They have denied my right to live at peace. Behold, I have become an exile in my own land. I am a stranger to unfamiliar faces, but an enemy to those who know me. So, here I am, without a place to lay my head. As if driven by the wind, I go about, wandering through the wilderness, looking for a place to call home. Strangely, I feel like I'm walking along a familiar path, one from ancient times. Was there once a sojourner among us? Was he also rejected by his own people, and did they show contempt for his love? "Allah, guide me through the storm, show me the depth of Your love, and comfort my weary soul."
My feet are burning hot from walking. I've wandered so much that they are now filling up my shoes from swelling. There must be a way to take my mind off the pain… Maybe I can learn something from my current situation. Yes, at first glance, it may seem as though there's nothing more than one foot falling in front of the other, but Allah knows the purpose for which they strike the ground. Their affliction is only momentary. After the anguish, they will be bathed. They may suffer for a while, but they will soon be treated with special dignity.
Surely, we can learn a lesson from our feet. The rugged path set before them and the humble position to which they are assigned do not make them any less valuable. In the same way, Allah cares about the lowly. He may have prepared a rugged path for our lives and we may be subjected to humbling circumstances, but these things do not make us any less valuable in His sight. Just like our feet, we may have to be dragged in the dust for some time, drenched in the river, hit upon the rocks, scratched by the thorn bushes, and swell up. But, let us remember that there is a divine purpose, and there is a destination. Allah knows where He is leading us. We must simply put our confidence in Him, and follow Him by faith. In the end, our redemption will be that much more glorious and sweet to our soul.
Oh, if only I believed all of this myself! These words hover in my mind, but they have yet to penetrate my heart. How hard it is to be optimistic when the world is falling around you!
Moe – Allah, where are You leading me? Please, make a straight path for my footsteps. Don't let me be blinded by the difficult circumstances. Rather, help me to see Your good purposes. I beg you, comfort me in my affliction! Save me, oh Lord, lest I should die!
Ever since I left the cabin, my thoughts have been sinister and dejected. It's been difficult to remain positive… I try to think about good things, but my thoughts keep coming back to how much I abhor myself right now. Like a hawk stalking its prey, my failures haunt me. They remind me of my shortcomings. They declare that I will never accomplish enough good deeds to make up for the stains upon my life. Sadly, these accusations are true. The truth is that there are some broken things that I cannot fix; there are some debts that I cannot pay; there are some missed opportunities that I will never get back. Whenever I am not guilty of committing evil, I still fall short of doing all the good that I should do. Let's be honest, I am a debtor towards Allah and a criminal in the eyes of His perfect justice. How could I ever repay my moral debt? The price of my redemption is too much for me to pay.
But, please do not assume that you are any better. You and I are in the same boat, and that boat is sinking to the bottom of the sea. The fact is that every man and every woman is a debtor towards the divine majesty. Human beings do not have enough merit to cover their deficiencies, much less those of their neighbors and friends. Indeed, I invite you to ponder this predicament with me, since we have become friends. Perhaps you and I will find the elixir that will bring health back to our bones. Just think about this: If the punishment for a crime is proportional to the seriousness of the crime, and if the seriousness of the crime is proportional to the nature of the crime and to the party offended, then what kind of payment does justice require for a moral crime against Allah? The payment would have to be of infinite value! Do you have that much merit in yourself?
What shall we do to make up for our deficiencies? On what do we fall back when we have failed? Where do we turn to when we have no gold nor silver, no money nor possessions? Be honest with yourself. Will you just try harder, perhaps until the next failure? Will you trust in your performance, perhaps until you get a glimpse of the righteous standards of Allah? Will you find comfort in your religious duties, perhaps until your heart waxes cold in that all-too-familiar moment of dullness? Will you trust in the sincere devotion of your heart to Allah, perhaps until you realize that your repentance is partial at best? No! There must be something better. There must be something in Allah Himself that answers our deficiencies. What if we could fall back on an act of divine love? What if, when our failures assail us, we could fall back on something that Allah has done for us? What if Allah had ripped through the veil of history and fulfilled the demands of His covenant in such a way that it covered us forever?
Moe – Surely, Allah, you must have done what we could not do. You must have paid the price of our ransom. You must have dealt with our sins once and for all. How could you not? How could you leave your justice unsatisfied? How could you pervert justice by simply turning a blind eye on our crimes? You just couldn't! You are too holy! You are too pure! You are too righteous! You are too perfect to leave things unresolved! Is there a mediator between us? Is there one who intercedes on our behalf? Lead me to the fountain that purifies us from our sins!
