This month Christians around the world began the season of Lent, a period of repentance and remembrance leading up to the holiday of Easter.
This year, Lent coincides with the Muslim months of Sha’ban and Ramadan. We are commanded here to look inwards, remember God and celebrate the Revelation of the Quran and the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
As converts to Islam, during this time our relationship with all the Prophets including Jesus (peace be upon him) should be enhanced. We look to the fundamental message that they were all sent to deliver: That there is only one God, that this world is finite, and that we shall be judged for our acts.
This is not about old debates on the nature of Jesus or crucifixion, as this has been carefully dealt with by much greater scholars. Rather, this is a discussion of that fundamental message and how I – and other converts to Islam – have re-envisioned our relationship and grown in our love and respect for one of the most important Prophets of Islam, Jesus.
As Jesus was brought in front of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate he was asked what he was sent to do. According to one account, he responded:
… the reason that I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.
Pontius Pilate responded with one of the most famous questions ever asked:
“Quid est veritas? (What is Truth?)”
This question holds important lessons for us as well – both born Muslim and converts. Firstly, we need to follow this Prophetic example and more frequently ask ourselves the big questions.
So many of us take the Truth of Islam as a given, even though we are commanded by the Quran to question. Whether that is to seek out answers to the natural world around us or the right way of practicing our religion, we are constantly challenged to discover more.
Standing for the Truth
Another important lesson is the importance of standing up for the Truth. Living in a non-Muslim context, we find the practice of our faith challenged by the society around us. It could be as simple as finding time and a place to pray in the middle of a busy workday, or as difficult as facing physical violence.
As a convert the problem can become more difficult when dealing with non-Muslim family and friends. Regardless, we as Muslims must follow the example of the Prophet Jesus – or Moses before him or Muhammad after him – who stood strong in the face of challenges and asserted their faith and the underlying Truths behind it.
Within this question is also an affirmation of doubt.
And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant, then produce a surah like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful. (Quran 2:23)
This is often understood as a challenge to non-believers and a profession of the miracle of the Quran but it is much more. Too often as Muslims we run away from doubt and see questions about our own faith as a sign of weakness.
This is not the case, and God Himself commands us to embrace doubt and explore it as a way of seeking the truth. The Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) acknowledged these doubts and challenged those around him to do the same.
Look Inwards, Not Outwards
Finally, in our quest for Truth, the lessons of the life of the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) ask us to look inwards and see our own faults first. In another situation, a woman was brought in front of Jesus to be stoned for the crime of adultery. When questioned about the law, Jesus answered:
Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
The shocked group dispersed and when nobody was left Jesus told the woman:
Go now and leave your life of sin.
This is similar to the story of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who rejected four times the confession of a Muslim who admitted to adultery (Muslim 4196).
Although he was eventually punished, it only occurred when the Prophet was assured of the person’s guilt from his own repeated admission, that he recognized the sin he had committed and insisted on punishment.
The relevance of these accounts is that our internal state is more important than the opinion of society. The woman brought in front of Jesus was condemned by others but eventually let go, with Jesus telling her to look inside herself first.
The man who approached the Prophet was not condemned by anyone but came for repentance on his own accord and could have, at any point, walked away from the Prophet and searched inside himself.
As Muslims, we should take from this lesson that our job is to focus on our own sins before “casting the first stone” at others. No one is perfect, and we all face trials and fall into sin. The goal of those around us is also is not to condemn, but rather to help each other grow and become stronger in our faith together.
In conclusion, when faced with the truth we must follow the example of Prophet Jesus who, from the moment he was born, sought out and proclaimed the Truth:
He (Jesus) said, “I am indeed a servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet. And he has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and Zakah as long as I remain alive. And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant. So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again). (Quran 19:30-33)