America and Britain are convinced a regime change is needed in Iraq. The prospect of using military action to achieve this is alarming many people because they think "all hell would break lose in the Middle East" – to quote Amre Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League. A similar picture was recently painted by Norman Haysom, former legal advisor and peace emissary for Nelson Mandela, when he warned that the combatants in the Holy Land "are ready to go over the abyss." It is not difficult to imagine what this abyss might be when we recall Sadaam’s scud missile attacks against Israel in 1991 and his current efforts to champion the cause of the Palestinians by raising a 200,000 military force called, "The Jerusalem Army". The stakes in this anticipated war are being further intensified by Sadaam’s efforts to garner support from other Arab nations and his tactic of playing on the sympathies of all Muslims.

The New York Times article which quoted Haysom explains that the Middle East "is a hothouse region where divisions of faith magnify all the national and economic passions ... The hardening of lines has strengthened only the extremes on both sides." This increasing polarization is specially evident with respect to religion.

The author shows how religious leaders are fuelling animosity by promoting "an idealized vision." On the one hand, Jewish religious zealots are continuing to provoke the wrath of Palestinians by making new settlements in Palestinian areas so as to regain their God-given inheritance. On the other hand, Muslims claim that "Jews have no proof an ancient Jewish temple ever stood on the site in Jerusalem." This denial, made by the leader of the Al Aqsa Mosque, flatly contradicts an official statement by the Supreme Muslim Council of Jerusalem in 1930. This dishonest attempt to rewrite history in order to fit the "idealized vision" of Islam infuriates Jews but there is another kind of "idealized vision" that is not mentioned in the article.

A prophecy has been circulated widely in Palestine that envisions the Jews being destroyed in the end times by Muslims. This vision is not a fabrication of modem Muslim preachers, it is actually recorded in the sayings of Muhammad, i.e. the Ahadith, and of course this carries much more weight with Muslims.

Other religious factors that are magnifying the conflict are fairly well known, such as the promise of paradise for those who die fighting in the cause of Allah. This promise is commonly applied to suicide bombers not just by Palestinians but also by Muslim scholars, generally. Knowing these religious motivations and the popularity of suicide bombers, Yassar Arafat has repeatedly called for a "million martyrs to march on Jerusalem."

As for Israelis, they have fallen far short of fulfilling their idealised religious vision. Moses taught them to "treat the alien living with you as one of your native born. Love him as yourself." Instead of doing this, they have often mistreated the Palestinians, with a few notable exceptions, such as those doctors and nurses who compassionately give free medical treatment to Palestinians.

One might argue that an idealized religious vision has polarized the conflict and ruined the peace process. However, the truth is: an ideal religious vision should inspire hope of a peaceful outcome. Jews and Muslims both believe that the Messiah will come as peacemaker in the last days. The peace he brings is illustrated in terms of lambs and wolves living peacefully together and children playing safely near snakes. These idyllic images of the reign of Messiah are recorded in the Bible and also repeated in the Ahadith. Furthermore, Muslims and Jews also believe that the scope of this Messianic peace will be worldwide!

How tragic and ironic that people who share so much in common can be locked in a conflict that could easily trigger World War III. One would hope that God-fearing people – including Jews, Muslims and Christians – would come together and discuss their concerns for peace in the light of this "ideal vision."

When you consider the centuries of heated debates between these three groups over who is the Messiah, you realize it is not easy to exchange views in a spirit of mutual respect. This kind of discussion, however, can be very meaningful. Consider, for example, the above mentioned prophecy about lambs and wolves. Several encouraging observations can be made as we read the wider context of this remarkable prophecy. The prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah’s character qualities saying, "the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He will never judge by appearance, false evidence or hearsay ... he will be clothed with fairness and truth." (Isaiah 11:2-6). Immediately after listing these qualities that will characterise the Messiah, we read about the peaceful conditions that will prevail during the Messiah's reign, including lambs and wolves living together peacefully.

These qualities of the Messiah reflect supernatural power working through him. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Messiah sees behind external appearances and perceives things as they really are. Therefore he can judge with fairness and truth and mediate a real peace settlement. In regard to these spiritual qualifications, it is significant that the Qu’ran and the Bible repeatedly state that Jesus was strengthened and filled with the Holy Spirit (Surah 2.87,253; Luke 4:1-14).

As Jews, Muslims and Christians venture to discuss our different views about the Messiah it is important to begin by wholeheartedly affirming that he is our hope of peace. If godly people cannot discuss their differences in a spirit of mutual respect, if we allow timidity or prejudice to hinder us from engaging in constructive dialogue how can we expect secular minded people to overcome the political hurdles that undermine peace!

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Related articles: Converging Destinies: Jerusalem, Peace and the Messiah

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