This Sunday, April 8, 2012 is Easter Sunday. The most important holiday in the Christian faith celebrates the day Christ rose from the dead three days after his Crucifixion at Calvary. Easter proclaims the cornerstone of Christian belief; that those who believe in the resurrection of Christ and follow his teachings will also be resurrected to live eternally with Jesus in Paradise. It is a celebration of life victorious over death. The power of this belief is wonderfully illustrated in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
Friday, April 6, 2012 is the first day of one of the most important Holy Days in the Jewish Religion. It is the first day of Passover, which celebrates the freedom of enslaved Jewish nation from the ancient Egyptians. Moses was appointed by the Lord to demand that Pharaoh free the Jewish people or suffer G*d's wrath in the form of 10 plagues. Despite the calamities caused by the first 9 plagues, Pharaoh still refused to free the Jewish slaves. In the fullness of his power, G*d brought down the unthinkable on the Egyptians in the form of the 10th and final plague: The death of every first born child in Egypt including the first born of the Pharaoh. In order that G*d's Angel of Death would pass over the first born of the Jewish slaves and not strike them down, Jews were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb. The Jews obeyed the Lord and their first born were spared. The Pharaoh finally relented and the Jewish slaves were freed. G*d literally passed over his obedient people and the Jews were spared the horrors of his final judgement.
While Passover celebrates a specific event, it is also a celebration of the Exodus that led to the founding of the ancient nation of Israel and the dedication of the Jewish people to the One G*d. Israel was the first nation to embrace monotheism, the concept of faith followed by every Jew, Christian and Muslim on earth. Yet, although we all claim to worship essentially the same G*d, the three faiths have been in deadly conflict for almost 2000 years. Hundreds of millions of people have died in order that a particular branch of the great Abrahamic faiths might declare itself to be the only correct faith. A faith to be imposed on all of mankind. Not because followers wanted others to freely choose their faith but because they were stronger or more willing to kill.
The struggles between religions and nations have led to incredible horrors that have been an never ending plague on mankind. The calamity of the Roman destruction of Israel and the 2000 year exile of the Jewish people from the nation of Israel. The persecution of the early Christians that led to the death of hundreds of thousands of followers of Jesus. The excesses of a newly empowered Rome that embraced Christianity under Constantine. The Inquisition and the Crusades that were a central part of the 1000 year Dark Ages in Europe. The bloody reign of terror of Islam as it conquered three-quarters of the known world; killing more than 200 million human beings before the Muslim invaders were finally defeated at the gates of Vienna.
Humanity learned absolutely nothing from darkest pages of human history and the 20th century took human suffering to a new height of madness with the annihilation of six million Jews and 60 million of all faiths in World War Two. The Holocaust of Adolf Hitler exterminated half of all the Jews on earth in an attempt at racial genocide. An attempt to eliminate an entire segment of humanity in an deliberate, organized fashion never before imagined.
Even the nightmare of the Holocaust and the destruction of World War Two didn't satisfy humanities lust for blood. Communist tyranny killed an estimated 100 million more for the new faith of their leaders; Atheism. Inspired by an incredible hatred for the word of G*d, that Mao called 'The opiate of the masses", a third of the world's population was forced to live under governments determined to remove G*d from the human consciousness.
Today the world faces a new threat called Militant Islam. 1.25 billion human beings are now Muslim. 95% of them live under the rule of oppressive dictators, self appointed royalty or religious theocracies. The poverty is overwhelming and to distract the masses from rebelling, Islam has turned to an old favorite victim. The Jewish people have once again been chosen as the root of all that is evil in the world. Islamic clerics, including the highest ranking authorities of the Muslim faith, call daily for the destruction of Israel and the extermination of the Jewish people.
While Christianity and Judaism have managed to resolve many of their issues and live together in relative peace, the leaders of Islam still cling to their 1400 years of hatred for the Jewish people. Quoting the early words of Mohammed himself, we hear leading Muslim clerics say, "The Day of Resurrection will not arrive until the Muslims make war against the Jews and kill them, and until a Jew is hiding behind a rock and tree, and the rock and tree will say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!" This is used as justification for an ongoing campaign against the Jewish people by Islamists, who embrace the genocidal thinking of the Nazis. It is no co-incidence that after the Qur'an, the most popular book in the 57 Islamic nations is Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Israel, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, is used as an excuse to divert the Muslim masses from the suffering and poverty of their own lives. History has been completely and falsely rewritten by Islamists to remove all traces of ancient Jewish ties to Israel. Jerusalem, which is not mentioned even once in the Qur'an, is now being called the second holiest city in Islam in attempt to de-legitimize Israel as the Jewish homeland. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in the Old Testament yet the Muslim leaders claim the Jewish temple never existed.
Terrorism is the curse of the 21st century. Over 18,500 acts of terror have been committed in the name of Allah since the attack of 9/11/2001 that destroyed the World Trade Center. Sadly, most of the victims of Islamic terror are Muslims. Islam has been at war with itself since its earliest days over the Sunni and Shia versions of Islam. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Muslims have died in a 1400 year old argument over who is a better Muslim. When the terrorists are not killing Jews and Israelis along with Egypt's Copts, black African Christians, American or Europeans, their fellow Muslims often become the main target.
With no end in sight, humanity continues to bleed. The conflict between Israel and Arabs, who now call themselves Palestinians, has gone on for 63 years. After the Arab nations lost several open wars with Israel that the Arabs initiated, they came up with a new way to de-legitimize Israel and began to demand a nation for the Arabs living in the Judea and Samaria. They renamed these parts of ancient Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and set out to create a new country called Palestine. In 1963, the PLO was founded with a Charter that says, "1. Jews are the enemy of Allah. 2. Islam is fighting a continuous religious war against the Jews. 3. The killing of Jews is a religious obligation. 4. Palestinians are the vanguard in this war against the Jews, and all Islamic nations are obligated to assist in this war."
