What! No Rules?

“Of course there are rules,” said Matt, “otherwise it would be anarchy. There are just two: ‘love God with all your heart’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.”

“Is that all?” I asked.

“Isn’t that enough, Sami?”

I thought for a moment.

“What about the ten commandments?” I asked. “What’s wrong with them?”

“There’s nothing wrong with them,” he said. “They were the basis of God’s promise to the people – what they called the Covenant – and the commandments were perfect. The problem was that people weren’t and they couldn’t keep them. So God replaced the Old Covenant with a New Covenant. Now, instead of trying – and failing – to keep the Law, we put our faith in Jesus, who lived a perfect life and died for our sin – our failures to keep the commandments. Does that make sense to you, Sami?

I shook my head.

“But I’ve never murdered anyone,” I protested. “Why should I need forgiveness?”

“Do you actually know what the ten commandments are?”

“Er … don’t murder … um don’t commit adultery …. What else is there, Matt?”

“Don’t steal, don’t covet-”

“Don’t covet? What does that mean, Matt?”

“Don’t envy. When a Rolls Royce glides past you, you mustn’t think, ‘I wish that was me driving it.'”

“But that’s impossible!”

“I know. And that’s precisely the point I’m trying to make. The ten commandments are fine. The world would be perfect if everybody kept them, but they can’t. No one can. Well, just one man did – as I said – Jesus. And they killed him. But it was all part of God’s plan. He died for our sin and gave us the New Covenant – which based on faith, not trying to keep the Law.”

I shook my head again.

“No. Sorry, Matt, I still don’t get it. I’ll carry on thinking about it,though”

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Looking a Little Closer

It’s written in the Holy Quran:

Now when Jesus came [to his people] with all evidence of the truth, he said: “I have now come unto you with wisdom, and to make clear unto you some of that on which you are at variance: hence, be conscious of God, and pay heed unto me.”

Az-Zukhruf (The Gold Adornments) – 43:63

But did he actually do and say?

The first thing he did was to call a small group of men to follow him. Think of them as his students. They came from a variety of backgrounds. Some were fishermen. At least one was a civil servant. Some were married – some weren’t. And Jesus gave instruction to these men about Allah.

But Jesus also taught the general public.

When Jesus saw the crowds … he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew Chapter 5

Jesus healed many people who were ill. He also fed the hungry.

On one famous occasion he drove cheating money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. (Wouldn’t we all like to clear out the cheating bankers?)

Jesus never called himself the Son of God. Instead he preferred to describe himself as the Son of Man. Nevertheless, when he prayed (which was frequent) he always addressed Allah as Father and taught his students to do the same. He said:

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name….'”

Obviously, every one of the men who followed him already had a father. Jesus, however, wanted them to see Allah as their Father in heaven. A good father is loving, kind, cares for his children, protects them and provides for their needs. And Jesus, it seems, understood that Allah is just like that with us – and very much more!

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Mary and the Holy Spirit

I’d like you to look at the following ayats from the Holy Quran:

“And Mary the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We gave to her of Our Spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants).”

— Qur’an, sura 66 (At-Tahrim), ayat 12

“And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples.”

— Qur’an, sura 21 (Al-Anbiya), ayat 91

They clearly refer to Mary the mother of Jesus. Now compare them with these verses taken from the Christian Bible:

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

It’s quite surprising (at least it was to me) how similar these accounts of the same incident are. Mary – a virgin. The Holy Spirit coming upon her and overshadowing her. Sura 66 speaks of her testifying to the truth of the Lord’s words and His revelations, and the Christian Bible later records a song which she sings in praise of Allah and His glorious dealings with men.

This again is a wonderful example of how the Holy Spirit inspires quite ordinary people.

 

 

 

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Inspiration

It would appear that Christians see the Holy Spirit as Someone who inspires them to do the right thing.

