By Anna-Maria Ramzy
The hype has subsided. The chocolate bunnies look rather less spritely sitting on the supermarkets shelves and eggs aplenty sit shattered in their bargain box nests. Such are the remnants of the images that constitute the public face of Easter for the majority of Britons today.
What is, and has been, conspicuously absent from the supermarket decorations is any mention of the religious background to this festival. Other than perhaps hot cross buns, the Christian belief in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ is invisible, although arguably images of sacrifice in our clinical era are perhaps not the greatest selling points.
Going further than product merchandising however, even the name ‘Easter’ in fact does not appear to lend itself to reminding those who celebrate it what the festival is all about. Whilst with Christmas it’s pretty obvious, no matter which way you slice it, you just can’t get resurrection, crucifixion, salvation or even Jesus Christ out of ‘Easter’.
The word, in fact, comes from the Old English Eastre which referred to a goddess of spring and fertility, nothing to do with Christianity at all. But perhaps it is just the English that appears to associate this festival with pagan practices… Easter in French is pacques. Perhaps the French (dare I say it!) are closer to the mark? Paques is derived from the Hebrew pesach which is translated as the Pass Over. So here at least we are straying into the realms of the religious. And yet the Passover is a Jewish festival, celebrating the deliverance of the Children of Israel from the evil grasp of the Pharoah… What on earth is going on?
Just as the name Easter, or Pacques throws up some complicated issues, in terms of the origins of the festival itself, followers need to grapple with some perplexing concepts: the idea of God having a son, questions concerning the divinity of Jesus and how God could be confined to the form of a man, whilst at the same time remaining entirely omnipotent, the sacrifice of Jesus as atonement for humanity’s sins, the fact that Jesus, a part of God, died, not to mention questions over the identity of the Holy Spirit and pagan contamination of the tradition. In stark contrast, the Islamic story is incredibly simple. The entire crucifixion and all baffling queries as to Jesus’ divinity are non-existent. He was a man, was raised to heaven, and shall return. End of part one. To be continued.
Simplicity in our fast-paced, ever increasingly complex and hectic lives, is one of those rare gems, the worth of which is often forgotten. It seems unfortunately, human as we are, we tend to make everything we are involved in complicated. But with Islam this does not have to be so. One of the great shames of our generation is people, Muslims included, turning away from all Islam has to offer because it is presented as such a complicated and burdensome system of rules, dos and don’ts, whilst the core belief is in fact so wonderfully, blissfully, simple. The word simple itself comes from the Latin ‘simplex’ meaning ‘characterised by one part.’ This is encapsulated perfectly in the shahadah ‘La ilaha illAllah, Muhammad ar-Rasul Allah.’ One God, a final Messenger. Nothing more.
In the spirit of simplicity I would like to keep things short. The Qur’an reminds us: “Allah wishes to make things easy for you, and not to make things difficult for you” [2:185]. Whilst the intricacies of our daily lives do require detailed rulings, the straightforwardness of our relationship with our Creator requires no subtractions or additions. Islam meaning, amongst other things ‘peace’, in amongst the clutter of our lives allows us to take refuge in a direct, uncomplicated relationship with God, and serves, in the commotion of the twenty-first century, to provide us with that most important type of peace: that of the heart and mind. And for that simple fact, I hope I shall be eternally grateful.
Anna-Maria Ramezanzade is a student of Arabic and Persian at the University of Oxford.
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