Sunday, June 19, 2011

True inspiration

Image from a protest in Perth

This afternoon I went to the rally in Melbourne to end mandatory detention. Passing the anti-carbon tax rally, we eventually found our way there.

Julian Burnside spoke of the hypocrisy of Tony Abbott’s policies. Abbott, a self-identified Catholic, is more than happy to see vulnerable people used as political weaponry in a bid to gain votes. The logic behind offshore processing of asylum seekers is that it will exploit the vulnerable to stop more people from coming. Adam Bandt, the Greens member for Melbourne had this to say about the offshore processing "No one's ever accused me of being an economic rationalist before but what is very clear is that it [humane processing of asylum seekers] is also the cheapest alternative, when we have a government spending a billion dollars on offshore processing while we can't find enough money for schools and we're having to stop putting drugs on the PBS system.”[1] Why are we wasting money on mistreating people?

While I was listening to Bandt speak, I got talking with the lady next to me. She was holding a ‘We Welcome Refugees’ balloon… and also a walking stick. She told me how three of her grandparents were boat people from Europe. This lady had no problem with welcoming vulnerable people into our country, she even applauded it. Volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre teaching English, she had really reconciled what her Catholic faith means for the treatment of ‘the least of these’.

At 85 years young, she had done well to make it to the rally. Her passion inspired me. She told me she wasn’t sure whether she would make it all the way, but she will stand up for the vulnerable for as long as she physically can. Inspiring.

So what makes you stand up? What makes you take action? What causes are worthy of your time?


Friday, June 17, 2011

Why we cannot accept the Malaysia Solution

Recently, the Gillard-Labour government announced the ‘Malaysia Solution’. The deal proposes that the next 800 boat people to arrive on Australia’s shores will be sent to Malaysia. I won't delve into the details of the deal here, but rather focus on its ethical implications

      1.       We are taking vulnerable people and using them as a means to an ends to deter other people from taking the journey to our country.

This is a Kantian based concept, derived from deontology, yet it has been around much longer. Doing unto another, as one would do to oneself, has implications for the above statement. Why would I want someone to use me with no consideration to the effects that their actions will have on me? Is it ever justified to exploit one person to ‘save’ other people from taking the hazardous journey to Australia? I would suggest no, it is not. Whether we are doing it for our economic gain or for the safety of the next wave of boats, it is not ethical to use people as a means for the ends of other people with no consideration of that persons ends.

      2.      Rather than appealing to a good principle, we are using utilitarian methods to support this flawed scheme.

An appeal to the ‘greatest good’ as shown in statement above, in my mind, is completely misguided and very dangerous. Can we as Christians, or people who claim to be ethical, support the Malaysia solution when its appeal rests in its consequences? Paul thinks not. In Romans 3:8, some people suggested that Christians thought it was permissible for ‘us [to] do evil so that good may result’. Paul wrote that such ideas are slanderous. We are, as voters and as a country, doing evil so that ‘good’ will result by buying into this ‘solution’.

      3.      We’re treating some people better than others.

James (2:1) writes  'My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won't treat some people better than others'. He continues on to say treating some people better than others is a ‘sin’. If we are bible believers, we are walking on a tight-rope by arguing that it is permissible to treat a poor (if not materially, then otherwise) asylum seeker badly, and yet it is impermissible for the government to treat us (who are presumably richer – financially, security, etc.)  in the same manner. Our allegiance is not with nations, it is with the Kingdom.

I could go on about other implications, especially from a biblical point of view, but I won’t right now. From these three points I think it is clear that any policy that attempts to ‘stop the boats’ by harming innocent and vulnerable people is not one that can be supported by those who take morality seriously.

Make sure you check out Go Back To Where You Came From if you would like to get a more in depth and challenging experience of asylum seeker issues. It is a three part series that commences on Tuesday June 21, 8.30pm on SBS (Australia).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Interpreting Jesus: Islam and Christianity

This is an essay I wrote in my first semester of university. However, the issues it tackles are arguably 'timeless', so i decided to post it anyway! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Compare the way in which Jesus is interpreted in Islamic and Christian traditions.

