Can a Muslim Follow Jesus?

There was quite a bit of discussion a while back about whether the Muslim God and the Christian God are the “same God.” I had said a little about the topic in some posts written at that time. But now I want to explore some related questions in more detail, in response to a blog reader who contacted me (longer ago than I care to admit!) to ask me what I thought about certain matters. Here is the relevant part of what he wrote:

A primer for the discussion:
I am not interested in Muslims becoming “Christians”. I see contemporary Christianity as a form of following Jesus that maintains, more or less, certain conclusions and doctrinal positions that were made in specific historical contexts, labeled “orthodox” and passed down through tradition. Christianity, however, is not the only way one can decide to follow Jesus and one need not submit themselves to Christian orthodoxy to be a Jesus follower.

So, an initial question would be:
Can a Muslim who has decided to follow Jesus stay faithful to the Biblical text about Jesus and still remain monotheistic in an Islamic sense (eg there is only one God and he has no partners)?

What would you see as some of the implications of this?

There is a short answer, “yes,” that can be given, adding “obviously.” Of course Muslims can follow Jesus – they do follow Jesus, in fact. The Muslim depiction of Jesus in the Qur’an, to be more precise.

And there is a short answer, “no,” that can likewise be given. Muslims cannot follow the Jesus that the Qur’an accuses Christians of wrongly worshiping, making him and his mother into gods alongside the only true God. By extension, the Jesus of the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds might likewise be a Jesus that Muslims cannot follow. Indeed, whether anyone can meaningfully follow a figure who is depicted as being unique and thus in so many ways unlike any other human being is a question worth asking in its own right in some other context.

But for our present purposes, it is hopefully clear that crucial questions such as “Which Jesus?” or “Who is Jesus?” as well as about what it means to follow need to be asked if one wants to give a meaningful answer of one’s own to this question, and/or to understand why different people answer the question in such very different ways.

But we also need to recognize that, if we bring the historical Jesus into the picture, the question may change, since neither Muslims nor adherents to classic Christian orthodoxy today tend to be aiming to follow the historical figure of Jesus. Perhaps in light of this, the question might be modified to “Who more closely follows the historical Jesus’ teaching and example?” – or perhaps better still, “Whose idea of Jesus more closely resembles the historical figure?” How would you answer that last question? It seems to me that at this point too, there isn’t a single unambiguous answer to be given. The Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds have a more direct connection to the historical Jesus by way of the earliest Christian sources. The Qur’an includes extracanonical Christian traditions as well as material that appears to be crafted in an early Islamic context. But if the question is altered yet again, to be about whose adherent to monotheism is closer to the historical figure of Jesus, then the answer may be different – whether one says that it is one, or the other, or perhaps neither, since both have developed the idea of God significantly beyond what Jesus and his earliest followers assumed, even if they have done so in different directions. (See my book The Only True God on this matter, especially the conclusion.)

Ever since the question was posed to me (OK, I’ll confess, it was more than two years ago), I’ve had a draft post saved, in which I’ve continually added links to articles and blog posts elsewhere that relate to this topic. You will find them below – hope you find them interesting!

One of the major things that led to delays in posting was the sheer volume of commentary generated by the Wheaton professor who donned a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, and then controversy about Wycliffe Bible Translators and the rendering of the phrase “son of God” which is a major sticking point for Muslims. See Libby Anne’s post on how matters like these came up even in a debate in the U. S. Senate!

Ian Paul asked, in relation to the parable of the sheep and the goats, asked whether someone can be a “Muslim follower of Jesus” rather than a Christian.

Ejaz Naqvi  blogged about Muslim reverence for Jesus. Jennifer Williams  wrote about the fact that “Muslims love Jesus too.” Philip Jenkins  wrote about the Bektashi Muslims in Albania and points of similarity between them and Christians. Randall Rauser had a conversation about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Roger Olson also blogged about that question. Jon Rowe blogged about what certain of America’s Founding Fathers thought on the topic.

A collection of quotes from No God But One was shared. That’s Nabeel Qureshi’s book, which led some Evangelicals to make their usual claim in response that Jesus did in fact claim to be God – a claim that has no basis in the historical evidence.

Does a Muslim need to become a Christian in order to follow Jesus?

God and Allah

podcast 185 – How to tell whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God – Part 1

No God But God*

Allah, God and Wheaton College: Some Observations from Beirut

Craig Considine argued that a Christian can view Muhammad as a prophet.

