A Trilogy of the Passion: An Estranged Jesus, Outcast Palestinians, and Diaspora Muslims

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In the past couple of months, many weeks before The Passion of the Christ was released across the cinematic landscape of America there have been many opinions expressed for and against this account of the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus, peace be upon him (P). Virtually all pundits from the Jewish liberals to the Christian conservatives have expressed themselves about this fascinating expose that ends (or begins – depending on whom you are talking to) with the ‘crucifixion’ of Jesus the son of Mary (P). There are those who agree with the overall direction and cast of the movie and there are those who disagree with it either with historical evidence of their own or with an apprehension that this movie will set back Christian-Jewish relations thousands of years-¦ The movie has become the talk of the town almost everywhere: radio talk shows, TV programs, editorials, OP-ED pieces, even classroom discussions have veered in that direction – not to speak about Church and Temple sermons and orations. What has been absent from this lively exchange of opinions is the Islamic point of view. And for all that it is worth we will try to fill the void with some salient observations that are taken from the Islamic perspective: religiously and historically.

The Crucifixion:

We Muslims do not accept the historical allegation that Jesus (P) was put on the cross and crucified. And before we go any further we should say that Muslims believe that Jesus is the son of the Virgin Mary – having no physical father. Jesus is also the Messiah. This assertion comes from the Holy Qur’an, God’s perfect word, in the fifth chapter (The Table-spread) in which He says that they (the Romans, Jews, and others) did not kill him [Jesus] nor did they crucify him; but they were under the illusion that they did so. In this perceptual misunderstanding of the last hours of Jesus on earth, God raised him [Jesus] unto Himself.

And if Jesus was never put on the cross, there can be no one who is culpable of an act that never happened. This, though, does not mean that some Jewish Rabbis and some Roman officials did not wish for Jesus to be executed or somehow eliminated.

Furthermore, in the Qur’an there are verses that tell us quite clearly that in the history of Bani Israel (the Jewish people) there were those who are guilty for having offended and on occasion even been involved in actually killing God’s prophets.

The Historical Jewish-Christian Divergence

The point of contention in the Jewish-Christian tit-for-tat about The Passion of the Christ is the obfuscated scene in which Jews appear to be instigating or approving the legal procedure(s) to have Jesus receive the death penalty. This particular caption has inflamed peoples’ passions. Some say it is not meant to stir up anti-Semitism (as Mel Gibson stated repeatedly) and others say that it has the potential of digging up old feelings [feelings of a European era in which Jews were condemned to ghettos, forced to wear distinguishing clothing, or simply discriminated against just because their theology is different].

And even if – in a worse case scenario — there were some Jews who pushed for the death penalty and wanted to see Jesus pay for his blasphemy why should the rest of the Jews be upset? Each religious community has its sadists, criminals, and egotists – and some of them may be in religious attire. But so what? Religion is not the men who purport to represent it – many times. And Judaism should not be exempt from this rule of thumb. And if the Jewish community would come out in the public and wash itself of some of its wayward characters and Rabbis then we would have an end to this historical saga that has the potential of flaring up into persecutions, pogroms, and pillaging. The almost stubborn affinity with historical mistakes on behalf of the Jewish community sets it up for suspicion, ambiguity, and reactions from their “gentiles.”

An Islamic Perception

As we said above, the Muslims are not part of this potentially lethal argument between “Christians” and “Jews.” But having said that, we Muslims also must express our understanding of the “Jewish” mindset that has imposed itself on our history, our current affairs, and probably on our destiny.

To reiterate, “Jews” from an Islamic perspective have been responsible for many hostile positions towards God’s prophets. We also think that the “Jews” themselves have enough information about how they behaved towards the prophets Zachariah and John [the Baptist] that if they were honest enough with themselves they would not dispute this issue. And this is really the crux of the matter: the “Jews” have not garnered enough courage to weed out the offensive characters in their history and break with their “criminal” intents and deeds. The Qur’an clearly tells us that, because of this type of “Israeli” offensive and “breakaway” mentality, these children of Israel have been condemned by David and Jesus-¦

Sometimes it feels like a mental teaser to see how “Jews” show more solidarity with their rabbinical hierarchy when they are wrong than they do with God’s Apostles who can only be right!

