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Jesus & His Ministry

Jesus and His Ministry

How Muslims View the Messiah and his Mission

Muslims believe in Jesus not only as a great prophet of God, but also in his conception without a human father, by a Word of God which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him. We believe in his many miracles, which he did by the leave of God; in his ascension to heaven and in his Second Coming to usher in a New Era of Peace and Justice.

Jesus in the Qur’an

Jesus is referred to by name in the Qur’an as much as 25 times, as Isa Ibn Maryam (Jesus son of Mary) while Prophet Muhammad is mentioned as such only five times. To start the story with Jesus does not do justice to the importance of this great prophet. So let’s start with the story of his mother Mary. Although Christians today go to the extent of calling Mary Madre De Dios or ‘Mother of God’, in the gospels she seems not to have an important place. In John’s gospel she is not even referred to by name and is simply called ‘The Mother of Jesus’ (John 2:3). Worse still she is given little importance. We are told at a wedding at Cana to which Jesus and his disciples were invited, the mother of Jesus said to him when the wine ran short: “They have no wine” to which Jesus responded “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” (John 2:1-4).

In contrast, Mary occupies a very special place in Islamic scripture. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an and appears as such 34 times. There is even an entire chapter of the Qur’an named after her, Surah Maryam or The Chapter of Mary. She is regarded as the pinnacle of womanhood, for we read of the angels addressing her: “O Mary, indeed God has chosen you and purified you – chosen you above the women of all nations” (Family Imraan:42). Prophet Muhammad also clearly declared: “The best of the world’s women is Mary” (Fathul Bari).

There are many chapters in the Qur’an besides the Chapter of Mary that speak of Christ, his mother and his disciples and followers. Surah Ali Imran or ‘Chapter of the Family of Imran’ takes its name from Anne, Mary’s mother being a ‘woman of Imran’, in a double sense, as she was both the wife of one Imran as well as a descendant of the priestly house of Imran. Surah Al Maidah or ‘Chapter of the Repast’ takes its name from an incident connected with the mission of Christ when his disciples inquired of him whether his Lord could send down a table set (with viands) from heaven. Surah Al Kahf ‘The Chapter of the Cave’ takes its name from the Ashaabul Kahf ‘The Companions of the Cave’, God-fearing Christian youth of Ephesus who went into a cave during the persecutions of a Roman emperor like Nero, only to emerge over three hundred years later when Christianity had become the state religion.

Indeed, Mary’s story in the Qur’an begins even before she was born:

The birth of Mary:

Behold! A woman of Imraan (Anne, who was a descendant of the priestly house of Imraan and also the wife of one Imraan) said: “O my Lord! I dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service; so accept this of me, for Thou hearest and knowest all things”.

When she was delivered she said: “O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!”. – And God knew best what she brought forth – “And no wise is the male like the female.I have named her Mary and I commend her and her offspring to Thy Protection from the Evil One, the Rejected”

(Family Imraan: 33-36)

The childhood of Mary:

Right graciously did her Lord accept her. He made her grow in purity and beauty. To the care of Zachariah was she assigned. Every time he entered her chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence comes this to you?”. She said: “From God, for God provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure”

(Family Imraan: 37)

Mary the Blessed:

Behold! The angels said: “O Mary ! God has chosen you and purified you – chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary! Worship your Lord devoutedly. Prostrate yourself and bow down with those who bow down”. This is a part of the news of the unseen, which We reveal to you (O Muhammad). You were not with them when they cast lots with their  pens to (decide) which of them should take care of Mary

(Family Imraan:42-44)

Mary the Devout:

And God gives as an example for those who believe, the wife of pharaoh, when she said: “My Lord, build for me a home near you in paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds, and save me from the wrongdoing people”. And (the example of) Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so we blew (the spirit of Jesus) into her through Our  angel (Gabriel). And she believed in the words of her Lord, and His scriptures,and she was of the devout ones

(The Prohibition:11-12)

Good News of Jesus’s birth:

Behold! The angels said: “O Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Christ Jesus. The Son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the hereafter and of those nearest to God. He shall speak to the people in childhood and maturity. And he shall be of the righteous”. She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?”. He said: “Even so. God creates what He wills; when He has decreed a plan, He but says to it ‘Be’ and it is! And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and (appoint him) a Messenger to the Children of Israel (with this Message): “I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s Leave. And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I give life to the dead, by God’s leave; and I declare to you what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe’ (I have come to you) to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God and obey me. It is God who is my Lord and your Lord”   (Family Imraan 45-51)

Immaculate conception of Jesus:

Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: “I seek refuge from you to the Most Gracious; (come not near) if you fear God. He said: “Nay, I am only a Messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son”. She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste”. He said: “So (it will be). Thy Lord says: ‘That is easy for Me, and (We Wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from us’. It is a matter decreed”. So she conceived him and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She cried: “Ah, would that I had died before this! Would that I have passed into oblivion!”. But a voice cried to her “Grieve not! For your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm tree; it will let fall fresh dates upon you. So eat and drink and cool you eye. And if you see any man say: ‘I have vowed a fast to the Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into talk with no man’ At length, she brought the babe to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: “O Mary! Truly an amazing thing have you brought. O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother an unchaste woman!”. But she pointed to the babe, They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?”. He (the babe) said: “I am indeed a Servant of God. 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 miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day I shall be raised up to life!”(Mary:16-33)

The Mission of Jesus:

Christ Jesus the Son of Mary was a Messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him

(The Women:171)

We sent Jesus the Son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel. Therein was guidance and light

(The Repast:46)

The Messiah said: “O Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord. Whoever sets up partners with God, then God has forbidden him Paradise, and the Fire will be his home”