As these thoughts were lingering in my mind, I entered the city of Al-Hasakah. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I would find serenity in this place. Looking around, I noticed that most of the buildings were made of stone, often adorned with artwork and handmade crafts. The streets near the edge of the city were cracked and sprinkled with a thin layer of sand. But, the closer I got to populated areas, the cleaner it looked. As I walked along the street, I laid my hand on a stone with an inscription: "In memory of Pastor Boutros, a true philanthropist". To me, this was a sign that I would be much safer here. You see, Al-Hasakah (a city of almost 200,000 people) is a melting pot of diverse cultures. It has a long history of offering shelter to those who are oppressed. It is a city of refuge to those seeking clemency, and a safe haven to the traveler. However, it has recently been besieged by the Islamic State, whose agents have infiltrated the community, waiting for the right time to provoke an uprising. Even though I would be safer, I would still have to be vigilant.
Making my way deeper into the heart of civilization, I paused, as if it would help me to find direction. Where should I go? I can't just go to the Masjid, because there may be some of Abdul's friends waiting for me there. I can't just hang out in the street, or else I will draw attention to myself. Maybe I should go to the nearest market and try to find a place to stay. Or perhaps I can try to find a Christian Church… that might be the safest place for me at this time, and I might get the opportunity to find the answers that I'm looking for. But, how should I look for a Church? Maybe I'll find one in the phone book at the market…
Haroun – You're still seeking, are you?
Moe – Oh… excuse me?
Haroun – You're still seeking… that's good. Don't give up. You'll find it.
Moe – Huh… yes, I'm looking for a place to stay.
Haroun – I know a place.
Moe – Great! My name is Moe… my name is Mohammed.
Haroun – So, you're coming out of the shadows, too… It makes me really happy. It's nice to finally know your name. My name is Haroun.
Moe – Huh… it's nice to know your name too…
Haroun – We can walk there right now, before the call to prayer.
Moe – Okay… Are you planning on going to the Masjid to pray?
Haroun – Not anymore.
Moe – Not anymore? Why not?
Haroun – I now realize that it's so empty. Bow here… recite this… do a bunch of actions… but these rituals are void of substance. There's no real spiritual life in them. Besides, Mecca is empty, you know… Allah isn't there. Allah doesn't dwell in a place built with human hands, and doing a bunch of rituals won't change that. It won't give life to your soul, and it won't open the door to commune with Allah. It's not the right way.
Moe – It's not the right way? You mean, it's not the right way to pray?
Haroun – It's not the right path… You can't pave your own path to Allah! Do you really think that doing a bunch of actions in your flesh is sufficient to bridge the gap to the divine? We're talking about an immaterial Being… spiritual, eternal, holy, dwelling in inapproachable light. It's going to take much more than a few little rituals to bridge that gap!
Moe – But, how else would you communicate with Allah?
Haroun – You must find the path that Allah has paved Himself. When you do, you'll bow towards the City of Allah in Paradise, rather than a city made with human hands on earth. You'll find that His path is like a river that nourishes whosoever drinks from it.
Moe – So, what is the right way to pray? I mean, what is the right path?
Haroun – What if I told you that there is bread that comes down from Allah, which provides true nourishment to your spirit… should you focus your attention on the posture of your body as you come to the table? No. You should probably focus your attention on the bread itself, and making sure that you simply eat of it.
Moe – Okay…
Haroun – What if I showed you a table on which I had placed ten cups, and then told you that I had filled nine of those cups with normal water, but that Allah had filled the tenth cup with living water that gives eternal life… should you focus your attention on how to wash your hands before you drink? No. You should probably focus your attention on the cup that Allah has filled, and making sure that you simply drink of it.
Moe – Sure…
Haroun – That's what I mean. Allah has given us a gift from above, but instead of simply receiving it and honoring what He has done, we ignore it and try to pave our own path instead. Why do we focus on the work of our own hands instead of taking pleasure in the work of Allah's divine hands? Could it be that we are rejecting Allah's gift by trying to pave our own path to Him?
Moe – That's all good, but I still don't know what you're talking about…
Haroun – Come on. Don't tell me that you don't know where these illustrations come from! They're all from the Injil. The gift of Allah… the bread from above… the cup of the Lord… the living water… the path to eternal life… You know who they're referring to, right?
Moe – Who?
Haroun – The long-awaited Messiah! Allah's sacrificial Lamb who took away the sins of the world, once-and-for-all! The fountain that washes away our moral filthiness! The payment of infinite value for our debt before Allah!
Moe – Who or what are you talking about?
Haroun – What? You've read the Injil before…
Moe – Well, I wanted to read it, but I couldn't find one.
Haroun – Didn't you tell me that you had read it before?
Moe – When did I say that?
Haroun – Never mind… don't worry about it. We can start from the beginning. In fact, I've got something even better for you: After you're settled, we'll go and meet with some people who can answer your questions.
Moe – Why are you doing this? You don't even know me.
Haroun – Mohammed, you and I are seekers! We go where others don't dare to lay their feet. We ask dangerous questions and risk our lives because of it. We must help one another, or else we won't survive!
