Was Jesus a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim? If he was a Jew, how do you reconcile that the “founder” of Christianity was a Jew? Muslims believe he was a “Muslim”, but not in the way “Muslims” are traditionally viewed. As you strain your eyebrows over this claim, let me explain why.
Whereas many Muslim scholars would agree he was a Jew ethnically and he was considered a Jew based on his religious affiliation to the temple and the tradition of his family, he was a Muslim in the broad sense. One of the purpose of interfaith dialogue is to understand each others’ perspective and I am sharing the Islamic perspective on Jesus with the intention and hopes of promoting Christian-Muslim understanding and harmony.
Conventional definition of a Muslim
We have come to understand that a Muslim is someone who does the Shahada (Testimony of faith) by saying (and believing) “there is no god but God and Muhammad is His Prophet”. This testimony also implies that a Muslim believes in ALL Biblical Prophets as Prophets from the same God who essentially brought the same simplified religion- viz a viz believing in One God, the angels, the Scriptures, the Last Day and doing the good work to serve the humanity.
Many hold this myth, including many “Muslims” that Muhammad PBUH was the “founder” of Islam. According to the teachings of the Qur’an, he actually completed Islam.
Qur’an’s view of Muslims and Islam
Contrary to the conventional definition of a Muslim, it is interesting to note that the Qur’an does not address the followers of Muhammad as “Muslims”. Instead the phrase that is frequently used in the Qur’an to address them is, ‘O who have believed’ (Ya Ayyuhal Lazheena Aamanu). This “belief” is in reference to the belief in Muhammad and the Qur’an. This characterization occurs at least 89 times in the Qur’an when giving some kind of a command to them.
Conversely, many messengers before Muhammad’s time are referred to as “Muslims”.
It is worth pointing out that Islam means ‘submission’ (to the will of God). A Muslim is therefore a ‘submitter’ (to the will of God). Thus anyone who submits to God and adheres to some basic guidelines can be considered a Muslim and will get their reward from the Creator.
For, verily, those who believe (meaning “Muslims”), as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabeans, and the Christians—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does righteous deeds—no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve (on the Day of Judgment). 5:69 (and very similar passage in 2:62)
And do not dispute with the People of the Book [a reference to Jews and Christians] except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our Allah and your Allah is One, and to Him do we submit. 29:46
The word used for ‘submit’ above is “Muslaimoon” in the Qur’an.
Most people, including Muslims, have the misconception that Islam was “founded” by Muhammad. However according to the teachings of the Qur’an, all prophets – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, David, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad brought the same basic religion, though the rituals, some laws (‘sharia’) and practices varied.
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
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.” 2:136, And 3:84
Quick facts about the Islamic views on Jesus
Jesus, known as Isa in the Qur’an, is considered a Prophet, a lawgiver, and in fact one of the five most exalted Prophets in Islam. (The other four being Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad-peace be upon them all). Muslims believe that the same God revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad and Torah to Moses. Similarly the Gospel or Injil as it is known in the Qur’an, was revealed to Jesus. Muslims don’t call him by the name Jesus only. As a sign of utmost respect, and in the Islamic tradition, they typically add ‘peace be upon him’ after Isa. (e.g., Isa Alehis Salam)
Both Injil and Gospel mean ‘glad tidings’ or ‘good news’. According to the teachings of the Qur’an, the Injil is considered guidance and Nur (light) to the believers.
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
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 (eventually) 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. God would not let the evil plans of his enemies succeed. He will return to earth before the Day of Judgment, bringing peace and justice to earth. “And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Isa son of Marium, the messenger of Allah; and they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so (like Isa) and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it; they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for sure.Nay! Allah took him up to Himself; and Allah is Mighty, Wise. “4:157-158 Most Muslims believe this ascension was physicals, others believe it was spiritual(but that is a minority view)
- 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 talks from the cradle: The newborn baby Jesus surprises everyone by speaking while still in the cradle and announcing his prophethood: a unique miracle that had never been described before (or since). The Gospels don’t address Jesus speaking from the cradle. Though to the outside world, this was the first time Jesus spoke, but this seemingly is not the first time he did so. This is a passage following the one that describes the pains of childbirth for Mary.
At length she [meaning Mary] brought the (baby) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: O Mary! Truly an amazing thing have you brought! O sister of Aaron! [As a reminder of Mary’s ancestry]: your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother a woman unchaste! But she pointed to the baby. They said: How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He (Jesus) said: I am indeed a servant of Allah: He has given me revelation and made me a Prophet; And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) has made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing (or hard to deal with); So peace [salaam] is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. 19:27–34
The Qur’an then goes on to announce and makes very clear that God does not have a son:
It is not befitting to (the majesty of) God that He Himself should beget a son! He is far above this; for when He decrees a matter He need only say: ‘Be’ and it is. (Jesus declared), Verily God is my Lord and your Lord: therefore serve Him. This is the Right Way. In spite of this, the sects from among them are divided concerning Jesus. 19:35–37
Jesus- The Messiah
Muslims consider Jesus the Messiah. It is based on the teachings of the Qur’an. In fact I have many 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 [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 Qur’an is Ruh Allah, or “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.
Jesus- The Holy Spirit?
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
However this Holy Spirit is not the same as the Holy Ghost. The Qur’anic commentators believe that this refers to Archangel Gabriel, who is believed to be the angel who communicated God’s message to Prophet Muhammad. The following verse is presented to support this claim.
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 Qur’an
- Jesus’s birth without a father. Annunciation accounts in the Qur’an 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 is something not found 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.
The Disciples were “Muslims” too
Unlike the Gospels, the Qur’an does not name the disciples or indicate their numbers but refers to them as believers and 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
I hope that by sharing the Islamic views on Jesus, there will be better understanding among Christians and Muslims, though it is clear there are divergent viewpoints, some very significant. It is also my hope that rather than getting stuck in our differences, we will cherish our love for Jesus- the messiah.