The Hijrah and the Cross

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In his book, Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church, David Shenk describes three meetings experienced by a Christian college group in Israel and the West Bank.

“First, they met with a Hamas leader. He explained the theology of Islamic jihad. He stated that in the present circumstances violent confrontation with Israel was the only alternative, that jihad was necessary.

Second, they met an Israeli settler group. Their religious leaders explained that Zionism requires that they occupy the land of historic Israel. The violence of the Palestinians against the settlements had to be met with violence. There was no other way.

Third, they met with a Palestinian Christian family on the rubble of their home. The family had lost everything they owned during an Israeli attack. They talked about the way of Jesus, who forgives the enemies. They confessed that they held no malice or bitterness against those who had destroyed their home, and that they were committed to expressing the love of Christ for all who were caught up in the spiral of violence.” (Page 139-140)

The contrast of the Hamas leader and the Palestinian Christian family is a contrast of the way of the Hijrah and the way of the Cross. They are two different roads that lead to two different destinations – Muhammad to Medina and Jesus to Jerusalem.

The Hijrah is the migration that Muhammad and his followers made from Mecca to Medina (Medina is 250 miles north of Mecca). Muhammad was a persecuted prophet in Mecca, rejected by his own ruling tribe and in need of protection. This protection came from Medina, (then called Yathreb), a city undergoing factional strife in need of stability. The city leaders invited Muhammad to move with his followers to Medina and become their leader. So in 622 AD Muhammad and several hundred Meccan Muslims moved to Medina. After the Hijrah, Muhammad gained in strength and political authority. He returned to Mecca in triumph and consolidated his power over the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Muslims believe that these events are signs of God’s favor over Muhammad. The ever expanding Muslim empire after Muhammad’s death was further sign of God’s favor. In other words, God favors the strong. It is a sign of his blessing.

It is no wonder then that Muslims reject the crucifixion of the Messiah Jesus. In the Quran, Jesus is both prophet and Messiah. How could one blessed by God be crucified?

Yet that is what the Bible clearly tells us. Jesus intentionally journeyed to Jerusalem knowing full well that his journey would end on a cross. Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer and die. Jesus went to the cross to pay for the sins of humanity.

The Muslim way is power, but the Christian way is suffering. In Islam, God is transcendent. He does not get mixed up in the ways of men and women. But the Gospel is that God has come close to us. God suffers with us. To follow Christ is to suffer, and to participate in His suffering.

That is why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 12:8: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (the thorn in the flesh) away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

The Christian finds strength in weakness through Jesus Christ. We give testimony to Jesus in our suffering for our faith. That is not the Islamic way, and gives rise to some of the tensions that we see in this world; the spreading of Islam, sectarian tensions and violence within Islam, the push in some countries in Europe to enact Sharia law, the importance of power in Arabic culture, the suffering of Christian minorities, and the denial of the crucifixion. The kingdom of God through Christ is an upside down kingdom. The weak are strong, the poor are rich, the blind see again. Against the backdrop of power, we have to find renewed meaning in the Cross. For it is there, in the midst of weakness, that we find our true strength. It is in the midst of weakness that we find our clearest voice to speak to a world that is hurting and in need of Christ.

My Egyptian friends tell me that the biggest news in recent days was not published widely in the media. It was the refusal of Christians in Egypt to retaliate after many churches were burned by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead they chose to forgive those who had hurt them. That is the way of the Cross, and Muslims noticed.

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Thanks for the article Greg. This kind of information helps me to better understand the Muslim faith in todays world and how christians should respond. The Egyptian christians (as other presecuted christians in the world today) must be recieving special strength from God to practise forgiveness as has been described. We will continue to pray for them.

Thanks for this, Greg.  What he (or you) say about the importance of power in Muslim culture jibes with what we experienced working among Muslims in West Africa.  Power and success (e.g. wealth) met with automatic respect and was considered a sign of God's blessing, no matter how (often illegitimately) the power and success were achieved.  Likewise, suffering and poverty were disrespected and considered a sign of God's disfavor, even if the suffering was for a just cause (for being honest, for example).  

    It's so important for Christians not to respond to violence with violence, but rather to go the way of the Cross.  This also reminds me of N.T. Wright's argument in "How God Became King" that it was precisely in Jesus' death in weakness on the Cross that he defeated Satan and became King.