Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Closed and open witness

How should the press refer to the son of Mary, in comparison, say, to the founder of Islam?

An article I run into sounded rather appalled by the familiar Jesus often used in recent articles instead of Jesus Christ; while the same newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) would preface the name of Muhammad with the title of Prophet.

Does this mean to recognize in Muhammad the "prophet of God", and make of Jesus a simple historical figure? And the same goes with Moses, equally mentioned without titles?

I don't think so.

Perhaps this use shows a concern to be over respectful of Muslim sensibility; but there is also something else.

I remember when I was in America, and I had at times occasion to deal with the kind of evangelicals who would ask, "Do you believe in Jesus?"

They didn't say: Jesus Christ, simply Jesus.

No way to be mistaken: nobody else bears his name.

Jesus is only him, that unique historical figure of whom it is witnessed that lived in Palestine about two thousand years ago, said and did formidable things, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried and… it is not the end of the story, because it is also witnessed to have been seen again alive.

On the contrary, Muhammad is a very common name among Muslims. By itself, this might not justify the adding of the prophet to the name, which, when used without specifications, shouldn't engender confusion. It would unequivocally refer to that historical figure who…

Who did what? Well, proclaimed himself "prophet", and, with those who believed him, waged war against those who didn't believe him.

Does this sound too reductive? It might be, but I don't think it is; if anything, it is just too short a summary of his life.

So, I willingly grant the title of "prophet" as part of the name. After all, that is the one Muhammad demanded for himself, and a detached observer can concede it. With the mental reserve of keeping the right of asking what it means: whom or what he speaks for.

The answer one gets, by reading the Quran, is quaint.

The book reports in writing Muhammad's words, uttered in trance as coming from out of him. What is quaint is the short circuiting of the witness so given. As prophet, Muhammad should bear witness to God; but, to the question how one knows to be so, he has no better answer than saying that it is so because God bears witness to him.

The detached observer, that I am, cannot help feeling a pang of dissatisfaction: he is left with the unavoidable doubt, whether Muhammad isn't actually bearing witness, through God's name, just to himself.

How much better, then, that simple familiar Jesus, naming someone who nothing wrote, and about whom we know that he bore witness to the Father because others bore witness to him. This way, doubts are open to reasoning on the nature of witness.


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