From Then to Now

Fast-forward to our current times. The “Jewish” establishment has regained its paranoia in all places of the United States! When The Passion of the Christ was being screened at select locations around the country, certain American Jewish figures began pointing fingers of accusation against Mel Gibson, his father, a faction of Catholicism, and some Christians who believe that Jews are “Christ killers.” [See Tikkun, March/April 2004] The media in the US was buzzing with anti Christian undertones. Icon Productions, which is not a Hollywood subsidiary, came in for a rubbing from the Hollywood elites because The Passion of the Christ was a box-office success without Hollywood production, distribution, or marketing-¦ It seems like The Passion of the Christ caused as much of a breakthrough in the media monopoly as it did in defying the theological deafening silence that is supposed to be a lubricant for “interfaith dialogue” between Christians and Jews.

This is amusing to say the least from an Islamic perspective. It is this same Hollywood that is busy clogging the motion picture industry with so many stereotypical movies about Arab and Muslim terrorists, Islamic existential threats, and broad swipes at Muslims which depict them in some instances as the “anti-Christ.”

We, the Muslims, wonder out loud why are certain quarters so upset with one single solo movie that casts doubts and asperity on “Jews” when there are scores – if not hundreds – of movies that are virtually beaming out a continuous message that places the Muslims in the worst possible positions in history, in current events, and in religious matters!

It is heartening to see on the large screen another version that does not fit into the Hollywood stereotype.

Muslims and Anti-Semitism

Without any anti-Semitic complexes, we Muslims can say that our affinity with Scripture is a Semitic one. Our Prophet Muhammad (P) was a Semite. Other prophets preceding him were Semites. And we believe in them all. Our Holy Scripture, the Noble Qur’an, is in a Semitic language, the Arabic language. So with all the Semitic ingredients that go into our religion, history, language, and scripture, if we are critical of “Jews” we are not being “anti-Semitic.” And therefore we go on to look at “Jewish” behavior nowadays; and we ask: how would the critics of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ rank their Israeli “Jewish” counterparts as they are staining their trigger happy fingers and their souls with the blood of Palestinians? It takes a dead conscience to plan and execute policies of “break their bones,” “bury them alive,” and “they are two-legged animals” — statements by Israeli officials in reference to Palestinian descendants of the people of Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the river Jordan area.

From a Palestinian and an Islamic point of view, it is not a far-fetched task to see prophet killers become Palestinian killers. Why do we not have in today’s world – when history is no longer a source of contention as we notice the present without much ado about the past – the Jewish community distancing itself from the killer instinct, the killer mentality, and the killer military of a self-destructing Israel? Mel Gibson said that he talked to literally thousands of learned and biblical scholars over the last 12 years before he produced The Passion of the Christ. [Reader’s Digest, March 2004]. But in the eyes of those who are critical of Mr. Gibson their problem is not that Mel may have been talking to the wrong scholars as much as it is that “Jews” can do no wrong! The rumor mill is turning and turning. And criticism of some Jews is supposed to be beyond the pale because it is tantamount to criticizing all the Jews. When are we going to be able to sort out the “good Jews” from the “bad Jews?” What promotes hatred is not the way The Passion of the Christ has been presented; what promotes hatred is the spin that “some Jews” mean “all Jews.” And this is an absurdity that should not be left to thrive in the minds of sane Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Israel and the “Jews”

We can take this whole episode into our real-time world today. WE can take a look at the Israeli authority and condemn it for all its atrocities, violations of human rights, initiation of wars, and now an active pursuit of apartheid like policies against the Palestinians who trace themselves back to the time of the Messiah. Any fair-minded Muslim, Christian, or Jew should be able to condemn all Jews who are the executors and distributors of wholesale death on an innocent population. And if this means that all the Jews of the world are lock, stock, and barrel in total agreement with the horrible and bloody policies of the state of Israel then they incur the same condemnation as the state of Israel. If some Jews distance themselves and wash their hands of the Israel of Sharon and company then there is no reason or justification for lumping them with the evil that is Israel.

And the ball does not stop here. There is an Israeli lobby [a Jewish lobby as they call themselves] that is working full-time on making the lives of Muslims miserable and intolerable in the West, and particularly in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, the Investigative Project, and even “anonymous writers” and “secret evidence” are thrown at law abiding Muslims in the United States in an attempt to make life a living hell for members of their respective communities.

