Facing Our Common Foe
The indiscriminate slaughter in Iraq, of Muslims by fellow Muslims, is a deplorable tragedy. And neither can it be excused, as so often Muslims are prone to do. This is what Mirza Y Baig says in his article, 'The Ummah is Hemorrhaging'. He continues, “Muslims tell the world, loudly from all roof tops, that the Qur'an tells us that to kill a single person unjustly is equal to killing all of mankind. So what was the crime of the 70 Shia college students who were killed by Sunni suicide bombers in Iraq? Was that justified or was that equal to killing all the people of the world 70 times over?”1
Not only is this violence against fellow Muslims utterly despicable but in certain cities we are seeing attempted genocide of Christians, e.g. in Basra. Indeed, if Al Qaeda has its way, their threats to kill or expel Christians will effect another mass exodus from Mosul.
These horrifying events remind me of a conversation I had with a Muslim leader who expressed deep concern at seeing declining God-consciousness, eroding moral values and increasing violence in our world. Looking intently at me, he suggested that Christians and Muslims should cooperate in focusing against our common enemy – Satan - who is at the root of these terrible things.
It is true: the Bible and the Qur’an portray Satan as the arch-enemy of mankind. They tell the story of man's fall from innocence including the pivotal role of Satan. He enticed Adam and Eve to sin which led to their banishment from the garden of Eden. In fact, it was because of Satan that they and their descendants have lived, ever since, under the shadow of ‘enmity’ and ‘death’.
Jesus Christ alluded to this tragic story of man's fall in a heated exchange with the Jewish leaders. He sharply rebuked them, saying, “you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning.” (John 8:44)
The Qur'an has a similar metaphor in surah 18:50. Satan “broke the command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors?” (‘progeny’ is a synonym for offspring or children). It is interesting to see how the Bible mentions ‘Satan's offspring’ in relation to the story of man's fall. We read in Genesis 3 how God passed judgment on Satan, saying,“I will cause hostility between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
It is a well known fact that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day hated him so much that they wanted to kill him. Can we deny that this character trait is similar to the Devil? Make no mistake, one of the traits or hall marks of the Devil is that he has been murdering people – from the beginning. Did Satan use a literal sword to kill Adam and Eve? Obviously not, he simply twisted the words God had spoken and led them astray which resulted in them being lost, ruined and spiritually dead.
It is important to realise that man's fall from innocence not only reveals a terrible enemy, it hints at a hero figure who will arise and strike Satan’s head, dealing him a fatal blow. Notice the conclusion of Genesis 3:15, "He will strike your head and you will strike his heel."
The tragic story of enmity between Satan and humans has continued down to this day. However, after many centuries, a turning point came when a descendant of Eve was born from a virgin, Jesus the Messiah (Al Masihu Isa).
Throughout his life, Jesus was constantly facing challenges from Satan, but on every occasion he overcame the attack. On one particular occasion close to the end of his earthly life Jesus foreshadowed Satan's doom, saying, “The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.” (John 12:31)
These ominous words were preceded by a prediction of Christ's death. He said,“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – plentiful harvest of new lives.” Furthermore, after Jesus spoke of Satan's pending judgment, he said, "And when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw everyone to myself. He said this to indicate how he was going to die.” (John 12:23,24,32,33)
Jesus predicted his death using a familiar image – a kernel of wheat dying. In the same way that a kernel 'dies' in the ground and then produces many new kernels, Jesus intimated his death would be a gateway “to enter his glory”. Not surprisingly, the prospect of this momentous clash with Satan made him feel “deeply troubled” but he was determined not to evade it, knowing that “this is the very reason” he had come. (v. 27)
The cryptic metaphor of a kernel of wheat helps us understand God's promise to Adam and Eve of a heroic rescuer who would one day crush the serpent’s head. Let us consider whether Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy. Before examining more details in the Messiah’s life, it may be helpful for us to step back and get some perspective. Let us take a fresh look at an epic story that is familiar to most of us.
The story of how Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son is well known to Jews, Muslims and Christians. But we should not overlook what happened before Abraham faced this test. God promised him, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2,3)
The prophets foretold that God's servant “will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) It seems this Messianic prophecy is a key to understanding how God intended to bless all people. Allow me to explain.
The Messiah: Jesus
The biblical and qur'anic accounts of Jesus' birth tell us that Mary's virgin born son was given a special name by God – Jesus Christ (Al Masih-u-Isa). Islamic scholar, Muhammad Imraan Ashraf Usmani, agrees with linguistic scholars who have determined that the name Jesus means "God is salvation" (p. 77, Islamic Names)
A footnote in Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Qur'an lends further evidence to support this. Commenting on surah 19:21 Ali says, "The mission of Jesus is … to turn an ungodly world back to God; and … to bring solace and salvation to the repentant."
