As we enter Christianity’s Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday, I am galvanised into writing about the strong links between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which I have only come to know about and understand since my posting to Senegal as Zimbabwe’s ambassador.
guest opinion BY TRUDY STEVENSON
“Post-truth” is a new word, added to the Oxford English Dictionary late last year, reflecting a political trend which arose during campaigning for the British referendum on Brexit — i.e whether or not to exit the European Union. Voters cast their vote based on lies put about as facts by the pro-Brexiters led by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, particularly that the UK was forced to pay £320 million per week to EU which would be better spent saving the National Health Service. This was not true, but an emotional issue which won the “No” vote by a narrow majority. It was “post-truth”.
Subsequently, soon after Donald Trump won the American presidential election, his press secretary defended his apparent lie as an “alternative truth”. By now, we were definitely in a post-truth world, where there is no need to apologise to anyone for lying at the very highest level of government.
Scroll back 1 500 to 2 000 years, and we find a Middle East where three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Abrahamic religions, are born one after another and share a common history. This common history, these common beliefs, become hidden as each religion proclaims its supremacy over the other two. Today, very few people of any of those three major religions are even aware that they share their origins with each other and that they worship the same God, even though he may have another name.
I am neither a theologian nor a historian, but I have been shocked and humbled to learn in Senegal that Christians share the story of the sacrifice of Abraham with Muslims, for whom this sacrifice is celebrated with Eid el Kebir (Tabaski in Senegal), the most important festival of the year. Each family has to sacrifice a sheep in commemoration of Abraham’s trial, when God tests him by making him sacrifice his son — then relents when Abraham prepares to do just that, and tells him to sacrifice a lamb instead. Likewise, the Jewish people’s sacrifice of the paschal lamb during the spring Passover, although it is to commemorate their flight from slavery in Egypt, not Abraham’s sacrifice.
Both the Jewish and Muslim religions hold that Jesus was merely a prophet, not the son of God. However, they both acknowledge there was a man called Jesus (a Jew). No post-truth here!
The Muslim prophet Mohammed lived in Mecca and Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia six centuries after Jesus was in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, in what is now Israel-Palestine. His followers in that period of warring chiefdoms made alliances all across the region, including the Maghreb where communities of Christians and Jews also lived.
It is clear from this history that the three religious groups are strongly interlinked. What has brought the clashes and wars over the centuries is religious fanatics or politicians with their own agenda to cause conflicts between three major groups of people living in or near the cradle of civilisation. People have been told alternate facts, or post-truths, about one another’s beliefs and relationships, for the past one-and-a-half millennia or more. No wonder we are suspicious of each other! No wonder we have no idea what the other two religions actually teach and believe.
So, as we Christians enter our own holy week to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is my plea that each one of us opens our heart and our mind to our brothers and sisters of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, so that we can find our common ground and build an alliance to counter the evil abuse of our common inheritance, our faith in one God who teaches peace and love for one another. This is what the world desperately needs. Let’s start learning and sharing our common humanity.
Trudy Stevenson is Zimbabwe Ambassador to Senegal and the Gambia