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Jesus in the Bible vs. Isa in the Qur’an

In 630 A.D., the Prophet Muhammad, with a force of 10,000 soldiers, captured his hometown of Mecca. The world’s supposedly oldest religious shrine is the Ka’ba in Mecca. At its capture, the Ka’ba had numerous idols inside (some legends say up to 360). Muhammad’s mission was to cleanse the Ka’ba of its icons and reinstate the worship of the one true God, Allah. Entering the Ka’ba, Muhammad ordered all of the statues, except one, destroyed. In what must have been a very mixed gallery of divinities was a Virgin and child. Approaching the Christian icon, Muhammad covered it with his cloak and ordered all the others removed except that one.

This episode illustrates the close relationship between Islam and Jesus spanning a millennium and a half. In raw numbers, approximately one-third of the Qur’an is about the work of the prophets, 124,000 men throughout history who have carried the word of God to their tribes, their kings, and their people. Some of the prophets we would recognize as being Biblical; names you would recognize instantly, such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jonah, and David. The Qur’an identifies twenty-five prophets, with Muhammad being the final Prophet, Jesus the Prophet before him, and John the Baptist before Jesus.

Jesus Identifies as a Prophet

Jesus’ saga starts in the Bible with his birth, recorded in two Gospels. In Matthew (1: 18-25) and Luke (1:31-35), the story of Mary and Jesus unfolds. Much of this material I presented in the “Mary vs. Maryam” blog just a few weeks ago, so I will not go into detail here.

What is Jesus’ assignment while here on earth? Jesus first identifies himself as a prophet in Matthew 5:11-12. Here, he warns his disciples about the persecution they will face because of him, “for so men persecuted the prophets before you.” Other verses confirm the prophet assignment: Matthew 10: 40-41, Matthew 21:11, Matthew 21:46, Luke 7:16, and Luke 13:33.

Jesus as a Messenger of God

In the Bible, Jesus claims to be subordinate to God, who sent him. He is just a messenger of God. In John 6:38, Jesus emphasizes that he has not come down from heaven to do his own will but the will of Him who sent him. Other verses with the same message would include Matthew 20:23, Mark 10:40, John 5:19, John 7:28 and 8:28, and John 14:28-29.

The Miracles of Jesus

Jesus was known for performing miracles, and he did so to show the power and glory of God. In the book of John, Jesus’ miracles are described as “signs” performed to prove his mission and divinity. His miracles fell into two categories: 1) healing miracles and 2) nature miracles. Healing miracles would encompass restoring sight, healing leprosy, restoring life to the dead, and casting out demons. Nature miracles include walking on water, feeding the masses, turning water into wine, and calming a storm. In all occurrences, Jesus gave credit to God.

In summary, Jesus refers to himself as a messenger, a servant, and a prophet of God, sent on earth by God. It is Paul that equates Jesus to God. To quote my book, Muslim Mechanics, page 59, “More than one scholar makes the point that the messages of Jesus and Paul were fundamentally different.”

Isa in the Qur’an

You may have already guessed it, but In Islam, Isa is the Arabic name of Jesus. Isa is mentioned in the Qur’an more frequently than the name Muhammad, and unlike the other prophets, the narratives about Jesus tell us of events that occurred throughout his life. The histories of Jesus are found in six Meccan and eight Medinan chapters. This inclusion indicates that Jesus was known and written about in the early verses of the Qur’an while Muhammad was still in Mecca and then later when Muhammad moved to Medina. Many Western scholars believed that Muhammad did not learn of Jesus until he moved to Medina, which was near Jewish tribes.

The Jesus of the Qur’an is very unlike his Gospel image. There is no Incarnation, no ministry, and no passion. Passion in this context refers to the story of Jesus Christ’s arrest, trial, and suffering. His divinity is strenuously denied by him and by God (according to Gabriel talking to Muhammad). Also rejected is his death by crucifixion. Some Muslims say it didn’t happen, some say there was the substitution of another man, and some say he was alive when brought down from the cross. Most Muslims agree he was brought to heaven to be with God, like Enoch (Genesis 5:23) and Elijah (Kings 2:11).

So, what did Jesus accomplish? According to Muslims, he was a miracle of God and performed miracles through God. He was the Prophet of peace; he was the word and spirit of God and the precursor of Islam by predicting the coming of Muhammad.

Reading From the Qur’an

As in the Bible, the story of Isa starts with his birth. As I mentioned, I covered his birth in the “Mary vs. Maryam” blog, so there is no need to reiterate it. In the Bible, Jesus’ first miracle is turning water into wine at a Cana wedding. That miracle is not mentioned in the Qur’an. The first miracle of Jesus in the Qur’an was his ability to speak as a rational adult while still a newborn.

In addition, The Qur’an credits Isa with five more miracles.

1. As a child, Isa would create birds from clay and breathe life into them. While not listed in the Bible, this miracle is mentioned in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a biographical gospel about the childhood of Jesus written in the second century.

2. Like the New Testament, the Qur’an (3: 23) mentions that Isa heals two blind men and ten people with leprosy.

3. While no details are given, Jesus is credited with raising the dead (3:49).

4. Isa had foreknowledge of hidden or unknowable information. Every question he was asked, he answered correctly. Some verses indicate that Isa knew what people had eaten earlier, or he knew what they had stored in their homes.

5. There are examples of Isa providing food to his followers and disciples, similar to the Biblical scene of feeding the multitudes.

While most Christians believe Jesus died on the cross and ascended to heaven three days later, Muslim scholars believe he did so without being put on the cross. The most common belief is that God transformed another person, Simon of Cyrene, to appear precisely like Jesus, who was crucified instead of Jesus.

According to the Qur’an, the mission of Isa can be found in 3:49: He was a messenger to the Children of Israel. Other verses, such as 5:46, 5:75, 5:112, 33:7, 42:13, and 57:27, confirm Jesus’ status as a messenger. Thus, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet: A messenger sent on earth for a particular assignment, at a specific time, to a particular community, and with a special message. Jesus’ main task was to deliver the word of God, confirm the scripture of God (the Torah), and bring new scripture (the Gospels). Muslims also point to verse 61:6 as a predictive scripture detailing Muhammad’s coming as a prophet. The Quranic verse reads as this:

Jesus, son of Mary, said, ‘Children of Israel, I am sent to you by God, confirming the Torah that came before me and bringing good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmed.’

Muhammad claimed that ‘Ahmed’ was the name Jesus used to refer to him. In other words, Jesus predicted that Muhammad would be the next prophet of God.

In Conclusion

Muslims very much believe that Jesus was a Prophet. Given that all prophets are submissive to God, compassionate, kind, merciful, grateful, trustworthy, and penitent, the essential characteristic is that prophets are mortal. If Jesus is a prophet, according to the Qur’an, he is human. A prophet may conduct miracle-like events with the help of God, but they are still mortal. Christians recognize that all mortals, including some Biblical prophets, have committed sins. Moses committed murder. David committed adultery. To the Muslim believer, these prophets believed in one God and asked for forgiveness. Allah, being a compassionate God, accepted their repentance.

Credit to Wikimedia Commons for the Persian print of Isa bringing down heavenly food for his disciples; one of the miracles listed in the Qur'an (5:111-115).

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