Tomorrow, the 25th of December, 2021, our compatriots who follow the teachings of Prophet Isa (Jesus Christ upon him be peace) shall 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 (alayhi salam) with disrespect has disbelieved a cardinal principle 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 (a.s) 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 (a.s) while he was alive – the message of abstinence and continence, the message of asceticism and humility – and the “gospel” of prosperity and success which now appears to hold Christian praxis in the jugular.
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 Most High, 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?
The above have become an issue nowadays when leaders of faith now live luxurious life. Many arguments have been canvassed for and against the trend. Some have said that the acquisition of private and luxurious properties by those who should be exemplars of spartan and ascetic life are signs of the end time. Others have countered saying nothing is absolutely wrong with the trend. To the latter, if something better than jets is in existence leaders of faith should be the first to acquire them!
A cursory reading of the history of Prophets of the Almighty shows that the former were not raised as emperors over their people. In fact, to be a Prophet is to live like the ordinary masses. To be an angel is to be immaterial, to be a creature of light. Thus when leaders of faith begin to compete with politicians in the acquisition of worldly properties, concern should necessarily be raised by those imbued with discernment. Unfortunately we live in austere times; discerning minds are becoming rare to come by the day.
(08122465111 for text messages only)
Afis Ayinde Oladosu Ph.D
Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies,
Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies,
University of Ibadan, Nigeria.