03/26/2004, 00.00
lebanon - islam

"Issa's" (Jesus's) crucifix fascinates today's Islamic intellectuals

The release of the movie "The Passion of the Christ" in Middle East Muslim countries opens the question on how Muslim see the crucifix. In Italy, for example, the crucifix in public places makes some Muslims intolerant and blasphemous. Elsewhere in the Islamic world, the Jesus who died on the cross and resurrected, the Jesus of Catholics, fascinates religious Muslims – above all poets, writers and contemporary intellectuals.

 Beirut (AsiaNews) – "Jesus's passion is essential to innovative modern poets; in this way they hope to give new life to language and society," said Tarif Khalidi, professor of Islamic history at Cambridge University during a seminar at the American University of Beirut. Tarif Khalidi is author of the book, "The sayings and stories of Jesus the Muslim in Islamic Literature" (Harvard). The book was recently published in Arabic by the Lebanese publishing housing, An-Nahar, under the title "The Gospel According to Muslims".

Muslims respect and honor Jesus in a special way. So much that when his name is said, one adds "peace be upon him". Officially for Islam, Jesus escaped death by using others as substitutes (cf. An-Nisà's Sura IV, "The Women").

During a seminar held in Beirut, Khalidi spoke about the "fascination that the figure of Jesus has had on the Muslim imagination" since antiquity.

When Islam speaks about Jesus, according to Khalidi, one must distinguish between two tendencies: firstlt, there is the "theological-prophetic" Jesus of the Koran who is considered the "Word of God", "His Breath", "Messiah", "Allah's Messenger"; secondly, there is the narrative or "mythical" Jesus, in terms of his life as told in the Muslim literature and in myths, "in the flesh and blood and in stories".

It is this very "mythological" aspect –that of Christ's passion, blood and resurrection –which interests Islamic intellectuals. Among them are three contemporary poets: the Sudanese Muhammad al-Fayturi, Palestinian Mahmud Darwish and Iraqi Badr Shaker al-Sayyab, inspired by Christ's "mythological" status as seen in his death and resurrection to save mankind.  For the poet, Al-Sayyab, "Jesus is a figure who is more in tune with nature and the seasons than Mohammad."

The images used by these poets to describe Jesus represent a challenge to the Koran, where nothing is said of his divinity and crucifixion. However, for these authors the main elements of the Christian faith "are too beautiful…to leave out." 

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