Breitbart highlighted a pastor who suggested that some Muslims might be more Christian than some Christians.

Our Father Abraham: The Quran on Jews and Christians

 

Pete Enns points out that not all Christians believe in the same God.

Ian Mevorach tried to make the case that Jesus in the Gospel of John predicted Muhammad’s coming.

Business Insider shared a video with text about how Muslims view Jesus.

Last but not least, the meme below circulated (I think the first quotation marks are an example of their misuse, and the intention was to emphasize the words – what do you think?):

God is Allah

 

"Nope. The teachings of the most powerful parts of the church, perhaps."

Can a Muslim Follow Jesus?
"/cough/millenia/cough/"

Can a Muslim Follow Jesus?
"Hi Clayton! Why do you insist on using the awful word 'Jehovah'? It's what happens ..."

Can a Muslim Follow Jesus?
"What do I think? I think I've been mishearing lyrics since the 80s. /facepalm"

Biblical Allusions in “We Are The ..."

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  • SongBookz

    Muslims can follow Jesus (Isa, Ieosous, Yeshua, etc.) as they understand him and, since historical Jesus has been obscured by two centuries of tradition, that’s all any of us can do.

    • myklc

      /cough/millenia/cough/

  • Chuck Johnson

    Even people who have never heard of Jesus can be followers of Jesus.
    The teachings of Jesus are embedded in Western civilization.

    • myklc

      Nope. The teachings of the most powerful parts of the church, perhaps.

  • Benjamin

    One thing I’m surprised hasn’t been raised in the “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” discussion is the Jewish precedent. Let’s start by answering the question, “Do Christians and Jews worship the same God?” and work forward from there. Fundamentally, I think (as Christians), we are trying to ask, “Is a God who is not described in Trinitarian terms still a God Christians can recognise?” As someone from a Biblical Unitarian background, I say “Yes.”

  • When we see God as one, it has a beneficial influence upon our minds, our bodies and all of creation because we are moved to great clarity and good actions. Becoming clear-seeing souls we refuse to tolerate and be manipulated by the thought of an evil Satan holding back our Christian mind from the abundance and inclusiveness of divinity. As we grow closer to Jesus we awaken intuitively to know that God is one and that we are all united in His pure consciousness and we stop worrying because everything is under control. Christians who are compelled to control others and make them Christian, think they are in control when all they have to do is close their eyes, feel the love and peace and let go.

  • Brandon Roberts

    sure

  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    The ‘Jesus’ the Musims happen to ‘follow’ is nothing short of a false Jesus. That being the case they are not following the truth and thus aren’t following God. And as Scripture says, God is looking for those who worship in spirit and truth.

    The Muslims clearly deny the truth that Jesus died and was resurrected by his Father on the 3rd day. You think that is a small difference? You think the Muslims and Christians are following the same Jesus?

    The name Jesus means ‘Jehovah Is Salvation’. Who of you have ever heard the Muslims use a personal name for the ‘god’ they claim to worship? Have you ever heard them say that their God’s name is ‘Jehovah/Yahweh’? And yet the Scriptures have Jehovah’s personal name all over them.

    These are just a few things of significance to consider. The Muslims deny and don’t practice. Yet you say they arepossibly following the actual truth? Really?

    No, they don’t. The Muslims would do well to turn to the Christ from the Israelites that Jehovah God used to carry out the salvation plan we know as Jesus (or; Jehovah Is Salvation).

    The Muslim religion in all its forms is nothing short of lies and deception. What does God or Jeus have to do with lies?

    • The New Testament doesn’t use the divine name Yahweh (Jehovah is a misrepresentation of the name in English). By that time, it had already become the Jewish custom to avoid pronouncing the divine name out of reverence, and this seems to have been a practice that Jesus and his earliest followers adhered to, as do most modern English Bible translations. Are you really going to begrudge Muslims for this and yet not Christians and Jews? And are you really going to claim that the Muslim religion is pure lies and deceptions even though its historic stance is precisely that there is only one God, the God revealed in the Jewish and Christian scriptures?!

      • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

        Hello to you James and thank you for replying

        Should it really be a point to quibble over the use of the English pronunciation of God’s name as Jehovah? Do you think the meaning of the name has chang3ed? Do you not know that it is the meaning of God’s personal name that is what is vital?

