The Christian world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus in the festival of Easter. For almost all Christians, Jesus is the Son of God who died to save mankind. Islam does not subscribe to this belief and views Jesus, also known as Isa, as a Prophet and the Messiah of the Israelites. So who was this Muslim Jesus?
The Bible and the Quran both agree that Jesus was born by miraculous birth to the Virgin Mary. There is a chapter in the Quran named Mary and she is mentioned 34 times in the Quran, which is much more than the entire New Testament. She is honored greatly in Islam and is celebrated as a role model for Muslim women worldwide. For Muslims, Jesus was the seal of the Hebrew Prophets and a man of perfect purity. Unlike all other human beings, except his mother Mary, he was not touched by Satan at his birth. In the Quran, when Satan attempted to approach the child, he was only able to touch the covering caul. The Quran has great regard for Jesus where he is mentioned 25 times in contrast to the Prophet Muhammad who is only mentioned four times.
There are many miracles attributed to the Quranic Jesus. One of these was his ability to speak from the cradle. His mother Mary was mocked for giving birth to a child out of wedlock. To protect his mother from the taunts of society, Jesus spoke and said; "Lo, I am God's servant [and] a Prophet. [...] Peace be upon me, the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised up alive!" (Quran 19:30-34) In addition, other well-known miracles recorded in both the Quran (with God's permission) and the Bible include healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and bringing the dead to life.
The Quran makes clear that Jesus was sent to earth to preach a new gospel (Injil in Arabic), which reaffirmed the message of 'One True God', given to the earlier prophets. However, his teachings had become distorted over time. In the Quran, Jesus foretells the coming of a messenger after him named Ahmad, which is another name for Mohammad. Many Islamic scholars since the 8th century have argued that this is also evident in the Bible, originally written in Koine Greek. The Greek word paraklytos or paraclete refers to the Holy Spirit in Christianity and is sometimes translated as Comforter. The word paraklytos is translated into Arabic as ahmad which means praiseworthy and commendable. The words of the Apostle John, "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever" (14:16) are taken by many Muslim scholars to predict the coming of Muhammad, the new Comforter, who will renew some of the lost teachings of the earlier Abrahamic Holy Scriptures.
In the Bible, Jesus never calls himself the Son of God, as was confirmed to me by Professor Chris Queen of Harvard in a lecture which I attended. He refers to himself as The Son of Man, words which are found 81 times in the Greek canonical Gospels. In the Quran, Jesus is similarly humble, for example, when he calls himself the servant of God. This humility is unmistakable in the words of Jesus, "Never could [I] say what I had no right [to say]" (Quran: 5:116). In both religions, the Second Coming of Jesus is associated with the Day of Judgement and the end times.
Traditional Christian belief is that Jesus had died on the cross. Among early Christian sects were the followers of the Docetic view, whereby the crucified Jesus was an image, a phantom or perhaps even a replacement. Their justification came from the Acts of John 97-102, "And my lord stood in the middle of the cave [and] said, 'John for the people below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds and given vinegar and gall to drink. But to you I am speaking [...] nor am I the man who is on the cross" (New Testament Apocrypha).
Similarly, in the Quran, Jesus was not crucified but instead "they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them" (Quran 4:157). Allah had raised Jesus to himself saving his Prophet the suffering of a terrible death. Professor Lawson argues that "such belief frankly serves to diminish Islam in the eyes of Christianity and so-called 'Westerners' whose cultural identity is bound up, whether they are believers or not, with the axiomatic and unquestionable 'myth' of the death and resurrection of Jesus".
The Islamic mystics have a deep love for Jesus and his ascetic lifestyle. In his book, "The Revival of the Religious Sciences," the Sufi mystic and brilliant philosopher, Al Ghazali, quotes Jesus as saying, "You shall not attain what you desire except by suffering what you do not desire." Furthermore, on a gate to the city of Fatehpur-Sikri, the Muslim Mughal Emperor Akbar inscribed the words of the Muslim Jesus, "This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but build not your dwelling there."
Islam is a deeply monotheistic religion and thus forbids any partners or associations with God. Although all prophets including Jesus were mortal and gifted in their own way, they could not be part of the divine. The life of Jesus has always been an inspiration although many of its aspects remain obscure factually; yet we cannot doubt the significance of this remarkable man even 2000 years after his death. Whilst recognising the validity of Professor Lawson's argument, I sincerely believe the shared love Muslims and Christians feel for Jesus can be the basis for mutual understanding and inter-faith dialogue. The three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are undoubtedly linked. However, even though the Judaic tradition rejects Jesus, Islam has always accepted him. Given that belief in Jesus is central to the Muslim faith, why does the West persist in remaining so hostile to Islam?
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