One of the most controversial problems in human history is the question of Jesus. Was he completely Divine or only human, or was he semi-Divine and semi-human at the same time? Was he true or just another pretending impostor? Was he born in an ordinary way to a father and a mother like any other child? Was he born in the winter or in the summer? Many questions like these were and are still raised by Christians and non-Christians alike. Disputes and arguments about such matters have been continuous from the time of Jesus until today. Many denominations among the Christians have arisen on account of little differences in the interpretation of some insignificant aspects of these questions. This is all known to Christians as well as to non-Christians. But just where does Islam stand? Can Islam offer any interpretation to settle these perplexing questions? ( There are many arguments regarding Jesus’ life: how, when, and where he was born, lived, received his Message, died, and was buried; his “ miracles”. Lack of space and the blasphemous defamatory character of the arguments force us to limit our discussion of these provocative questions. For a critical survey and an excellent biliography, see Qazi Muhammad Barakatullah, Jesus Son of Mary, Fallacy and Factuality - Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1973.)
Before anything can be said, three points must be made clear. First, a Muslim is quite at ease as far as the attitude of Islam towards Jesus is concerned; his mind is settled, his conscience is clear, and his belief is sound. Secondly, a Muslim’s concept of God, religion, prophethood, revelation and humanity makes him accept Jesus not only as a historical fact but also as one of the most distinguished apostles of God. It should be remembered here that acceptance of Jesus by Muslims is a fundamental article of Faith in Islam, and that a Muslim can never think of Jesus in any derogatory terms. A Muslim is happily denied the liberty of defaming Jesus or any other prophet of God.
Thirdly, whatever will be mentioned here is what the Qur’an says and teaches. Although very unpopular among the Christians, the Islamic beliefs about Jesus do not intend in any way to belittle his role or underestimate his character or degrade his great personality. On the contrary, these Islamic beliefs depict Jesus in a most respectable manner and place him as high in status as God Himself has placed him. In fact, the Muslim is more respectful of Jesus than many Christians. But the attitude of Islam should not be misunderstood. It must not be interpreted as appeasing or flattering or compromising. It is to be taken as the truth in which the Muslim unshakably believes and will continue to believe. It is the truth of yesterday, the truth of today, and the truth of tomorrow.
The environment in which Jesus was born and raised deserves some attention. The people to whom he was sent had peculiar characteristics, among which were: (I) that they interpolated and misinterpreted the Scriptures of God in meaning and word alike; (ii) that they rejected some of their prophets, including Jesus, and killed some; and (iii) that they were outspoken and irresponsible as regards their wealth. The Qur’an says :
Is it that whenever there comes to you ( children of Israel) an apostle with what you desire not, you are puffed up with pride? Some you called impostors, and other you slay! (2:87).
God has heard the taunt of those who say: ‘Truly, God is indigent and we are rich!’ We shall certainly record their word and (their act) of slaying the prophets in defiance of right, and We shall say: ‘ Taste you the penalty of the Scorching Fire!’ (3:181).
God did aforetime take a Covenant from the Children of Israel. But because of their breach of their Covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard: They change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the Message that was sent them (-14).
This was the second nature of the people to whom Jesus was sent. As for the date of his birth, Christians have not been able to establish any specific season or year. “Astronomers still have not pinned down any scientific explanation of the Star of Bethlehem’…… ‘Neither the year of Christ’s birth nor the season of the year when it (the star) occurred are known with certainty’ …..’ Historians estimate the earliest year was 11 BC and the latest, 4 BC ….’ Also, …….. ‘while the time of year when the birth occurred has not been fully established most probably it occurred in the springtime, rather than in December. ……”(Mrs. Simone Daro Gossner of the U.S. Naval Observatory, quoted on p.12 of The Edmonton Journal of December 23,1960).
