Can Jesus Save Islam? by David Marshall
The Promising Effects of Christ on Other Cultures by David Marshall
Since the attack on the World Trade Center, two questions have troubled public
consciousness. First, what ails Islam? And second, what can set it right?
We have come to recognize, in retrospect, that the problem is not a matter of
one or a dozen isolated incidents. Much of the Muslim world has been revealed
as a mosaic of “failed societies” that suffer from poverty, dictatorial
governments, and feudal power structures that oppress women and religious minorities.
Furthermore, as Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington infamously pointed
out, “The borders of Islam are bloody”: These problems are not retained
within Islam but have sparked a series of clashes from Nigeria to Indonesia,
Mindanao to Xinjiang.
Observers have offered a variety of explanations and suggestions. Oddly, though,
the simplest and most obvious answers to these two questions have seldom been
mentioned: the names of the two great Muslim prophets, Mohammed and Jesus.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, a consensus quickly became evident
that Mohammed would not be implicated in the problems of modern Islam. At heart,
Islam is “good and peaceful,” said George Bush, “incredibly
tolerant,” claimed Tony Blair, and “a religion of peace and moderation,”
according to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. Following the lead
of scholars like John Esposito and Edward Said, journalists agreed. Terrorists
“warp the words of Islam’s founding texts to channel noble thoughts
into ghastly deeds.”1 Mohammed “reiterated the need for
tolerance to people of all denominations.”2 In fact, “Nothing
in the Koran, Islamic theology or Islamic law in any way, shape or form justifies
ramming two airliners into civilian buildings.”3 Even conservative
scholars like Bernard Lewis and Bat Ye’or shied away from blaming Mohammed
himself, preferring publicly to ascribe the militant interpretation of the doctrine
of jihad to later Islamic jurists. Huntington saw high birth and unemployment
rates as the problem, contemptuously denying that “seventh-century religious
doctrines” could affect how folk behave today.4
Others claimed that the West was the real culprit, for the Crusades, colonialism,
support of Israel, or indifference to democracy in the Middle East. Anak Agung
Banyu Perwita argued in the Jakarta Post that conflicts in the Muslim
world were the fault of the United States for its support of “friendly
tyrants.”5 Dr. Yuzo Itagaki, who heads the Islamic study group
in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, claimed that the Muslim world had only been
held back from democracy by “adroit regional control maintained by Western
powers” for the past hundred years.6 Some Westerners have also
spoken quietly, or not so quietly, of how the continued vitality of Israel is
proving inconvenient for international relations.
“He who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall,” is always good
advice. If the cat scratches, it may be that someone has stepped on her tail.
No one denies that America has big boots and often walks clumsily. Wrong actions
by Western or Israeli governments may indeed contribute to Middle Eastern trouble,
as Western actions have hurt other parts of the world. Looking further back,
one could also argue that, with Mohammed’s jihad, Constantine’s
twisted theory of the cross, “Conquer by this!” came home to Christian
lands to roost.
What people are saying about Touchstone:
But the tone of much of the discussion so far strikes me as unbalanced. Surely
the claim that Islam has no effect on how Muslims act is neither realistic nor
fair even to terrorists. It is absurd to think that middle-class Middle Easterners
fly airliners into skyscrapers because of a slump in the GNP, or that the West
is so monolithic, powerful, and sly that it can manipulate dozens of sovereign
and hostile states behind the scenes, so as (for example) to place the Ayatollah
Khomeini in power to ruin Iran, or control the Arab uprising in the West Bank
from behind the scenes, as has been alleged in some quarters in the Middle East.
And what should we make of the desire to blame Jews for the troubles of the
The name of Mohammed, by contrast, has been remarkable by its absence.
While he was seldom more violent than necessary to further his ends, it is
unfair to his many victims to describe Mohammed as a man of peace. According
to the Qur’an and Muslim traditions, he personally led dozens of raids,
retaliatory strikes, pre-emptive attacks, and invasions against neighboring
peoples. He invented the doctrine that all holy warriors go to heaven. “No
one who fights this day . . . with steadfast courage . . .
shall meet his death without Allah’s bringing him to paradise!”7
When expedient, he had prisoners tortured. Once, he was about to execute a man
for too publicly expressing doubt about his prophetic abilities. The man asked,
“Who will take care of my sons?” “Hell!” was the prophet’s
cold reply.8 After surviving a siege, the prophet had all 700 or 800
Jewish men of the tribe of Banu Qurayza murdered as potential rebels, selling
the women and children as slaves (but keeping one comely widow for himself).
