Across the globe, seekers have yearned over the millennia to fill an emptiness that comes with being human. We all seem to have a hole in our hearts that only faith can satisfy.
Through the world’s many religions, that yearning has been pursued in a myriad of ways. For example, on the Indian subcontinent, thousands of Hindu deities are worshiped amid very little rivalry between diverse theologies. Differing and even contradictory religious philosophies are accepted as merely being different pursuits of truth.
However among some of India’s neighbors, such tolerance is not a tradition, particularly if Islam is the only legal religion. There fundamentalist Muslims refer to the Dar al-Salaam, or “House of Peace” wherever submission to Islam is the law. The rest of the world is the Dar al-Harab or “House of War.”
Islam speaks of of two rival groups, “the People of the Book” and “polytheists.” If the latter, believers such as Hindus or animists who worship multiple deities, reside in an officially Muslim nation such as the religiously strict Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Iran, they are subjected to special taxes and are afforded fewer legal rights than Muslims. In some areas, resident Christians and Jews – the “People of the Book,” are allowed more privileges than the polytheists – even though all are regarded as infidels who need to convert to Islam.
Such black and white terms – truth versus deception – are found in Christianity as well. Eighteenth Century writer Daniel Defoe declared, "Religion is properly the Worship given to God, but 'tis also applied to the Worship of Idols and false Deities." In Defoe’s Christian Europe, the Almighty Father described in the Bible was the only true God.
Today, the followers of Jesus Christ make up our planet’s largest faith group -- 2.2 billion believers, roughly one third of all inhabitants. Many Christians still hold that other deities are demonic imposters and manmade counterfeits. That belief remains an official tenet of faith of Christianity’s largest group, Roman Catholics, as well as members of the Eastern Orthodox churches and many denominations of Protestantism. Only non-fundamentalist sects such as Universalists and Unitarians, and theological liberals, ponder a more Hindu attitude – that maybe everybody is following different paths to the same truth.
No, insists traditional Christianity: such a position of acceptance is blasphemy, apostasy and heresy. Christ proclaimed bluntly in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
So, given Christ’s rejection of other religions, what can the believers of other faiths learn from Jesus?
Actually Islam accepts Him
The 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide are taught to view Jesus as an equal of Adam; both were created by Allah without an earthly father. Islam’s holy scripture, the Qur'an, teaches that the sole purpose of human existence is to worship and obey Allah. Muslims believe that Islam’s truths were revealed throughout the centuries by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and, yes, Jesus.
So, Jesus was not a new name for Palestinian teenager Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of the extremist group Hamas’ co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef. As early as age 8, he wanted to be a Muslim freedom fighter. He was first arrested at age 10 for throwing rocks at Israelis. As his father's eldest son, he was considered his heir apparent and had important leadership duties with the Hamas organization.
However as a teen, Yousef began having doubts about how he had been raised. He began questioning how he could be doing Allah’s will by killing people, particularly other Muslims. When given a copy of the New Testament in 1999 in a Ramallah marketplace by a visiting British businessman, Yousef read it and became convinced of the truths taught by Jesus that we must love our enemies. As a result, despite his father’s high standing in Hamas, Yousef secretly became a Christian and offered to serve as an informant to the Israeli secret service Shin Bet. He is credited with saving thousands of lives by tipping off authorities to planned attacks, bombings and suicide attacks. Today, he lives in exile, rejected by his family as an apostate.
But should they take Yousef as a role model, what can Muslims – particularly militant Islamists who do not adhere to any “religion of peace,” but instead are joining ISIS, Boco Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaida – learn from Jesus Christ? Yousef says it is the commandment that most professing Christians have enormous difficulty following: To turn the other cheek. Not to live by the sword. To love instead of hate.
What about Hindus?
Hinduism’s 1.1 billion believers make up 13 percent of all religious faithful worldwide. The term “Hindu” was actually coined by British occupiers and refers to the broad range of philosophies. Some scholars refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way." Its hundreds of sects venerate a variety of deities. Hare Krishnas, who have more followers in America and Europe than in India, revere a blue-skinned deity named Krishna whose story told in the Bhagavad Gita scriptures has many parallels with the story of Jesus in the Bible. Other Hindu sects include Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism.