Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is Jesus A Jew (1/2)

One of my readers who goes by the name Maal wrote the following comment in Is Jesus Prophet Isa:
Wasn't Jesus/Isa an Israelite (Bani Israel) as his lineage was through Levi/Lawi on to Jacob/Yaqub (a.k.a Israel)? He would have been a Jew only if it was through Judah/Yahuda.
My short reply on the above question is already sufficient, but I thought a little history on these people and the usage of the term would help. 
But first, it has to be mentioned that the term Jew is being used to refer to many things.  Sometimes it refers to people, such as the Jews of America, the Jews of Israel, and the Jews of Russia.  Sometimes to behavior, and this is often used derogatorily, such as “you would be screwed if you deal with a Jewish merchant.” 
At other times, it refers to culture, a culture which is distinct from other culture, in the sense that the Jews always maintain their unique cultural identity.  In this sense, the Chinese are observed to have more or less similar characteristic, which lead them to be labeled as the Jews of the East.  It also refers to religion, for the Jews as people and Judaism as religion are inseparable.   You can be a Malay, a Chinese, an Arab, an Indian, and be a Muslim or a Christian at the same time, but you must be a Jew too if you want to convert to Judaism.
As you can see, the term is not used for one thing only, but for multiple usages.  There are many more to the above, but let’s limit to that for now.
Why such multiplicity of meanings and usages?  The reason is historical.
The Jews belong to ancient people, said to be the descendants of Abraham, through his grandson Jacob, known as Israel.  Abraham was said to have lived around 4,000 years ago.  Jacob probably lived around 3,800 years ago, thereabout.  He had 12 sons.  The most well known ones are Joseph, Levi and Judah.
Joseph is famous because he was also a prophet, and because he had an interesting life.  We have already narrated his story in Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort. As for Levi (Lawi) and Judah (Yahuda), they are not famous because of themselves, but made famous by their descendants.  Levi is the ancestor of Prophet Moses, Aaron and most of the Israelite prophets.  The priestly caste among the Israelites belongs to Levi tribe.  Judah is famous because his descendants later on became the kings for the Israelites, starting from David and Solomon.  It was also from his name that the word Jew came into existence.
From the story of Joseph, we know that Jacob had twelve sons.  Some of you might have thought that he got these sons from only one wife, because I did not narrate it there.  Actually, he got these twelve sons from four wives.  It is said that he had 17 children altogether, the other five being daughters. 
What is interesting about his wives is that two of them were sisters, and the other two were bond maids of each of these sisters.  These two sisters who were his wives were his cousins, for they were the daughters of his uncle Laban, who was the brother of his mother Rebecca.  What is more interesting is that, if the Biblical story is accurate, he wanted to marry only one of them, Rachel, the younger and more beautiful sister, but ended up marrying the elder sister, Leah. 
Well, he got tricked so to speak, by his own uncle no less.  Angry for not getting what he coveted in the first place, he went to complain to his uncle, who simply replied that it is improper for him to give the younger one when the elder is still unmarried.  If you want Rachel, his uncle said, you have to continue working for me for another seven years.  Jacob was already serving his uncle for seven years, which was a condition for him to marry Rachel, but instead was given Leah.  In any case, since it was Rachel whom Jacob desired, he had to serve his uncle for another seven years, making it altogether 14 years.
When Jacob married his cousins, it is interesting to note that he got to marry their bond maids as well.  Thus, instead of having only one wife, he got four.  As many men would say, it is not a bad deal indeed, in spite of having to wait for seven more years. 