Since 1963, the violence has continued unabated. The Palestinians have rejected several offers of peace and statehood from the Israelis; the last Israeli offer being as recent as 2008. According to Ehud Olmert, then Israel's Prime Minister, ""I offered a land swap, I offered a solution for Jerusalem, where the Jewish part would remain under Israeli authority and the Arab sections would be given to the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state.... Abbas never responded to my peace offer."
Voicing an agenda that calls for the total destruction of Israel and the death of every Jew on earth, Palestinian groups including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, have waged a non-stop terror war against Israeli civilians. Using shootings, stabbings, airline hijackings and suicide bombings, thousands of innocent Israeli civilians have died in the name of Islamic Jihad. Perhaps nothing can illustrate the depths of Palestinian hatred for the Jews more than the murder of the Fogel family, when two teenage Palestinians killed an entire Jewish family, decapitating a 3 month old baby with a knife. As the Fogel family lay dead and butchered, Palestinian civilians praised the killers. "Palestinian residents in Gaza celebrated the terrorist attack on Saturday. Residents handed out "candy and sweets" during their celebration in Gaza."
On March 19, 2012, the world once again saw the hatred of Islamists for non-Muslims when Mohammed Merah killed a Rabbi and three young children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Merah's hatred for Jews ran so deep that he chased the fleeing 8 year old daughter of the school's headmaster, grabbed her by the hair, jammed his pistol into the back of her head and pumped three bullets into her brain at point blank range. In an incredible act of vile sickness, Merah videotaped the murders with a portable, head mounted camera and sent a copy of the the tape to Al Jazeera, the Islamic news agency, owned by the nation of Qatar.
Hatred of Jews by Muslim immigrants to Europe has become so pronounced that at a recent funeral for an elderly Jewish man in Malmo, Sweden, the son-in-law had to remind the mourners that it was not safe to wear a yarmulka. "As the mourners left the gates of the Jewish cemetery, his son-in-law warned the people who had traveled to Malmo to attend the service: "Take off your yarmulkes. Don't forget that this is Rosengard (a suburb of Malmo with an 89% Muslim immigrant population)."
Just like the calls for the destruction of Islamic holy sites during the Crusades by Christian Popes and Kings, we now have Islamic leaders calling for the destruction of Christian holy places and Christianity itself. The highest authority in the Islamic faith, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, called for the elimination of all non-Muslim holy places when he recently said, "It is necessary to destroy all the churches in the region." He reminded his listeners, that according to Mohammed, no other religion besides Islam can be allowed on the Arabian Peninsula. The President of Iran, Ahmadinejad, recently said, "The goal of a world without the United States or Zionism is attainable and could definitely be realized. ...Our dear Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] ordered that the occupying regime in Jerusalem be wiped off the face of the earth. This was a very wise statement.... The Islamic nation will not allow its historic enemy to exist in its heartland."
The Iranian leaders words go to the heart of the matter and clearly illustrate the philosophy of many of the leaders of Islam today. They will tolerate no religion but Islam and envision a world where only Islam is allowed to exist. Just like Hitler before them, just like the Popes who blamed the entire Jewish people for the death of Christ and just like the genocidal Roman Empire, the call for the destruction of different religions continues to this day. Nothing has been learned from 2000 years of human suffering. It is truly sickening that once again the name of G*d is being invoked to call for the annihilation of a large part of the human race.
We must all remember that murder, violence and hatred are unacceptable in the eyes of the Lord. He wants us to show love and kindness to each other and to obey his Holy Word. We should reflect on the words of Samuel who said in 1 Samuel 15:22, "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." One simple act of charity or human kindness means far more to G*d than all the burnt offerings we can ever offer.
On this first day of Passover, let us put aside all hatred and division and instead, love G*d and respect each other. Listen to the words of Psalm 137, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy." These are the words that Jews have prayed during their 2000 years of exile; never forgetting that Jerusalem is the place of G*d's very presence on earth.
It is only since Israel reclaimed its ancient, eternal capitol of Jerusalem in 1967, that people of all faiths have been able to worship G*d according to their faith. For the first time in hundreds of years Christians may worship openly and without restriction. Under Islamic domination, even the Church of the Nativity, which according to tradition, is built on the spot where Christ was born, was not allowed to display a Cross or ring the bells. Under the Jordanian occupation, from 1948 until 1967, Jews could not pray at the Western Wall of the Second Temple and Jewish Headstones were taken from ancient cemeteries to pave the floors of public latrines.
Now Jerusalem is part of Israel and anyone who wants to worship G*d peacefully may do so. The Baha'i faith has built their world headquarters in Jerusalem. The Muslims worship at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Christians worship at dozens of Churches that trace the life of Jesus in the holy city of Jerusalem. Jews pray in synagogues all through out the city and at the holiest site in the Jewish faith; the Western Wall of the Second Temple. This is the truth of modern Israel and its capitol of an undivided Jerusalem. Despite the terrorists and the racists who strive endlessly to deny the Jewishness of Jerusalem and are trying to turn Jerusalem into another monument to Islamic conquest, Jerusalem continues to be a thriving center of worship for all the Abrahamic Faiths. The lord gave his promise to the people of Israel when he said, "Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. They shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness."
May you all know peace and G*d's love, as we celebrate G*d's Wisdom and Mercy on the first day of Passover and on Easter Sunday. May you find love in your hearts and forgiveness for others. May you truly embrace all of humanity as your Brothers and Sisters. Pray for the peace of our troubled world. Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. G*d bless and keep you all.
A Question Of Faith - Religion In The Modern World is a weekly column by Wolff Bachner about the quest for relgious identity and freedom in the 21st century.