Be that as it may, the more important question to the Muslim is how Jesus was born. Up to the time of Jesus three kinds of creation had been experienced, in each of which the power, the knowledge and the wisdom of God the Creator were clearly demonstrated. First, there was human being created without the physical interference or presence of any known human father or mother, and that was Adam. Secondly, there was a human being created without the physical existence or the precedence of any known mother or female ancestor, and that was Eve. She was anticipated by Adam who might be thought of as the symbolic or figurative father of mankind. Thirdly, there were millions of people created through the normal intimacy of fathers and mothers. Curious and inquiring minds might have pondered on the possibility of the fourth kind of creation, namely, the creation of a human being without the physical interference of any human father. This possibility seems to have been translated into reality by God in the creation of Jesus to, perhaps, complete the four possible kinds of creation, and to illustrate the power of the Creator in every possible shape and form. The birth of Jesus to the pious Mary was a miraculous action, an act of the will of God. The choice of this kind of creation at that particular time may be as much intelligible as it is interesting. It seems that medicine was quite popular in one way or another, in one region or another. The contemporaries of Jesus swerved so far from the Path of God and were also stubborn. God showed them His power in a new form of creation. He showed them that His power is infinite, and that their salvation would come about only by submission to Him and belief in Him. The illustration was presented in the vivid manifestation of the creation of Jesus. This, perhaps, was also an anticipation of the kind of miracles which Jesus was to perform later on with the help of God, the miracles which were more or less of a medical nature.
It should be pointed out that this hypothetical interpretation of the birth of Jesus is not based on the authority of the Qur’an or the Traditions of Muhammad. These four logically possible forms of creation and the induction that the birth of Jesus constitutes the fourth and final form are the personal views of the writer and his own hypothesis. This personal view has no bearing whatsoever on the authority or genuineness of the Qur’an and the Traditions of Muhammad. Whether this hypothesis about the four kinds of creation is valid or not, it does not in any way affect the Muslim’s belief in the truth of the Qur’an and its statement about the birth of Jesus being the miraculous will and work of God. At any rate, the whole point is worth pursuing.
Now if anyone wishes to call Jesus the son of God or God because he was created without the precedence of a human father, and because God Himself adopted him or acted as his father, if this holds true the same thing should even be more applicable to and more appropriate for Adam, who had neither a father nor a mother. And if the fatherhood of God is interpreted in a figurative sense then it should apply to all mankind, particularly those who distinguished themselves in the service of the Supreme Lord. Human beings are the magnificent creation of God and, in a sense, are His children. Whether the Fatherhood of God is interpreted literally or figuratively it would be quite arbitrary to confine it to Jesus alone, discarding Adam in the first interpretation and the rest of mankind in the second. The Qur’an reveals the birth of Jesus in the following manner:
And relate (O Muhammad) 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 (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if you do fear God. ‘ He said:’ Nay, I am only a messenger from your Lord, (To announce) to you the gift of a pure growing 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): your Lord said: 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 so 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 (in her anguish ): ‘ Ah! how I wish I had died before this! how I wish I had been a thing forgotten or out of sight!’ But a voice cried to her from beneath the palm-tree:’ Grieve not! for your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; and shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink and cool (your) eye (be happy). And if you do see any man, say: ‘I have vowed a fast to (God) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being.’ At length she brought him to her people carrying him (in her arms). They said: ‘O Mary! truly an amazing thing you have brought! O sister of Aaron! your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother was a woman unchaste!’ But she pointed to him. They said: ‘How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He 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 (He) has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live; and (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 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. It is not befitting to (the Majesty) of 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. Verily God is my Lord and your Lord: Him therefore serve you: this is a Way that is straight.(19:16-36; cf.3:42-64; 4:171-172; , 72-75; 25:2, 43:57-65)
The mission which God entrusted to Jesus was not salvation through total atonement by blood sacrifice, but salvation by virtue of right guidance and self-discipline, by quickening the stagnant minds and softening the hard souls. It was to install the true religion of God and restore His revelations which had been misinterpreted and abused. In approaching those stagnant minds and hard souls, Jesus not only preached the word of God but also brought tangible Signs and performed “Miracles” in support of his mission. Logical and spiritual as well as “supernatural” and extraordinary proofs were provided by God at the hands of Jesus to show those hard-hearted people the true path of god. Relating the mission of Jesus and the “miraculous” nature of his proofs, the Qur’an says:
Behold! the angles said: ‘O Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name is the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God; he shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous’. ‘And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law (Torah) and the Gospel, and (appoint him) an apostle to the children of Isral, (with this message): ‘ I have come to you, with a Sign from you 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 quicken 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 you did believe: (I have come to you), to attest the Law (Torah) which was before me, and to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you. I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God’s displeasure and obey me. It is God Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is straight (-51).
Then will God say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! recount My favor to you and to your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the holy spirit, so that you did speak 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 breathe 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 did restrain the children of Israel from (violence to you )when you did show them the Clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: ‘This is nothing but evident magic.’ 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 You! never could I say what I have no right (to say) … Never said I to them aught except what You did command me to say, to wit, ‘ Worship God my Lord and your Lord; ‘ and I was a witness over them while I dwelt amongst them; when You did take me up You were the Watcher over them, and You are a Witness to all things (5:110-117).
