2016-06-30
"The Passion of the Christ" has generated an enormous amount of controversy. More than the biblical specifics, however, the film is about--and shows in graphic detail--the suffering of Jesus on behalf of humanity. While Muslims do not believe Jesus was crucified, the theme of the film is a familiar one for us. Many a Prophet has suffered at the hands of his enemies because of the message he was sent to deliver. Not the least of these is the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

From the very beginning of his mission, the Prophet was violently opposed by his people. Some of his worst enemies, in fact, were members of his own family. In the immediate days after his commission by God, the Prophet gathered all of the people of Quraysh, his tribe, and said to them that he was the Messenger of God sent to them. His uncle, Abu Lahab, then shouted, "May you perish!" and he sent the people away. Abu Lahab was so vehement in his opposition to the Prophet that he would actually follow the Prophet along the streets of Mecca and tell anyone to whom the Prophet spoke that Muhammad was a madman that should not be heeded.

Yet verbal insults were the least form of oppression the Prophet suffered. One day, the Prophet was circumambulating the Ka'abah, in the tradition of Abraham, and the Meccans would hurl toward him heinous insults every time he passed. The Prophet would never reply. As he continued, however, the insults continued and only became worse. Not being able to stand any more, he turned to them and said, "I have come to you with certain slaughter!" This simple phrase frightened them deeply, and they all went up to him apologizing for their insults. After he left, the Meccans reproached themselves for their cowardice. The next day, the Prophet came back to make his circumambulation, and the Meccans beat him bloody. He was nearly killed. It was only the intervention of his friend Abu Bakr that saved the Prophet from death.

Many times people would throw dust or even spit in the Prophet's face. Once, the Prophet was praying at the Ka'abah, and a group of Meccans, for a good laugh, put camel entrails on the Prophet's head while he was prostrating. Another time, one of the worst enemies of Islam, Abu Jahl, vowed to murder the Prophet as he prayed to God at the Ka'abah. Again while the Prophet was prostrating, Abu Jahl picked up a very heavy rock and intended to crush the Prophet's head with it. The Prophet was saved, however, by another miracle from God.

The Meccans could not stem the flow of converts to Islam, and thus they resorted to violent torture of anyone who converted to Islam. The Prophet was saved from this torture because his other uncle, Abd Al Mutalib, a non-believer, vowed to protect his nephew. In addition, his wife Khadijah supported the Prophet financially so that he could devote all his time to spreading the message of Islam: to set aside idols of wood and stone and worship the One God of Abraham.

Yet, seeing that even violent torture could not stop the tide of Islam, the Meccans then boycotted Muhammad, his family, and everyone who followed him. It was forbidden to sell them anything or buy anything from them. During the sacred months, when hostilities were forbidden, the Prophet's family would try to buy food and other necessities. This effort was in vain, however, because the Meccans would set prices that the Muslims could not afford. They were left to starve in the mountain valleys of Mecca.

This boycott took a heavy toll on the Prophet and his followers. As a result of these economic sanctions, Khadijah died. In addition, Muhammad's staunchest supporter, Abu Talib, also died. Now that the main source of his protection was no more, the Meccans increased their verbal and physical attacks on the Prophet. Despite all of this, the Prophet forbade his companions from fighting back. He told them to be patient for God's victory.

It was quite clear that Mecca was becoming much too dangerous for the Prophet, and so he sought support from outside Mecca. He went to the city of Taif, not far from Mecca to the north. He met the city leaders, and they immediately rejected his message. Furthermore, they refused him access to the city's residents, and they sent the city's children to pelt his feet with stones and drive him out of the city. Upon his return to Mecca, it was so dangerous for the Prophet that he could only go back to his house under the protection of one of the pagan Meccans who felt pity for him.

All this violent opposition forced him to flee Mecca to Medina, whose inhabitants accepted Islam. On the night he left Mecca, the Prophet escaped an assassination attempt by the Meccans. Although the Prophet found safety in Medina, the violence against him continued, and he escaped numerous assassination attempts there as well.

Why would the Prophet endure all this suffering and pain? In fact, the Meccans offered the Prophet all the money and women he wanted, even making him king of Mecca, if he would simply stop asking Meccans to leave the worship of idols for the worship of God. He refused. He refused to give up the mission of Islam, even if it would cost him his life. Why? Because he loved us. All he wanted was to bring us the message of Islam.

The same can be said about all of God's Prophets. Abraham was rejected by his father for also calling his people to leave idol worship for the worship of the One God. In fact, his people tried to burn Abraham alive. Noah spent over 900 years of his life calling his people to the worship of God; less than 100 people followed him. While he was building the Ark, Noah's people continually made fun of him, but this did not deter him either. The Prophet Jethro also was violently opposed by his people, simply for calling them to the worship of the One God. Every Prophet of God, in fact, has had a "passion" of sorts, and every one of them was eventually bestowed victory from God.

The implication of these "passion" stories is that when we sin and disobey the commands of God, we betray the memory of their suffering. Indeed, all of us are sinners; it is part of the human condition. Nevertheless, when we Muslims, for example, blatantly disobey God and could care less, it is as if we also could care less about all the pain and suffering the Prophet Muhammad went through to bring us the message of Islam. Thus, the next time I am tempted to disobey God, I should remember the suffering of Prophet Muhammad.

In addition, the "passions" of the Prophets are also stories of hope. The Prophet Muhammad eventually returned to Mecca victorious, pardoning his oppressors. Abraham was saved by God from being burned alive. Noah was saved by God on the Ark.

In the Christian version of the Passion, Jesus was resurrected after the third day.

In the Muslim version of the story, God took Jesus up to Him before the Romans came to arrest him. Similarly, whenever we sin there is also hope: God has promised to forgive us if we sincerely repent. The fact that I still stand on earth and write this is open testimony to the hope of God's forgiveness.

All of God's Prophets (peace be upon them) were amazing people who deserve our respect, love, and admiration. They endured suffering so that we could benefit from the message of God.

The Qur'an tell us that the stories of the Prophets, their "passions," are much more than just interesting tales: "There is, in their [the Prophets'] stories, instruction for those endued with understanding. It is not a tale invented, but a confirmation of what went before it--a detailed exposition of all things--and a guide and a mercy to any such as believe" (12:111). I hope and pray that all of us can heed the lessons of the passions of the Prophets.

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