The Jesus of Islam

According to Muslims, Jesus is the second-to-last prophet of Allah and one of the five elite prophets. Like all of the other prophets, Jesus was a Muslim (as in submitted to the will of Allah) and performed miracles.

 

The Muslim View of Jesus

According to Muslims, Jesus is the second-to-last prophet of Allah and one of the five elite prophets.  Like all of the other prophets, Jesus was a Muslim (as in submitted to the will of Allah) and performed miracles.  But he is set apart from the others because he “is presented in the Qur’an as a miracle himself.”[1]  His ministry was ordained from birth, when his mother – Mary – conceived him while still a virgin.  But, unlike the belief propagated by the Christians, this does not mean that Jesus is either the Son of God or God.  This is important because it clarifies that Jesus is created by Allah, and as a created creature is subordinate to his creator.  As described in 3:47, anything that Allah commands to exist comes into existence, and this reasoning is used to explain Jesus’s conception.

Jesus is mentioned in 93 verses in the Qur’an[2] and is characterized by his gospel, called injil.[3]  He is a prophetic messenger of Allah who shares his message with the Israelites so that it can be accepted by a broader audience and more people can also submit to the will of Allah.  Jesus proclaims the news that what was previously not allowed had become allowed (3:50), and he performed miracles among the people as signs pointing to the truth of his message.  All of this was done to point people back to the worship of Allah by encouraging people to follow Jesus’s example (43:63).  Jesus has no power on his own, instead, all of his authority comes from Allah.

But not everyone joyfully receives Jesus’s message to become Muslim.  Jesus’s disciples (called white-garment makers) believe Jesus’s proclamation along with a portion of the Children of Israel, but a portion disbelieve.  The ones who do believe Jesus’s message and follow his example were given power to prevail over the unbelievers (61:14).  The Qur’an describes the people who rejected Jesus’s message as planning to kill Jesus, but this is addressed in 3:54 which says “And the disbelievers plotted, and God plotted against them.  And God is the best of plotters.”  This is followed up with an explanation of how God saved Jesus from death, and tradition has since elaborated on Jesus’s ascension.[4]  In the same way that Jesus came to earth miraculously, he also left the earth miraculously with a future return anticipated.

For Muslims, it is very important to assert that Jesus is not a biological son of Allah, because this would involve Allah being married to Mary, which is far from anything Allah would do.  In the words of Islamic scholar, Yusuf Ali: “Such an attribution to God of a material nature, and of the lower animal functions of sex is derogatory to the dignity and glory of God. The belief in God begetting a son is not a question of words or of speculative thought. It is a stupendous blasphemy against God. It lowers God to the level of an animal.”[5]  Allah is transcendent, eternal, and exists outside of time.  Constraining Allah to a human body goes against his very nature and therefore must be rejected as an offensive suggestion.

Another reason why Jesus cannot be God is because the oneness of Allah is a central teaching in Islam.  The Shahada, which comes from two separate phrases in the Qur’an, states “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.”  If a person says this with sincerity, then that person is a Muslim, and if a person says that Jesus is also Allah, then that person does not believe the Shahada.  All of Sura 112 attempts to clarify this concept.

My (Christian) Response:

I think the Muslim assertion about the divinity of Christ is extremely interesting: maintaining that Jesus was miraculously born of a virgin, while still maintaining that Jesus is neither God nor the Son of God on the basis of God being unified.  It is an interesting topic to me because I love when things make logical sense, but the concept of the Trinity has always stretched the limits of my imagination.  I am good at using the correct terms in the right places, in ways that would prevent me from getting excommunicated at the first Nicaean Council, but I have only rarely been able to articulate ideas about the Trinity in ways that I am satisfied with.

Likewise, I completely see why people would reject the divinity of Jesus because of the oneness of God, and the issue is certainly not new.  Christianity arose from the first monotheistic religion, and Jesus had the difficult task of trying to prove His divinity to people who repeated the Shema in the morning and evening.  In Mark 16:44 and John 10:31-39 (among other examples) Jesus is accused of blasphemy because the people he is talking to do not seem very receptive to a Trinitarian doctrine.  Similarly, to the Shema for the Jews, Muslims often say the Shahada to assert God’s oneness.  And even though I have not yet had very many conversations on this topic with Muslims, I think that Jesus’s response to accusations of violating God’s oneness are very instructive.

In the Biblical stories when Jesus is accused of blaspheming God, He is extremely passive in His verbal responses, while being active in continuing His ministry to the people who are trying to kill Him.  He says things like: “If you really know me, you know the Father” (John 14:7) or “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).  And I think this sets up the pattern for Christians that sacrificial service to Muslims is the best way to argue for the unity of Christ and God.  Certainly, the argument could be made that this is a perspective that did not work out very well for Jesus when he was on trial and crucified (or needed to be rescued by God from the Muslim perspective), but this comes back to the hope that comes from the resurrection, which is a topic that I unfortunately do not have time to discuss in detail here.  My faith in the resurrection gives me faith that Jesus’s tactic was the correct one even though it is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and just really hard.

The chapter of the Christian Bible that I find most insightful about the divinity of Christ and the diversity of God is John 1.  According to the first verse of the chapter, “In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God and the Word was God.”  This is extremely provocative to me because it says that something can be God and at the same time different from God in some way.  There are also obvious references to the creation account of Genesis 1, where God speaks the earth into existence.  The Word is established as being Jesus in John 1:14, which actually agrees with one of the names for Jesus that is in the Qur’an: Kalimatu Allah.The name is used in 3:45 when an angel announces the birth of Jesus to Mary.  It is not exactly clear how the ‘word from Allah’ should be interpreted, but I think that if Muslims seem to believe that God’s words have existed eternally through the Qur’an, then they should be consistent if they also consider Jesus a word of God.

Overall, researching for and writing this paper has caused me to come to appreciate with a new freshness how crazy of an idea it is that God would condescend to serve the lowest of humans.  Obviously, this is a major part of Christian faith and doctrine, but since I have been confronted with this information for my entire life, I have found it difficult to always be surprised by it.  But, by re-examining all of the scandalous problems that come up through the person of Jesus and salvation by grace, I feel a little of the surprise that 1 Peter 1:12 says the angels felt as they watched God’s plan of salvation unravel in front of them.  And this feeling of surprise seems to demand worship and obedience in response.

This conclusion has also reaffirmed my belief in the importance of evangelism.  Many Christian denominations are almost Arian in how they strip Jesus of His divinity, while the church I grew up in emphasized the divinity of Christ so much that at some points He seemed more like a poorly developed super-hero than a man.  If interfaith dialog between Christians and Muslims were more common, then I think that a lot of the sloppy use of the Trinity would be avoided as Christians are forced to look at old concepts in new ways.  As studying Islam has pushed me to re-appreciate God’s sacrifice of Himself on my behalf and intimateness with humanity, I also think that evangelism is a useful way for Christians to explore their own theology and practices as they perform a task that Jesus commanded them to do.

[1] Islam: Faith and History by Abyoub, Page 37

[2] My Neighbor’s Faith by John Azumah, Page 101

[3] Islam’s Jesus by Zeki Saritoprak, Page 3

[4] Islam’s Jesus by Zeki Saritoprak, Page 10

[5] Islamochristiana, Vol. 24 (1998)  ‘Jesus Christ and Christianity in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English interpretation of the Qur’an’ by Christian Troll

[6] My Neighbor’s Faith by John Azumah, Page 101

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