Moe – Have I met you before?
Haroun – Haha! I didn't know that you were a comedian!
Moe – We have?
Haroun – Come on, stop kidding around…
Moe – I honestly don't remember meeting you. You see, I lost part of my memory at Kobani…
Haroun – What? You were in Kobani! What were you doing there?
Moe – Well, I wanted to… I mean, I thought that I should… you see… oh, it's a long story. There was an explosion and my head got injured.
Haroun – You really don't remember me…
Moe – I don't. I'm sorry.
Haroun – What do you remember from Kobani?
Moe – I just remember a loud explosion, and debris flying everywhere. Then, I blacked out.
Haroun – What is the first thing that you remember after you regained conscience?
Moe – I was in Faruq's cabin, and my friend, Nadim, was doing his prayers. When he finished praying, he noticed that I was awake, so he ran in the kitchen and brought me something to drink. He put his hand on my head, and he said that it was a miracle that I had survived the explosion. So, he started calling me "a walking miracle".
Haroun – I like that… I mean, what he called you.
Moe – Wait a minute… you said that we met before, but you didn't know my name. How is that possible?
Haroun – Well, we always met under the condition of anonymity. Everyone knew how dangerous it was to talk about those things.
Moe – So, what is different now?
Haroun – I don't care anymore. It's not worth hiding. It's not worth pretending. How could I hide the greatest thing that has ever happened to me? How could I be ashamed to claim allegiance to the One who delivered me from slavery? Allah transferred me out of the domain of darkness, and brought me into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. How should I respond to His love?
Moe – You believe that Allah had a son?
Haroun – No. Not like you and I can have a son. It's just a word to describe the most intimate relationship between two persons of the Trinity. When you think of a father and his son, you think of the same blood… you think of a special bond… you think of the inheritance… you think of the special privileges. Besides, what else would you want to call it? The "source" and the "energy"? Since Allah decided to describe Himself that way, I will accept the words that He chose.
Moe – You're talking about something that I don't understand. In fact, I've tried to understand it before, but it only confused me. Could you take some time to explain something for me?
Haroun – Of course!
Moe – Could you explain what you mean when you use the word "Trinity"? It's hard for me to understand the relationship between Jesus and Allah.
Haroun – No problem… I've thought a lot about this. You see, Allah is complex in His Being. We know that there are three subsistences that make up the essence of His Being: The Father (from whom Allah's will proceeds, and the source of His character), the Son (in whom His will and His character are made manifest), and the Holy Spirit (through whom He accomplishes His work). These three are united and co-dependent within Allah's essence, though they are distinct entities. Just think about the soul, body, and spirit of a man. You can certainly say that these are three different entities, but at the same time you can genuinely say that they constitute one man. They are so intertwined that you cannot separate one from the other. In the same way, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different entities, but they constitute only one divine Being: Allah.
Moe – So, Jesus is the manifestation of Allah?
Haroun – Yes. But, Jesus is in a special category. He is the only one in the whole world who has both a divine nature and a human nature. The two natures were united so as to bridge the gap between Allah and human beings. Otherwise, if He wasn't human, His life could not be a substitute for our lives; on the other hand, if He wasn't divine, His payment for our sins would not be sufficient. The Messiah had to be both divine and human, or else, there would be no hope for human beings to be reconciled to Allah!
Moe – What about Mary? Doesn't the Qur'an say that Christians take Mary as deity alongside Jesus and Allah?
Haroun – Well, the Qur'an is wrong.
Moe – But…
Haroun – In all fairness, I can understand why Muhammad mistakenly thought that the Trinity was "Allah, Mary, and Jesus". When you think about all the statues of Mary that Muhammad would have seen during his encounters with Christians, you realize that it probably left the impression that these Christians were worshipping Mary alongside Jesus and Allah. This is the perfect recipe for misinterpretation, especially considering the fact that he couldn't read. I find it quite ironic that Islamic scholars boast about the fact that Muhammad was unlettered… That actually explains a lot. The reality is that he couldn't read what the Bible or the Church Fathers said concerning the Trinity. And, since he couldn't read the original documents, he had to rely on a secondhand knowledge of Judaism and Christianity. It's hard to find the truth that way… and he certainly got it wrong when it comes to the Trinity. The truth is that Christians have never thought of Mary as deity.
Moe – But, why do they have statues of Mary? Isn't that idolatry?
Haroun – Well, they may be misguided, but that doesn't mean that they think of her as deity. Besides, not all Churches have statues of Mary. There are many Christians who are uncomfortable with that. Anyways, the point is that because Muhammad had only a secondhand knowledge of Christianity, he didn't understand the Trinity, and the Qur'an preserved his mistake throughout the centuries. Besides, that's not the only thing that Muhammad got wrong.