Paul, an early Christian writer, lists the qualities he says that the Holy Spirit inspires in people. He mentions love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are all admirable characteristics which anyone would all be pleased to have.

But that’s not the half of it. Christians also believe that the Holy Spirit inspires what people say. So, of course, do Muslims:

“(The day) when God saith: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity.”

— Qur’an, sura 5 (Al-Ma’ida), ayat 110

And:

“Raised high above ranks (or degrees), (He is) the Lord of the Throne (of Authority): by His Command doth He send the Spirit (of inspiration) to any of His servants he pleases, that it may warn (men) of the Day of Mutual Meeting.”

— Qur’an, sura 40 (Ghafir), ayat 15

On one occasion, Jesus breathed on his students and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

See how similar this is to what we read in the Holy Quran:

“But He fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him something of His Spirit. And He gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and feeling (and understanding): little thanks do ye give!”

— Qur’an, sura 32 (As-Sajda), ayat 9

Interestingly, when Nicodemus visited Jesus with a number of questions, Jesus told that he needed to be born again of the Holy Spirit before he could understand spiritual matters.

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Why does Jesus mention being “born of water”? Well, some Christians believe this means the practice of baptism. Others think it’s simply a reference to natural childbirth – the breaking of the waters, etc. Please feel free to make up your own mind regarding this point.

 

 

 

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What’s the Most Important Thing?

“What’s the most important thing in your faith?” I asked Matt.

He thought for a moment, frowning deeply.

“Love,” he said at last. “Actually, that’s the most important thing in the world, isn’t it?”

I hesitated.

“We’re taught that knowledge of Allah is most important,” I said.

“Same thing,” said Matt, “because Allah – God  – is love. John of Patmos told us that. And Jesus proved it.”

“Proved it? How did he prove it?”

Matt jumped up and snatched a book off one of his shelves. He flicked over a few pages, then thrust it under my nose.

“Read that, Sami!” he said, pointing at a couple of paragraphs. “This something that Jesus said.”

I read the following:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

“What does it mean?” I asked in bewilderment.

“It means,” Matt said, “that Jesus loved us so much that he died for us.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why should he do that?”

“So that we can be forgiven. We’ve all made mistakes, we’ve all done things that are wrong and we need to be forgiven. So that we can be forgiven, Jesus – who never did anything wrong – died in our place.”

I shook my head.

“That doesn’t sound fair,” I said.

“It’s not fair!” said Matt. “It’s a demonstration of God’s love! Allah’s love! If we’re not forgiven, how else can we come to him?”

“I don’t know, Matt. I shall have to give it some careful thought.”

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Prayers and Attitudes

Sorry I’ve been out of touch for a while. I’ve been busy.

Now, what can I tell you about Christians, their beliefs and practises? They sing hymns a lot, but I expect you already knew that.

I’m fascinated by their prayers. They have formal prayers at set times, of course, which someone leads on their behalf, but they also feel able to talk to Allah at any time, anywhere. In fact, Matt tells me that he can just think a prayer to Allah, and often does.

And here’s something I read in the Bible Matt gave me. It’s from a book of the Bible called Matthew, and it comes in chapter 6.

It’s Jesus speaking to some of his students: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Please note how the students are encouraged to regard Allah as their Father in heaven. It seems strange to us, doesn’t it? But Matt says Christians do it all the time, almost taking it for granted!

 

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Clarification

Matt has been in touch with me about something one of the commentators has written.

It has been suggested that Christians think that anyone who doesn’t believe in the Trinity will go to Hell. Matt, to my great relief, assures me that this is incorrect.

He says that what Christians actually believe is covered by a parable that Jesus told. In this it is made absolutely clear that people’s futures are determined by how they treat others in this world. Those who treat others with kindness will share a future of happiness and joy with Allah, who is Himself kind. Those who ignore the needs of others and treat them harshly will find themselves cut off from that promised joy and happiness

It is, says Matt, as simple as that!

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