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A Tale of Two Prophets – Jesus and Muhammad

Introduction

Every morning, all across our planet, people sit down in quiet contemplation—praying to their God for salvation, forgiveness, and hope for the new day at hand. Often unbeknownst to each other, members of the world’s two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, are praying to the same God. (Robinson, B.A. 2005) Both of these religions have distinct attributes and guidelines for worship, but the God of Abraham unites them.

The story of both Christianity and Islam are inextricably linked to the prophets upon who each are based. Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad were both the starting point for these major modern religions. Their stories are quite different and yet linked in many ways, this paper will examine each prophet and his religious legacy.

Jesus of Nazareth

The symbolic head of the world’s largest religion is Jesus of Nazareth, sometimes referred to as Jesus “the Christ” which is a Greek term meaning “Messiah” or “Anointed One.” To Christians, Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity or Godhead. The Godhead is made up of The Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ who is known as the “Son of God”, and the Holy Spirit which give believers consolation and religious consciousness. In Christianity, the Godhead is a plural object with multiple personifications.

Birth of Jesus

According to the gospels of the New Testament in the Bible, Jesus was immaculately conceived, meaning that he was born to a virgin mother. Traditionally Christians have believed Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a belief that would fulfill Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah would be born in the home of the great Jewish King David and in David’s lineage. (Fischer, 2005) However, some scholars believe that Jesus was more likely born near Nazareth in Galilee, an area north of Judea.

According to the gospel of Luke in the New Testament, Jesus was born to a virgin, Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. A portion of the gospel of Luke, known as the Christmas story, states that Mary and her husband Joseph were required to travel to Bethlehem for a Roman Census on the night of Jesus’ birth. The story states there were no empty rooms in the town inn and Mary gave birth in the stables among the animals. (Meacham, 2005)

Ministry of Jesus

Not much of Jesus’ youth is recorded. According to all four major New Testament gospels, Jesus came to John the Baptist around the age of thirty to be sanctified by immersion in water. John the Baptist was wary of baptizing Jesus, for he felt the Christ was sinless. (Fischer, 2005) For Jesus, the ritual purification of baptism began his earthly ministry and after being baptized he undertook a forty day retreat in to the wilderness, fasting and praying.

Upon returning from the wilderness, Jesus gathered together a group of disciples and began traveling the land spreading his teachings. Jesus told his disciples and followers that they would have to give up their material possessions to follow him, stating that it was difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, he taught his followers they should concentrate on caching spiritual treasures in heaven, rather than material possessions upon earth. (Fischer, 2005)

Death of Jesus

All four of the New Testament gospels bear witness to the demise of the physical body of Jesus at the hands of the Romans and Jews. After traveling in Galilee, Jesus, his disciples, and his followers returned to Jerusalem during the Passover holiday. Jesus knew it would be a political fiasco to return during this sacred Jewish holiday and warned his disciples that his time on earth drew short.

Jesus led his followers in to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and caused a disturbance, upsetting the moneychanger’s tables and causing disorder. Jesus and his disciples then fled to the garden of Gethsemane where he prayed intensely until an angry mob of Jews arrived and took him to the current Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate. The Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy, for he was called the Messiah. Pilate reluctantly agreed with the crown of Jews’ insistence that Jesus be executed and gave the order that Jesus be crucified.

Jesus was made to carry his cross through the streets being lashed and ridiculed by the Jews to a mountain called Golgotha. He was crucified with nails and hung from the cross for hours until passing away exclaiming, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Fischer, 2005) After his death, Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb which was sealed with a large stone.

Muhammad

Muhammad was born approximately 570 years after Jesus of Nazareth. While Islamic faiths perceive Jesus, who they call Isa, a prophet of Islam, to Muslims, he was not the Messiah. (Wikipedia, 2005) To the Muslims, Muhammad was the last in a chain of prophets sent to earth by God to restore the true religion. The religion of Islam which was reviled to Muhammad is not a new religion; rather it is the original form of monotheism which worships the God of Abraham.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam traces its roots to the patriarch Abraham. According to the legend, Abraham’s wife Sarah could not conceive, so she offered him her concubine, Hagar, who bore him a son, Ishmael. God later bestowed the ability for Sarah to conceive and she bore Abraham’s second son, Isaac. The roots of Islam follow Abraham’s first born son while Christianity and Judaism follow Abraham’s son born of wedlock, Isaac. (Fischer, 2005)

Revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad

In his teenage years, Muhammad was recognized by a Christian monk in Syria as being a prophet. He was dismayed by this, as he was simply a hard working young man. When he was twenty five, Muhammad married his employer, a beautiful wealthy woman named Khadijah. Khadijah became Muhammad’s sole supporter as he discovered the path that God had in store for him. (Fischer, 2005)

When Muhammad was forty years old, he made a spiritual retreat during the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan. While upon this retreat, an angel of God appeared to Muhammad. This angel, Gabriel, came to Muhammad in human form and instructed him to write down the revelation that would become the Qur’an, the holy scripture of Islam.

Muhammad returned from this spiritual awakening very distraught. Khadijah comforted him and encouraged him to overcome his own mortal fears for the good of brining the message of Allah. These revelations continued and it became clear to Muhammad that this was the One God, the God of Abraham, who spoke, calling the people to Islam. (Fischer, 2005)

In Islam, Muhammad is not the centrally worshipped figure. Allah or God is the recipient of worship, while Muhammad is recognized as his chosen messenger. Muhammad was so revered that the Islamic followers would catch the water that dripped from his fingers during ablutions to rub upon themselves as a blessing. (Fischer, 2005)

Christianity and Islam Today

While worldwide interest in Christianity has slightly declined in the last 100 years, interest in Islam has increased. Christianity composed 34.5% of the World’s population in 1900 and accounts for 33.1% in 2002. Islam however has increased from 17% to 19% of the world’s population since 1900. Islam has a 2.9% rate of growth and if trends continue, is projected to surpass Christianity as the world’s largest religion in 2025. (Robinson, B.A. 2005)

References

Fischer, M. P. (2005). Living Religions – Sixth Edition. Prentice-Hall Publishers Meacham, J. (2005). Religion: The Birth of Jesus. Newsweek, December 13, 2005. Retrieved January 15, 2006 from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6653824/site/newsweek/ Robinson, B. A. (2005). Religions of the World: Growth Rates of Christianity and Islam. Retrieved January 15, 2006 from: http://www.religioustolerance.org/growth_isl_chr.htm Wikipedia. (no date). Various Articles about Jesus and Muhammad. Retrieved January 15, 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad


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