Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The Gospel of John 14:6
These words of Jesus, so sacred to Christians, are often used as words of comfort at Christian funerals. Yet heard outside Christian tradition or misunderstood within it, they can be bitterly divisive, especially if they are interpreted to mean that non-Christians have no access to God or that only Christians who declare their faith in a certain way—using specific words or performing a specific ritual—are “saved.” In an earlier statement within this same biblical passage, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.” Later Jesus emphasizes once again that the Father dwells with those who “obey my teaching.” Thus, as a Christian, I believe that I come to the Father through striving to live a Christ-like life, a life rooted in the sacrificial way of love—love without conditions and without exceptions.
Muslims understand the way to God as a path, referred to in the Quran as the “straight way,” and defined as “the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose portion is not wrath and who go not astray.” God has shown this path to all of His prophets and messengers, including Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jesus and finally Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon them all]. One reference to these honored prophets reads: “Those were some of the prophets on whom God did bestow His Grace, of the posterity of Adam, and of those who We carried [in the Ark] with Noah, and of the posterity of Abraham and Israel of those whom We guided and chose. Whenever the Signs of God Most Gracious were rehearsed to them, they would fall down in prostrate adoration and in tears.” As a Muslim, I revere Jesus [Peace and Blessings be upon him] as the Messiah who was born of an immaculate birth. I follow the teachings of God in the Quran and I humbly strive to emulate the character of Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon him], who gave the perfect example for loving and serving God and His creation, and embodied the true meaning of Islam.
I admire Grace for choosing a challenging text, which she described as having been “used too often in terribly disparaging, exclusionary ways.” It immediately brings to my mind the many times I learned that Judaism allows all people of faith entry to olam ha-ba, the world to come, provided that they uphold 7 basic laws. This teaching was often invoked by Jewish Studies professors to demonstrate Judaism’s superiority as a universal and welcoming religion. This assertion—that all religious paths are acceptable but only mine is the “truth”—has proven personally dissatisfying and, at times, destructive to relationships between people of different faiths. I can certainly appreciate how this idea originated with the early rabbis, perhaps in response to emerging Christian teachings that acceptance of Jesus was the only path to redemption. I can also see why later rabbis perpetuated it through centuries of persecution and forced conversion of Jews to Christianity. Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable with our apparent compulsion to declare ourselves and our beliefs as most right and exclusively true. I pray that in the world to come, humanity will have evolved to accept the Baha’i teaching that all religions express a single Divine purpose and serve as multiple paths leading to God’s presence in paradise.