Who Is Jesus?

The movie "The Passion of the Christ" has brought renewed attention to the life and death of Jesus Christ. The film takes a Christian view of who Jesus was, but on a world-wide scale, it's a minority opinion. Two-thirds of the world's population view themselves as something other than Christian.

The inscription above the doors at the Islamic Center of Topeka calls people to believe and do good works. It's where the Muslim understanding of Jesus begins.

"He is not the son of God, but one of the great prophets or messengers that was sent to the people of his time," said Omar Hazim, Imam of the Islamic Center of Topeka.

Hazim said Muslims believe Jesus' birth, life and return to God were miracles. But in a key difference from Christians, Muslims don't believe Christ was crucified.

"We don't believe that God allowed his servant to be humiliated and killed in this shameful manner," Hazim said.

Hazim says the Islamic book "The Koran" does incorporate Jesus' teachings. By contrast you won't find them in the religious context of the Jewish faith, though Rabbi Lawrence Karol said Jesus is important in the historical development of Judaism.

"I think a lot of Jews would think that Jesus was a teacher who lived in the first century, who was Jewish, who taught extensively about the kingdom of God being at hand," Rabbi Karol said, "and that there were ways to live under God's rule as you were alive and to try to do the things that God wants you to do."

Different views about Jesus may seem odd in the United States, where www.infoplease.com lists 56-percent of the population as Protestant, 28-percent Roman Catholic, two-percent Jewish and 14-percent other or none.

But worldwide, www.adherents.com finds Christians account for only 33-percent of the population. 22-percent follow Islam, 15-percent Hindu, six-percent Buddism, four-percent Chinese Traditionalist, three-percent Primal Indiginous and 14-percent are non-religious. Three-percent are something else, including 0.4-percent, who are Jewish.

All those differing views are why religious leaders say it's important to promote understanding.

"Some of the same messages and some of the same history that's recorded in the Bible - in some ways it differs in the Koran, but generally those messages are basically the same," Hazim said.

"Even the prayer that's referred to as the Lord's Prayer is one that in a lot of ways has many commonalities with Jewish prayers that have survived down to us today," Rabbi Karol said. "I think that's important to see that commonality and to build on that."

And Rabbi Karol says it means - regardless of specifics - many underlying messages of faith are the same.

"A lot of references He made were also how people should treat each other at this level of life."

The Islamic Center of Topeka is hosting a pair of discussions on "The Prophet Jesus - Beloved Messenger of God." They'll be held at noon on March 14th and 21st. Everyone is invited to attend.