around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Some do
so on December 25 and others on January 7, depending on what church or
liturgical calendar they follow.
overwhelming hegemony of Western Christianity in Europe, the Americas,
Australia and throughout the colonised world where European Christianity has
been the vehicle of colonisation, the fact of celebrating the birthday of Jesus
early in January has become something of an afterthought.
The difference is not just liturgical, canonical or doctrinal. It is also
cultural, historical and the prelude of decolonising Christ and Christianity.
hegemony over Christian practices and perceptions of its central figure, Jesus
Christ, have systematically sidelined various other rites and
conceptualisations of his figure. Shifting the point of emphasis from one
branch of Christianity to another - or any other religion - points to the
multiplicity of ways in which a religious figure such as Jesus has been
of Eastern Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is an opportune
time to revisit how he has been imagined throughout time and across the world.
familiar with Jaroslav Pelikan's magnificent book Jesus Through the Centuries:
His Place in the History of Culture (1999), this is not unusual for a different
cultural milieu giving birth to a different figure of Christ.
study, we encounter a floating figure of Jesus which moves from a Jewish Rabbi
in the first century after his birth, to "the Light of Gentiles", and
"the King of Kings" during the Roman Empire in the second and third
centuries, "the Cosmic Christ" in the aftermath of encounter with
Platonism, "the Son of Man" in St Augustine's work in the fifth
century, and "the Prince of Peace" during the Reformation in
16th-century Western Europe.
recent times, the figure of Jesus Christ has been used to bring Christianity
closer to the dispossessed masses and to address their urgent political needs.
In the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, for example, the so-called liberation
theology emerged in Latin America, which re-emphasised Jesus's image as a revolutionary
figure, fighting for social justice and rights for the poor and marginalised.
context of right-wing dictatorships, unhinged capitalism and growing repression
and exploitation, liberation theologians combined elements of Marxism with basic
precepts of Christianity, thus rebelling against the politically and socially
conservative Catholic Church.
forces with a variety of political movements, including those for indigenous
and labour rights. The figure of Jesus as a revolutionary re-invigorated faith
in local communities and re-organised religious practices from top-down to
political hegemony of Western Christianity, throughout the world various
cultures have also embraced Jesus Christ and imagined him in different ways.
the figures of Christ and his mother Mary appear endearingly in the Quran,
where a whole chapter is named after her. But their presence in the Islamic
culture goes beyond their mention in the Quran.
prominently in Islamic literature (in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, etc), as
Palestinian historian Tarif al-Khalidi demonstrated in his seminal work The
Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (2001). Khalidi brought
to the English-speaking world a wealth of information about the centrality of
the figure of Christ in Muslim literary and poetic imagination, as well as in
Islamic doctrinal debates and disputations.
emphasis was the distinction between the Quranic Jesus and the Jesus that
emerged in particular in the mystical tradition of Islam as a patron prophet of
the ascetics. That distinction marks the space between the Quranic revelation
and the long history of various peoples historically cultivating love and
affection for a prophet they considered their own.
Khalidi's text shows the Muslim Christ is a central figure in a multiplicity of
hermeneutic contexts different from the Christian context. Here Jesus becomes a
figure of mystical reunion with divinity quite different from a theological
premise of the Trinity.
references to Jesus Christ abound in Muslim sources in multiple languages. To
poets and philosophers like Naser Khosrow, mystics like Rumi and Ibn Arabi,
Christ was not an alien figure. He was one of their own.
The rise of
the figure of Christ in the immediate historical vicinity of millions of Arab
and Iranian Christians of various denominations, poses the inevitable question
of the interface between the figure of Christ in the Gospels and in Islamic
sources, as what some have called "the Fifth Gospel" - for if we
collect all the references to Christ in poetic, literary, mystical and
philosophical Islamic contexts, we will have a solidly Islamic Jesus.
with the life of Jesus Christ has not been confined to Europe and its immediate
neighbourhood, the "Middle East". In his book Jesus in Asia,
theologian R S Sugirtharajah shows how the figure of Jesus was liberated from
its Eurocentric confinements and assumed global dimension in various
seventh-century China, with the permission of Emperor Taizong, missionaries of
the Church of the East and local converts produced various texts on Jesus,
positioning him within the Chinese context. Almost 1,000 years later, under the
patronage of Moghul ruler Akbar, a Jesuit monk authored a distinct volume on
the life of Jesus, trying to address various issues in 17th-century India and
theological concerns of the local population.
these state-sponsored texts, which allowed Christian foreigners to openly
engage in debate with local religions, various other works were produced in
Asia in which Jesus occupied a central place, often in defiance of both
official power and the colonial impositions of Western missionaries.
the use the image of Jesus during the Chinese Taiping revolution, led by Hong
Xiuquan, a Chinese convert to Christianity who wanted to impose a new
theocratic rule in China in the mid-19th century; the centrality of his
suffering and poverty in the Korean Minjung movement for democratisation and
social justice in the 1970s and 1980s; or the reconstruction of his life and
teachings, and their infusion with the Hindu tradition within the context of
the Indian anticolonial struggle.
figure of Jesus Christ has come to represent many different visions and served
various functions throughout time and across geography. As we mark the 2020th
anniversary of his birth, amid global turmoil, tension and uncertainty, perhaps
the multiplicity of meanings he has embodied should have us rethink dominant
narratives among Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other
question we face today is much more than remembering how historically we have
loved and honoured Jesus, but whether his figure has a contemporary
significance for us in our troubled day and age and if we can imagine a future
through his life and example?
that Jesus look like, be like, feel like, when the reign of sectarian
fanaticism, imperial hubris and colonial conquest has finally exhausted itself
and the need for truth and reconciliation will commence from his birthplace in
Palestine and spread around the world?
Headline: Decolonising Jesus Christ
It is a very good article. I never expected Iranian
Professor Hamid Dabashi would write such an article. Thanks to NAI.
Hamid conclude his article this way “What would that Jesus look like, be like,
feel like, when the reign of sectarian fanaticism, imperial hubris and colonial
conquest has finally exhausted itself and the need for truth and
reconciliation will commence from his birthplace in Palestine and spread around