(The Repast:72)

And remember Jesus, the Son of Mary said: “O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of God sent to you confirming the Law (which came) before me and giving glad tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmed”’ But when he  came to them with clear signs, they said “’This is evident sorcery”

(The Battle array:6)

Miracles of Jesus:

God will say: “O Jesus the Son of Mary! Recount My Favour to you and your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the Holy spirit, so that you spoke to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold, I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! You make out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My Leave, and you breath into it, and it becomes a bird by My Leave, and you heal those born blind, and the lepers by My Leave, and behold! You bring forth the dead by My Leave. And behold! I restrained the Children of Israel from you when you showed them the clear signs. And the unbelievers among them said: “This is nothing but evident magic”. And behold! I inspired the disciples to have faith in Me and Mine Messenger. They said: “We have faith, and you bear witness that we bow down to God as those who surrender. Behold! The Disciples said: “O Jesus the Son of Mary! Can your Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?”. Said Jesus: “Fear God, if you have faith”. They said: “we only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that you have indeed told us the truth, and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle”. Said Jesus the Son of Mary: “O God our Lord! Send us from heaven a Table set (with viands), that there may be for us – the first and the last of us – a solemn festival and a Sign from Thee; and provide for our sustenance, for Thou art the Best sustainer”. God said: “I will send it down unto you; but if any of you after that resists faith, I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on anyone among all the peoples”

(The Repast:110-115)

Disciples of Jesus:

O ye who believe, champion God’s (religion), like when Jesus, son of Mary said to the disciples: “Who will champion God’s religion with me?”. The disciples said: “We are the champions of God’s (religion)”. Then a group of the Children of Israel believed and a group disbelieved. So we supported those who believed against their enemy and they became victorious

(The Battle Array:14)

Then We sent after them Our Messengers, and We sent Jesus, son of Mary, and gave him the Gospel. And We put in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But We did not command monasticism. Rather they invented it for themselves to please God with it

(Iron:27)

Ascension of Jesus:

Behold! God said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of resurrection; Then shall ye all return unto Me”

(Family Imraan:55)

They (Jews) said in boast: “We killed Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Messenger of God”. But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them when another was given his likeness (and they crucified him). And those who differ are full of doubts with no knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not – Nay, God raised him up unto Himself, and God  is Exalted in Power, Wise. And there is none of the People of the Book  (Jews and Christians) but must believe in him before his death; And on the Day of Judgement, he will be a witness against them

(The Women:153-159)

Jesus in the Light of Islam

When we read these verses of the Qur’an, many things come to light about the life and times of Jesus. For one thing, it is clear from the Qur’an that Jesus was not born on December 25th. This even the West today acknowledges was the birthday of the Sun God which the early Christians adopted to ingratiate themselves with the powerful Roman Empire as well as to make it more appealing to its pagan masses.

In the Qur’an it is related of Mary:

And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She cried: “Ah, would that I had died before this! Would that I have passed into oblivion!”. But a voice cried to her “Grieve not! For your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm tree; it will let fall fresh dates upon you. So eat and drink and cool your eye”.

(Mary:23-26)

This account suggests that Jesus could not have been born in Palestine during the winter, as no date trees fruit at that time. Interestingly, the Bible too supports this view.  We read in the Gospel of Luke:

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a saviour has been born for you who is Messiah” (Luke 2:8-11).

It is unlikely that if Jesus were born in December, shepherds would be out in the fields. So just as the shepherds could not have gone out in the cold with their flock, so don’t dates grow in winter. Thus all the evidence suggests that Jesus was born in the summer. It was a couple of centuries after his birth that the church fixed it as December 25 to coincide with the Roman festivals of Dies natalis solis invicti, ‘Birthday of the unconquered sun’ and the birthday of Mithras, an Iranian divinity popular with the Roman soldiers of the time, all of it part of an ancient solar cult that held that the sun commenced its annual journey around the heavens at the winter solstice.

The Qur’an tells us that Jesus was sent as a Messenger to the Children of Israel, confirming the law that came before him:

And remember Jesus, the Son of Mary said: “O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of God sent to you confirming the Law (which came) before me and giving glad tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmed”’ But when he came to them with clear signs, they said “’This is evident sorcery”

(The Battle Array:6)

This too is confirmed in the Bible what we read is that Jesus was a faithful Jew raised in the traditions of Israel. We read in the gospel of Luke that he was circumcised and named on the eighth day and that after Mary was purified, he was taken to Jerusalem as it was written “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord” and that a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons were offered in sacrifice and that each year the family went to Jerusalem for the fest of Passover. In later years, he taught in a synagogue on the Sabbath and celebrated the Passover, the Jewish feast of unleavened bread which involved the sacrifice of a lamb, which is what the Last Supper celebrated with his disciples was all about (Luke 22:7-14).

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a latter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

When a man asked Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honour your father and your mother” (Mark 10:17-19).

At the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went into the temple area and began to teach. The Jews were amazed and said: “How does he know scripture without having studied?”. Jesus answered them: “My teaching is not my own but is from the One who sent me. Whoever chooses to do His Will shall know whether my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the One who sent him is truthful” (John 7:16-18).

Jesus a Great Prophet of God

That Jesus was a prophet there can be no doubt. He claimed to be no less and no more. We read in the Bible that when he was grown up, he proclaimed at a synagogue in Nazareth, in what was perhaps the first act of his mission: “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of those that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Ellisha the prophet; yet none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian”. When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with fury and drove him out of the town (Luke 4:23-29). When some Pharisees told Jesus to go away, as Herod wanted to kill him, he replied: “I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33).

