By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
When it comes to defining standards of legitimacy (what is right and wrong), half the world’s population looks to either the teachings of Jesus or Muhammad for answers and asks, What would Jesus do? or What would Muhammad do? Their teachings provide sacred standards of legitimacy for Christians and Muslims, and while those standards were relevant to their ancient time and place, they do not address contemporary issues such as those of sovereignty, just war, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Advances in knowledge and reason have reshaped culture and religions in the Western world with libertarian concepts such as the freedoms of religion and speech, while many Islamic nations deny those fundamental freedoms with apostasy and blasphemy laws taken from ancient scriptures.
The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy (the J&M Book) compares the moral teachings of Jesus with comparable teachings of Muhammad on morality and law, revealing similarities and differences. Muhammad, like Moses, emphasized divine laws, while Jesus emphasized the moral primacy of love over law, as stated in the greatest commandment. Muhammad, unlike Jesus, exercised political power and used force to vanquish his enemies, and neither Jesus nor Muhammad addressed the freedoms of libertarian democracy since they were not relevant to their time and place.
The J&M Book begins with the moral teachings of Jesus selected by Thomas Jefferson, who considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man” even though Jefferson was a harsh critic of the Christian religion. While the teachings of Jesus did not specifically address the inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence or the freedoms of religion and expression in the Bill of Rights, his teachings provide a moral foundation for the libertarian concepts of democratic governance. Both Jesus and Muhammad taught the moral imperative of altruistic love, and its timeless relevance has been vindicated by history, while the holy laws of Moses and Muhammad have not withstood the test of time.
This website is a forum to consider the way religion shapes our standards of legitimacy, beginning with the relationships between religion and reason and between faith and freedom. The J&M Book is offered as a resource for those seeking to find common ground on conflicting issues of legitimacy in an increasingly pluralistic world. It will be noted that the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad are closely related to those of Moses and other Jewish prophets, and selected laws from both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an are included in the J&M Book.
The greatest obstacle to finding common ground among Jews, Christians and Muslims today is religious fundamentalism. It is any religion that asserts that it is the one true faith and condemns all others, that seeks to impose its standards of legitimacy upon others, and that rejects any new knowledge and reason that conflicts with its exclusivist doctrines. Such fundamentalist religions are a continuing cause of religious conflict, hate and violence in the name of God.
In resolving issues of legitimacy related to libertarian democracy and the rule of law, Christians and Muslims must be able to apply moral imperatives from the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad to modern issues not mentioned in their teachings. That requires the use of knowledge and reason to interpret and relate their ancient teachings to our time and place, and it is a premise of this website that both Jesus and Muhammad would expect their followers to do just that. To that end Jesus Meets Muhammad presents topics on controversial issues and welcomes your comments in the hope that they will lead to religious reconciliation and peace.