Both the Bible and the Quran portray Jesus as a key figure. The sacred texts of Christianity and Islam agree on many points concerning the life of Jesus and who Jesus claimed to be. However they also disagree on some crucial points that form the crux of Christianity and thus distinguish Christianity from Islam. This essay will examine the similarities and differences of the portrayal of Jesus in the Bible and the Quran. The similarities and differences in the interpretation of Jesus are often misunderstood by both Christians and Muslims, yet they represent one of the key divisions between the two traditions. Verses from the bible will be sourced from the New International Version while verses from the Quran will be sourced from the International Committee for the Support of the Final Prophet Version (2005).

Islamic and Christian texts both suggest that Jesus was born of a virgin. The Prophet Muhammad writes that Mary, the mother of Jesus said ‘How can I have a son when no mortal has touched me, neither have I been unchaste!’ (Q 19-21). The birth of Jesus is proclaimed as miraculous by the Quran, as while Jesus was still in the cradle he speaks: ‘Lo! I am the slave of God. He has given me the scripture and has appointed me a Prophet, and has made me blessed wherever I may be…’ (Q 19:30). It is also noticeable that Mary, the mother of Jesus has a greater mention in the Quran than in the canonical gospels.[1] A few hundred years before the Quran, the writer of Matthew quotes an angel of YHWH. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Sprit” (Matt 1:20). It is also stated in John 1:14 that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’, testifying some years after the death of Jesus that he was, at minimum, a great prophet. At this stage of the ‘Jesus narrative’, the Quran seems to be a commentary or reinterpretation of the earlier New Testament texts.

The Quran speaks of Jesus as The Messiah who was a mortal messenger (Q 5:75; 2:253-254), but one who proved Allah through how Allah used him to create miracles (Q 2:87). Jesus is also noted for having raised the dead and healing the sick (Q 2:87). This is also true of the Bible where Jesus heals the sick (John 4:48-52) and raises the dead (John 11:1-44). Gabriel writes concerning Christian thought that ‘Jesus’ public activity was propelled by healing, casting out demons, and performing miracles’.[2]  Hjarpe however believes that Jesus was only able to perform miracles if God permitted him to do so, which God did. Hjarpe writes that ‘he is acting as a servant to God, obeying his orders, and he is not god himself … neither has he claimed such powers for himself…’[3] Neither Christian nor Islamic scholars will deny that Jesus performed miracles. However, there is little agreement as to whether these miracles were performed due to the will of Jesus (common Christian thought) or whether they were exclusively performed due to the will of one God, Allah (common Islamic thought).

Muslims do not believe that God can have a son. Common Islamic thought holds that ‘God is an only God. Glory to him [that he is above] having a son’ (Q 4:171). Ibn Kathir defines Christians as Polytheists and likens them to philosophers who allege with no knowledge, that God has a son.[4] Iblis believes that Jesus being the Son of God would be inconsistent with God’s character. According to Islamic tradition, Jesus deplores being called God, and he will complain about it on the day of judgement.[5] However, John 3:16 states that ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son’. The views of Christians and of Muslims have a clear clash here as Jesus is seen as the saviour in Christianity because essential to the Christian doctrine is this statement by Jesus "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Common Christian interpretations do not understand this to be Jesus calling himself a son of man, or a child of God in the same way that other biblical characters are depicted (Like 3:37, Exodus 4:22. Psalms 2:7), but rather as God’s one and only Son who is completely divine.