Being the forerunner of Muhammad, part of his mission was to convey the good news of the coming of this final messenger of God, as the Qur’an says, to give glad tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad. In other words, he was to herald an era of a universal faith binding all humanity. Interestingly, the Qur’anic word for the New Testament Injeel comes from the Greek Eu-angelion meaning ‘Good News”. It is this Greek word that is also the origin of the English Evangel. So it seems that part of the good news Jesus was to convey was to announce the coming of the universal messenger. This was only part of his mission. A good part of it had to do with conveying the news of the Heavenly Kingdom to Come, such as when he said to a crowd at Capernaum: “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43).

 In the Qur’an we read that Jesus invited his people to the worship of the One True God:

The Messiah said: “O Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord. Whoever sets up partners with God, God will forbid him Paradise, and the Fire will be his home”

(The Repast:72)

This is exactly what we read in the Bible as well. You only have to look at the Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name, Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not unto temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever.

Or what he preached in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone who says to me ‘lord’, ‘lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me that day ‘Lord. lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers”

(Matthew 7:21-23)

The real Jesus lived his life as a Servant of the One True God, keeping His Most Important Commandment in the Bible: “You shall not have other gods besides Me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above, or the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a Jealous God, inflicting punishment for their father’s wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing Mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep My Commandments” (Exodus 20:3-6).

We read in the Bible that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert and refused to be tempted by the devil. The devil took him up to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence and said: “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me”. Hearing this Jesus said: “Get away Satan! It is written: “the Lord Your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve”. And so the devil left him and the angels came and ministered to him (Matthew 4:8-11).

That he was clearly a Prophet he himself said, such as when he was rejected at Nazareth: “A Prophet is not without honour except in his native place” (Matthew 13:57) and: ‘A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). The people around him also acknowledged him as such: “The crowds answered: ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee’. (Matthew 21:11).

Jesus a Sign for the Worlds

But Jesus was also special. He was a Sign for mankind like no other man before him. Mary and Jesus are called in the Qur’an, Ayatan Lil Alameen – a Sign for all the Worlds: “And (remember) she who guarded her chastity. We breathed into her of our spirit, and we made her and her son a Sign for all peoples” (The Prophets: 91). We read of God telling Mary through the angel Gabriel: “And we will make him (Jesus) a Sign unto men and a Mercy from us” (Mary:21). We also read: “And (Jesus) is a Sign of (the coming of) the Hour (of Judgement). So do not doubt it but follow me. This is the straight path (leading to God and paradise)” (Ornaments of Gold: 61).

Jesus was a Sign of God for many reasons. He was miraculously born of a virgin mother without a human father; he was bring back the dead to life; and he will return to the earth to slay the Antichrist in the end times, all by the power of God.His virgin birth should however not be taken that God was his father, for God is above having a son. As we read in the Qur’an:

Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: “I seek refuge from you to the Most Gracious; (come not near) if you fear God. He said: “Nay, I am only a Messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son”. She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste”. He said: “So (it will be). Thy Lord says: ‘That is easy for Me, and (We Wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from us’. It is a matter decreed”(Mary:16-21).

Likewise in the Bible there is nothing to suggest that the virgin birth meant God fathered Jesus:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said: “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you”. But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus”. But Mary said to the angel: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her: “The holy spirit will come upon you” (Luke 1:26-35).

We read in the Qur’an that God had only to say “Be!” and he was, just like in the case of Adam:

It is not befitting to God that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it “Be” and it is

(Mary: 35)

The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam. He created him from dust, then said to him “Be!” and he was

(Family Imraan: 59)

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion, nor say of God aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the Son of Mary was a Messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him. So believe in God and His Messengers. Say not: “Trinity”, desist, it will be better for you. For God is One God. Glory be to Him

(The Women:171)

Here we learn that Jesus was a Word of God which He bestowed on Mary. This Word cannot be anything but the word ‘Be’ which emanated from God when He wished to create Jesus: “The similitude of Jesus before God is that of Adam. He created him from dust, then said to him ‘Be’, and he was” (Family Imraan:59).

In John’s Gospel we read that the Word was with God and The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us reflecting an early Christians held that Jesus came to be as a result of the Word of God. When God says in the Qur’an that Jesus was His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, it means exactly the same thing. He said ‘Be!’ and he was!

Jesus the Miracle Worker

Jesus also performed many miracles by the leave of God:

O Jesus the Son of Mary! Recount My Favour to you and your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the Holy spirit, so that you spoke to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold, I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! You make out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My Leave, and you breath into it, and it becomes a bird by My Leave, and you heal those born blind, and the lepers by My Leave, and behold! You bring forth the dead by My Leave

(The Repast:110)

Here we find that the words “By My Leave” are repeated with each miracle to stress that it were only possible through God’s Will and not due to any inherent power of Jesus.

Jesus many miracles are also found in the Bible, like when he said to a dead girl the words Talitha Koum (little girl, I say to you, arise!) and she arose immediately (Mark 5:41-42) or when he healed ten lepers met him who came pleading: “Jesus, master have pity on us!”. They were cleansed, but only one, a Samaritan, returned to glorify God, whereupon Jesus said: “Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Luke 17:11-18) or when he healed the blind like Bartimaeus whom he came across sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth who had come, he began to shout “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”. Jesus stopped and said, “Call him” “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see” “Go” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road (Mark 10:46-52).

Jesus’ miracles were a Sign from God and as the Qur’an says was by the leave of God. Even Jesus acknowledged this when he said: “I can of mine own self do nothing. As I hear I judge, and my judgement is just, because I seek to do not my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (John 5:30). His disciples too accepted it as such, for did not Peter say about Jesus: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words, Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you” (Acts 2:22). Once they saw a man blind from birth and his disciples asked Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent me”. He spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go” he told him, “Wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. When people saw him and asked how his eyes were opened, he replied: “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see”.

Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath”. But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.  Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out (John 9: 1-34).

So there you are, Jesus himself says before giving sight to the blind man: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent me”. And the blind man who had gained his sight himself says when asked about Jesus miracles: “He is a prophet” and “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”.

Jesus’ disciples were in the early days of his mission wanting in faith in that they had a childish desire for miracles, though otherwise good men. They also seem to have been obsessed a bit too much with physical food than spiritual sustenance. This is perhaps why we find in the gospels many miracles concerned with food such as the conversion of five loaves and two little fishes into food for 5000 people, which interestingly is the only miracle recorded in all the four gospels. In the Qur’an we have an entire chapter named after the disciples’ entreaty to Jesus to send them a table from heaven, in Surah Al Maidah or the Chapter of the Table:  Behold! The Disciples said: “O Jesus the Son of Mary! Can your Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?”. Said Jesus: “Fear God, if you have faith”. They said: “We only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that you have indeed told us the truth, and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle”. Said Jesus the Son of Mary: “O God our Lord! Send us from heaven a Table set (with viands), that there may be for us – the first and the last of us – a solemn festival and a Sign from Thee; and provide for our sustenance, for Thou art the Best sustainer”.

Jesus the Innocent

The Qur’an clears Jesus of the charges of blasphemy his Jewish opponents had brought against him:

Behold! God said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of resurrection; Then shall ye all return unto Me”

(Family Imraan:55)

And behold! God will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Did you say unto men ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God?”. He will say: “Glory to Thee. Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou would have known it. Thou knows what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knows in full all that is hidden. Never said I to them except that which Thou commanded me to say: ‘worship God, my Lord and your Lord’. And I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt among them; when Thou took me up Thou were the witness over them and Thou art a witness to all things”

(The Repast:116-117)

We gather from the Bible that the Jews never liked Jesus’ moral teachings and sought various ways and means of ridding themselves of him before finally settling down to crucify him on a false charge of blasphemy. The charge brought against him was blasphemy. The chief priests tried to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none. When the high priest Caiaphas said to him: “I order you to tell us under oath before the Living God, whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God” Jesus replied: “You have said so. But I tell you: from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”  whereupon the high priest tore his robes and said: “He has blasphemed!”(Matthew 26:59-66).

What Jesus was referring to was his imminent departure from earth and coming in the end times to rule the earth, which we Muslims also believe in and which finds mention in the Gospel of Matthew: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of earth mourn, and they shall see the son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29-30).

Now, if indeed Jesus had really blasphemed, one may ask why the Jewish priests could find no evidence of blasphemy against him. If indeed, saying that one was the ‘Son of God’ amounted to blasphemy they would have used it against him, but they couldn’t. Either because the expression was accepted to mean ‘a man of God’ or because Jesus never employed it to refer to himself, rather calling himself ‘the son of man’ as if to emphasize his human nature. Rather, it would appear that it was Caiaphas the High Priest who wanted to put the claim in Jesus’ mouth when he cried out: “I order you to tell us under oath before the Living God, whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God”.

But Jesus would have none of it, referring to himself simply as barnashason of man’ not only on the above occasion, but also on numerous others: “I tell you, everyone who acknowledge me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9).  Interestingly, the Aramaic word barnasha ‘Son of man’ used by him, could also mean ‘Son of woman’ since nasha can mean man or woman or humanity in general. Thus we have in the Aramaic Bible the angel saying to Mary: ‘barikta b’nasha’ ‘blessed art thou among women’ (Luke 1:28). In like manner, the Qur’an almost always refers to Jesus as Isa Ibn Maryam ‘Jesus. Son of Mary’.

Indeed Jesus declared, as if seeing the things to come: “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). It seems that all Jesus wanted his followers to do to earn a place in the hereafter was to acknowledge him as a human being, not as the ‘Son of God’ or even ‘God’ as most churches hold. Indeed he always distinguished between God and himself, as did his disciples.

The word Lord used by his disciples to address Jesus cannot be said to imply divinity since it was very likely expressed as rabbi ‘my lord’, the usual term of address by the Jews to their priests who are still known as such. While in Matthew’s Bible, Peter says to Jesus: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish I will make three tents here” (Matthew 17:4) in Mark we read Peter saying: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents” (Mark 9:5). What all this shows is that Jesus never claimed to be God or the Son of God. Nor did his disciples regard him as such.

Unfortunately most of Jesus’ later followers concurred with the Jewish charge of blasphemy against Jesus and adopted the substance of the claim, to the extent of making it the cornerstone of their faith. Moreover, to stave off the stigma of his crucifixion the Jews taunted them with, they adopted it as a cardinal tenet of their faith, in the belief that they could elevate Christ through it, that he gave himself up as a willing sacrifice to save mankind from their sins inherited from Adam. It was henceforth nothing to be ashamed of, but rather boasted about with pride as the bed-rock of their faith.  On the other hand, we Muslims reject both the Jews’ charge of blasphemy against Jesus and his crucifixion which the Jews so much gloated about, and instead hold that this righteous messenger of God was saved by God and taken up to Himself. It follows then that Jesus neither blasphemed nor died on the cross, thus rendering invalid the Christian belief that Jesus claimed to be God and that he sacrificed himself on the cross to save humanity from their sins.

Jesus Mission to the Children of Israel

Jesus’ mission was to the children of Israel. That he was sent to the Jews and not the rest of humanity is seen from the incident where a Canaanite woman called out to him: “Have pity on me lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon” to which he responded: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs”. She replied: “Please lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters” and Jesus said to her: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish”. And her daughter was healed (Matthew 15:21-28). What this shows is that although Jesus obliged this gentile woman out of his great compassion, his mission was to be confined to the Jews.

