Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Festival of Easter : Religion, Myth and History

Across the world, the Christian communities today are celebrating the Festival of Easter. The religious practice of Easter seeks to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ (as). The rituals and traditions that make up this festival have interesting origins in the ancient world. In other words, the lineage of the present festival and associated rituals can be traced back to the pagan worship norms of ancient communities. As it happened, the pagan practices were adapted and modified and transformed to a ‘Christian’ milieu. It is apparent that to accommodate the deviations from the original message of Jesus (as), much theological engineering was done to reshape and reconstruct the belief systems within Christianity as well.  In his Friday Sermon of 29 March 2013, the Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib (atba) of Mauritius throws searching light on the pagan origins of these Christian religious practices by drawing upon the studies and writings of Christian scholars.  

Read the Extracts from the Friday Sermon:

Easter is a day that is honoured by nearly all of contemporary Christianity and is used to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Hazrat Isa (as)). Christian believes that Jesus (as) rose again from the dead three days and three nights after he was crucified. The holiday often involves a church service at sunrise, a feast which includes an “Easter Ham”, decorated eggs and stories about rabbits. Free thinking Christian scholars in bewilderment have often questioned all these incongruous activities. Why rabbits? Why not a puppy or any other animals? Rabbits do not lay eggs, why not orange or onions etc., because they also roll. Why are these traditions so ingrained in Easter Sunday? And what do they have to do with the resurrection of Jesus?

Those who love truth learn to ask questions, and many questions must be asked regarding the holiday of Easter. Is it truly the day when Jesus (as) arose from the dead? Where did all of the strange customs come from, which have nothing to do with the “resurrection” of the Mosaic Messiah (as)?

Easter and Easter symbols beg for an explanation and a systematic analysis of this religious celebration. The first thing we must understand is that professing Christians were not the only ones who celebrated a festival called “Easter.”

Many children are made to believe that the Easter Bunny brings their share of Easter eggs and this man-made ritual is played out in many western countries, especially so in the United States of America. The story behind the Easter Bunny defies any rhyme or reason for adoption by a religion which claims to be established by God, the All Wise and the Source of All Wisdom. Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honouring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This thus leads our attention of the festival to Easter itself.

What is Easter? Just like the popular Christmas festival, Easter festival also stems from pagan sources. “Ishtar” which is pronounced “Easter”, was a day that commemorated the resurrection of one of the Pagan gods that they called “Tammuz”, who was believed to be the only begotten son of the moon-goddess and the sun-god of the ancient civilization. It was said that Ishtar was the goddess of love and fertility and that her love for Tammuz caused him to be sent to the underworld.

And Tammuz is the son of the sun-god who is none other than Nimrod. After the Flood, Prophet Noah had a talented, but evil, great-grandson named Nimrod (Genesis 10: 6-10) who rebelled greatly against God. The Bible says that he was “a mighty one”. Jewish tradition indicates that Nimrod was a tyrant “who made all of the people rebellious against God.” It is evident from history that Nimrod was not only a political leader, but also the lead priest of a form of occult worship. Thus, Nimrod built and organized major cities. The Bible notes that these included Babel, Asshur, Nineveh and Calah (Genesis 10:10-12). These were cities of great, almost unimaginable practices and perversion.

When Nimrod eventually died, the Babylonian mystery religion in which he figured prominently continued on. His wife Queen Semiramis saw to that. Once he was dead, she deified him as the Sun-god. In various cultures he later became known as Baal, the Great Life Giver, the god of fire, Baalim, Bel, Molech, etc. And when she gave birth to a son, she declared that the baby, “Tammuz” was Nimrod reincarnated, and she said that he was born without the intervention of any human. Thus, she became known as being a virgin mother, without being one actually.

The Quran mentions the worship of the false god, Baal in these terms:

“And indeed, Elias was from among the messengers, When he said to his people, "Will you not fear Allah? Do you call upon Baal and leave the best of creators – Allah, your Lord and the Lord of your first forefathers?” (37: 124-127)

Prophet Elijah (Elias) came much after Prophet Ibrahim (as), and it was the second coming of Elijah whom the Jews awaited, but instead Yahya (John the Baptist) and Isa (Jesus) who made their appearance as the second coming of Elijah and the Messiah the heir of David respectively.

And it was Nimrod who was the greatest enemy of Hazrat Ibrahim (as), the Prophet and Friend of Allah. It was Nimrod who tried to burn him alive before Allah came to his rescue, by commanding the fire: “O fire, be coolness and safety for Ibrahim.” (21: 70)

The following are some sources who have talked about the Easter festival:

“The name Easter may have come from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring, or from Tectonic festival of spring called Eastur.” (The World Book Encyclopaedia; vol. VI, page 25).

Reverend Alexander Hislop in tracing the worship of a goddess Mother and her divine son writes on pages 20 and 21 of his book “The Two Babylons”:

“The origin of that mother, so widely worshiped, there is reason to believe, was Semiramis, who was worshipped by the Babylonians, and other eastern nations under the name of Rhea, the great Goddess Mother. Certain feasts were celebrated connected with the only begotten divine son of the virgin mother… The feast of Astarte or Ishtar, the queen of the heavens or the virgin goddess of spring and fruitfulness, was observed on the first Sunday after the full moon following the “spring Equinox”. The Vernal Equinox occurred at that time when the sun in its elliptical revolution, as it passed the Equator, made the shape of a cross in the constellation of Aries or the ‘Lamb’. This was taken as the triumph of the sun-God, whose virgin queen had succeeded in rescuing her only begotten son, who had sacrificed his life to the power of darkness to a save humanity and sent him to heaven to look after his believers. Therefore, he became “Aries” or “The Lamb” of the heavens. This event is celebrated with hot-cross buns; the round bun represents the sun and the cross on it is the magical sign made by the sun, which saved the saviour from the imprisonment of the forces of the darkness.”