If one thinks that the story of Joseph is interesting, the story of his father is even more so, for it was full of intrigues.  We may write about him one day, God willing.
For the moment, let’s stick with the matter in hand. 
As we have also seen in the story of Joseph, Jacob had migrated to Egypt from Canaan.  He brought all his family members, 70 of them.  They lived as respectable citizens in Egypt because Joseph was the leading minister there.  Two or three generations later, the memory of Joseph faded from the minds of the Egyptians.  Some said the dynasty had also changed.
The new dynasty, whose king was known as Pharaoh, did not look at the descendants of Jacob kindly.  This dynasty was also affected by grandiosity.  They liked to build majestic monuments, mega projects.  To do that, they needed many slaves.  So they enslaved the descendants of Jacob as well, whom they called Habiru, probably their variation of what we know as Hebrew, or Ibrani in Arabic.  It seems possible that during that time, the name Israelite was not yet in common use.  The name of Jacob’s distant ancestor, Eber, from which came Hebrew, was used instead.  But since the Quran used the term Israelites, we might as well go by that name. 
In bondage, the Israelites were looking for the deliverer.  God answered their call by sending Moses.  Moses brought them out of Egypt, crossing the sea and encamped in the Sinai Desert.  Their final destination was Canaan (current Israel and Palestine, and part of Jordan), the Land of Promise, the land of their forefathers.  It was in this land that Abraham finally resided, and it was in this land that Jacob lived before he brought his whole family to Egypt.  And it was also in this land that both Abraham and Jacob were buried.
As was inspired to him, Moses went to Mount Tur, searching for new revelation, seeking guidance from God as to what to do next.  He left his people under the charge of his elder brother, Aaron (Prophet Harun).  Once in the desert, the Israelites felt the pain of living in the harsh desert. 
In Egypt, they were in bondage, yet food was not only aplenty, but had many varieties as well.  In the desert, they felt hungry.  Moses was also not around to give them guidance as to what they should worship.  They were the descendants of Jacob, and it was the God of Jacob that they worshipped.  But in Egypt, they observed that the Egyptians worshipped idols.  In this state of confusion, a man by the name Samiri, who was wealthy and was reluctance to leave Egypt, agitated the masses and blamed Moses for causing all the difficulties they were experiencing.  Without Moses, Aaron was too weak to prevent Samiri from making mischief.
It didn’t take long before many of them fell into disbelief.  Taking all the gold they brought from Egypt, they smelt it and shaped it in the form of a cow.  This is our god, Samiri and his goons shouted.  Perhaps looking for excitement, or perhaps because many of them had weak faith, they joined the party of Samiri and had the days of their lives—dancing, drinking and did all sort of things.  Aaron and others who had stronger faith looked at them in agony, but were helpless to prevent the orgy.
When Moses finally came back, he was shocked to see his people whom he had just delivered from the bondage in Egypt.  Legend has it that Moses threw the stone engraving the Ten Commandments, and the earth split and swallowed the offenders.  Quran commentators say that for this terrible behavior, the Israelites were made to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  They were allowed to survive by feeding only on the “manna” and “salwa”, which, according to commentators, were quail and mushroom.
For that behavior and many others, which we do not need to narrate here, their final destiny to the Promised Land was made to delay by almost three centuries.  It was only by the year 1050 BC, or thereabout, that they finally managed to have a king and started to grow powerful.
End of Part 1