Despite all this, Jesus, the great prophet he was, knew what was coming to the Jews. Once, impressed with the pious words of a Roman Centurion in Capernaum, he said to his followers: “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 8:5-12). Thus although Jesus made it clear that he was sent unto the lost sheep of Israel, he also observed that those of other nations would enter heaven and dine with the patriarchs while the rebellious children of Israel, who could not brook the idea of a gentile ever gaining salvation, would taste only sorrow and woe.

Islam went further. It recognized that other nations could also follow the teachings of Jesus. Although Jesus was sent as a messenger to the Jews, it does not mean that his teachings were not valid for others, since a prophet’s teachings contain certain universal truths like the belief in One God, the need to do good and so on. The Jews, except for a very few who became the earliest Christians, rejected his mission. The gentiles to whom it was not originally meant, embraced it. In the Qur’an we find God telling Jesus: “I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith to the Day of Resurrection. Then shall ye all return unto Me” (Family Imraan: 55). What this tells us is that Christians would be superior to the Jews, which could also mean being numerically superior, which is only possible if converts from other races were also taken into the fold of Christ’s followers.

Although Jesus wished to confine his mission to the Jews, some of his followers in Antioch who lived among the pagans thought otherwise and sent word to Jerusalem requesting the disciples there to send a learned man to spread the message of Jesus among the pagans. So they chose Barnabas who thus became the first missionary in Christian history. It was due to his efforts that “much people were added unto the Lord” (Acts II:24). The early Jewish Christians felt that the mission should be confined to Jews and ought not to be extended to the Pagans. In the end, Barnabas who felt the truth should be extended to everyone won out. However, it was not only Barnabas. The head of the apostles Peter as well as a later convert Paul thought likewise.

It happened one day that Cornelius the Centurion summoned Peter to his home where many people were gathered together. Peter told him: “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit a gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean”. Cornelius replied: “I was at prayer in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling robes stood before me and said ‘Cornelius, you prayer has been heard”. “Now therefore” said Cornelius “We are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord”. Peter responded: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him”. He then proceeded to baptize Cornelius, much to the astonishment of the circumcised believers who had accompanied him. They were astonished to hear the gentiles speaking in tongues and glorifying God (Acts 10: 28-48). Peter in doing so was acting in the true spirit of his master Jesus whose mercy extended to all alike- Jew or Gentile.

When the Jewish Christians in Judea, the apostles and the brethren, heard that the gentiles had accepted the Word of God, they confronted Peter in Jerusalem: “You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them”. But they were convinced by Peter that this was the way to go, seeing that God had given them “the same gift he gave to us”. Hearing this, they glorified God, saying: “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too” (Acts 11:1-8).

In Antioch too some Cypriots had begun to preach to the Greeks with success and when the news reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord, for he was a good man filled with faith, so that a large number of people were added to the community (Acts 11:19-24). It also happened one day that the disciples were at Antioch. Almost the whole city had gathered to hear the word of the Lord and the Jews seeing the crowds were filled with jealousy. But Barnabas and Paul spoke out: “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the gentiles” (Acts 13:44-46). Such incidents marked the break of Christianity from Judaism, for the gentile members of the community enabled it to stand out from Judaism.

But Paul of Tarsus whom Barnabas had enlisted to support him in the task betrayed that trust. Paul, who was to define Christianity as we know it today had never known Jesus, nor was he acquainted with Jesus closest disciples. Indeed, he had been one of the greatest enemies of Jesus’ teachings and persecuted the early church. He was earlier known as Saul and made a havoc of the church in Jerusalem, entering house after house and committing men and women to prison (Acts 8:1-3). He breathed murderous threats against the disciples and even went to the high priest asking for letters to the synagogues in Damascus that if he found any belonging to the way, he might bring them to Jerusalem in chains (9:1-2) But suddenly Paul, then called Saul, changed. On his way to Damascus he claimed to have seen Jesus in a vision. Soon after his conversion, he stayed with the followers of Jesus in Damascus and “begun at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (9:20). This sudden change from orthodox Jew to virtual heretic, was a turning point in Christianity, defining what it would be.

Paul’s Handiwork

It was Paul’s handiwork that made Jesus what he was not; he it was who made ‘the son of man’ the ‘Son of God’ so that the true historical Jesus was obliterated in favour of a figure approaching divinity in the Greek tradition. Yes, it was Paul’s magic that did that trick, making a ‘god’ out of a man!

Paul however did not have it that easy. When he sought out Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem, quite understandably they received him with suspicion as his persecutions were still fresh in their minds. As the Bible says: “But they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple”. It was Barnabas, whom he would later fall out with, who spoke in favour of him, in spite of the unanimous opposition of the others. He took charge of and brought him before the apostles who admitted him into their fold (Acts 9: 26-30). It proved to be a costly mistake for Jesus himself had warned of men like Paul when he told his disciples on the Mount of Olives: “See that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name saying “I am he” and they will deceive many” (Mark 13:5-6).

If only his disciples had taken his words more seriously. Although Barnabas trusted that Paul would be a good Christian, the trust was betrayed. Paul’s method was not only to reach out to the Pagans, but also to appeal to their Pagan beliefs, so that Christianity would be more readily acceptable to them, effectively clothing Jesus’ teachings in Pagan garb. This was needless to say the point of departure between Barnabas and Paul.