The trinity is defined as ‘the one divine nature [which] is a unity of three persons and that God is revealed as three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ according to Grenzetal’s interpretation of the bible.[6] Many books of the New Testament refer to three persons in one, for example when Jesus asks his followers to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ However, the term ‘trinity’ was not commonly used around the time of Jesus, nor was it found in the bible. The earliest use of the term ‘trinity’ can be dated back to Tertullian during the last decade of the 2nd century and was welcomed into formal church theology some years later. This uniquely Christian idea draws a direct split between Christianity and most other religions, including Islam.[7] In fact, the Quran explicitly refutes the Doctrine of Trinity asking followers to ‘believe in God and His Messengers, and say not ‘Three’. Cease! (It is) better for you! God is only One God’ (Q 4:171). The Quran also states that calling Jesus the Son of God takes away from God’s majesty (Q 19:35). Central to the concept of Islam is the infallible Oneness of God, a God who cannot take on anthropomorphic form thus denying the Doctrine of Trinity. Without Jesus’ place in the trinity the Christians will have no saviour and therefore believe they are condemned to hell.

Christians believe that Jesus died by crucifixion. Mark 15:20 states that ‘…Then they led him out to crucify him’. As well as the Gospels, there are other accounts of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. In Josephus’ Antiquities he writes that ‘He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross.’[8] However, the Quran does not consistently support this understanding of Jesus’ death. Muhammad writes ‘They did not kill him nor crucify him, but it only appeared that way to them’ (Q 4:157). Munabbih provides an explanation for this in his commentary retelling the words of Jesus: ‘God raised me up to himself, and only good has happened to me. Only a likeness of me was shown to them.’[9] Griffiths expands on this assertion by arguing that that the immediate ascension of Christ undermines his claims of divinity.[10] It is unknown as to who the likeness of Jesus was according to Islamic thought, however speculation has emerged. Rogerson notes that ‘Muslim tradition would later add the story that Yehuda (Judas) took his master’s place and died on the cross full of remorse for his treachery.’[11]

Perhaps one of the most heated debates surrounding Muslim and Christian relations is in regard to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Orthodox Jewish scholar Professor Pinchas Lapide believes that there is significant historical evidence in support of the reality of the resurrection.[12] Lapide believes that the resurrection took place for multiple reasons, including that Jesus first appeared to women in all four gospels, his disciples doubted, and were completely surprised (Luke 24:11). Lapide also suggests that an invented account would be likely to include the witnessing of the resurrection itself. He goes on to write that “In the case of private visions, there is no case reported in Jewish literature where such a vision brought about an essential change in the life of the recipient.’ [13] However, Lapide believes this was a gracious act of God, by Gods permission, and not a sign that Jesus is God. Kennedy, however, states that the Christian belief in the resurrection proves Jesus’ ultimate deity as a transcendent and imminent God. He feels God has vindicated the claims of Jesus through the resurrection.[14] In contrast to the Christian understanding of this matter, Muslims believe Jesus ascended into heaven and therefore believe he is one of four living prophets.

In some ways both Christians and Muslims believe that Jesus prophesied about the coming of Muhammad, however their interpretations deviate from one another. If Jesus had prophesied about Muhammad as a man of God, or greater, Muhammad’s teachings on Jesus may well be vindicated.  There are two very divergent interpretations that can be drawn from the New Testament in support of and rejecting the teachings of Muhammad. To support Muhammad, Muslims often quote John 16:7: ‘But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’. Muslims believe that in this verse Jesus prophesies about the Prophet Muhammad. They believe that the ‘counsellor’ or ‘comforter’ that Jesus talks about is the Prophet Muhammad.[15] However Christians do not take the view that Jesus is predicting the coming of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Christian scholars believe that the ‘comforter’ or ‘counsellor’ is the Holy Spirit rather than a physical being.[16] To reject Muhammad, Christians often state that Jesus warns of false prophets (Matt 6:15, Matt 24:11). Since Muhammad rejected the deity of Christ he was believed by Christians to be a false prophet. The gospels do not appear to clearly state that the next prophet who Jesus speaks of is Muhammad; therefore Jesus’ claims to divinity cannot be objectively nullified through the use of these passages in scripture.