Friday, January 27, 2012

Prophethood The Cornerstone of Islamic Faith

In my last posting, I indicated that the basic difference between Islam on the one hand, and Judaism and Christianity on the other, is the belief in the last Prophet, Muhammad, upon him be peace. 

The Jews did not believe in Jesus as well, for they regard him only as a historical figure.  Yet, if they believe in Muhammad, then they would have to believe in Jesus as well, for it is inconceivable to believe in Muhammad without believing in Jesus the Christ.  Hence, the belief in Muhammad, and he alone, that differentiates between Islam and these two other Abrahamic faiths.

Also indicated in the last posting, and essentially known to all Muslims, is that The Belief In The Prophets constitutes one of the six Articles of Faith.  Now, at one look, it seems that the belief in the prophets is one of the six weighty things: important, but perhaps not all that critical.  The belief in Allah, for instance, appears to be more important.  Or even for that matter, the belief in the angels and the unseen.

But where do we owe our belief in Allah, in the angels, and in the unseen?

You see, one can believe in whatever God or gods he fancies.  But where do we get the right notion about God?  Godhood is such a broad concept and is often extremely complex.  Even its number is a matter of dispute.  The Muslims and the Jews, for instance, believe that God is one, and only one.  The Christians also believe that God is one, but exists in three personas.  You are not a Christian if you believe that God is more than one, but you are not a true Christians if you don’t believe that He exists in three personalities (at least for the majority of them, that is).

The Hindus?  Well, they have many gods, which is why they are called the polytheists.  Some of them even see gods in everything, or everything is a god so to speak, which is what pantheism is all about

Worse, even some of the atheists, those who supposedly do not believe in God, are often consumed by the notion of God.  Albert Einstein, for instance, is known to be an atheist, or at most a Gnostic, but it was reported that he was intoxicated with the god of the Cosmos.  Some say that the Communists, those who do not believe in God and consider religion as nothing but the opium to mankind, are said to have a god, and their god is materialism.  Gandhi used to say that when people are hungry, food is god.

Years ago, an Indian friend of mine, holding a US Dollar note, asked me: “In which God do the Americans trust?”

Not knowing where he was heading, I simply said, “In the Christians’ God, I suppose.”

“No, not all Americans are Christians.  And those who thought themselves Christians are only Christians in name.  But all Americans trust this god.”  He said, showing the line on the US Dollar note that says, “In God We Trust.”

He was being cheeky of course, but I thought that he had a point.  God is often loosely defined as something sought after, and the US Dollar is pretty much a sought after thing.  In that sense, a US Dollar is a god that not only the Americans, but the people the world over trust.

In Islam, the false gods are called idols.  Nowadays we have American idols, Malaysian idols, Mexican idols, and so on.  We idolize our idols who are all humans.  We call our idols, celebrities, because we celebrate their status, pretty much the way we celebrate and sing praises to God.

Given the broad spectrum and the multiplicity of usage regarding the notion of God, the question to ask is this: who determines whether we have the correct notion about God?  The answer, of course, is the Prophets. Philosophers, scientists, shamans, soothsayers, poets, etc., can talk about God or gods, but only the Prophets can tell us about the right God, the God we should believe.  

Likewise with other beliefs.  It is the Prophets who taught us the right belief.

Take the question about the world or the universe, and how it comes into being.  There are many notions and theories as to how this world or the universe comes into being, but it is to the Prophets that we owe our understanding.  The philosophers or the scientists talk volumes about this, but if their views are in contradiction to the views taught by the Prophets, we cannot take their views as correct.

Likewise is the view we have on ourselves.  The evolutionists say that we descend from apes.  They can say what they like, and present whatever scientific evidences they fancy, but if the Prophets say that we descend from Adam, that is the belief we must upheld.  If the Prophets say that we are created instead of evolved from lower animals, then that is what we should believe.

Likewise is our belief about angels, about the unseen, about the divinely revealed books, or about the divine will (often inadequately translated as predestination).  Everyone can talk about angels, about the world of the unseen, about the revealed books, about predestination, but the correct belief on these matters can only come from the prophets.  If these come from the philosophers, scientists, or whoever, and if their notions contradict what the Prophets teach us, then these are not the correct beliefs.

For that reason, the belief in the Prophets is the cornerstone of Islamic faith.  Not that the other five tenets which complete the articles of faith are not important.  If we don’t believe in even one of them, our faith is flawed.  The point is, even if we believe in all those fives, but not in accordance with what are being taught by the Prophets, then our belief is flawed.  We have to believe them the way the Prophets taught us.

But there are many variations taught by different Prophets, one might say. 

No, there are no variations actually, for these are only appearance, since all Prophets teach the same thing.