So they went their separate ways, Barnabas to Cyprus to preach the message of Divine Unity and Paul to the rest of the Greek world to win the heathen to a Christianity he had corrupted and made palpable to them. The true disciples of Christ opposed him in the only way they could, with their tongues, and made some headway, which is why Paul was forced to justify his approach in his epistle to the Galatians as a revelation from Christ himself: “I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by grace for a different gospel. There are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that one be accursed! I want you to know brethren that the Gospel preached by me is not of man, For I neither received it of man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:6-12).

So here we are, the man’s true arrogance exposed to the core, where he is even blaspheming the angels of God as accursed if they were to preach a gospel other than his own. Paul’s compromise with Graeco-Roman beliefs meant that Pauline Christianity grew in numbers and strength in the Mediterranean region, where such beliefs were strong, and from there to the rest of Europe.  The rest is of course history. This is no better summed up than by Dr.Arnold Meyer, Professor of Theology at Zurich University:

If by Christianity, we understand faith in Christ as the heavenly son of God, who did not belong to earthly humanity, but who lived in the Divine likeness and glory, who came down from heaven to earth, who entered humanity and took upon a human form through a virgin, that he might make propitiation for men’s sins by his own blood upon the cross, who was then awakened from death and raised to the right hand of God, as the Lord of his own people who believe in him, who hears their prayers, guards and leads them, Who, moreover dwells and works personally in each of them, who will come again with the clouds of heaven to judge the world, who will cast down all the foes of God, and will bring his own people with him unto the home of heavenly light so that they may become like His glorified body – if this is Christianity, then such Christianity was founded by St.Paul, and not by our Lord”.

Why Christians are the Closest to Muslims

Christians are generally very pious people, who if not for the overriding authority of their churches and their ridiculous dogmas, would love to live the way Jesus had wished them to live, worshipping God and God alone, keeping the commandments and doing good to their fellow men.

This is in sharp contrast to the Jews, many of whom are to this day a proud, arrogant lot, thinking of themselves as the chosen people and looking down on the rest of humanity. If you read the Bible you might find the answer to that. When Sarah saw Ishmael, the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac, she ordered Abraham: “Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”. Little doubt much of that arrogance would have rubbed off on her descendants.

However Jesus would have none of it. Did he not defend his cure of a woman on the Sabbath on the plea that she was a ‘daughter of Abraham’ and befriend the tax collector Zacchaeus because he too was ‘a son of Abraham’. Although at first sight it would seem that Jesus wished to single out the Jews for special treatment, reading deeper into his words, it seems that he was preparing his people not to think just in terms of the tribe of Israel founded by Jacob, but in terms of a larger cause represented by Abraham, the friend of God and the common ancestor of both Jew and Arab in spite of the fact that the Jews of his time looked down upon their Arab cousins as children of a slave woman. By calling his people children of Abraham rather than of Israel he was preparing them for the higher mission to come in the person of Muhammad who was himself a descendant of Abraham.

Likewise those who followed Christ including his earliest Jewish followers however did not have the racial pride and spite for others the rest of their tribe tribe had. They were pure men and women and wished all well in their desire to earn the Grace of God. Did not his closest disciple Peter say that God would pour out His spirit “On all people” (Acts 2:17) and that “He accepts anyone who worships Him and does what is right. It is immaterial what nation they come from” (Acts 10:35). Thus while the Christian wishes to share his message of love, the Jew jealously keeps his faith to himself; while the Christian wishes well for all, the Jew wishes evil to those not of his kind; while the Christian is sincere, the Jew is conceited; while the Christian is generous, the Jew is tight-fisted and while the Christian is willing to lend an ear to another, the Jew remains firm as a rock.

This is why we read the Qur’an referring to Christians in very endearing terms, while condemning the Jews as the enemies of the believers in the strongest possible terms:

Strongest among men in enmity to the believers will you find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say “We are Christians”. Because among them are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray: “Our Lord, we believe. Write us down among the witnesses. What cause can we have not to believe in God and the truth which has come to us, seeing that we long for our Lord to admit us to the company of the righteous?” And for this their prayer has God rewarded them with Gardens with rivers flowing underneath – their eternal home

(The Repast:82-85)

This genuine love for God was seen even in the days of the Prophet, like when the Negus, the ruler of Abysinnia (present day Ethiopia) heard the words of the Qur’an regarding Mary from a companion of the Prophet. He wept so hard that his beard was wet and the tears that poured down the cheeks of his bishops were so copious that their scrolls were soaked in it. In the Qur’an, God tells us Himself that He has out compassion and mercy into the hearts of Christians:

Then We sent after them Our Messengers, and We sent Jesus, son of Mary, and gave him the Gospel. And We put in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But We did not command monasticism. Rather they invented it for themselves to please God with it

(Iron:27)

The disciples of Jesus are called by God Al Hawariyyun ‘the Purified Ones’, which can also mean ‘the white ones’ as they were not only pure in heart, but were always seen dressed in white. They are also called God’s Helpers: “O ye who believe! Be ye helpers of God. As said Jesus, the Son of Mary, to the Disciples “Who will be my helpers to God?” Said the disciples: “We are God’s helpers!” (The Battle Array:14). The Arabic word used here for God’s helpers is Ansarullah and it is this word that gives us the Muslim term used for a Christian, which is Nasara meaning ‘helper’. In contrast, the very word Christian, by which we know the followers of this great religion was given not by the friends of the early Christians, but by their foes, the Jews and Pagans.

The first mention of it is found long after Jesus had left this world, in Acts 11:26 where we read: “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”. Jesus never used the word Christianity for his teachings or Christian for his followers. In fact, what Islam teaches us was that his disciples were Muslims, meaning those who surrendered to God. We read in the Qur’an that when Jesus found unbelief on the part of his Jewish compatriots, he asked “Who will be my helpers to (the work of) God?” and the disciples answered: “We are God’s helpers. We believe in God and bear witness that we are those who surrender (to God)” (Family Imraan:52). The Arabic word used here for ‘those who surrender’ is Muslim.

