“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes…”
- T. E. Lawrence
Cool scents of juniper and lapsed rainfall slipped by as he sat and contemplated life.
He wondered about the father he’d never gotten to know, about how his life might have been different. He was tired. Life in the desert dictated this. It also dictated that he would witness the extraordinary. In the daily mosaic of wind-brushed dunes, in the leisurely explosion of stars stretching across the horizon each night.
These casual miracles would provide the stage for witnessing events of far less permanence, but much greater consequence.
None of this beauty he’d been ensconced in since his wailing ordinary birth was noticed as he sat and contemplated what he’d made of his life so far.
The parents he’d never met died shortly after he was sent to be raised by relatives, as so often happened among his people, the desert’s tribes. But he adjusted to the experience well, and prospered. As a youth he began to work for a wealthy widow named Khadija, fifteen years his senior. Work as a merchant suited the gregarious and sociable young man well, and his travels brought him in touch with peoples of many other faiths. Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews.
And many others who would consider God a matter of Them instead of Him. Each would offer ideas that later worked to mold his conception of God and Faith, and one group would offer sanctuary to him during the time of most pressing and legendary threat to his life.
But history would soon forget this, as followers claiming to champion his name would continue perhaps the world’s most aged and determined bigotry, joining in on the persecution of these fellow People of the Book who would at one point or another become a chorus of many of the world’s civilizations. Though all of this was yet to come.
For now, he sat.
Like another man he revered as a great Prophet, he was troubled by what he saw becoming entangled with the place, rites, and traditions of worship. He didn’t and never claimed to build the Kaab’a at Mecca. But he saw the countless animist deities enshrined there not as vehicles for personal realization or redemption, but rather only as lugging the corruption and immorality that had become Gods of their own by becoming the focus of donations meant as down-payments on an estate in heaven.
He saw that these Gods were propped up by Mecca’s religious leaders, who were either too cowardly to condemn the forces undermining the souls of the people, or were simply in cahoots with the merchants and traders who profited off the illicit trade of coin for conscience. If the status quo was allowed to continue, if nothing was done, souls would degrade and the societies which they comprised would drift farther and farther away from salvation.
Suddenly his deep contemplation was violently ended as an inexorable and invisible presence slamming into his body. He struggled for his life, but the force pulled his last breath effortlessly from his chest. At the moment death seemed inevitable, terrifying light and sound washed over him and replaced awareness of his own soul with the words that would make him a prophet. The words were stamped upon his heart, and as unexpectedly as it had come the presence was gone. He slumped onto the floor of the cave. Mountain slate cold against his body, he knew then what he would do next. He did what any of us would have done.
He made his way home, curled up like a small child into the arms of his wife and figured he’d just gone mad and that it might be about time to kill himself.
For all of their easy differences, what is most striking in the comparison of Christianity and Islam are their uncanny similarities. These similarities run the gamut from the superficial through the historical to the syntactical. And, in fact, it’s the last of these that is the most surprising, and the most uniting.
Unlike observant Jews, who for the most part dubiously eye Jesus as a false prophet, Muslims accept the life and teachings of the biblical Messiah as both historically factual and divine. His story is told in the Quran alongside those of Moses, Abraham, and the rest of the New and Old Testament prophets in near-perfect conceptual unison with what is stated in those ancient texts. Tweaks are made along the way, not only his overall message but one of the most important elements of Jesus’s significance in the Bible – that his second-coming will herald the End of the World and usurp Satan’s control – is mirrored exactly in the Quran. Muslims revere Jesus Christ, his importance as a prophet is second only to Mohammad, and they too wait eagerly for Jesus Christ to descend from heaven to finally bring peace to mankind.
The Quran covers many of the same tales told in the biblical canon, with the most notable twist coming in the story of Isaac doling out his inheritance. Whereas both Jews and Christians remember it as Isaac naming, after a bit of hirsute trickery, Jacob as his favored son, in the Quranic version it is his half-brother Esau who becomes the patriarch of God’s most blessed people. But other than this dissonance of descendance, much more than you’d think is the same.
From a rough reading it seems to many that the Quran first presents a Cliff Notes version of the Bible before adding on a few bits, points, lessons, and rules of its own. In both holy books Abraham is called to sacrifice his son but has his hand stilled by God at the last moment, Job is tested brutally and then held as an exemplary man of the faith, and Jesus is persecuted by the entrenched Pharisees in Jerusalem. And even more telling than the fact that these and other elements of the narrative kinship are shared by the two books, is the historical circumstances of the New Testament’s, the Old Testament’s, and the Quran’s heroes.
It’s a tough call whether oppression or fatherlessness is a stronger shared theme through the lives of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. Although Moses was the only one of the three who was forcefully made a reed-basketed orphan by his own parents in an effort to save his life, we are given the impression that neither Jesus nor Mohammad were particularly close to their dads.
The Bible is a bit fuzzy about what exactly Joseph of Nazareth thought of his young betrothed’s claim that she’d been knocked up by God, but it doesn’t make any effort to pretend Joseph was ever warm and doting with Baby Jesus. Joseph is credited for giving Mary some benefit of the doubt and doing his all as a husband to her, but the Bible gives us the impression that Joseph never quite knew what to do with Jesus. The Bible doesn’t portray Joseph as abusive – it’s not like he made Baby Jesus cry all the time. But it does mention how a precocious Jesus spent loads of time at the local synagogues, questioning, debating, and challenging the religious Fathers there instead of bonding with his own father.
Mohammad’s life more parallels Moses in that he was sent away by his family, in Mohammad’s case after both of his parents died while he was young, and in his case not to save his life but to learn a trade and to be less of a financial burden on what was already a large tribal family. Loneliness wasn’t a facet of Mohammad’s early years, as he is conspicuously garrulous with members of every social group he encounters. But it is hard to imagine that the absence of a biological father didn’t weigh on Mohammad at all, and that it has no influence on him whatsoever.
As he aged, he spent more and more time on his own forging his own relationship with a more permanent Father. Just as Moses and Jesus take time away from society to spend a large chunk of their time not with their fathers, but with their Father. Like Mohammad, as Jesus hits adulthood he begins to spend much of his time out in the middle of nowhere, praying. However praying has a sense of the communal to many Christians, and of making specific entreaties to God. From what we know in the Bible, both of these elements were more lacking from Jesus’s prayers than not. As Jesus prayed he wasn’t surrounded by members of a shared faith, nor was he making specific entreaties to God.