It happened that over the course of human history, given that the teachings of earlier prophets were taught mostly orally, their teachings got corrupted along the way.  The Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad bin Abdullah, came to purify these corruptions, and it is the version taught by him, as in the Quran and his Sunnah, which we must believe. 

Muhammad the Prophet, upon him be peace, was being humble when he said that he was only one of the stones in the structure of prophethood.  In reality, he was the core, the pillar of that structure.  Without him, the whole prophethood structure would crumble.  This is the reason why the Muslims believe that the Jews and the Christians have erred. 

The Jews and the Christians essentially believe in what the Muslims believe as well.  All three religions revere similar prophets.  But the Jews have erred because they reject Jesus and Muhammad, while the Christians have erred because they only accept Jesus but reject Muhammad.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Islam Differentiated From Judaism And Christianity

Suppose we ask a question: What are Islamic articles of faith (rukun iman)?

Any Muslim worth his salt would say: There are six elements—the belief in Allah, the angels, the unseen, the prophets, the revealed books, and the divine will (qada' and qadar).

Let’s ask again:  If one believes in all those, would he be a believer?

Answer:  Of course.

Suppose we say: The Jews and the Christians believe in all those things.  Are they also the believers?

One may argue: The Jews don’t believe in Allah, they believe in Yahweh.  As for the Christians, they believe in trinity.  Besides, they don’t observe the five Pillars of Islam.  Hence, they cannot be regarded as believers.

Now we come to the interesting part.  Whether it is called Allah or Yahweh, that is only the variation in name.  If it means the same thing, it is a matter of no consequence, as we have seen in “Is Jesus Prophet Isa” piece.  After all, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  Besides, the Jews in Arabia, such as the ones during the Prophet, called their God, Allah.  Thus, such an argument is not valid.  As for the Christians, yes, their concept of God is more complicated.  Yet, the Arab Christians also call their God, Allah.  In Malaysia, this has become a big issue, but in the Arab countries, this is very common and pretty much accepted.

It is the second part, namely the five Pillars of Islam, which differentiates between us and them.  What causes this differentiation?

Essentially there is only one and one only.  It is the belief in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace.

The three major religions which make up half of the world population, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are called the Abrahamic faiths.  They all trace their origin to the Prophet Abraham.  They all essentially share similar belief, in the Oneness of God, the angels, the unseen, the prophets, the revealed books, and to a large extent, the divine will.

There are of course many variations, but within each faith, there are many variations as well.  Hardly two Muslims, for instance, would explain their understanding about God in a similar way.  Some Muslims would go to the extent of saying that God permeates in everything, that everything is divine or godly, which is very close to the notion of Pantheism.  And they would quote Quranic verses to support their argument.

The point to make here is simply this: if one wants to look at the differences between Islam and the other two Abrahamic religions, he can write volumes about it.  But if he wants to narrate the similarity, he can also write volumes about it as well.  If differences are what we are after, there is probably not enough space to write about the differences among the Muslims.  As Al Ghazali used to say, Muslims are very good at dividing.  If you see two of them arguing, probably they belong to three groups.

Al Ghazali was being cheeky of course, but the point is, if we want to look at the differences, we will always find one.  But if we want to look at the similarities, we likewise can always find one.  For all we know, despite the many gods that the Hindus have, in the final analysis, they all trace to only One God, as discovered by those who study their ancient scripture, Rig Veda.

Still, in spite of the pervasive similarity between these three Abrahamic religions, they are torn apart because of two leading prophets: Jesus and Muhammad.  The Jews, who were the torch bearers of the Abrahamic faith, fell into disbelief when they refused to accept Jesus as the Messenger of God.

It is worth noting, however, that the majority of Jesus’ early followers were Jews, or Israelites if you wish.  The Jews who believed in him were called the Nazarenes (Nasrani).  They were waiting for the Messiah (Al Masih in Arabic, Mashiach in Hebrew, and Christ in English, from the Greek Khristos).  When he came, they crucified him (let us put the issue of crucifixion aside, but they thought they crucified him to the Cross).   