        You say God’s name wasn’t used in the NT? Sure it was. Again I will ask: what is the meaning of Jesus’ name? How even is Jesus’ name said in Hebrew? Does Jesus’ name not mean ‘Jehovah Is Salvation’? So in truth, every time you and I and others use Jesus’ name we are using Jehovah’s personal name either wittingly or unwittingly. I will even go so far as to remind you that it was Jehovah who had the baptist John given his name. What does the name ‘John’ mean? Does it notalso have Jehovah ‘personal name in it as well?

        James, are we to think that just because the Jews took it upon themselves to remove God’s name from the Scripture that means Jehovah was alright with it? Do you think Jehovah thinks it an act of ‘reverence’ for them to remove His name after it was Him who had it put there in the first place? Why did Jehovah not use another word instead of His name if He didn’t want it used by them?

        What do you think Jesus meant when he said ‘I have made your name known’?

        (John 17:26) I have made your name known to them and will make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.”

        (John 17:11) “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them on account of your own name, which you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. -[RNWT
        ***

        Also, what are we to make of this passage before the Jews took it upon themselves to dishonor God? Do the Muslims agree with every single part of this verse? Who is correct in what is said, the Muslims or the Israelites? Who has any actual real reason to lie, the Israelites back then or the Muslims of the past as well as today?

        Exodus 3:15 And
        God said moreover to Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of
        Israel: Jehovah*(*God’s personal name*)*, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of
        Isaac*(*not Ishmael*)*, and the God of Jacob*(*also Israel*)*, hath sent me unto you. This is MY NAME FOREVER, and this is MY*(*Jehovah’s*)* MEMORIAL unto all generations. -[Darby
        ***

        I think anyone taking it upon themselves to keep on teaching a lie is in a bad place with God. And taking God’s name out of the text and keeping it out on purpose is a serious problem. And I don’t simply mean using the name ‘Jehovah’= ‘Yahweh’, I mean understanding what that means and why this name was the one Jehovah put in the commandments to not be taken in vain/used in a worthless way.

        Don’t you find it ironic that the world is full of false ‘gods’ with personal names that are used while the actual true God gives us his personal name and ppl take it away and use something else? Personal, I think that has ‘Satan’ written all over it. That includes the Jews and ‘Christians’*(*mainly trinitarians*)* that refuse to use the name God gave us to use and know.

        Isaiah 42:8 I am Jehovah, that is my name;….-[Darby

        Exodus 20:7 Thou shalt not idly utter the name of Jehovah thy God; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that idly uttereth his name. -[Darby

        • I think you are missing several points in your reply. First, you quote the Gospel of John, but fail to note that while it talks about the name, it also does not use the name itself in the text. Second, so many Hebrew names include -iah or Yeh- as an element. If that is all you are saying, that it was still embedded in names, then that is obviously true, but not of obvious significance, and so perhaps you can clarify. Is your complaint that Arabic speakers do not typically give to their children Hebrew names?

          • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

            I’m missing no point gentlemen. Unfortunately you seem to be the one missing the point. I will tell you again, Jesus name has the personal name of Jehovah God in it. Do you think many of the ppl didn’t know this about Jesus and John?Along with other names used in the community of Jews? And you want to convince me that Jesus didn’t use his Fahter’s name when quoting the Scripture that God gave that contained His personal name as I showed you in a few passages above?

            How do those Muslims translate those names? Do they use God’s personal name in the Hebrew version of them? Of do they tend to replace it with the Arabic equivalent of ‘LORD’ like many in the ‘Christian and Jewish’ faiths do?

            Do the Muslims have God’s personal name in the Scriptures they use? If they don’t they have that in common with the Jws who reject God’s name, right?

          • Again, this seems inappropriate as a criticism limited to Islam. The P source in the Pentateuch also prefers “God” to the divine name. And criticizing people outside of regions where Hebrew was historically spoken for not having Hebrew names seems quite frankly bizarre.

          • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

            Nice try James. But you aren’t putting that squarely on me dude. Was I the one who brought up the Arabic names? You did. All I asked was how do they go about translating those same names in Arabic that are the same in Meaning in Hebrew that have Jehovah’s name. As I said, many of the so calle d Christians and Jews tend to take God’s personal name out of it and replace it with ‘LORD’ or another title not placed there by God Himself. All I pointed out along with that is that the Muslims deny that God has a personal name. All they refer to God as is ‘Allah’/God. Right? Where in the Scripture that were originally written down is God’s personal name not used as God intended?

            Why do you keep speaking as though it is fine in God’s eyes to talk from the position of what the Israelites did to Scripture with removing God’s name is alright with God and that it is fine for ppl today to continue in that stupidity committed by them?

