As with a lot of our British annual cultural moments, Easter is not the slam dunk evangelistic opportunity for us as it is for many others. Whilst many people are thinking about Easter and, much like Christmas, at least know it is vaguely connected to Jesus somehow, few in our area will be doing so. Just as Mawlid largely passes most non-Muslim Brits by entirely unnoticed and largely unknown, so Easter does much the same for our Muslim friends in our community.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity here for us. Indeed, a better opportunity for us where we are than for most churches in majority white British communities. Whilst most white middle class Brits know in the broadest terms what Easter is about (I know we say they don’t, but actually, they do) they rarely have any real interest in talking about it. That’s fine for you but don’t bother me with it. We know about that already. Muslims, by contrast, may not know a great deal about Easter, but you can bet your bottom dollar when they hear about it they are more than happy to have a chat.
One of the differences that exists between Christians and Muslims is the belief that Jesus died on the cross. Christians say he did and then, three days later, he rose again from the dead. Muslims say he didn’t and therefore there was no need for a resurrection. Typically, they argue some imposter was on the cross and Jesus never actually died. Though many of them have little interest in Easter, most are more than happy to actually discuss what Easter is really about.
If ever there was a universally attested fact of history, it is that Jesus of Nazareth died. For around 150 years, almost nobody involved in the study of history or theology in the academy has attempted to defend the case that Jesus did not die. Even most of the old liberal theories on the agreed fact of an empty tomb are no longer defended, but one of the more famous ones – the swoon theory – has not had anybody willing to defend or own it at an academic level for over a century. It is pretty much universally agreed that Jesus definitely died.
This causes something of a problem for the Qur’an. It states definitively that Jesus was not killed nor was he crucified.
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-Surah 4:157 – English Translation, Yusuf Ali, Surah An-Nisa – 157 – Quran.com
This is a deeply embarrassing claim for the Qur’an as William Lane Craig points out here:
And it is this that gives us some good opportunities at Easter.
Our Muslim friends are always happy to speak about their understanding of the Qur’an and we are always happy to speak about our understanding of the Bible. Where the two conflict, we are glad to have conversations with our neighbours about which one of us believes what is true. Easter presents an excellent opportunity to do this.
Our respective texts say very different things about Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Qur’an speaks against the overwhelming, univocal voice of history on this matter. If the Qur’an is wrong on this point of historical fact, what else might it be wrong about? Likewise, if Christianity is right about this historical fact, and its case for the resurrection has never been credibly disproven, might it be the case that this is really what happened and the first Christians who staked their lives on the claim that Jesus rose again were really telling the truth? And if the resurrection is true, what else do you need?