The Jews continued to wait.  When the Prophet Muhammad was about to come, their knowledgeable rabbis knew that this prophet would appear in Arabia.  In the seerah, we know that one of them went to Yathrib from Syria, because it was foretold that the last Prophet would appear there.  As we have seen previously, the Jews in Yathrib used the advent of the Prophet as a threat to their Arab neighbors.  But when Muhammad migrated to Yathrib, except for a handful, they fought against him.

As for the Christians, they believe in Jesus, but they refuse to believe in Muhammad.  Let’s not argue over their belief in Jesus, which is different from the Muslims.  We can take that subject later. 

The point to make here is that, in essence, there are not much different between Islam and the other two Abrahamic faiths, but whatever similarity they may have is considered null and void, at least in Islamic perspective, because they refuse to believe that Muhammad is the last Prophet, as foretold in their scriptures.  By refusing to believe in Muhammad, they take a different route as compared to ours. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Info Seerah: Muhammad's Lineage

So far I have been making a thematic commentary on seerah and history.  But one would not be able to properly understand seerah or history without basic information. 
Information on seerah and history are plentiful in the net.  Too many actually, and often they are confusing, as some of my readers noted.  Bookshops sell many books and magazines, but not many people would have the time to read thick books, or have the patient and passion to do so.
Mindful of that, I have decided to create a section in this blog that provides more information and less commentary.  Tentatively, I will just call it INFO SEERAH.  To help the readers to digest the information better, I will present it in a summarized form with some perspective thrown into it.
The first entry shall be about the Prophet Muhammad’s lineage
The Prophet used to call himself the son of two sacrifices.  By that, he was referring to two of his ancestors.  The first is the immediate one, his father, Abdullah bin Abdul Muttalib, and the other, his far distance ancestor, Ismail bin Ibrahim (Ishmael the son of Abraham).  He did not meet any of them.
Being a posthumous child, his father died before he was born.  His distance ancestor, Prophet Ishmael (Nabi Ismail), died some 2,500 years before he was born. 
Both Ishmael and Abdullah were about to be sacrificed when they were still unmarried, but those sacrifices were averted. Needless to say, if those plans were carried out, Muhammad would not be born.  In the case of Ishmael, it was replaced by a ram.  In the case of Abdullah, it was replaced by 100 camels.  Ishmael turned out to be the father of 12 sons.  He is considered as the Father of Arabs, or more precisely, the Ishmaelite Arabs.  Abdullah, well, Muhammad was his only son.
Between Muhammad and Ishmael, they were separated by 60 generations.  Muhammad unequivocally said that he was the descendant of Abraham (Nabi Ibrahim) through Ishmael, but he said the names of his ancestors are only correct up to Adnan, one of his not so distant ancestors.  Between Muhammad and Adnan, they were separated by 20 generations.  So the names of his ancestors from Adnan up to Ishamel, comprising of 40 generations (assuming the number 40 is correct), may not be accurate. 