This harmonizes with Isaiah’s prediction that God's salvation will come through the Messiah. Moreover, this was confirmed when baby Jesus was brought to the Temple to be circumcised. A godly old man named Simeon took Jesus in his arms and prayed,
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people..." (Luke 2:29-32)
It is clear that other people saw the Messiah's mission in terms of bringing ‘salvation’ but what did Jesus himself say? The answer is evident on two separate occasions – once when Jesus encountered a sinful man and on another occasion when he met a sinful woman. Both sinners showed genuine repentance and in each case Jesus made a significant remark.
Scripture tells us Zacchaeus repented and committed himself to pay restitution. Then Jesus said, "I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those … who are lost". (Luke 19:10) Jesus spoke similar words to a woman of ill repute. After forgiving her sins, he said, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:50) It is obvious that the word "save" corresponds with “salvation”.
We gain another glimpse of the Messiah’s global mission in an encounter with a Samaritan woman, at the well of Sychar. This woman was touched by the respect and neighborly kindness Jesus showed her. She was also impressed by his powers of discernment. Returning to her village she enthusiastically told her neighbors about Jesus, even suggesting that he might be the Messiah. When they came and saw Jesus they asked him to stay for two days. At the end of this visit they concluded, “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves … He is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)
It is interesting to see how the Samaritans, who differed sharply with their Jewish cousins on several issues, came to believe in Jesus Christ as their long awaited Messiah and rescuer. In modern times we see a similar polarization between Jews and their near neighbors – the Muslim Palestinians. It is noteworthy that Jews were not the only ones who had Messianic expectations, Muslims and Gentile Christians have a similar hope of a heroic rescue figure.
There is, however, a parting of ways, in terms of how each of these three groups believes the Messiah saved people (or will save). Christians believe he was crucified and died as a sacrifice for sins, but Muslims emphatically disagree with this. As for Jews, most of them see their awaited Messiah as being someone else – not Jesus Christ.
Cruciality of the cross
Why do Christians believe it is so important to anchor their hope in the death and resurrection of Christ? It fulfills many Old Testament prophecies, including Mosaic sacrifices for purification from sin and it culminates God’s promise to Eve, whereby Satan would be defeated by an offspring of Eve.
Notice, however, that Christians are not the only ones who believe the cross is important. Muslim preachers believe it is important, though in a negative sense! They deny it most emphatically. Their denial is reinforced by quoting Muslim traditions (Ahadith) which say that when Hazrat Isa returns to earth in the end times, he will break crosses and destroy pigs.
The importance of the cross is also seen in a strong exchange between Jesus and his disciple Peter. Jesus had predicted he was going to die and rise again, to which Peter objected, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:22,23)
If Peter could be tricked by the Devil into saying something contrary to God's will, then Muslims should not presume that their leaders are not also susceptible to being deceived.
Responding to those who oppose the cross
God's word instructs Christians not to be argumentative with those who oppose our beliefs but rather to “gently correct” them, knowing they are ensnared by the Devil who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:22-26)
I realize some readers are not Christians. Whichever faith you belong to, I presume that you don't admire lukewarm spirituality. The kind of person you respect is someone who holds to his/her spiritual convictions in a firm, yet gracious manner – not in a timid or wavering way.
How do we apply this to sensitive issues like labeling others as 'deceived by the Devil'? How can we address this matter without feeling like we are offending one another? Every devout monotheist believes the Devil is a real threat and one of the main tactics he uses to ensnare humans is to deceive them. This means, in the final analysis, that someone is being deceived. Is it you or is it me? I hope and pray that we can continue having candid discussions about such topics in a spirit of mutual respect.
May we have the same attitude the Bereans had. Scripture commends them because they “searched the scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.” (Acts 17:11) Solomon gives similar advice in Proverbs 2: “Tune your ears to wisdom and concentrate on understanding… Seek them like hidden treasures.”
Reflecting on a Riddle
Satan is described in scripture as the ‘murderer from the beginning’, Jesus was known for giving life, i.e. raising the dead. (John 10:10; 11:25) Jesus repeatedly overpowered the encroaching threat of death by curing the terminally ill or healing people on their death bed. (Luke 7:2) But more significantly he showed power against death itself by releasing people who were in its grip. In light of this it seems fitting to ask, “Do these miraculous signs provide a clue for understanding Christ's incredible claim? - “I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:18)
The meditation "Eternal Hope" explains in more detail how Christ holds the keys of death.
You may also like to read a relevant article looking at how the Messiah fulfilled prophecy.