Muslims and Christians both believe that Jesus walked this earth, and they both see him as a very important figure in their respective faiths. Both Islamic and Christian sacred texts support the understanding that Jesus came with a message, that he was born of the virgin Mary, and that he performed miracles. The points that Muslims and Christians agree upon are often misunderstood and overshadowed by the points that they disagree on. However, these disagreements are some of the clearest distinguishers between the two traditions. As this essay has explored, Muslims and Christians do not agree on the trinity, whether Jesus was the Son of God, whether Jesus was killed on the cross, and whether he resurrected on the third day.

Daniel Christiansz is in his second year of Arts at Monash University, Clayton. He worships at Waverley Baptist Church, and is keen to understand the differences and similarities between various faiths. He is also a passionate activist, volunteering with World Vision’s youth movement, Vision Generation.

Gabriel, Mark A., Jesus and Muhammad: Profound differences and surprising similarities, Florida, 2004 p. 112.

Gorener, Ibrahim, The Qur’anic approach to the identity of Jesus, 2002, pp. 2-3. accessed from

Grenz et al, Stanley, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 1999, p. 116.
Griffiths, William, ‘Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Gabriel in the Quran’, The Old and New Testament Student, Vol. 12, No. 5 (May, 1891), pp. 276-277 accessed from

Hjarpe, Jan, ‘Jesus in Islam’, in Olive Hammer (ed.), Alternative Christs, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 71-86

Howley, G. C. D.; Bruce, F. F.; Ellison, H. L.;The New Layman’s Bible Commentary: in one volume, Michigan, 1979, pp

International Committee for the Support of the Final Prophet, The Quran Translated, Washington, 2005.

Kennedy, Kieran A., ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 74, No. 296 (Winter, 1985), pp. 440-454 accessed from

Rogerson, Barnaby, The Prophet Muhammad: a biography, London, 2003, pp
Unknown, Antiquities of the Jews – Book XVIII, 18.3.3 accessed from

Wheeler, Brannon M., Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis, London, 2002, pp. 297-320.

Zondervan, The Holy Bible: New International Version, Grand Rapids, 2006.

[1] Barnaby Rogerson, The Prophet Muhammad: a biography, London, 2003, p. 8
[2] Mark A. Gabriel, Jesus and Muhammad: Profound differences and surprising similarities, Florida, 2004 pp. 112.
[3] Jan Hjarpe, ‘Jesus in Islam’, in Olive Hammer (ed.), Alternative Christs, Cambridge, 2009, p. 75.
[4] Brannon M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis, London, 2002, p. 313.
[5] Ibrahim Gorener, The Qur’anic approach to the identity of Jesus, 2002, pp. 2-3. Accessed from

[6] Stanley Grenz et al, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 1999, p. 116.
[7] Ibid & Ibrahim Gorener, The Qur’anic approach to the identity of Jesus, 2002, pp. 2-3.

[8] J Unknown, Antiquities of the Jews – Book XVIII, 18.3.3
[9] Brannon M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis, London, 2002, p. 315.
[10] William Griffiths, ‘Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Gabriel in the Quran’, The Old and New Testament Student, Vol. 12, No. 5 (May, 1891), pp. 276-277
[11] Barnaby Rogerson, The Prophet Muhammad: a biography, London, 2003, p. 142.
[12] Kieran A. Kennedy, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 74, No. 296 (Winter, 1985), pp. 440-454 accessed from
[13] Ibid pp. 443-445.
[14] Kieran A. Kennedy, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 74, No. 296 (Winter, 1985), pp. 440-454 accessed from
[15] Barnaby Rogerson, The Prophet Muhammad: a biography, London, 2003, p. 142.
[16] G. C. D. Howley, F. F. Bruce, H. L. Ellison, The New Layman’s Bible Commentary: in one volume, Michigan, 1979, p. 1324