In The Passion of the Christ the Jewish Rabbi Caiaphas stood out for favoring the death sentence on Jesus. This Rabbi may be designated as a “rotten Jew.” And the title “Rabbi” should not shield him from his true intentions and purposes towards Jesus. Likewise, Ariel Sharon is the “rotten Jew” in occupied Palestine; his title as ‘Israeli Prime Minister’ should not shield him from his intentions of dislocating hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and driving them into the desert. Daniel Pipes, Rita Katz, and Steven Emerson are the Caiaphas equivalents in America. They are the “rotten Jews” in the United States. Their titles should not shield them from their night-and-day efforts to incriminate innocent Muslims, send them to prisons or to the gallows if they can. In all these instances these murderous types have a contingent of people who are working with them. And all Christians, Jews, and Muslims of conscience should be able to unequivocally and freely condemn these purveyors of hatred and fabricators of lies without being accused of anti-Semitism or bringing back the discrimination of the times that have passed.

The Jews Need Help

We think that Mel Gibson has gone on the record repeatedly to assure the skeptics that his film The Passion of the Christ is about “faith, hope, love, and forgiveness.” Why can’t the folks in the Jewish community accept that? Why can’t influential Jewish spokespersons come out in public and say for their own constituencies and for the rest of the people that there are good Jews and there are bad Jews. And we in the Jewish community identify with the good Jews and we have nothing in common with the bad Jews. Instead, these Jewish spokespersons [or the majority of them, and Abe Foxman is one of them] point fingers at Mel Gibson and his father saying that they belong to an ultra-conservative brand of Catholicism!

Let us try to help our Jewish brethren out. Let us say that the Gospels state or infer that the “Jews” are responsible for the murder of Jesus Christ. That is like saying today that the “Jews” are responsible for the pogroms against the Palestinians. But when we say that do we mean “all Jews?” No. We mean the Jews who are actively, directly, and physically involved in the virtual annihilation of the Palestinians as a people. We may be more specific and call them Zionist Jews. And if all the Jews in the world are not supportive of this Zionist slaughter of the Palestinians – and especially if certain Jews come out and condemn the murderous policies of Tel Aviv’s generals and politicians then all of us will understand that no one can get away with a blank statement to condemn all Jews all the time anywhere they happen to be! The distinction is very important; but this distinction is contingent upon the Jews themselves drawing the line between their murderous and their merciful.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

This whole scenario has another dimension to it. Take the United States. It is an unspoken fact that the Jews have influence in the decision making corridors of power in Washington. And it can be argued that the Pontius Pilate is the occupant of the White House. And in this case who is superior to the other when it comes to a decision that has to be made about Jerusalem, Palestine, or Islamic issues? Is it the American Jewish lobby with all its clout on Capital Hill and the Congress, or is it the compassionate conservative in the White House ? Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog? The argument is a semantic one at that level as both the dog and his tail belong to the same structure of interests that do not want a “foreign” body around: be it Jesus, the Palestinians, or the Muslims.

This brings us to one of the most neglected aspects of that history. Why is the narrative so silent about those who are in power (religious elites and governmental functionaries) who wanted to rid the world of God’s special prophet? Do not these power-that-be represent evil incarnate as they seek to terminate the life of Jesus? Why is this history cast in a storyline that makes the succumbing of Jesus (P) an act of redeeming man’s sins and not an inducement or a reason to terminate such tyrannical authorities, dictatorial governments, or autocratic rulers?

The Jews and the Gentiles

An obvious insensitivity by today’s Jews is their incoherent reactions to the way they endured persecution upon themselves in those times and the way they condone persecution by them against Palestinians in our time. How can a level minded Jew suffer the oppression of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman tyrannies while clinging to his faith of monotheism and then turn around and combine the oppression of Egypt, Greece, and Rome in the state of Israel and take it out on today’s monotheistic Palestinians?

From a Palestinian perspective, the Zionist Jews of today are as cruel as the tormentors of Jesus. The Jews cannot have it both ways. Either they are against the whole body of interests that ‘sent Jesus to the cross’ and therefore are also against the whole body of interests that are sending the Palestinians to their graves – or they have the capacity to rationalize and justify the murder of Jesus thousands of years ago and the murder of Palestinians today.

Then and Now

The Passion of the Christ does a superb job in showing the unending and agonizing tribulation of those last hours. To fit that bill, today’s government in Israel is also repeating the same procedures. It is killing the Palestinian people with a thousand cuts, a thousand lashes, and a thousand wounds. If cinematic art were at our disposal we could show the wounded Palestinian body bleeding to death. Technology has come a long way: instead of driving a nail through a hand or a leg, the Israelis today are piercing Palestinian bodies with bullets, gunshots, helicopter gun-ships, and explosions. The Palestinians, in a sense, are being crucified.

