This past week I have been thinking about a contrast between the spirituality of Muhammad and that of Christ. There are many ways in which they can be contrasted, but this past Sunday our text was John 12:1-7, in which Jesus had been invited to dinner at the home of Lazarus, whom he had recently raised from the dead. While Jesus was eating dinner with his friend Lazarus, while his sister Martha served, his sister Mary approached Jesus and poured out a flask of pure nard ointment upon his feet. This nard, imported from the Himalayas in India, was likely a family heirloom worth a year’s wages. Then in humility she proceeded to wipe his feet with her hair, as an act of worship. The whole house became filled with the sweet fragrance of the ointment. She fully recognized who Jesus was as the Son of God. For who else could raise her dead brother? He had been dead for four days when Jesus raised him up. By then his body was already decaying with a strong stench (John 11:17, 39). Yet, Jesus restored his life to full health and cleanness, having just declared, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Mary’s action also illustrates the contrast of death, the result of bondage in sin and to Satan, and abundant life and freedom found in Christ.
Judas, the money keeper and thief, who denounced Mary’s sacrificial act, was under Satan’s control. He did not really care about giving the value of the nard to the poor. Jesus declared that Mary’s action was to prepare him for his soon approaching burial, as it was the custom to prepare a body for burial with ointment and spices. Nard is a gentle aromatic relaxing sedative which has anti-bacterial properties. Mary had sat at the feet of Jesus to listen to him and understood his approaching death for her sins and the sins of the world.
In contrast, Muhammad denied that Jesus died on the cross. It only appeared to be so. Some hadith speculate that perhaps it was Judas who was crucified and made to look like Jesus. For how could Allāh allow his prophet to suffer shame and defeat through a cruel death? In denying Jesus' death, Muslims also deny his burial and resurrection. So, there is no need for Mary’s sweet aroma of nard poured out in worship. Muhammad would have agreed with Judas. Both denied his deity and being a Savior from sin’s condemnation. For Muhammad many acts can free one from one’s sins, including coming to pray salāt on Fridays in the mosque, especially if you are among the first to arrive. In addition, one should bathe oneself and put on perfume before going to Friday prayer (jumu'ah). Muhammad was obsessed with perfume, so many Muslim men wear lots of after shave regularly. His vision of heaven (janna) is not a place to live in the presence of Allāh. Rather, it appealed to the three primary physical interests of Muhammad of food, women and perfume. Apostle Paul describes his inability to understand: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14; ESV).
Upon my visiting the ancient cave churches in the Ilhara Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey there were two signs pointing to one of the carved-out churches in the soft rock valley wall with fresco icons partially destroyed by Muslim iconoclasts. One sign pointed to the “Odorous Church,” while the other pointed to the same saying “Fragrant Church.” This illustrates the contrast in understanding of the gospel between the two religions. As Paul expresses it, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Now that we have been given the Spirit of life, we spread the aroma of Christ throughout the whole house wherever we go by our words of faith and acts of love. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor. 2:14).