In The Scapegoat, Rene Girard argued that every society gains a sense
of community by unified violence against the innocent. A town or nation gains
cohesion and closure in troubling times by joining together for a good, therapeutic
murder. Girard found evidence of scapegoating both in historical writings (of
the persecution of Jews during the Middle Ages, for example) and in the founding
myths of various cultures (such as the deaths of Romulus, Zeus, and Balder).
Girard argued that in times of stress, society seeks cohesion by justifying
the ritual murder of those in its midst who stand out in some way. In the same
literature, he found evidence of post-mortem cover-ups. He concluded: “Human
culture is predisposed to the permanent concealment of its origins in collective
In the modern era, the world is forming a single civilization, an “international
community” or “global village.” Girard’s theory, it
seems to me, helps explain the public (mis)education program since September
11 about the origins and nature of the faith Mohammed taught, and perhaps the
intense interest in Israel of late as well. In the interest of world peace,
it becomes tempting to paper over the original nature of Mohammed’s movement
and to look for a common, ritual enemy on whom to focus collective and coalition-building
blame. Perhaps it is possible to strengthen Western-Islamic solidarity by the
ancient and proven ritual of scapegoating the Jews.
The simplest answer to why the Islamic world is in trouble is obvious but
unwelcome. Mohammed modeled one-man rule in the name of God. Why be surprised
to see dictators in the Arab world he did so much to shape? The prophet sometimes
killed the innocent. Should we feel shocked if terrorists acting in his name
do likewise? Mohammed promised that “the way to Paradise is lit by the
flash of the swords.” Can we be sure terrorists who blow themselves up
are acting in an impious manner? When threatened by an Arab army from Mecca,
Mohammed had the Qurayzah Jews of Medina slaughtered. Is it then surprising
when Saddam Hussein, beleaguered by American and Arab forces, launches SCUD
missiles at Israel? The prophet took the wives of his enemies, kept his women
under de facto house arrest, married a nine-year-old child, and allegedly said
that hell was filled with women who did not respect their husbands. Should we
be shocked to find the status of women low among his followers today?
The theory that the life of Mohammed really does influence those who follow
him appears to be too simple, and too dangerous, for orthodox consideration.
We make historical allowances for Mohammed, as we did for Marx and his followers,
as for all successful revolutionaries with innocent blood on their hands.
What is the solution to the problems of contemporary Islam?
Apart from an occasional salute to the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk,
most solutions offered to the dilemma the Muslim world faces have involved an
institution or historical era, rather than a person or idea. Many point to the
Golden Age of Islam, from the rise of the Abbasid caliphate in the eighth century
to the Mongol sack of Bagdad in 1258, during which Muslims established a creative
and dynamic empire. Others say that what Islam needs is a Reformation or Renaissance.
One of the most thoughtful suggestions of hope for the Muslim world came from
Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. He noted that other non-Western
societies had also gone through periods in which they radically rejected the
values of the West. Yet Asia did transform itself, beginning in Japan in the
nineteenth century with the Meiji reforms. “The Islamic world today is
ripe for its own Meiji period, and it should find the experience of Asia reassuring,”
Kristof argued. “The lesson of the Far East is that it is possible for
a troubled civilization to regain its footing only by integrating sweeping change
into its society, and that this embrace of modernity does no dishonor to a national
While the kind of civilizational change Kristof suggested certainly is possible,
the question of “natural heritage” is more complex in the case of
Islam than with East Asian societies. For one thing, Islam is not a nation.
For Muslims, honor means fidelity to divine words, not treasured traditions
set among sacred mountains and streams. Also, as Kristof pointed out, Japan
closed itself to the outside world for over 200 years, boiling Christians in
hot springs, before the Meiji reforms. And after Meiji came the cataclysm of
World War II. For both China and Japan, the path to modernity tracked twice
across totalitarianism. And much of Asian heritage and beauty were lost through
the process of modernization. Few who endure the drab, artificial ugliness of
a modern Japanese city will wish the Meiji solution on the rest of the world
with wholehearted enthusiasm.
But more importantly, what did the Golden Age of Islam, reforms in China, Japan,
and India, and the European Reformation share in common? A specific and surprising
common theme, to the best of each of those reforms, was the person of Jesus.
