God is ONE. The Trinity is a mystery. I believe it should be understood more as poetry than as strictly interpreted dogma. What the Trinity tells us about God is that even inside the Godself, God is relational. I believe God created us for relationship with God and with each other. God is supreme love and love must always have an object. You cannot just love …you have to love someone or something. God cannot be perfect love without having both subject and object of that love inside God. That is what Trinity is … God loving even inside the divine self.
I believe God gives us to each other for each other’s and our own salvation. We learn about God, we are drawn more closely into the heart of the divine as we encounter each other and seek and serve God in each other. I believe Jesus came to draw the whole world to himself – not in the sense of telling everyone that if they didn’t call themselves a Christian and profess to follow Jesus as Lord that they were going to hell – but to give us a ministry of reconciliation with God and each other. I believe Jesus’ life and teachings are a call to live a Godly life of love for one another.
Now … to your comments about the American War against Islam.
Let me begin by saying I believe the “Christianity” that President Bush and others like him espouse is a betrayal of the person and teachings of Jesus. It is a belief system selectively constructed over time to twist the life and teachings of Jesus from those that afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted to those that comfort the comfortable and further afflict the afflicted. It is an idolatrous faith that is not about the real Jesus at all but about constructing a Jesus that lets them live the way they want to live – that affirms a sense of superiority in them. It is a false Jesus without humility.
I have no love for President Bush and the other practitioners of this false Christianity. I believe they are destroying my country from the inside out with their selfishness and false Gospel of individual prosperity and racism just as they are destroying your country with guns and bombs.
And yet, I live in a country where the people have a voice in choosing their leaders. I reap the benefits of this society so I must bear the responsibility as well. So I cannot completely distance myself from the U.S. government and its actions, much as I would like to. I must bear that responsibility, too.
I believe much of what you say in your words about “The American War Against Islam” is true – if we are talking about the words that are coming from our government. I also believe that there are many Americans who do not feel this way. I also believe that many who do feel that it was a good thing for us to come into Irak to “liberate” you from Saddam Hussein and that we somehow know better what is good for you than you do yourselves, are good people whose minds are being twisted.
There is an American mindset of overconfidence that easily slips into arrogance. We are a country built on consuming and using – from the very first time our European ancestors arrived on our shores and enslaved, killed and imprisoned the native inhabitants … to our importation of African peoples as slaves … to our pollution of the environment.
It is a mindset that is not apart from compassion, but it is lacking in humility. Compassion combined with arrogance leads us to believe that we know best. The tricky thing about arrogance is that the truly arrogant do not see themselves as arrogant … only as wise. I believe the great poverty of the West is a poverty of humility. The lack of humility allows our corrupt leaders who wish to come into your land to continue our tragic tradition of consuming and using to spin arguments that play on the compassion and goodness of the American people – along with our desire to remain comfortable in the lifestyle of consuming and using to which we have become accustomed.
Given the option, people see what they want to see and disregard the rest. Part of the privilege of America is because we are isolated from the wars we wage (they are on other people’s lands, not our own), our people can choose to ignore them. I believe many, if not most, Americans are good people and although it would be difficult for them, they would change their ways if confronted intimately with the global consequences of our actions. I think Americans don’t know because they consciously choose not to know – because knowing would be affliction in the midst of their comfort.
The twisting of Jesus by those in power in America has had and continues to have tragic consequences. We are using Jesus as a standard under which we walk into battle to further afflict the afflicted for the further comfort of the comfortable. In fact, Jesus today prophesys AGAINST America.
All of these things, I believe, are mostly in agreement with what you have written. But now we come to the difficult part.
You closed your words with this:
I am a Muslim I am Iraki maybe you believe that God told you that must turn aside when you have been struck.
That is not what God tells me.
What God tells me is what he tells every other Muslim when you are attacked you defend yourself and you keep on figthing until your attacker is in such pain that they offer truce or surrender. You attack back and you continue attacking relentlessly, never ever giving any respite, until the invader flees worn out with grief and horror and pain. Any sacrifice is warranted to expel the American
I feel no grief when I see an American soldier die. I feel only relief that this one less barbarian to kill innocent Iraki children.