This brings us to the concluding segment – the Jewish witch-hunt of religious Muslims in the West, but particularly in the United States. As much as Muslims in their history were accommodating of Jews who had to flee the persecution of an “anti-Semitic” Europe, these Jews were received with a good measure of understanding by their Semitic Muslim cousins in Ottoman Turkey as well as in North Africa. Muslims, though, have become the targets of well-entrenched “Jewish” establishments throughout the Western hemisphere. “Nail them to the cross” may not be the physical action that these Zionist Jews are doing to American Muslims, but as a figure of speech that is exactly what they have been doing in the past decade.

Muslims who are not locked into a reflex of anti-Semitic visceral exchanges cannot help but reflect on how ungrateful these types of Jews have become towards their hospitable hosts who only several generations ago lodged them and obliged them.

Muslims cannot but think: who is behind this “secret evidence” legal drive that has a number of Muslims behind bars in the United States without due process which is enshrined in the Constitution? And could there be a parallel process of “secret evidence” that was thrown at Jesus to have him also found guilty of “sedition?”

How far are the “Jews-can-do-no-wrong” plans going to go to satisfy their pursuit of God-fearing Muslims and [if this begins to pick up after The Passion of the Christ] God-fearing Christians?

A Goodwill Gesture

Let us say for a moment that we cannot ascertain what exactly happened during those miraculous last days of Jesus – and especially during those gruesome last twelve hours that are portrayed in The Passion of the Christ. Let us Muslims and Christians give the Jews the benefit of the doubt and tip the balance of misgiving or mistrust away from the Jews who cannot for reasons only known to them distance themselves from those uncertain developments. And let us come to our time. And here these Zionist Jews cannot assume that we are deaf, dumb, and blind to what they are doing in the Holy Land. Are not the Jews of the Zionist persuasion tormenting a population of seven million Palestinians: Muslims and Christians? Are not these types of Zionist Jews meddling in the internal affairs of Muslims and Christians alike? [One of them being this very episode of imposing their version of history on others.] Is it not Zionist [Jewish] Israel that has reduced the number of Christians in the land of Christ to a virtual endangered species? Is it not “Judaism” as expressed by the state of Israel responsible for outlawing Christian missionary activities in the land of the prophets? Isn’t the Jewishly unchallenged state of Israel speaking for the rest of the Jews in the world? Isn’t Israel, which calls itself a Jewish homeland, hatching wars of aggression against its neighbors for its self-anointed purposes of national security and defense?

The majority of Jews have not given us any reason to give them the benefit of the doubt when we are eyewitnesses to their atrocities, brutalities, and violent behavior towards the believers in Jesus and Muhammad (P) in our own time and in front of our own eyes.

Add to all the above the fact that Zionist Jews [their active members] are trying their best to poison the atmosphere between Muslims and Christians. We say this because we still have not seen or heard any outspoken and prominent Jew speak favorably about Muslims or Christians who are trying to express their religious conscience on the issues of the day. There has to be some merits to some Muslims and some Christians who issue from their own religious conscience. This Tinsel-town broad brushing of virtually all religious Muslims or Christians as fundamentalists, terrorists, or extremists will not bode well for the Jewish pens and voices that cannot find anything good to say about Muslims of religious conscience or Christians of religious conscience.

Prospects

The movie The Passion of the Christ may be one step – a bold step – in a new direction that seeks to revisit the core beliefs and the gem values that we all are in need of. There is word under the grapevine that predicts a series of movies and motion pictures of a religious depth in the coming years. We know that everyone is entitled to his own views – Mel Gibson included. And we hope and pray that if there is a continuation of this epic film that it will also spring from deep religious convictions: be they Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. There is plenty of history that has gone down the memory hole; and we do not want the history that pertains to the core of our beliefs, creeds, and religions to be wasted when it has the potential of inspiring and motivating.

With good will on all sides we may emerge from this cinematographic religious history with a better understanding of each other. If we have nothing to hide we should not feel guilty about things we did not do. This may become [who knows?] an interfaith dialogue on the large screen.

And even if this comes to pass, we the Muslims will be lagging behind because we do not have anything remotely close to The Passion of the Christ or Schindler’s List, or Exodus, or Moses, etc-¦

Many people have the wherewithal to present in live color their point of view, but we will probably remain in a cinematic diaspora for the foreseeable future. And to the loss of those who seek the truth we apologize for our ineffectiveness.

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