by Stephen Lampe
Easter and Hajj are perhaps the most important festivals of Christianity and Islam respectively - two world religions that have so much in common in their essence but which are at loggerheads in so many parts of the world. The focus of both religions has been on organizations, which provide material benefits and earthly influence for their leaders and close associates. Their common core has become veiled as the emphasis has shifted from individual search for truth and individual relationship with the Creator.
Easter is preceded by the Holy Week, the last week of Lent, a 40-day penitential period of prayer and fasting (which reminds one of the Muslim Ramadan). The Friday before Easter is the so-called “Good Friday”, commemorating the death on the Cross-of Jesus Christ, while Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection. Easter is central to the whole Christian calendar. The dates of all movable Christian feasts (in contrast to festivals like Christmas whose dates are fixed) are based on the date of Easter. Moreover, the whole liturgical calendar of worship (the dates for observing various Church rituals) is arranged around the date of Easter. There are two major celebrations in Islam. The first marks the completion of Ramadan, the month during which Muslims fast daily from dawn to sunset as part of an effort towards self-purification and betterment. This celebration is known as Eid ul-Fitr. The second major Islamic celebration takes place during the time of the Hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The Hajj is one of the “five pillars” of Islam, and thus an essential part of Muslim faith and practice. Although only the pilgrims in Mecca can participate fully in the Hajj, all other Muslims in the world join with them by celebrating the Eid ul-Adha or Festival of Sacrifice.
Many countries of the world (especially the developing countries) have never had so many churches and so many mosques have never known a greater intensity of religious activities and zeal. And yet in these same countries we witness so much hatred and distrust among religious individuals and a dogged resistance against peaceful and just solutions to the multifarious national and global problems. Those who are most flagrantly unjust and corrupt and those who grossly abuse public office are to be found in the ranks of the self-proclaimed staunchest religious champions. What can be the explanation? Is it possible that these religions no longer have the power to make us good human beings? Is it the case that we do not really understand the teachings brought by Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him)? Both teachings came from God, and both are emphatic about justice and love, and respect for human lives and human rights. May it be that we are mere hypocrites and that we have no conviction in these teachings? We do not need to think deeply before we come to the conclusion that Christian and Muslim ideals are patently lacking in the social, economic, and political life of today’s world.
The period of Lent leading to Easter is a time for reflection, genuine change, and a genuine striving to live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. Hajj presents the same opportunities with respect to the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. Let us be reminded that both Easter and the Hajj are about spiritual awakening, about inner change, about being truly born again. Parenthetically, I should note that there is widespread misunderstanding and debasement of the spiritual concept of being “born again”. The Hajj is meant to be an opportunity to seek forgiveness of sins accumulated throughout one’s life. Prophet Mohammed is reported to have said that a person who performs Hajj properly “will return as a newly born baby”, determined not to sin again, and resolved to forgive the sins others may have committed against him or her. The pilgrimage also enables Moslems of different races, ethnic groups, and languages from all over the world to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. The Hajj is not a religious jamboree but a deeply spiritual event. The rites of the Hajj include going around the Ka'bah seven times and going seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa. In the knowledge that the number seven signifies “spirit”, one can say that the rites testify to the deep spiritual nature of Hajj. Whoever does not celebrate it in spirit gains nothing.
The term “Easter” was first used when Christianity was introduced to the Saxons. Before this time, the Saxons had held an annual feast in honor of the ancient Teutonic goddess of Spring called Eostre. The name was transferred to the Christian observance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Spring is the season that marks the awakening of nature following the slumber or “death” during the Winter months. In the Tropics, which unlike the Temperate Zone, has only two seasons (wet and dry) this “death” and resurrection of nature is not as dramatic as it is in the Temperate Zone. But the phenomenon does exist. In the dry season, grasses die, some trees shed their leaves, and the activities of some species of animals are curtailed, similar to the conditions of Winter. At the start of the rainy season, there is a new growth of grasses and leaves and a revitalization of animal activities, reminiscent of Spring.
Easter has always been closely linked with Spring, the season of the awakening or the “resurrection” of nature. In the early years of Christianity, Jewish Christians observed the resurrection and Passover together on the 14th day of Nisan, the Jewish month roughly corresponding with April. However, Gentile Christians celebrated the resurrection every Sunday with a special emphasis on the Sunday closest to the 14th day of Nisan. To settle this difference, church leaders fixed the date for Easter at the Nicene Council in 325 AD. They decided that Easter would be the first Sunday following the Paschal full moon. The Paschal full moon is the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which occurs on March 21; March 21 marks the official beginning of Spring. The system that was agreed at the Nicene Council for fixing the date of Easter is still followed today. Therefore, Easter Sunday moves between March 22 and April 25. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church follows a slightly different calculation. As a result, the Orthodox Easter, although sometimes coinciding with that of other Christians, can fall one, four, or five weeks later. But it still remains a springtime celebration. It is interesting to note the dependence of the date of Easter on the moon, just like Muslim festivals.
As a celebration of the awakening of nature, Easter should become a festival of spiritual awakening and renewal for all human beings, regardless of religion. We should consider Easter a time for the awakening of the inner self; a “resurrection” of our individual spirits from spiritual slumbers. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to doing the Will of God so that we who have journeyed as immature spirits into the deep vale of the World of Matter may one day be able to ascend into Paradise, our permanent home. May all peoples, particularly Christian and Muslim political leaders around the world, be imbued with the sense of love, justice, humility, and tolerance that comes with genuine spiritual renewal, which is the essential purpose of both Easter and Hajj. And may such love, justice, humility, and tolerance translates into actions, so that ray of spiritual light may begin to break through the ethereal darkness that envelops the earth. Amen.
Efforts to make the individual countries of the world as well as the global system more loving, more just, and more equitable deserve the support of every true follower of the teachings of Jesus and/or of Prophet Mohammed through concrete deeds and not by mere words. The good news is that, in line with the special spiritual nature of our times, all genuine good volition is supported strongly by invisible, non-physical powers. Therefore, we should not be afraid of the apparent might of human beings and governments that may be bent on perpetuating injustice and evil; they must fail, sooner or later. In the end, the power of the Light will shatter the ethereal darkness hanging over the earth. Spiritual light will shine brightly on us and with the destruction of ethereal darkness and its agents, materialism and religiosity will give way to a genuine desire to learn and to do the true Will of God, which is once again revealed to us at this time of the Cosmic Turning Point in the work entitled “In the Light of Truth, The Grail Message” by Abd-ru-shin (civil name Oskar Ernst Bernhardt). We would do so as independent individuals who jealously guard our God-given Free Will and who refuse to be mere tools in the hands of leaders of religious and related organizations as well as other manipulators.