I think I am justified in speaking of Jesus as an answer to this question for
two reasons, aside from my own Christian faith. First, apart from his divine
status in Christianity, Jesus has shown signs of a healing touch even within
Muslim culture. And second, his example and teachings have been instrumental
in the reform of non-Christian cultures that have been promoted as models for
A strict bifurcation between “Islam” and “Christendom”
is too easily assumed. In reality, Mohammed influenced medieval Christianity.
“Medieval” can almost be defined as the period of European history
when the cross lay in the shadow of the crescent. When we say that such and
such a Muslim regime is “medieval,” we mean it resembles the West
at the period when the West most resembled Islam. The war-like Germanic tribes
tended to interpret even Jesus’ fishermen followers as warriors: They
hardly needed Mohammed to teach them to fight. But the Crusades did represent
a European breakthrough of sorts, prompted by Islamic practice. Historian Edward
Peters notes, “Before the late eleventh century, no one had worked out
a doctrine whereby fighting itself might be considered a penitential and spiritually
meritorious act.”11 Moors in southern Europe and Turks in Palestine
provided inspiration for the Christian discovery of such a device, with the
pope plagiarizing, for example, Mohammed’s promise that holy warriors
go to heaven.
Muslim Interpretations of Jesus
Just as Mohammed influenced Christianity, Jesus had a deep and possibly redemptive
effect on Islam, even when he was only partially understood and ambivalently
accepted. Called “Messiah,” or “Breath of God,” Jesus
is depicted in the Muslim holy book as a miracle-working messenger of God. The
Qur’an emphasizes that it is “not for God to take a son.”
But it speaks of Jesus in strikingly exalted terms:
Mary, God gives thee good tidings of a Word from Him whose name is Messiah,
Jesus, Son of Mary; high honored shall he be in this world and the next, near
stationed to God. (3:45)12
Like the Buddha of legend, the Quranic Jesus spoke from the cradle, answering
those who rebuked Mary for her out-of-wedlock pregnancy:
“Lo, I am God’s servant. . . . Blessed He has
made me . . . and He has enjoined me to pray, and to give alms.”
The Qur’an emphasizes the kindness of Jesus:
Then We sent, following in their footsteps, Our Messengers, and we sent,
following, Jesus son of Mary, and gave unto him the Gospel. And we set in
the hearts of those who followed him tenderness and mercy. (57:27)
It also depicts him as a great miracle-worker:
“I will also heal the blind and the leper, and bring to life the dead,
by the leave of God.” (3:49)
One Arab Christian scholar argues that the Qur’an even sets Jesus above
Islam recognizes Christ Jesus to be far more perfect and sinless than any
human being ever has been or could be. The Qur’an does not give to any
of the prophets, not even to Mohammed, any of those special characteristics
pertaining to Christ.13
In the centuries after the birth of Islam, Muslim thinkers nursed this tradition
into a core of extra-canonical teachings. Tarif Khalidi, fellow of King’s
College at Cambridge and director of the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic
Studies, notes that “the range and continuous growth of the Jesus corpus
has no parallels among other prophets in the Muslim tradition.”14
In his fascinating and elegant book, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories
in Islamic Literature, Khalidi collected more than 300 sayings, or logia,
ascribed to Jesus in the Muslim community. Many of these sayings had been collected
by famous scholars: the influential pietist theologian Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and
early Sufi apologist, Abu Nu’aym al Isbahani, and the naturalist and scholar
Abu Uthman al-Jahiz, who influenced the early Bagdad court.
While in some of these sayings the words of Jesus could have come from a stern
Mohammed, or even a Middle Eastern Confucius, in many early logia there was
an emphasis on aspects of Jesus’ personality and teaching that will be
familiar to readers of the New Testament. Many emphasized his poverty and servant-hood:
“Jesus used to prepare food for his followers, calling them to eat and
wait upon them, saying: ‘This is what you must do for the poor’”
(logion 49). They described how he answered evil with good. Some developed the
Quranic reference about Jesus bringing the dead to life through his prayers.
