(Letter to Charlene Law, continued.)
Muhammad continued to extend his conquests through Arabia, personally leading his armies in most cases. He lived a simple life in Medina when he was not out doing battle. He did the usual chores that an Arabian man would do and his life was not ostentatious. In 620, in the midst of his conquests, Muhammad claimed to have traveled to the “farthest mosque” on a flying horse, named Buraq, accompanied and guided by the angel Gabriel. From there he ascended into heaven and was shown hell as well as heaven. He spoke with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and the other early prophets. Some Muslim theologians claim this was spiritual, a vision. Others claim it was an actual physical journey.
In 632, he made his final pilgrimage to Mecca and returned to the home of Aisha, his child bride in Medina. She was quite probably the favorite of his twelve wives. He had married her at the age of 53. She was only nine years old at the time and was the daughter of Abu Baker, Muhammad’s companion in conquest, the first successor, a Caliph of Muhammad. Aisha long survived Muhammad and exerted a powerful influence on Islam. It was her father, Caliph (Successor) Abu Baker who extended the rule of Islam into the Persian and Christian Roman Empires. There in Medina at the home of his beloved Aisha, he came down with a fever and died a few days later on June 8, 632.
As Aisha cradled his head in her lap he asked her to dispose of seven coins, all the wealth he had, and died. He was buried where he died in Aisha’s house and the first two caliphs were buried next to him. There is a fourth tomb next to these three graves which is said to be for Jesus when he eventually dies. He was whisked away to heaven by Allah to await his return to earth where he joined in the battle against the False Messiah. He will rule the Islamic world, die and be buried. The Romans crucified someone else disguised as Jesus, not Jesus himself.
The story of Jesus is much simpler. Jesus was born in Bethlehem just south of Jerusalem, some 600 years before Muhammad. He was born in cave that was probably the storage space of a small house, where farm animals and implements were kept. It is there to this day. His mother claimed that she’d had a vision of the angel Gabriel and thus her miraculous pregnancy involved no human father. His birth was accompanied by rumors of angels and visits by shepherds and some odd travelers called magi, from Iran. They bore expensive gifts and their presence brought down the wrath of the paranoid Roman-appointed king, Herod the Great. Joseph was forced to take Mary and her baby and flee to Egypt from whence, after a few years, they returned to Nazareth.
He lived a quiet life with his mother Mary, in Nazareth an unremarkable town in Galilee. Nazareth means “Little Shoot” in Hebrew. That about says it all “What good can come from Little Shoot?” Seems to have been a proverb at the time. There couldn’t have been more than 200 people in the village, most of them from the old threadbare nobility descended from King David. They thus were mostly relatives of Jesus.
He lived there quietly learning the building and carpentry trade from Joseph who though not his biological father had raised him as a son. He probably worked as a day laborer in Sephoris, two miles from Nazareth where there was plenty of work. His only trips out were probably those taken to Jerusalem for religious festivals. When he was twelve he stayed behind to question the teachers of the law and when they realized he was not in the caravan they rushed back to find him after three days of looking. There he was in conversation with the rabbis.
This was the only thing that seemed to have happened to him since his odd birth that might indicate there was something unusual about the fellow. He was quite undistinguished. He never married and when he was about thirty years old, possibly at his mother’s insistence, he was baptized by his cousin John, a radical reformer who had broken with the temple and its priestly establishment. His disciples said that he experienced an overshadowing by the Holy Spirit of God which forced him into the desert.
After this he began a preaching ministry and gathered disciples and students around him. They claimed that he healed the sick, expelled demons and worked miracles. These things are reported in the memoirs of the disciples and quite possibly in the writings of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus. He drew the wrath of the temple priests and their political/religious party, the Sadducees who had him executed by means of crucifixion under Roman law, not Jewish, when he was about 33 years old.
His disciples claimed that after three days he rose from the dead and claimed to have seen him risen for a bit longer than a month after his death and supposed resurrection. He told them to announce the forgiveness on sins through the whole world. They held him to be the divine Word, the divine manifestation of the God of the Hebrews.
There are some interesting parallels and interesting differences between Jesus and Muhammad. Both never wrote a book. It was their disciples who wrote down what they said and did. Curiously, Jesus had twelve disciples. Muhammad had twelve wives. Both announced the arrival of Kingdoms. Muhammad announced the Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) which is at unceasing war with the rest of the world known as Dar al-Harb (House of war) until all the world becomes Muslim or at least accepts Islamic rule and superiority.
Muhammad vigorously extended the House of Islam by military means, and commanded his followers to do likewise. Jesus, at his trial, told the Roman governor that his kingdom did not belong to this world. Muhammad was a victorious general. Jesus never even owned a sword. Muhammad never claimed divinity. His title is “the messenger of God.” He did nothing less nor more than deliver God’s message. Jesus, if his followers are to be believed not only claimed divinity he claimed that he WAS God’s message.
Most interesting of all, in both Islam and Christianity the tomb of Jesus is empty. In Islamic belief it is empty because Jesus has not yet occupied it. In Christian belief it is empty, because Jesus, though he once occupied it, rose from the dead leaving it forever empty. Muhammad is buried in Medina next to the tomb the Muslims believe Jesus will some day occupy. The tomb in Jerusalem where Christians believe Jesus was laid to rest after his death on the cross is most certainly empty.
I have been in it. I have prayed in it. It is most certainly empty.
(To be continued.....)