His great ancestor, Abraham, was the father of many nations, but the most well known and survive to the current days are the Ishmaelites and the Israelites.  The Ishmaelites, as we already note, are the descendants of Prophet Ishmael, while the Israelites are the descendants of the Prophet Israel, a name given to Prophet Jacob (Nabi Yaakob).  As we have earlier mentioned in the story of Joseph, Jacob was the grandson of Abraham.  In our time, they are respectively known as the Arabs and the Jews.  The name Jews is derived from the name of one of Jacob’s sons, Judah.
Adnan was the chieftain who lived around 100 BC.  Most likely, he was the contemporary of Prophet Zechariah (Nabi Zakaria), the father of John the Baptist (Nabi Yahya).  The two probably never met, because one was in the Arabian Peninsula and the other in Judea (Palestine/Israel).  Adnan was the father of Adnanite Tribe, which is a branch of Ishmaelite.
Halfway between Prophet Muhammad and Adnan, there was his ancestor called Fihr.  Between Muhammad and Fihr, they were separated by ten generations.  His ancestor called Fihr was popularly known as Quraysh.  It was from him that the tribe of Qurasyh was named.  Quraysh is a branch of Adnanite Tribe, and a sub-tribe of Kinanah.  Kinanah is Fihr's (Quraysh) great grandfather.
Quraysh and his descendents lived around Makkah, but they were scattered.  They were not the leaders of Makkah.  The dominant tribe that controlled Makkah during Qurasyh and his descendents  was called Khuza’a.
Halfway between Muhammad and Quraysh, there was his ancestor called Qusayy.  Muhammad was separated with Qusayy by four generations.  Qusayy was the first Qurasyh who had overtaken the control of Makkah.  Since then, it was the Quraysh who dominated and controlled Makkah. 
Qusayy had an older brother called Zuhrah.  Four generations down the road, Zuhrah had a descendant called Amina.  This Amina married Abdullah.  Through this marriage, Muhammad was born.  Thus, Abdullah and Amina were distant cousins.  They had a common ancestry in Kilab, the father of both Qusayy and Zuhrah
Qusayy had a son called Abdul Manaf, who in turned had sons called Amr and Umayyah.  Amr was popularly known as Hashim.  He was the great grandfather of Muhammad. His descendants are called Bani Hashim
Umayyah was the grandfather of Abu Sufyan, the archenemy of the Prophet before Abu Sufyan was defeated and became Muslim.  Umayyah was also the great grandfather of Uthman, the third caliph, and the great grandfather of Muawiyah, the son of Abu Sufyan, who established the Umayyah Dynasty.
Bani Hashim and Bani Umayyah were both the sub-clans of Bani Abdul Manaf.  They were the leading clans in Makkah. They vied with each other for supremacy. Bani Hashim was superior before the Prophet was born, but when Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet’s grandfather died, the Prophet’s clan had lost its dominant.  By then, both of these clans were about equal in dominant, and was being challenged by the clan of Makhzum, the clan of Abu Jahal.
Other than Abdul Manaf, Qusayy also had a son called Abdul Uzza.  This Abdul Uzza had a descendant called Khadijah binti Khuwaylid.  Muhammad married Khadijah.  Thus both had a common ancestry in Qusayy.
Like his father Abdullah who had married his distant cousin Amina, Muhammad too had married his distant cousin, Lady Khadijah.  His father and his mother had a common ancestry in Kilab, the father of both Qusayy, the great great grandfather of Abdullah, and Zuhrah, the great great grandfather of Amina.  As for the Prophet and his wife Khadijah, they both had a common ancestry in Qusayy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Namesake: Is Jesus Prophet Isa?

