October 1, 2014

LITTLE DETAILS: What might Muhammad do?

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“What would Jesus do?” This question flashes on my mental radar screen each time I witness people who call themselves Christians act in a manner I consider inconsistent with the life and teaching of Jesus. Whether spewing words of hate towards gays, forcing the issue of prayer in publicly-funded schools or challenging the science of evolution, I think to myself, “That’s not the Jesus I know.”

I am not a biblical scholar. Raised Roman Catholic, I learned a thing or two about the historical Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. From catechism classes to lecturing in church to teaching Sunday School, stories of Jesus’ life were standard fare in my life. I loved hearing Jesus’ parables about Lazarus, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. As a child, I strove to emulate the well-behaved, yet underappreciated, son in the latter story. Jesus possessed a wonderful gift for metaphor in his teaching.

Recent outbreaks of violence accompanying the Innocence of Muslims controversy has left me wondering: “What might Muhammad do?” The video, appearing on YouTube, claims to be a trailer for a full-length film. Catching a clip, I noted weak scripting, poor acting and comic-strip quality cinematography in what (I think) is meant to be a satire of the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

What’s the big deal? The big deal is that incensed Muslims consider the clip blasphemous, a piercing attack on their faith. The low-budget trailer depicts the Prophet of Islam as a womanizer and child molester. At last count, this piece of cinematic trash ignited rioting in Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Yemen, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Australia and Tunisia.

J. Christopher Stevens, United States Ambassador to Libya, was killed during a Sept. 11 protest at the United States Consulate in Benghazi. As I write this, protests continue. Arrests, injuries and deaths mount. Witnessing events unfold — or rather, unravel — I wonder, who was this person Muhammad?

Muhammad (c. 570 – June 8, 632) was born in Mecca on the Arab Peninsula. Orphaned as a child, he was raised by an uncle who taught him the merchant’s trade. He married and, as was the culture, had multiple wives. Deeply spiritual, Muhammad was known to retreat to caves in the mountains for weeks at a time for prayer and meditation.

It was on one of these retreats, at age 40, that Muhammad received his first revelation. He emerged from the meditative exercise proclaiming that “God is one” and that faithful peoples must defer to the will of God. His message proved controversial—he lived among polytheistic pagans.

Muhammad abandoned his work, setting out on a life of preaching the faith that became Islam. He migrated to Medina in 622. He encountered harsh skepticism and endured persecution for his teachings. His followers grew in number, precipitating tensions with long-established pagan tribes.

Muhammad remained steadfast in proclaiming the faith conveyed to him by presumed Divine intervention. Soldiers of Islam destroyed pagan idols and sought to convert—or vanquish—those they considered infidels.

Does anyone hear echoes of the Christian Crusades? Sadly, more than one act of violence has been committed in the name of religion.

In my view, Jesus and Muhammad were teachers, messengers of new ways of thinking. Some may elevate them to a deity or near-deity. Others believe they were men whose lives on Earth serve as demonstrations of their humanity.

I would hope that if Muhammad were here today, he’d see the film for what it was: a low-rate, low-budget bit of mudslinging. Maybe he’d even find humor in it. Cheap attempts at character assassination are sometimes weakened when ignored.

In some ways, it’s not that different from the inaccurate political ads we are subjected to during election season. Lies and exaggerations are spewed forth like so much black, murky smoke—across parties. Political handlers hope viewers will react without stopping to consider the merits—or lack thereof—of the messages.

Neither Christianity nor Islam possesses pure, lily-white pasts. History characterizes both as victims and aggressors. I hope the current violence is an expression of extremists, loose-cannon fringes of a religion and culture that is more peace-loving than it is hateful.

Muhammad one said, “Conduct yourself in this world as if you are here to stay forever, and yet prepare for eternity as if you are to die tomorrow.”

I bet if Muhammad and Jesus were to meet for coffee in the desert, they would find much more to agree about than to disagree. Why can’t we?

 

Sources:  www.Theweek.com, www.notablebiographies.com, www.islamicrenaissance.com

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