Moe – Could you please be careful how you speak about these things? You sound irreverent. I don't want to disrespect the Prophet (peace be upon him), or the Qur'an.
Haroun – I'm just being honest with you! Just let the truth speak for itself. Let the truth make its own judgment.
Moe – Just be careful how you talk about these things.
Haroun – Okay, that's fair. Can I continue?
Moe – Go on.
Haroun – Thank you. You see, when you compare the Qur'an with the Bible, you realize that many of the accounts in the Qur'an are secondhand accounts of stories that are found in the Bible. The result is that you lose the context that should explain the true meaning of these stories, and you are left wondering where certain concepts come from. For instance, what is the background for describing Jesus as the "Messiah"? What does that word mean? What was promised concerning the Messiah? Where did this anticipation for a Messiah even come from?
Moe – I don't know.
Haroun – Exactly! Well, you have to read the part of the Bible that was written hundreds of years before Jesus's birth to find out what was prophesied concerning the Messiah: how He would come to save us from our sins… how He would suffer to make atonement for our transgressions… how He would rise from the dead to conquer death on our behalf.
Moe – How do you know that these passages were really written before the birth of Jesus? Couldn't the Christians just have written those things after the fact and make it seem as though Jesus had come to fulfill those prophecies?
Haroun – Well, several manuscripts of the Bible that were written before the birth of Jesus still exist, and they contain all of those prophecies. They were found among several ancient writings called the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, both paleographers and radiocarbon dating attest that those manuscripts were written before the coming of Jesus. These Scriptures give specific prophecies concerning Jesus's birth, His life, His ministry, His death on the cross, and the way that He would accomplish our salvation.
Moe – Could you give me an example?
Haroun – Of course! I've been memorizing a passage from the Prophet Isaiah for that very purpose. Please, just listen to this – without prejudice – and tell me what picture you get in your mind: "Behold, My Servant shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you – His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind – so shall He sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by Allah, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
Moe – […]
Haroun – I'm done.
Moe – Oh… when was that written?
Haroun – Hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus.
Moe – Wow…
Haroun – So, what picture do you get?
Moe – Well, it's pretty clear that the servant described in this passage would have to suffer…
Haroun – Yes, for our sins…
Moe – But, how could Allah do that to His servant? That's not how you reward someone's obedience! It seems like the ultimate act of injustice.
Haroun – No. You're missing a few things. First of all, suffering is not necessarily the result of disobedience. In fact, Allah decreed that He would use suffering to accomplish the most wonderful things in this world, especially as it relates to our salvation: the display of His love. Secondly, you have to realize that Allah did not leave Jesus in the grave. He raised Him from the dead on the third day! As a matter of fact, Jesus was vindicated by the fact that death could not hold Him! That was His victory and His vindication!
Moe – Huh… I feel kind of lightheaded right now… I need some time to think about these things.
Wow. Is this conversation really taking place? I can't believe that I'm hearing this. Is this a dream? I must be dreaming! This is so surreal. Five weeks ago, I would have wanted this man dead for speaking such blasphemy. I would have been the first to cast my vote against him, to take away his life. But, now, I am torn between my desire to defend the traditions that have been engrained in me and my desire to dive deeper into this conversation. I am torn between the status quo and the call to change my views about the One that I revere and serve with such fervency. What if I'm wrong? What do I have to lose? I certainly don't want to blaspheme against Allah. I certainly don't want to incur His wrath. But, what if it's the other way around? What if the status quo is that I am already the subject of His wrath? What if I need to be rescued, and that the only way to be saved is by finding the truth? Could it be that there is a cure for the disease of sin, and that Allah Himself is holding it before me and asking me to simply receive it? I feel so lost…
Haroun – We're here. This is where you'll be staying. There's even a cot that you can use, but you'll have to get your own sheets.
Moe – Is this your place?
Haroun – Yes. Well, kind of. Someone is letting me stay here, someone who cares.
Moe – I need some time to relax and pray about these things. Do you mind if we wait until tomorrow before we go and meet with the people you were talking about?
Haroun – Absolutely. Let me show you where you'll be sleeping. Let me give you a change of clothes, too. It looks like we're about the same size.
Allah has been very good to me. Here I am, standing with a man who is both hospitable and able to give me the answers that I need. What providence! I thought that I had no place to lay my head, but Allah has just showed me that He had a better place prepared for me. There is no doubt that my life has just taken a significant turn. Beyond this door lies the threshing floor of destiny. Therein, Allah will crush my shell and use His winnowing fork to separate the grain from the chaff. I guess that the process has already begun. But, first, I need to rest. I am tired beyond exhaustion, both mentally and physically! My head hurts from dehydration and my legs are begging me to let them recover for a while. At the same time, I feel comforted and grateful for the journey. I wonder what lies ahead…