The Prophet’s Love for Christians

The Prophet of Islam always had a soft spot for the Christians, many of whom were also Arabs. In fact it was a Christian priest named Bahira who first noticed the signs of prophethood in the young Muhammad and told his uncle Abu Talib: “Take your nephew back to his country and guard him carefully against the Jews, for by God, if they see him and know about him what I know, they will do him evil. A great future lies before this nephew of yours. So take him home quickly”. Bahira was a good Christian who did not like the idea of a Jewish Herod hunting down the young Arab boy who would follow in the footsteps of Jesus. His name which has come down to us is actually the Syriac word bhira meaning ‘reverend’.

And who can forget Addas, the young Christian boy from Nineveh who gave a plate of grapes to Muhammad after he was set upon by a mob in the walled city of Taif. Muhammad who had then commenced his mission had been met with hostility in his hometown of Mecca and as if that were not enough was now set upon by urchins in this beautiful town on the hills where he had fondly believed folk would listen to him. He was in such despair that he cried out to God: “O God to Thee I complain of my weakness, little resource and lowliness before men. O Most Merciful, Thou art the Lord of the weak and Thou art my Lord. To whom wilt Thou confide me? To one afar who will misuse me? Or to an enemy to whom Thou hast given power over me? If Thou art not angry with me, I care not. The Favour is more wide for me. I take refuge in the light of Thy countenance by which the darkness is illumined and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered”. It was then that Addas appeared before the Prophet as if a ‘Sign’ that his prayers were answered.

When he saw the Arab prophet blessing the meal in the “name of God’ before he ate, he was astonished. He was elated when the prophet told him that he, like the Prophet Jonah of his hometown Nineveh, was also a Prophet and therefore a brother of Jonah. Addas was so overcome with Joy that he kissed the Prophet’s hands. The Prophet was overjoyed at the kind reception he got from one of the People of the Book, giving him hope to continue his mission.

And which Muslim can ever forget that it was a Christian King, the Negus of Abyssinia in present-day Ethiopia who first gave refuge to the early Muslims fleeing the persecution of the Quraysh in Mecca. Eighty Muslims thus forsook their homes and emigrated to Abyssinia where the Negus gave them protection, in spite of the pleadings of the emissaries of the Meccan chiefs to send them away. Said he: “Nay, by God, they shall not be surrendered, a people that have sought my protection and made my country their abode and chosen me above all others! Give them up I will not

The Prophet, when he emerged victorious against the Pagans and Jews, reciprocated the kindheartedness of the Christians who had been so kind to him and his followers in their most difficult days. Once, when a delegation of Christians from Najran near Yemen visited the Prophet in Medina, he warmly welcomed them and even let them pray in his mosque. He even entered into a covenant with them, guaranteeing their religious freedom:

The people of Najran and their dependents shall remain under the protection of God, and Muhammad the Prophet, the Messenger of God. Their persons, their religion, their lands, their possessions and their churches shall remain safe. This treaty holds good for all people of Najran, whether present or not. No bishop shall be removed from his bishopric, no monk from his monasticism and no devotee from his devotions

(Tabaqat al Kubra, Ibn Sa’d)

Muslims Love for Christians

That’s not all. The early Muslims did their best to win the hearts of Christians, demonstrating that Islam was merely a continuation of the teachings of Christ, like when the Prophet’s envoy Hatib Ibn Abi Belta had this to say to the Christian ruler of Alexandria named Muqawqis:

We invite you to Islam, the faith that God most High chose for his people. Muhammad invites not only you, but all of mankind. The people who were the harshest and cruelest to him were the people of Quraysh. And the people that were the most hostile to him were the Jews. However, those who are the closest to him are the Christians. Just as Moses heralded Jesus, so too Jesus gave good news of the coming of Muhammad. Our calling you to the Qur’an is like you calling to the Gospels those who follow the Torah. Everybody should follow the Prophet who was sent in his own time. You too are living in the time of Muhammad. As such, by calling you to Islam, we do not want to separate you from the religion of Jesus. On the contrary we propose that you do what is in accordance with the message he brought.

Our Common Love for God and His Word

Despite the obvious dogmatic differences between Islam and the established Christian churches, Christians come closest to Muslims in their piety, love of God and liking to do Good. Indeed, in many ways, Jesus’ teachings of love and compassion some close to the Islamic ideal as taught by our Prophet. Did not Jesus, upon whom be peace, teach men not to make a show of their good deeds, but to do it for the sake of God and God alone?

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them” (Matthew 6:5)

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting” (Matthew 6:16)

When you give alms. Do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets to win the praise of others. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Jesus could certainly not brook the hypocrisy that had taken hold of the Jews of his time, like when he overturned the tables of the money changers in Jerusalem, crying out that it was written: “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13). He pointed out that despite the commandment of God to Moses to ‘Honour your father and mother’ they claimed “If a person says to father or mother “any support you might have had from me is qorban (dedicated to God)” you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the Word of God in favour of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things” (Mark 7:10-13). Like any good prophet, he exposed the futility of erecting tombs and monuments for prophets and righteous men to make a show of it:“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous” (Matthew 23:27–29).

Besides expecting his followers to follow the law to the letter, he also expected them to follow it in spirit, like when he said: “You have heard that it was said: “You shall not commit adultery”. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery in his heart” (Matthew 5:27).