The name for Easter in some languages comes from the Hebrew ‘Pesah’. Spanish speaking people call Easter, ‘Pascua’. The Italians call Easter, ‘Pasqua’ and the French, the ‘Pasques’. Many customs connected with the Easter season come from the Pagan festivals of spring. Others stem from the Passover celebration (The World Book Encyclopaedia; Vol. VI p.26).

The triumph of the Sun-god was, therefore and quite naturally ascribed to the influence of Aries (the Lamb of the Heavens). The Lamb thus became the symbol of the Rising saviour and his passage from the underworld into the height of heaven. (Pagan and Christian Creed, p.39)

In “The Golden Bough”, p.348-356, Frazer writes about the Phrygian virgin-born son of God who was bled to death hanging crucified from a pine tree. His blood renewed the fertility of the earth and thus brought new life to humanity. He also rose from the dead.

Frazer states:

“In celebrating his death and resurrection, his image was fastened to a pine-tree cut in a form of a cross on March 24th and the day was called “The Day of Blood” since on that day the deity was bled to death. The image was then laid in a tomb, when there was wailing and mourning. But the coming night changed their sorrow to joy. The tomb was found empty on the next morning, i.e. 25th March, when the festival of the resurrection was celebrated. These rituals included a baptism of blood and a sacramental meal.”

Christian faith contends that Sunday was the day on which Christ rose from the dead and that his resurrection is the very reason for observing Easter. But, to add further to this plight, the scriptures do not support the contention that Christ’s resurrection occurred on a Sunday.

Easter rites start with Lent, 40 days during which the fast of the faithful is based on the self-restrictions which they impose upon themselves as a sign of fasting. The origin and the significance of Lent itself are muffled in obscurity. According to the “Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary”: “The origin of the penitential season of Lent is obscure, its length has varied in different ages, but the principle of a fast of forty days (Lat; Quadragesima, It; Quaresima, Fr; CarĂªme) has been recognised since the fourth century.”

Hoeh, in “Plain Truth”, 1983 states:

“The Lent was observed 2,000 years before Christ was born. The source of the word Lent is an old English word Lencten meaning the ‘spring’ of the year as the Lent was originally celebrated with the coming of the spring season. These days it has been changed in winter. The Bible is silent about Lent. It did not originate with Christ. None of the apostles celebrated it, not even Paul or Peter.”

About 100 years after the death of the last of the 12 apostles, there is the mention of Lent and Easter in a letter written by Irenaeus, a bishop from Gaul (modern day France) to the bishop of Rome which mentions the controversies in these words:

“For the controversy is not only concerning the day (Easter) but also concerning the very manner of the fast, for some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more, and some forty.”

There was nothing certain or definite about Easter or Lent at that time. Jesus and his disciples had not addressed this question as none of them practised it and the coming generations were left in darkness and without guidance to the design of their own minds, even though the observance of these customs had originated long before the birth of Jesus. And the bishop, Irenaeus moreover observed that its observance has not originated in our times, but long before, in the time of our ancestors. It is likely they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to private fancy. (Eusebius: Church History; Book 5, Chapter 24).

Eggs, being one of the different fancies which the Pagans and later Christians added to the Easter festival, represent the new life that returns to nature about Easter time. The custom of exchanging eggs began in ancient Egyptians and Persians often dyed eggs in spring colours and gave them to their friends as gifts. The Persians believed that the earth had hatched from a giant egg! It was but natural niche amongst the dogmas of Trinity and bodily Resurrection. Early Christian of Mesopotamia were first to use coloured eggs for Easter.

Other sources indicate that the Easter eggs probably came from Germany. For example, “The World Book Encyclopaedia” states:

“This belief probably comes from Germany. One legend says that a poor woman dyed some eggs during the famine, and hid them in a nest as an Easter gift for her children. Just as the children discovered the nest, a big rabbit leaped away. The story spread that the rabbit had brought the Easter eggs.”

This clearly denotes that Lent was not commanded by God but rather it came into the Church through Pagan customs and private desires of the later generations who wanted to add the attractions of the false gods worship and include it in a festival of their own making, which they named Easter, in memory of that Pagan festival, and much later, that festival became so much an integral part of Christianity that the years of its observance made the newer generations ignorant of its true origins which is all but divinely commanded or observed by either Jesus , his disciples or even the past prophets of God.

May the Almighty God illumine the hearts of all Christians worldwide so that they cease to be blinded by the blend of Pagan traditions which the Church has let creep into Christianity in order to Christianize the Pagan, but instead of Christianizing the Pagans, they have Paganised the Christians, and allowed in Christianity all that what is most hated in the sight of the True Almighty God and all His prophets. May the light of truth be apparent for them, and for all humanity, because only Islam has opened the doors of the divine light which shows the truthfulness of all prophets of God and that of the Pure Dogma and teachings derived from God. Insha-Allah, Ameen.