In one apocryphal story, a woman was in hell, until she was raised to life and
found salvation, thanks to Jesus. A later story reported Jesus affirming—but
only in a dream—that he was crucified, contrary to Muslim dogma. Khalidi
notes, “It is as if, even though he is a Muslim creation, the Islamic
Jesus, once created, maintains some distance from the strict orthodoxy of his
Jesus & Islamic Culture
The Muslim empire conquered Persia, North Africa, most of Byzantium, and much
of India by the sword. But having founded a mighty empire, the new community
required gentler methods of social cohesion. Mohammed himself, having justified
his teaching in terms of Jewish and Christian revelations, pragmatically affirmed
those revelations and the people who followed them, thus allowing the basis
of a multi-ethnic, pluralistic empire with room (sometimes congested) for Jews
and Christians to contribute. Unlike the Huns or Franks, the Arabs began their
conquests with a book in their hands, a book that affirmed other books.
Early Sufis found in Jesus a counterpoint to blind subservience to the state.
Many were especially attracted to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus-sayings provide
an oracle from within Islam that contrasted with the prophet Mohammed’s
own example. One collected by Abu Uthman al-Jahiz spoke, for instance, against
[When a man] has grown strong and erect and become a man, he fears that
he will not be provided for, so he attacks people, betrays their trust, robs
their belongings, and carries away their wealth, fearing that God Almighty
might forsake him. (logion 86)
Attacking and carrying away was precisely how the early Muslim community, under
Mohammed, sponsored its vast expansion. But according to the prophet Jesus,
such actions betray lack of faith. Similarly, couldn’t one argue from
within the Islamic Jesus tradition that the harsh enforcement of Islamic law
in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia betrays a lack of confidence in God?
The Muslim Jesus commented obliquely on family life:
The likeness of this world to the next is like a man who has two wives:
if he pleases one, he arouses the other’s resentment. (logion 172)
Mohammed had fourteen wives. One gets a taste of harem politics from how A’isha
described her husband’s first wife: “Why do you have to be always
remembering that toothless old Qurayshite with her red mouth? Fate made her
die and God has replaced her with a better!”16 Of course, Mohammed
held the trump card in domestic affairs: divine affirmation. “If he divorces
you, perhaps his Lord will give him instead better wives than yourselves.”17
The second-rate wives, the jealous, the complainers, would then be out the door.
V. S. Naipaul has written acerbically about the effect sanctified “tom-catting
rights”18 has had on families in countries like Indonesia and
As in other Islamic countries, it was a familiar story. The adventure had
religious sanction, but the consequences never ended for the two families.
It made for a society of half-orphans in a chain of deprivation and rage.19
Huntington has a point when he argues that an excess of unattached young men
in the Arab world encourages violence—as it did in the time of the caliphs.
Warfare was the solution then and is an obvious solution today for social unrest
resulting from the rage of the “half-orphans.”
The Muslim Jesus favored the poor:
God revealed to Jesus: O Jesus, I have granted you the love of the poor
and mercy towards them. You love them, and they love you and accept you as
their spiritual guide and leader. (logion 37)
The folds of heaven are empty of the rich. (logion 63)
Poverty, of course, does not cause violence. It is patronizing to assume the
poor cannot make wise spiritual choices. In fact, many of the “best”
terrorists have come from the “best” families, as did bin Laden.
Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang once described Jesus and Lao Zi as “spiritual
brothers,” both of whom “built their kingdom upon poverty of spirit.”
The same could not be said of Mohammed, who built his empire on military expansion.
Even between Jesus and Lao Zi there was a difference. Showing, not telling,
is the deepest form of teaching. Lin noted, “Jesus showed what [poverty
of spirit] meant by washing his disciples’ feet. That may be something
Lao Zi planned to do, but there is no record that he ever got around to doing
Jesus & India
As the early twentieth-century scholar J. N. Farquhar argued in The
Crown of Hinduism, as did Vishal Mangalwadi more recently in many books,
Jesus has inspired much reform in India. Indian society seems to have been fairly
egalitarian, and certainly was inventive, in very ancient times. But whether
due to defensiveness after Muslim invasions or to the logic of new religious
doctrines such as karma and caste, Indian society grew steadily more oppressive.
Lower castes and untouchables were treated as less than human. From about the
sixth century, girls were married before ten years of age, often to much older
men. When young upper-caste ladies were widowed, they were encouraged to throw
themselves on the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands or were confined indoors
for the rest of their lives.
Followers of Jesus in India, both the famous “Clapham sect” of
Evangelical reformers within the British government and East India company,
and missionaries like William Carey, helped to largely put a halt to the burning
of widows, pioneered education for men and women, founded orphanages and homes
for widows, rehabilitated lepers, and introduced education for untouchables.
