Over the last few years, I have been blessed to have many Christian friends who have come to see that we inhabit one world, have faith in One God, and share in the same humanity.
Many have come to learn not only about Islam, but also from Islam.
This is a reciprocation of that act of openheartedness, for as the Qur’an says, “the response to beauty is indeed beauty.”
I write these reflections on Easter not as a Christian, but rather as a Muslim who comes to see in the different Divine dispensations an affirmation of the same One God, and the same ultimate truth.
I write it as someone who engages the spiritual wisdom of other traditions in the same way that one might engage the beauties of Opera or Carmina Burana even though one doesn’t speak Italian or Latin.
The symbolism of Good Friday to Easter resonates for me too in a powerful way, as the symbolism of the triumph of resurrection over death and ultimate redemption in God’s grace over sin.
Easter for me is irrevocably tied to Good Friday: The redemption is so sweet because the suffering is also real.
As my Christian friends believe that Christ suffered on the cross for our sins, I too come to see that some measure of suffering on any spiritual path is necessary.
I am suspicious of spiritual paths that somehow offer cheap joy here and now, where we see how pervasive suffering is.
I am suspicious of spiritual teachers that promise us the gospel of prosperity or happiness, for I wonder how much compassion they have towards those who are poor, or genuinely suffering.
There is a beautiful teaching of the Prophet Muhammad where a person came up to him and said: “O Messenger of God, I love you.”
The Prophet said to him: “Then go put on the battle armor, because surely there will come affliction.”
The God that I have faith is not just the God of the sunny days, but the God of every day, including the days of suffering, the days of pain, and the days of loss.
I too seek shelter in God in the days of suffering, having faith in the unseen days to come.
Our God is the God of Good Friday as much as the God of Easter, the God of the lowest valley and the loftiest mountain.
In those ways, I too marvel at the experience Mahalia Jackson sings about:
I ponder on the time between Good Friday and Easter, which is where I see most of us human beings.
As Jesus is believed to have been in the tomb for three days, most of us humans spend our lives in the metaphorical tomb of existence.
Most of us are in this in-between stage, the cosmic “three days” that all of us find ourselves in: not dead, and not yet resurrected.
There is something Divine in us, though it not has not Risen yet.
We wait, though time alone will not lead to the Resurrection.
As seekers of God, sought by the One we seek, we want that Rising, that Resurrection, that “Easter”, here and now.
And I ponder on the mystery of Easter.
I wonder about what it is like for a soul to give birth, to be born, and to Rise.
Rumi, the famed Muslim mystic, always asks us to look at the Biblical figures not only as distant figure of the past, but as also responding to the spiritual faculties of our own spirit.
He recognizes that in the story of Moses and the Pharaoh, there is something inside us that is tyrannical like the Pharaoh,
and there is something that corresponds to Moses: Who is the Moses of our soul, and who is the Pharaoh of our soul?
And following Rumi, I look at Jesus in the same way:
Nothing can be undertaken until a pain—a yearning and love for a thing—is awakened inside a human being.
Without pain one’s endeavor will not be easy, no matter whether it be about this world, the hereafter, commercial, regal, scholarly, astrological or anything else.
Our body is like Mary, and each of us bears a Jesus.
If we experience birth pains, our Jesus will be born, but if there is no pain, our Jesus will return to his origin by that hidden road whence he came, and we will remain deprived.
[Modified from Signs of the Unseen, 22-23].
I am full aware that many Muslims have issues with the notion of redemptive suffering, particularly when connected to the notion of a “suffering Messiah” who dies for our sins.
I do remain within the fold of Islam (if I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, I wouldn’t be much of a Muslim, would I?),
but simply recognize that there are many places within the Islamic tradition where there is the acknowledgement of there being something redemptive about suffering.
Within a Shi’i context, the suffering of the Lord of the Martyrs, Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad,
is something that Shi’a Muslims and many Sunnis commemorate, even to the point of recognizing that our salvation is connected to the remembrance of that sacrifice.
Within the mystical tradition, again Rumi realizes that no prophet suffered as the Prophet Muhammad did.
This suffering for Rumi is because the Prophet Muhammad was sent as a “Mercy to all the worlds”, and he refused to curse his people.
Suffering and affliction according to the mystical tradition of Islam, is one of the supreme jewels of God’s treasure that the Divine bestows on those destined to be purified.
That suffering becomes like a fire that purges away every illusion that pulls us away from God.
So in that way, I too celebrate Easter, I too celebrate the Risen Jesus, though I seek not the Palestinian Jesus of Bethlehem, but rather the Jesus that the Qur’an names as the “spirit of God”.
I seek the Easter of our own spirit, the resurrection of our spirit, long dead, brought back to God through God’s grace.
I recognize that this attempt to recognize meaning and beauty in others’ traditions will strike some as trying to find universality by eradicating the particularity, of minimizing and eroding the uniqueness of the Christian reading.
That is certainly possible.
But I reflect on Easter not to please my Christian friends, but simply because I recognize in the meaning of that story and that parable a truth and beauty that has given meaning to lives of many during the centuries.
I acknowledge that truth and that beauty, for I see truth and beauty as being ultimately of God, and Divine.
May there be an Easter for the Jesus of our spirit, overcoming every death, every suffering and every affliction.
May that healing, redeeming spirit Rise, now, each and every day.
Every day that the our spirit is resurrected is a holy day to be celebrated.
Alhamdulilah, praise be to God.
The Jesus of the Spirit has Risen!
Image of Jesus is from the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul. (Author's photo)