Why would Muslims revere Jesus?

JOSEPH IN MARYLAND ASKS:

Why do most Muslims view Jesus as a prophet of Islam when he is the cornerstone for an opposing religion (Christianity)?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

In Islam, high reverence for Jesus as a great prophet is required by God in the holy Quran revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, therefore not only for “most Muslims” but for all. Further, the Quran assesses other world religions by stating that Christians are “the closest in affection” to Muslims (Quran 5:82).  Admittedly, such scriptures seem puzzling when certain Muslims terrorists claim religious inspiration for killing Christians, even at worship — but that’s beyond The Guy’s ability to explain.

This important matter of how Islam views Jesus (known as Isa in the Arabic) deserves more attention. Jesus’ role in the End Times is developed especially in authoritative Hadith traditions, and Jesus figures in 303 other Muslim stories and sayings collected by Cambridge Professor Tarif Khalidi in The Muslim Jesus (Harvard, 2001). The following treats only the Quran.

Jesus is repeatedly upheld as a “prophet” or “messenger” presenting God’s truth (e.g. in 2:87) and typically regarded as among the six greatest in the line that culminates with Muhammad. As with Muhammad, the honorific “peace be upon him” is commonly recited after Jesus’ name is spoken. Many Muslims believe the prophets were without intentional sin, Jesus included, whereas the New Testament indicates Jesus’ sinlessness was unique (Hebrews 4:15).

For Muslims as for Christians, Jesus is “the Messiah” (Arabic al-masih), the same as the “Christ” term familiar from New Testament Greek (Quran 4:171-2).

Jesus was a notable worker of miracles who healed diseases and brought the dead back to life (3:49, 5:110). If anything, Jesus’ miracles are more remarkable in the Quran than the New Testament. For instance, 3:49 and 5:110 report that he breathed into a clay bird that turned into a real bird. He also had the power to speak oracles as a mere infant (especially 19:29-33, also 3:46 and 5:110).

He is described as God’s “word,” an intriguing parallel with the opening of John’s Gospel though with different meaning, as well as “a spirit” from God (4:171).

The Quran accounts of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus have similarities with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, especially the angel’s annunciation to Mary and belief in Jesus’ virginal conception or virgin birth (29:2-34 and elsewhere). Mary is the most important woman in the Quran and sura (chapter) 19 is named for her.

The Quran depicts Jesus’ ascension into heaven in a key passage (4:156-159) that denies the crucifixion occurred: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them.” (The Ahmadiyya sect, deemed heretical by Sunni Islam, believes Jesus migrated to Kashmir and is entombed there.)

The key disagreements are Islam’s rejection of Jesus as humanity’s redeemer and savior from sin, and of Christianity’s belief that he is both human and the divine Son of God, which for Muslims is shirk, the grave error of associating anyone or anything with the one true God.

W. Montgomery Watt (1909-2006) of the University of Edinburgh was a major western interpreter of Islam who sought irenic explanation of differences.  The Quran states that “those people who say that God is the third of three are defying: There is only One God” (5:73). Watt said this targets belief in three gods (tritheism), which Christianity likewise rejects in favor of monotheism. Watt also thought the Quran’s rejection of Jesus as the divine Son of God “is strictly speaking a rejection of fatherhood and sonship in a physical sense,” which Christianity does not teach either.

The above material follows the 2004 Oxford University Press Quran translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem.

The Cooperative Office for Dawah (Muslim evangelism) posts 52 articles about Jesus at:

www.islamreligion.com/category/69/

Islam’s view of Jesus is examined by Cru, a Christian campus ministry, at:

www.everystudent.com/wires/jesusislam.html

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About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.


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