And if that were not enough, he expected a very high moral standard for his followers, such as when he pronounced: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members, than to have your whole body go into Gehenna” (Matthew 5:29-30).

Jesus expected his followers to be detached from the world as much as possible and to trust in and depend on God absolutely, like when he said: “Do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing? Notice the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouses nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of them” (Luke 12:22-27).

The Commonalities between Christian & Islamic Teachings

When you read the Bible you will find that the moral teachings of Jesus were higher than any found in the Old Testament and most closest to the teachings of Islam, such as when he advised:

When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, the lame, the blind. Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14)

In like manner, Muhammad, upon whom be peace, told his followers how helping God’s creatures was related to Godliness in a very powerful narration:

God will say: “I asked you for food and you did not feed Me’. He (Man) will say: ‘Lord, how could I feed You when You did not ask me for food and You are the Lord of the universe?’ He will say: ‘Do you not know that My slave so-and-so asked you for food and you did not feed him? Do you not know that if you had fed him, you would have found that action with Me? Son of Adam, I asked you for water and you did not give Me water.’ The man will reply: ‘O Lord, how could I give you water when You are the Lord of the universe?’ He will say: ‘My slave so-and-so asked you for water and you did not give him water. Do you not know that if you had given him water, you would have found that action with Me? Son of Adam, I was ill and you did not visit Me.’ He will say: ‘O Lord, how could I visit You when You are the Lord of the universe?’ He will say, ‘Do you not know that My slave so-and-so was ill. If you had visited him you would have found Me with him” (Adab Al Mufrad).

Another very important moral teaching of Jesus was God’s love for the repentant sinner and the need to move away from a ‘holier than thou’ attitude’ like we see in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

Two people went to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income”. But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former, but everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18: 10-14).

Jesus stressed on repentance that much, why, because man is prone to sin, though he may not even know it. That is why he said, again speaking in parable:

What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy, and upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbours and says to them: “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep”.  I tell you, in just the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance”(Luke 15:4-7).

In similar vein did Muhammad declare:

God is more delighted with the repentance of His slave when he repents, than any of you would be if (he found his) camel, which he had been riding in a barren desert, after it had escaped from him carrying his food and drink.  After he despaired of it, he came to a tree and laid down in its shade.  Then while he was despairing of it, the camel came and stood by his side, and he seized its reins and cried out in joy, ‘O God, You are my servant and I am your Lord!’ – making this mistake (in wording) out of his excessive joy” (Saheeh Muslim).

Such teachings of Jesus are closer to that taught us by Muhammad than the Jewish view and way of life that stressed more on following the letter of the law than its spirit. Still, there are a few teachings of Jesus that must be viewed in the context in which they were uttered. One such is the other worldliness which Jesus preached, like when he said: “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33) or when he advised his followers to make themselves eunuchs “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). What all this shows is that what Jesus preached was in diametrical opposition to the vulgar materialistic worldview of the Jews of his day who exceeded all other nations in their love for gold and the pleasures of the flesh. Islam took a middle path, teaching moderation in all things, allowing one to enjoy the delights of this world while at the same time exercising control with regard to both wealth and sexual pleasure and being mindful to one’s duties to God and grateful for his blessings, so that you don’t find the extremisms you find in Christendom today, the abstemious celibate lives of monks and nuns and the worldly if not licentious lifestyles of their flock.

The same holds true about what he preached about non-resistance to evil: “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil, but whoever that shall smite theee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). What Jesus wished to drive home was to be forgiving, especially in view of the overly literal observance of the Mosaic Law of eye for an eye which could lead to a very vindictive and hard-hearted attitude if the circumstances are not considered. In all these respects, Islam took the middle course more compatible with human nature. It gave its followers the option to avenge oneself, like for like as stated in the Mosaic law, while at the same time urging them to be forgiving, bearing in mind that God is watching over them. Indeed, even the best of Christians find it hard  to observe this teaching of Jesus as a general rule for all occasions, especially if such evil affects not just one’s self, but others or humanity as a whole. Yet still the Qur’an agrees with the moral principle that Jesus sought to teach his followers when it declared: “The good and the evil are not alike. Repel (evil) with what is better, then he between whom and thee there was enmity will become as though a bosom friend” (Expounded:34).

Thus while Moses brought the Law and Justice, Jesus brought Grace and Flexibility. Muhammad showed us the middle way between the Law of Moses and the Grace of Jesus. As much as it focused on ritual as the Old Testament did, it also stressed on piety and doing good to others as the New Testament does.

Among other things that unite us, Christian and Muslim, is our common belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, and in his ministry and his second coming to pave the way for a better world, a bright future which we both equally look forward to.

Finally, all I can say is that we Muslims are closer to Jesus than most of those who profess Christianity today. Jesus was circumcised, and so are we. Jesus fasted, and so do we. Jesus prayed, falling on his face before the Almighty, and so do we. Jesus was bearded and so are a good many devout Muslim men. He dressed modestly in long robes much like most Arab Muslim men. Even in nativity plays in Christian lands today, you will see Mary and her friends dressed in typical Arab fashion with Mary with her hood or headscarf and the men around her in typical Arab robes and headdresses. Nay, even our greeting is the same, for did not Jesus, standing in the midst of a gathering, say unto them: Peace Be Unto You (Luke 24:36). This very likely took the Aramaic form shlama lokhum ‘Peace Be Upon You’. This is exactly what we Muslims do when we greet somebody. We say Assalam Alaikum which means the same thing  ‘Peace Be Upon You”. Thus in a sense we Muslims are more ‘Christian’, in the sense of being followers of Christ, than those in the West are. Indeed we’re more like the ‘Jesus freaks’ people in the West today look down upon!