Was Jesus a Jew or a Christian? If he was a Jew, how do you reconcile that the “founder” of Christianity was not a Christian himself? Why do 1.6 billion Muslims around the globe think Jesus and his disciples were actually Muslims- but not in the way Muslims are traditionally viewed.
Jesus and Mary have a very high status in Islam and in the Quran. I will write a separate post on Mary, and my focus here is on the Islamic/Quranic views on Jesus.
Jesus, known as Isa in the Quran, is considered a Prophet, a lawgiver, and in fact one of the 5 most exalted Prophets in Islam. (The other four being Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad-peace be upon them all). Like the Quran was revealed to Muhammad and Torah to Moses, Gospel or Injil as it is known in the Quran, was revealed to Jesus.
When mentioning him, Muslims don’t call him just Jesus, and as a sign of utmost respect and in the Islamic tradition, typically add ‘peace be upon him’ after saying Isa. (Isa Ulehis Salam)
Both Injil and Gospel mean ‘glad tidings’ or ‘good news’. According to the teachings of the Quran, the Gospel was revealed to Jesus and is considered guidance and light to the believers. In a verse that follows verses outlining many previous prophets, the Qur’an confirms the divine origin of the Gospel.
And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed—then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient. 5:46-47
It is also important to point out that Muslims believe that the Gospels as we read today are not the same exact literal word of God revealed to Jesus, a belief shared by many other Christian and secular scholars such as Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at University of N. Carolina, Chapel Hill. Though considered altered from the original, it does not mean that the Gospels as we see them now should not be respected as holy scriptures. The subject of alteration is complex and too detailed to be covered here. I just wanted to mention it for the sake of covering both sides of the equation.
Believing in all prophets and the revelations are incumbent upon the Muslims. The following passage refers to Islam as the religion of Abraham- the father of the monotheistic religions of the world.
And they say: ‘Be Jews or Christians, you will be on the right course.’ Say: ‘No (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the upright (true), and he was not one of the polytheists.’ Say: ‘We believe in God and (in) that which had been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit.’ 2:135–136
Key Islamic beliefs about Jesus
- He was born of a miraculous birth, without a father. The Qur’an gives a parallel with Adam’s birth.
- He was a Prophet and a messenger of God. He was the word of God, the spirit of God, and the Messiah. All people in this world will honor him, and he will be honored in the hereafter.
- However, he was neither divine nor the Son of God.
- He did not die on the cross, but rather God made him ascend to the heavens to protect his honor. He will return to earth before the Day of Judgment, bringing peace and justice to earth.
- Jesus preached the unity of God.
- He performed many miracles, as noted below, all of them by the will of God, and thus the ultimate power and supremacy lies with God
Jesus- The Messiah
Muslims consider Jesus as the Messiah. It is based on the teachings of the Quran. It is not an uncommon Muslim name. In fact I have Muslim friends named Isa and Masih (meaning Messiah).
Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ [masiyah, messiah] Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah; He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous.’ 3:45–46
Jesus-The Spirit of God
One of his nicknames in the Quran is Ruh Allah, meaning “the Spirit of God”. The spirit of God however does not denote the same meaning as the father, son and the Holy Spirit components in the doctrine of trinity. Jesus Christ was endowed with many unique miracles, reflecting some of God’s attributes, the likes of which are not seen before, or after him. God bestowed these miracles upon him as a sign to prove his prophecy.
The Quran confirms that God strengthened Jesus with the Holy Spirit.
Those messengers We endowed with gifts, some above others: To one of them Allah spoke [referring to Moses]; others He raised to degrees (of honor); To Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. 2:253
Once again, this Holy Spirit is not the same as the Holy Ghost in the Christian understanding. The Ruh ul Quds (The Holy Spirit) has been mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an. The Quranic commentators believe that this refers to Archangel Gabriel as supported by the following verse.
Say [addressing Muhammad]: The Holy Spirit has revealed it [meaning the Qur’an] from your Lord with the truth, that it may establish those who believe and as a guidance and good news for those who submit. 16:102
Miracles of Jesus mentioned in the Quran
The Quran in various places mentioned the many miracles of Jesus, similar to the ones mentioned in the Gospels. The Qur’an also affirms that he performed these miracles with the will and permission of God.
- Jesus’s birth without a father was a miracle. Annunciation accounts in the Quran and the Gospel of Luke are strikingly similar.
- Jesus speaks as a newborn from his cradle to defend the honor of his mother, Mary, and to proclaim his prophethood. This has not been mentioned in any of the Gospels.
- He breathes life into clay and makes it into a bird.
- He cures the lepers.
- He cures the blind.
- He brings the dead back to life.
Jesus was a Jew ethnically but in the global sense was a Muslim. This belief is based on the fact that the Quran considers Biblical prophets as prophets of the same God who essentially brought the same simplified religion- viz a viz believing in One God and doing the good work to serve the humanity, though ritualistically there is wide divergence. Many would correctly argue that there are theological differences as well in the way God is viewed by many religions. This Muslim belief will be further clarified by the following discussion.
Most people, including Muslims, have the misconception that Islam was “founded” by Muhammad. However according to the teachings of the Qur’an, all prophets from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, Jesus and Muhammad brought the same basic religion, though the rituals and practices vary.
The same religion has He established for you [Muhammad] as that which He enjoined on Noah—that which We have sent by inspiration to you—and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that you should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein… 42:13
The Disciples were Muslims too
Unlike the Gospels, the Qur’an does not name the disciples or indicate their number but refers to them as believers and true followers of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus found unbelief on their part He said: ‘Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?’ Said the disciples: ‘We are Allah’s helpers: We believe in Allah, and you bear witness that we are Muslims [Submitters].’ 3:52
Like so many other instances, the Qur’an uses the word Muslims in a more broad sense here than what is typically understood. It is worth reminding everyone that the word Islam means submission and Muslim means submitter (to the will of God). The same word (Muslim or its derivatives) has been used in the Quran for many other noble Biblical characters such as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph.
During Christian-Muslim dialogue, it is important to point out that: (from The Three Abrahamic Testaments)
- The differing views on trinity doctrine notwithstanding, there is no other religion, besides Christianity, where Jesus is held in such high esteem. The same goes with his mother, Mary, known as Maryam in the Qur’an. The commonalities should be highlighted to help bring the two communities closer together.
- The subject of trinity should be brought up with extreme caution. The Muslims should realize that despite the Qur’an’s clear opposition to the doctrine, this is a subject near and dear to many (Trinitarian) Christians, along with the subject of salvation and crucifixion. The subject should be discussed only when the groups have established a good relationship with each other, making a scholarly debate as a means of “getting to know each other,” rather than pointing out “who is right and who is wrong.” It is important to remember that both the Qur’an and the Bible have mentioned in various places that only God will decide in which we differ, since he is the ultimate Judge. This principle is applicable in any situation when approaching issues of divergent views.
For more detail on this subject, please refer to chapters 11 and 13 of my latest book, The Three Abrahamic Testaments– How the Torah, Gospels, and Qur’an Hold the Keys for Healing Our Fears.