We all know the Bible stories about Jesus, his birth, his miracles, and how he was persecuted. Did you ever close your eyes and imagine you were there? Let’s imagine together. We are Jews who follow the Book of Moses – the Torah – which is centuries old. Not many people are familiar with the contents of the Torah, and the rabbis of the day study it and preach it, but do not really practice it or judge by it. They change God’s laws to suit their whims, they exploit the people by appealing to their spirituality in order to collect tithes (which they themselves consume) and they have little positive influence in the general population. That part is easy to imagine because it is familiar.
Now imagine you heard a friend or neighbor talking about someone who claims to be sent by God. His name is Jesus. He claims that he came to uphold the law of Moses, the foremost of which is “There is no god but God. Love Him with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” (This is the first commandment). But while he says he upholds Moses’ law, he also introduces some new legislation which, he says, eases some restrictions of Mosaic law. He appeals to the common man because he talks about brotherhood, love, kindness and mercy, yet he annoys the rabbis and officials because he also talks about justice and equality before God and man, which threatens their status and the benefits of power.
So you are an average Jew, and you hear the talk and the many rumors about this so-called prophet. You see that the community is very unsettled about his claims and while some people support him (usually the poor and weak), many people despise him. The most powerful people in your society start a smear campaign to degrade him and diminish his influence. Many people are vehement in their hatred, even though they never actually met him, heard his sermons or read the scripture he brought. You noticed that those who support and follow him are cautious, not wishing to draw attention to themselves in case they, too, would be persecuted as Jesus was.
Now comes the question you must think about – would you have followed Jesus? You probably are thinking Yes! Of course! Perhaps because you are a Christian. But if you really want to know what your reaction would have been if you were an average Jew who heard about a new so-called prophet who was supported by some and hated by others, then just consider your reaction to Muhammad. Like Jesus, he claimed he was sent by God with a message. Like Jesus, he said he upholds the previous scripture, but was sent to clarify and demonstrate God’s law. Like Jesus, he was followed by the poor and weak and, like Jesus, he was feared and hated by the powerful in his community.
What position would you have taken in Jesus’ day? It’s probably the same position you have taken in response to Muhammad’s message. And that’s the answer to the question.