This is difficult because even in asking you to be in conversation with me … especially after I neglected this conversation for many months … is in essence asking you to turn aside after being struck. I do believe that violence cycles into more violence.
And yet, as the people who are doing such horrible violence to you and your people, what right do I have to preach nonviolence and forgiveness to you? None. I do believe the only way to stop the violence is to stop the violence – and I would sincerely hope that forgiveness is possible. I believe God weeps whenever any of God’s children (and I believe we are all God’s children) do violence to one another. I believe God weeps when an American soldier kills an Iraki child – not just for the death of the Iraki child but for the death that must happen inside the American soldier to make him do that and as a consequence of him doing that.
But I have not seen what you have seen and I have not felt what you have felt. I write from a place of comfort and safety – something I wish for you and your people. I need to listen to where Jesus is calling me out of my comfort and safety, and I need to listen to the word you have for me in this regard.
Your words of no grief in the face of death make me very sad and disturbed, but they are completely understandable. Part of why it has been so difficult for me to write back is I wanted to try to counter them, to convince you to feel otherwise. But that would just be a further instance of an American telling you that he knew better for you than yourself. So now I wish just to understand better.
I hope this conversation can continue. Again, as I have said, I understand if it cannot.
Peace to you Michael we are brothers in humanity if not in religion. For this and your earlier letter thanks. Let us agree between us as brothers that God imposes many duties upon each of us. And that your duties to your family must come before the task you undertook to enter into dialogue with me. As a Muslim God tells me that he tests me as he tests all of mankind. How else is it possible to enter into Paradise? The tests may be sometimes very hard almost to the point where the person being tested will break if they do not seek God’s help. I am learning as I try to be both father and mother to my brother and a loving respectful brother to my sister that family duties are hard. I think because I now have experienced this difficulty that God tested my parents in some way and that he tests all married people in some way. I also know that we their children did not see whatever test it was they were enduring or had endured and think that perhaps that was a big part of the test. I also think that he will test both she whose parents have granted me permission to seek her hand and myself when we come to marry. I do not think you need to apologise for your silence.
We agree on much and on other things there is a gap which is to be expected. Thank you for outlining your opinions and beliefs. I need to read it several times again to be sure that I have understood you and also get advice on how to reply in a clear way. This is a first reaction and should be read as such:
This is very beautiful and I do not quarrel with it. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) strove always to try to turn his enemies into his friends. Such a concern can come only from Love. But Love and a slavish servitude in the face of aggression and treachery are two very different things. I am required to live in peace with my neighbour. To treat my neighbour justly. To treat my neighbour with compassion where the situation is one calling for compassion. I am not required to love my neighbour when he makes war against me. Nor am I required to turn aside and submit to my neighbour when my neighbour attacks the Ummah. I am required to submit to God.
This is the hard fact. There has not been one day of my life when the Government and People of The United States Of America have not made war against my family and my people. They are doing so now. I am speaking not so much of the words as of their deeds. I wish desperately for peace but not at the price of selling my body and soul to a government that believes in what you rightly call an idolatrous faith. As I see it the Government of America is enslaved to America’s true rulers a ruthless and corrupt commerial class who believe they have the right to do whatever they wish and to whoever they wish. The American soldiers who are in my country slaughtering my people also have this attitude. And now I must use hard words to deal with harder facts. My grandfather, my parents, my brother, very nearly my sister, my surviving brother, and myself also. I will not forgive or forget any of that. We are only three of millions whose lives have been defiled by the war. Even the preconditions for peace will not start to come while the soldiers who are the servants of the Government and People of The United States Of America continue to ravage my people in the hope of forcing their puppets to do the American Government’s will. They call what they want ”progress.” Progress towards theft and progress towards having bases from which they can force all of the peoples of the region to their will. They have proved by their actions that they will not go peacefully.