A Hindu newspaper described the impact of the best missionaries:
Talk to them and you would be surprised at the utter absence of that arrogance
and racial pride which are seldom inseparable from even the mildest of European
laymen. . . . They appeal to and work among the millions whom
Hindu Society has cast out of its pale and looks down upon with contempt.
They are teaching the pariah to consider himself, not an outcaste, but a member
of the great human family.21
The Hindu poet, Satyendranath Datta, felt Jesus himself belonged in India:
We love and revere you, though not called Christians. . . .
Bring your message to this ancient home of idealism. Reign supreme in Hind
and be the brightest jewel in her diadem. Our heavy-laden hearts will find
comfort in you. Teach us the lesson of humility, service and truth. . . .
Teach us sympathy, O Teacher of love. Come and fill our hearts. Give us the
love that fulfills itself in service among the poor, the lowly and lost.22
In Modern Religious Movements of India, Farquhar described new sects
that emerged in India up to the turn of the last century and beyond. He described
the wide-ranging influence Jesus had on contemporary Indian religious movements,
overtly (as in the Christian-influenced reform society, the Brahma Samaj) and
covertly (in nationalistic reactions, like Vivekinanda’s Ramakrishna Mission).
He concluded that even sects that had no use for missionaries and claimed that
the West knew nothing it hadn’t learned from India adjusted to the Christian
challenge by affirming such untraditional teachings as the fatherhood of God,
the brotherhood of men, social reform, missionary zeal, and, especially, the
person of Jesus. He concluded: “While most of the material used in the
reconstruction is old, Christian principles have guided the builders.”
Jesus & China
In China, too, modernization involved, in great part, coming to grips with Jesus.
The first and most radical attempt to bring China into the modern world was
made by the Tai Ping cult, an eclectic and revolutionary blend of Christianity,
Confucianism, and traditional Chinese spiritualism that almost overthrew the
Qing Dynasty. Many of the second wave of reformers, in the late nineteenth century
and into the twentieth century, considered themselves followers of Jesus, including
Nationalist presidents Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kaishek, and Li Denghui.
What role did missions play in raising the status of women in China? Hu Shi,
the great Chinese educator and reformer, wrote with bitter hyperbole:
“Let women serve as oxen and horses.” This saying is not sufficient
to describe the cruelty and meanness with which Chinese have treated women.
We “let women serve as oxen and horses,” put on yokes, wear saddles,
and as if that were not enough, spurs and horse shoes, then chase them out
to work! Our holy Scriptures were of no saving value. For a thousand years,
Confucian philosophers talked about love and benevolence day after day, yet
never noticed the cruel and inhumane treatment of their mothers and sisters.
Suddenly from the West a band of missionaries arrived. Besides preaching,
they also brought new customs and new ways of looking at things. They taught
us many things, the greatest of which was to look at women as people.23
The missionaries didn’t learn to “look at women as people”
from Marx, Rousseau, or Jefferson. They learned it from the man who spoke gently
to the woman at the well, restrained men with stones in their hands, and, as
scholar Walter Wink has pointed out, radically challenged the patriarchal social
mores of his day in regard to women in “every single encounter with women
in the four Gospels.”24
Jesus & Japan
The figure of Jesus has also had a sweeping effect on Meiji and modern Japan.
Christian teachings affected Japan indirectly through their influence on the
West (from which Japan borrowed), more directly through missionaries (like the
“American Samurai” Leroy Janes) and the students they taught, and
through a remarkable and influential series of converted samurai and sons of
samurai, who, in effect, took Jesus as their new feudal lord. One samurai convert,
Kyoto-based educator Niijima Jo, whose students included a number of influential
post-war thinkers, said, “I love Jesus more than anything else. I cast
my whole self to him and try to do right before him.”25
In essence, Jesus reformist movements in Japan provided reformist and highly
patriotic alternatives to the Japanese version of jihad for thoughtful
young samurai. The students of Niijima and other “Christian samurai”
not only involved themselves in practical reforms—schools, hospitals,
disaster relief and reconstruction, labor and peasant unions—they also
provided a radical intellectual counterpoint to imperial absolutism.