Let me say up front that I did not plan to write this piece.  I have four drafts ready to be posted, and a few others under construction.  And I was planning to publish a different entry.

Out of the blue, however, a good friend of mine, a distant relative of the Prophet (for he belongs to the Sayyid clan) texted me that I shouldn't use Jesus to mean Isa.  I replied that I write my blog in English, and since in English the Prophet Isa is commonly written as Jesus, I simply employ conventional usage.  Likewise I write Joseph instead of Yusuf, or Jacob instead of Yaakob, or Abraham instead of Ibrahim.

He contested that I can use all those Anglicized names for other prophets, but not for Jesus.  Jesus is not Isa, he said.  I tried to explain again, saying that it is just a matter of nomenclature, a linguistic usage.  Still he was adamant with his stand.

Seeing that he was adamant, I asked what had led him to that conclusion.  He explained that there had been a debate in his community mosque and they all decided that Jesus is Jesus, and Isa is Isa.  I replied that if such an issue can become a concern in his community, perhaps it is also an issue to others, and I told him that perhaps I should write about this namesake thing in my blog. 

Well, this good friend of mine is not a Sayyid for nothing.  Instead of being persistent with his stand, he thanked me for listening to his concern and said I should put this issue into perspective. 

Now, let's get straight to the issue in hand: Is Jesus the Prophet Isa?

Well, strictly speaking, neither of those.  When he was born, he was neither called Jesus, nor Isa.  Rather, he was called Yehoshua.  Jesus is English; Isa is Arabic.   He was a Jew, you see.  On the eight day of his birth, he was circumcised and given the name Yehoshua in his language, Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect.

But, is Jesus the Prophet Isa?

Well, yes and no.

From a linguistic point of view, it is just how his name is pronounced or written in English.  Thus, Jesus is definitely Isa, when the same person is being referred. 

But, if you talk about Jesus of Christianity and Jesus of Islam, they are not quite the same.  For one thing, Jesus in Islam is only human.  In Christianity, however, he is both God and human.  If you want to go a little deeper, Jesus is 100% God and 100% human, but if you sum up the two, the total is not 200%, but still 100%.  It is like God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  They are all one.  Three distinct personalities but of the same essense.

Be careful with the word you use: the same essence, mind you.  Not similar essence.  If you say similar essence, you are a heretic.  The technical word is homoousios (homo=same; ousios=essence); not homoiousios (homoi=similar). 

Well, this is going too far.  We reserve this complex subject for later entries.  The point is, from a purely linguistic point of view, be it Jesus, Isa or Yehoshua (or Yahshua), these names are all referred to the same person.  A rose in any other names, Shakespeare observes, smells as sweet.  

The more practical question is this: Can the Muslims call Jesus to mean Isa?

Now, if you happen to believe that Jesus is the corruption of Greek G-zeus (Latinized as Iesus or Iesous), where Zeus is the Greek's King of gods, then the use of this name does not seem to be appropriate.  But this is only a theory (please go here if you are interested).  The fact is that the name Jesus has been used for ages, in scholarly works no less, both by Muslims, Christians, and others.  When the name Jesus is used, they mean what the Muslims call the Prophet Isa.

If there is no definite prohibition from the scholars on the usage, and given that the name Jesus has been used for ages and has become a norm, what is so wrong about that?  If we use different name, it might confuse some people, or at least become oblivious to some.

Besides, why are we allowed to use Abraham for Ibrahim, Jacob for Yaakob, Moses for Musa, Lot for Lut, etc.? 

One may reply: because when those names are used, they are being referred to the same people, but when Jesus is used, he is not being referred to Isa.  Fine, but what if we say that when Jesus is used, we mean Isa, and we use Jesus only because it is customary in English to go by that name?

One may respond: it is offensive because the Christians believe that Jesus is not only a human, but also a God.  Hence, Jesus of the Christianity is definitely not the same as Isa of Islam.  Point taken, but if we go along the line of offensiveness, is it not offensive for Muslims when in the Bible the Prophet Lot is said to have committed adultery with his daughters?  Prophet Lut committed adultery with his daughters?  God forbid. 

Or that the King Solomon had fallen into idolatry.  Prophet Sulaiman (King Solomon) is an idolater?  God forbid.

Or that the Partriach Abraham had tricked his wife Sarah and his son Isaac during the sacrifice.  Prophet Ibrahim tricked his wife and his son?  Didn't he explain the dream to both of them?  Were not both of them willingly submitted?  And who are these Sarah and Isaac?  It was Hagar and Ishmael, for God's sake.

Well, I can go on, but I think you have got the point.  Even if you don't, I have made mine.

I will continue to use Jesus to mean Isa, or any of those as the occasion arises, because I happen to write in English in this blog.  I know a good friend of mine can take it, because he is gracious enough to see where I am coming from, although there might be others who disagree with my usage.

Unless, of course, if one can show me that it is definitively prohibited, in which case I will cease and desist.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort (Part 5 Of 5)

When one is at the depth of despair, nothing is better than a moving story, narrated in a beautiful fashion, illustrating how others had likewise been through all those predicaments. 