These verses are only representative of numerous similar ones throughout the Qur’an. They all emphasize the fact that Jesus never claimed to be a god or the son of God, and that he was only the servant and apostle of the Lord in the pattern of those before him. The Qur’an stresses this fact in the following way:
And in their (the prophets’) footsteps 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, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God’s displeasure ()
They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is Christ the son of Mary.’ But Christ said: ‘O children of Israel! worship God my Lord and your Lord. Whoever joins other gods with God, - God will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode: There will for wrong-doers be no one to help’ They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is one of three in a Trinity:’ for there is no god except one God. If they desist not from their word ( of blasphemy), verily, a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to God, and seek His forgiveness? For God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful, Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how God does make His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! …Say: ‘O People of the Book! exceed not in you religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth. Nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by, who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even Way (5:72-75; cf. 4:171-172).
The beginning of Jesus was controversial. So was his end. In between he was persistent in carrying out his mission, strengthened by the Book of God, by wisdom, by the Clear Signs and by the holy spirit. Yet very few were those who accepted him whole-heartedly. Although tolerant and peace-minded, Jesus could not tolerate the hypocrisy of the children of Israel and their devotion to the letter of the Law at the expense of its spirit. He was rejected and opposed by them, and they plotted to kill him. It was customary among them to reject some of their prophets and kill some. Jesus was no exception to this rule. In fact they believed that they did crucify him. The story was climaxed and dramatized at this stage, and religious mournings became sacred for the Christians as was wailing for the Jews.
A plot was planned to crucify Jesus; an actual execution on the cross took place; someone was really crucified. But it was not Jesus; it was someone else who was crucified in his place.
As for Jesus himself, God came to his rescue and saved him from the enemies. God crowned his mission on the earth by saving him from violent death and raising him up high to Heaven. Whether he was raised in rank by means of excellence or whether he was raised alive in soul and body or in soul only after he died a natural death has not much bearing on the Islamic beliefs. It is no article of Faith, because what is important and binding to a Muslim is what God reveals; and God revealed that Jesus was not crucified but was raised to Him. The Qur’an related the end of Jesus as follows:
The people of the Book ask you (Muhammad ) to cause a book to descend to them from Heaven: indeed they asked Moses for an even greater (miracle), for they said: ‘Show us God in public’. But they were dazed, for their presumption, with a thunder and lightning. Yet they worshipped the Calf even after Clear Signs had come to them; even so We forgave them; and gave Moses manifest proofs of authority. And for their Covenant We raised over them (the towering height ) of Mount (Sinai); and (on another occasion) We said: ‘Enter the gate with humility’; and (once again) We commanded them: ‘Transgress not in the matter of Sabbath’. And We took from them a solemn Covenant. (They have incurred divine displeasure); in that they broke their Covenant; that they rejected the Signs of God; that they slew the Messengers in defiance of right; that they said:’ Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve God’s Word; we need no more)’; nay God has set the seal in their hearts for their blasphemy, and little is it they believe; that they rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge; that they said (in boast the dersion): ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God.’ But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them. And those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge except only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. Nay, God raised him up to Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise (4:153-158; cf:-59).
Islam rejects the doctrine of the Crucifixion of Jesus by the enemies of God and also the foundations of that doctrine. This rejection is based on the authority of God Himself as revealed in the Qur’an, and on a deeper rejection of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins. Islam teaches that the First Sin of Adam was forgiven after he himself had made the atonement; that every sinner, if not forgiven by God, will himself be accountable for his sins; and that no one can make atonement for the sins of another. This makes no room for the entertainment of the doctrine of Blood Sacrifice or atonement on another person’s behalf. However, some of the early Christian sects did not believe that Jesus was killed on the Cross. The Bacilidans believed that someone else was crucified in his place. The Docetae held that Jesus never had a real physical or natural body, but only an apparent body, and that his cricifixion was apparent, not real. The Marcionite Gospel (about 138 A.D.) denied that Jesus was born, and merely said that he appeared in human form. The Gospel of Saint Barnabas – of which there is an English translation in the State Library of Vienna and an Arabic version in the Arab world-supports the theory of substitution on the Cross.
