Because Christians celebrate Easter this week, and because of the difficulties people all over the world experience with the corona pandemic, I would like to be a bit theological in my article today. Those who have read some of my earlier articles know that although I have a basis in Christianity, I always include people of other religions, indeed Muslims, in my thoughts. We all have a duty to have openness and respect for other religions. After all, God is one, or as they say in Swahili, the widely spoken language in East Africa, ‘Mungu ni moja tu’. I have lived in Kenya and Tanzania for many years, and I remember the beautiful words people used when saying goodbye, ‘Tutaunana tena’, Let us meet again, adding, ‘Mungu anapenda’, meaning, God willing.

Today is Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar, celebrated in memory of Jesus, Issa, having held the last supper with his twelve disciples. The Easter week began with Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was cheered by people as the King of Jews in a land which was occupied by the Romans. Tomorrow is Good Friday, or Long Friday, as it is termed in the Scandinavian languages, in memory of the day Jesus was crucified and died, according to the Bible’s New Testament. On the coming Sunday, Easter Sunday, Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Forty days later, on Ascension Day, Christians and Muslims believe that Jesus was taken up into heaven, till his Second Coming on Judgement Day.

Jesus is called a prophet in the Bible’s New Testament in the texts for Palm Sunday. On Annunciation Day, marked just before Easter, Virgin Mary, Maryam, was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would give birth to a son to be named Jesus. She was surprised and wondered how this would be possible as she had no husband.

Easter comes at the end of fasting, called Lent by Catholics and often also by Protestants. Today, fasting is almost only practised in the Orthodox Church, mainly in Eastern Europe and Ethiopia. The rules for how to fast vary in difference traditions. Everywhere in the Christian Church fasting is preached about as a time of reflection, sacrifice, cleansing, and the other aspects that also Islam emphasizes. Ramadan will this year begin a week’s time after Easter on 24 April.

The exact time of Easter varies slightly every year; Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after spring equinox. The week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is called the Holy Week; in Scandinavian languages, it is called the Quiet Week.

Also about the same time in spring, the Jews celebrate Passover (Pesach), in memory of their exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery in the 13th century BC, returning to the land of Mount Sinai, described in the Bible’s Old Testament. This year, Passover is celebrated from 8-16 April. In ancient times, it was common to slaughter a sacrificial lamb for the feast. Today, Christians eat mutton dishes for Easter.

When I write about theological issues, I often draw attention to likeness rather than differences between religions. Yet, we may distance ourselves from specific dogmas in other religions, sometimes even in own religion. Christians often talk about the Easter ‘mystery’, which means that it is allowed to questions the meaning of the concrete. Also, we should realise that dogmas do not always have to be believed literally, but more figuratively, with a clear message. Hence, the Easter message symbolises that light concurs death. It is the messages of the teachings of Jesus that will live forever.

In the Bible’s Old Testament, God is strict and uncompromising, while Jesus is focusing on God’s kindness and mercy. This new understanding and covenant is explained in the Bible’s New Testament, clearly so in Matthew 5:38-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (...) You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who prosecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” And then another verse that is so often cited according to Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Instead of dwelling on the concrete events of Easter, I believe we should focus on the fundamental messages in Christianity, with importance to Islam and all religions – so that the messages behind the events can live forever.

I wish you all Happy Easter. This year, it is a different Easter since we cannot congregate in large numbers in houses or worship. Because of that, Ramadan and Eid will also be different. But let us remember that God is always the same, and even if we are alone, in isolation and practising social distancing, we are ‘alone together’.