JERUSALEM—In a surprise announcement with far-reaching theological implications, Jesus Christ The Nazarene, founder of Christianity and spiritual leader of nearly two billion people, revealed Monday that He has converted to "the one true religion" of Islam.
The controversial announcement has sent shockwaves through religious circles around the globe.
"Allah is the name of the One and Only God," Christ said. "Allah has 99 beautiful names: He is known as The Gracious, The Merciful, The Beneficent, The Creator, The All-Knowing, The All-Wise, The Lord Of The Universe, The First, The Last and many more. He has revealed Himself unto Me through the holy words of the blessed Qur'an, and I have put My trust and faith in Him."
As part of His conversion, Christ said He has taken a new name, Isa Ibn Maryam al-Salaam Christ Shabazz.
Christ, 33, is urging Christians worldwide to renounce His former religion of Christianity and join Him in embracing the Muslim way of life.
"People of all nations, in the past, you have heard Me say that whosoever shall believe in Me shall not die, but have eternal life," Christ said. "But now, I say unto you, forget I ever said that. There is only one holy revelation of Allah, the Qur'an, which was dictated to the Prophet Mohammed, Praise Be Unto Him, by the Archangel Jibreel in the seventh century after I died."
According to Christ, the beauty and perfection of the Qur'an's Surahs are without equal in all creation, encompassing and surpassing both the Judaic Torah and the New Testament Gospels of His apostles. The former Christian messiah went on to cite Surah Aal'imraan 3:67, which reads, "This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion."
"What could be more clear?" Christ said.
"I was wrong, and I know that now," He added. "I deeply regret any problems or confusion I may have caused."
The controversial retraction of two millennia of Christian doctrine has provoked strongly divided reaction. Millions of devout Christians, insisting that obeisance to Christ's commands is the cornerstone of their faith, have heeded His instructions and converted to Islam. Millions more, however, have decried the recalcitrant Christ's apostasy, breaking ties with Him and calling His conversion "a heathen act" of "utmost blasphemy before Himself."
"Jesus, or Isa Shabazz, or whatever He's calling Himself these days, is the way, the truth and the light. It says so in the Bible," said devout Catholic Kathleen Langan of Cork, Ireland, kneeling toward Mecca for the first time. "My loyalty to Him is absolute. If He told me to be a Buddhist, I'd do it. All praise and thanks to Allah."
Ruth-Anne Girolamo, a Sunday school teacher in Stillwater, OK, disagreed. "I've been a Bible-believing Christian all my life, and nothing, not even a direct order from Christ Himself, is going to change that," Girolamo said. "If Christ is going to leave the fold and become a sinner, we'll just have to go on worshipping Him against His will."
The Roman Catholic Church is just as divided: Approximately half the members of the Vatican's College of Cardinals have advocated embracing Islamic law, while the other half is calling for Christ's immediate excommunication and recommending the interim worship of Pope John Paul II until a suitable replacement deity can be found.
In perhaps the oddest development, the Jews For Jesus organization announced Monday that it has split into three separate groups: Jews Still For Jesus, Jews For Allah, and Jews For Just Being Jews Again.
Christ said He arrived at the decision to convert after centuries of deep soul-searching and contemplation. But it was not until last week's Good Friday holiday, He said, that His true spiritual path became clear.
"I was in church, watching all these people hold a candlelight vigil on the day of My crucifixion, when I suddenly felt a profound sense of emptiness," Christ said. "I got up and walked out, and just sort of wandered aimlessly for a while, wondering what it all meant. Then, I saw something I'd never noticed before. At the mosque down the street, supplicants were gathering to celebrate their weekly holy day of worship, which, by sheer coincidence, happens to be Friday."
"I walked in nervously, unsure of why I was even there. After all, during the Crusades, My followers had slaughtered thousands of these people in My name, and I thought maybe they wouldn't accept Me," Christ said. "But as I listened to the Imam deliver the weekly sermon, or khutba, I felt the power of Allah in My heart. For the first time, I knew I'd found true inner peace."
"I now know it wasn't random chance that brought Me to that mosque," Christ continued. "It was the will of Allah."
When asked about His future plans, Christ said His next move will be to undertake the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca all Muslims are required to make at least once in a lifetime. After that, Christ said He hopes to take a few months off to rest and meditate before starting the next phase of His ministry: traveling to churches around the world and imploring the Christian faithful to stop believing in Him.
"My new spiritual advisor, the Righteous Hassan Abdul al-Aziz, has explained to Me that I am not—nor was I ever—actually the Son of God, but merely one of many Prophets of the divine revelation which was to come after Me," Christ said. "After all, there is only one God, so any belief in a triune god, or 'trinity,' is polytheistic and contradicts the word of Allah Himself."
"For it is written, in Surah Al-Maa'idah 5:116, 'And behold, Allah will say—O Jesus Son of Mary, did you say to men, worship me and my mother as gods beside Allah? He will reply—Glory to you, I could never say what I had no right [to say].'" Christ said. "You see? It turns out, worshipping Me isn't the key to the Gates of Heaven, after all. Salvation can only be found in the Five Pillars of Shahada, Salat, Saum, Zakat and Hajj. I can't believe how obvious it all seems to Me now."
Neither the Father nor the Holy Ghost could be reached for comment.