            Do you personally reduce the use of God’s personal name along with its meaning to some small thing?

            After that point, those Muslims are not followers of the true Jesus. To follow their teachings of the NT is to follow lies of things. That is the truth.

          • This is so bizarre! You are the one who insisted that the mere presence of names with a Yahwistic theophoric element in them indicated an ongoing practice of uttering the divine name!

          • SongBookz

            Actually Muslims say God has 99 names.

            And do you not also “reduce” God’s name when you use the fake name “Jehovah?”

          • myklc

            Hi Clayton! Why do you insist on using the awful word ‘Jehovah’? It’s what happens when old translators didn’t understand that the vowel marks above the tetragrammaton were to indicate the use of the word Adonai instead of trying to pronounce something not meant to be uttered.
            You spend a lot of time talking about how people have misused things and don’t understand things. Do you believe Christ to be the Almighty God, creator of everything that has been created?

  • soter phile

    “…since both have developed the idea of God significantly beyond what Jesus and his earliest followers assumed…”

    Funny how in order to reconcile these two faiths you have to dismiss what both are claiming.
    How is that not a basic failure to listen? Or at least to grant them the integrity of their beliefs?

    Never mind the astounding claim that *you* have greater access to Jesus than they do.
    In order to unite two contradictory faiths, you would have them join a third one: McGrath-ism.

    • You seem to completely misunderstand absolutely everything I have written, which makes me wonder whether it is a matter of malicious misrepresentation rather than misunderstanding.

      • soter phile

        You encourage Christians to cherry-pick the Bible – because you do. And you mock any who intend or claim to do otherwise.
        You believe biblical conservatives are one of (if not THE) primary problem(s) with Christianity.
        You are a self-described panentheist – a rather poignant bias one might want to admit for any comparative discussion of Islam & Christianity.

        Are any of those malicious misrepresentations? How about misunderstandings?

        • I certainly do not cherry-pick the Bible. It is all the creation of humans, and I am in conversation with all of it. That I am honest about my disagreement with some of what its authors have to say is not a criticism, and I am sorry if pointing out that conservatives who claim to adhere to it consistently are engaging in false advertising.

          The fact that I find panentheist language about God helpful, and that this is a point of similarity with the Sufi mystical tradition in Islam, are things that I have spoken about before on this blog. How does blogging about something regularly over the course of years represent a failure to admit my own biases?

          I really cannot fathom what you were trying to convey through your comment. Can you perhaps help me to understand what you meant, and why you avoided talking about the assertions in your own previous comment?

          • soter phile

            So you’re saying you didn’t write this article on this same blog last year?
            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2017/06/cherry-picking-bible-lessons-learned-actually-picking-cherries.html
            “Lessons learned from cherry-picking” (vs) “I certainly do you not cherry-pick the Bible…”
            I’ll come back to this.

            You assume the historical Jesus is someone other than the Jesus found in the oldest & most well-attested manuscripts… and criticize ‘classically orthodox Christianity’ as a result. But 3 rounds of the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus” have made it clear the only historical access we have to Jesus of Nazareth is through these earliest accounts. So what other “Jesus” are you pitting against the one found there?

            You claimed I am maliciously misrepresenting you. I gave you 3 examples of things you have said repeatedly in your blogs. And note well: immediately you want to qualify & nuance your position… but I don’t recall you granting the same privilege to those with whom you disagree. On the contrary, your articles repeatedly assume the least of those with whom you disagree. An example in this article: they have “developed God beyond what Jesus and his earliest followers assumed…”

            a) note how limited your view of Jesus is here (presupposing he wasn’t God in the flesh, much less that he taught the upper room discourse, etc.)

            b) note how shallowly you’ve dismissed ALL biblical conservatives… and Muslims, for that matter… who would certainly disagree with your characterization of their position (“developed God beyond…”)

            c) and finally note how you want to grant yourself ‘nuance’ but not those with whom you disagree.
            case in point: your self-defense above about cherry-picking Scriptures.
            “It is all the creation of humans… I am in conversation with it…”
            I think you know full well how biblical conservatives would respond to this. Never mind the logical fallacy that you want to settle the debate here by assuming the very thing under debate is already settled (i.e., begging the question).

            So I might ask: who is misrepresenting whom?

          • It doesn’t look like you have understood anything I’ve written thus far. If it isn’t deliberate misrepresentation, I’m not sure that makes it any better.

          • soter phile

            You have invoked the Chewbacca defense.