Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The World is a Bridge

Islam and Christianity are not as far apart as is generally believed. Indeed, a bridge was once made between the two faiths. 
The Muslim Emperor Akbar the Great had the following saying of Jesus inscribed prominently on the entry gate to the Mosque adjacent to his palace and administrative capital, at Fatehpur Sikri: 

"Jesus, Son of Mary (on whom be peace) said: The World is a Bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day, may hope for eternity; but the World endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen." 

Visiting Fatehpur Sikri as a young backpacker, the English writer, William Dalrymple, was surprised to discover this inscription on a muslim monument, and later to find out that it is one of several sayings that Islam has retained but which western Christianity has lost.

These sayings of Jesus circulated around the Muslim world from Spain to China, and many are still familiar to educated Muslims today. They fill out and augment the profoundly reverential picture of Christ painted in the Koran where Jesus is called the Messiah, the Messenger, the Prophet, Word and Spirit of God, though – in common with some currents of heterodox Christian thought of the period – his outright divinity is questioned. 
There are also frequent mentions of his mother Mary who appears in no fewer than 13 surahs (chapters) and who is said to be exalted "above the women of the two [celestial and temporal] worlds" and, like Jesus, a "model" for Muslims. Mary is in fact the only woman mentioned by her proper name in the entire Koran, and appears more often in the Koran (34 times) than she does in the Gospels, where she is mentioned only 19 times.

-  William Dalrymple

Islamic nativity scene of Jesus' birth, circa 1720 (photo: National Museum, New Delhi)

Mughal Nativity Scene, National Museum, Delhi

Akbar the Great laid the foundations for the non-denominational religious neutrality of the modern, secular Indian state.

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