In popular magazines, public lectures, and books by a series of essayists and
novelists, followers of Jesus argued for a middle class, the autonomy of the
individual, and in later years, the duty of individual Japanese to take responsibility
for war crimes. University of California historian Irwin Scheimer notes:
Few in Japan ignored or could ignore the Christians. The growth of their
schools, the extension of their programs to reform prisons, found orphanages,
and abolish prostitution, the success of their lecture series, the sale of
their books, certainly suggests the extent of their social interest and the
intensity of their influence.26
Scheimer describes how Christianity “for the first time” allowed
Japanese a sense of social identity independent of, and sometimes critical towards,
the state. He quotes Motoda Sakunoshin, president of Rikkyo University in the
first decade of the twentieth century:
In our country there was no concept of society, there was only the concept
of nation and family. . . . Everything—life, property,
even individual morality—had to be sacrificed for the nation. . . .
The idea that in order to rescue the nation the individual must be saved and
become healthy came from Christian thought.27
The government, reacting against such pernicious ideas, eventually relapsed
into totalitarianism, using the power of economic modernization to conquer its
neighbors. With defeat, Japanese society underwent a second baptism in Christian
tutelage under General McArthur (at which time Christian and Christian-influenced
students of Niijima and Uchimura Kanzo became especially prominent).
A month after the attack on the World Trade Center, I met one of my Japanese
students in our school library. She said she was preparing a report on women
and religion. “What in particular?” I asked. “The Taliban,”
she said. “That’s an interesting topic,” I replied, innocently.
“By the way, do you know how long women have been educated in Japan?”
She hemmed and hawed, and guessed, “Since the war?”
In fact, improvement in the status of, and education for, women largely began
with the return of Jesus to Meiji Japan. (Catholic missionaries had shown Japan
a similar face of Christian compassion three hundred years before.) The Salvation
Army played a major role in liberating Japanese prostitutes. Like their Lord,
nineteenth-century missionaries felt that a woman who wants to learn has chosen
the “better part.” They introduced women’s education, including
the first women’s college in the city of Nagasaki, where I live.
Jesus the Answer
If, as Kristof points out, the Meiji restoration brought renewal to Japanese
civilization, and if Jesus played a vital role in that renewal, what is to stop
him from playing an equal or even greater role in the reformation of a religion
that already affirms him as “Messiah” and “Breath of God”?
The Muslim Jesus spoke of divine love:
If you desire to devote yourselves entirely to God and to be the light of
the children of Adam, forgive those who have done you evil . . .
be kind to those who are unkind to you (logion 65).
The Christian gospel, “wherein,” says the Qur’an, “is
guidance and light” (5:46), shows how Jesus modeled that forgiveness.
What better hope for reconciliation can there be than the example of the one
who not only spoke the Sermon on the Mount (from which this logion is clearly
adopted), but forgave his enemies from the Cross?
The last words spoken by the first of their followers to be martyred dramatically
define the examples offered to the world by the two great Muslim prophets. Echoing
the hot temper of his teacher, Khubayb ibn ‘Adi, the first Muslim martyr,
pointed at his enemies and thundered: “Allah! Count them well. Kill them
all, one by one, and let not one escape!”28 By contrast, as Stephen
was dying, he repeated the words Jesus had spoken a short time before from the
Cross: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
We have been reminded that Christians have not always lived up to that example.
True enough. But there is no denying the impact that example ultimately had
on world civilization. As Girard put it, “Jesus’ victory is thus,
in principle, achieved immediately at the moment of the Passion, but for most
men it only takes shape in the course of a long history secretly controlled
by the revelation.”29 The seed of Jesus’ life has taken
two thousand years to take root and grow in world consciousness. Important aspects
of that example have sometimes been understood more quickly by non-Europeans
and even non-Christians, like Gandhi.
The greatest challenge for the Muslim world, as for other civilizations today,
is to find a way to adopt the best of modern, liberal freedom, while preserving
the best of true spiritual tradition. Certainly in the quest for a solution
to this puzzle, Muslim reformers would be wise to look at anything that works—the
Turkish model, the Malaysian model, the medieval caliphate, the East Asian model.
But considering the role Jesus played in the rise of Europe, in the Meiji renewal
of Japanese civilization, in China and India, and within Islam, let
us not forget him. Is it unreasonable to hope, given the power the example of
Jesus had in the Far East, that even qualified faith in the “Breath of
God” might breathe life, not into a single Muslim woman, as in the apocryphal
Muslim story, but into all of Islamic civilization? •
David Marshall teaches in the Multicultural Exchange department
of Siebold University, a small state school in southern Japan. He is the author
of Jesus and the Religions of Man and True Son of Heaven: How
Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture (both published by Kuai Mu Press).
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