Muhammad had been promised that his mission will succeed.  He believed in that promise.  He knew his mission cannot fail.  How could it fail when he is the Seal of the Prophets.  There will be no more prophet after him.  His mission is the last after a series of prophetic missions.  His mission is not targeted at a certain purpose, to certain people, at a certain time.  Nay, his mission is the last of the prophetic missions.  It is targeted to all people to all time with universal message.  After him, there is no more need for a prophet, because he will bring the complete message, which will be eternally preserved. 

That had been promised, and that he believed without reservation. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort (Part 4 of 5)

In the last episode, we have seen how Joseph's brothers got rid of him, how he was seduced by his mistress, and after he refused all the temptations directed by the ladies, he was finally thrown into the prison.

In the prison, Joseph befriended two inmates who were sentenced for some crime (in the Bible, they were the King's butler and baker who had incurred the wrath of the King).  Each of these two had a dream, and finding that Joseph was a man of wisdom, they asked him to interpret those dreams.  Gifted with dream interpretation, he interpreted their dreams to their satisfaction. 

From their dreams, Joseph knew that one of them will be crucified, while the other will be the King's chef (or baker).  He befriended both, but disclosed his case to the latter, who was wondering why such a fine young man like him ended in a prison.  He also asked his prison inmate to tell the king about him when the latter became a chef, for by then he would have an access to the King.

But when Joseph's prison inmate went out and became a chef to the King, he forgot about Joseph's request.  Thus Joseph had to stay in the prison for many more years, until the king himself had a strange dream, of which no one can interpret to his satisfaction.  The strange dream of the king reminded the prison inmate of Joseph's request, so he told the king about Joseph.  The latter was brought to the king and the dream was related to him.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort (Part 3 of 5)

All stories in the Quran are beautiful.  But it is the story of Joseph that is dubbed as the most beautiful of stories.  Incidentally, its main actor, the Prophet Joseph, was also the most beautiful of men. 

It would not be proper, I reckon, to talk about the Surah that brings comfort to the Prophet without narrating its story, albeit in a brief fashion.

The story in the Surah Yusuf starts with him having a dream whereby he saw 11 stars, a sun and a moon prostrated to him.  He mentioned the dream to his father, Prophet Jacob (Nabi Yaakob).   The father, himself a prophet, saw the greatness in his second youngest son, but was concerned about his safety.  Altogether Joseph had 11 brothers.  Except for the youngest one, Benjamin (Bunyamin), the other ten were from different mothers.  

Joseph was the most beloved son of his father, which made  the other ten envious of him.  Knowing how these ten brothers felt about Joseph, the father was worried that if any of them knew about the dream, they might do harm to Joseph.  So the father asked the son to keep his dream a secret.

But the ten brothers could not stand having Joseph in their midst anyway, irrespective whether they knew or not about the dream.   So long as Joseph was around, they could not hope to get the fair share of their father's love.  So they plotted to get rid of him.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort (Part 2 of 5)

In Part 1, we have seen how devastated the Prophet was with the death of his beloved wife, Khadijah.  That alone was enough to make him sorrowful, but not sufficient for the year to be called the Year of Sorrow.  It is called the Year of Sorrow because he experienced the death of another important person in his life. 

The Prophet was emotionally shattered with the death of his wife, but his life was not in danger because of it.  With the death of Abu Talib, however, even his life was at stake.  His wife gave him emotional and material comforts, but it was his uncle who ensured the safety of his life, not to mention Abu Talib was the one who raised him after his grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, died.  Muhammad was only eight years old then. 

When Muhammad started his mission as the Seal of the Prophets, his movement was so radical to the eyes of his people that the fledgling Islamic community became a serious threat to their social, economic and political orders.  The leaders of Quraysh knew that, in order to solve their problem, they had to go to the source.  The source of their problem was Muhammad.