As regards the end of Jesus, the Muslim is quite at ease as he is with regard to his beginning. The Muslim believes that Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but God raised him up to Himself in honor and grace. The mind of the Muslim is clear as far as the whole matter is concerned. The Qur’an has settled the disputes for him once and for all. The belief that Jesus was crucified raises a number of unavoidable inquiries. Some of these may be presented here.
1.Does the crucifixion of Jesus as conceived by the Christian churches befit the Justice, the Mercy, the Power, and the Wisdom of God?
2.Is it just on God’s part, or anybody’s part for that matter, to make someone repent for the sins or wrongs of others, the sins to which the repenter is no party?
3.Is it consistent with God’s Mercy and Wisdom to believe that Jesus was humiliated and murdered the way he is said to have been?
4.Is it a fulfillment of God’s promise ( to defend His allies and protect His beloved ones) that Jesus was so deserted that he became an easy prey to God’s enemies? Is this to be taken as a way of fulfilling one’s obligations or as a precedence in honoring one’s word?
5.Is it justifiable and proper to believe that God, the Most Forgiving, was unable to forgive Adam and his children for the Original Sin, and that He held them in suspense or bewilderment until Jesus came to make the atonement with his own blood?
6.Does the belief of crucifixion and blood sacrifice appear in any religion apart from the pagan creeds of the early Greeks, Romans, Indians, Persians, and the like?
7.Is there any parallel to Jesus in human history besides the fictitious figures of Bacchus, Apollo, Adonis, Horus and other Virgin-born gods?
8.Does it not give new insight to compare the words attributed to Jesus with those of Bacchus, who said that he was the Alpha and Omega of the world, and had came to redeem humanity by his blood? Could the similarity of these words to those ascribed to Jesus in later years stimulate a new zeal to search for the whole truth of the matter?
9.What did the Roman authorities have against Jesus? He was no threat to their control. In fact he did many favors for their leading personalities and their households. He taught his followers to render unto Caesar what belonged to Caesar and unto God what belonged to God. He was a peaceful preacher and a great help to the Roman authorities in keeping law and order in the land. Why then would they crucify him and lose such a good law-abiding citizen and supporter?
10.How much is known about the character of the Roman Governor, Pilate? Was he on good terms with the contemporary Jews who appealed to Rome against him? Was his rule in Judaea not expressive of his hatred and contempt of them? Was he not vulnerable to bribes? Why then would he hasten to do their will or implement their order? Why would he not accept the bribe of a rich admirer of Jesus such as Joseph of Armathaea? This Joseph, according to Luke, was wealthy and very interested in Jesus, and was a counselor who did not consent to the counsel in the decision to refer Jesus for crucifixion. Could he not have tried, even by bribing the corruptible governor, to save Jesus from crucifixion after he had failed to do so in the council chamber?
11.How many disciples did actually witness the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and what were their reactions? Can it be true what Matthew says (26:56) that all the disciples forsook Him and fled? Is this the criterion of the integrity and character of such great disciples of a great teacher? Only the beloved John is reported to have been present at the scene. But how long was he present and how long did it take the condemmed person to die on the cross in those days? According to some reliable historical sources (see the article on the Cross, The Chambers’ Encyclopedia, 1950), it usually took a few days for the condemned to die on the cross. But why was it only a few hours, not the usual few days, in the case of Jesus? And why did he “die” on the cross while his two other companions survived him? What about the darkness which overshadowed all the land for three hours of the crucifixion period (Matthew, 27:45; Mark, 15:33; Luke, 23:44); Could a replacement or substitution have taken place on the cross under the purple robe during that period of darkness and confusion?
12.How familiar with Jesus were those Roman soldiers who came to take him to cross? How certain were they that it was the right person they took to the scene? Did they really recognize him when they went to arrest him? Did they have any particular interest or urge to identify Jesus at that time when public festivities were taking place and fear of public outburst was imminent?
13.Can a believer imagine that Jesus (who was one of the five most determined and persistent messengers of God) would speak to God from the cross in the manner he is said to have spoken, in a tone of reproach or at best of anxiety? Is it proper for a distinguished prophet like Jesus to say to God at a trying time that God has forsaken him? Is that to be taken as a pattern or precedence in addressing God or in reacting to the trying experiences?
14.Was God the Most Merciful, the Most Forgiving and the Most High unable to forgive men’s sins except by inflicting this cruel and most humiliating alleged crucifixion on one who was not only innocent but also dedicated to His service and cause in a most remarkable way? Is this the application of God’s mercy and forgiveness or the reflection of His justice and love?
A study of the surrounding circumstances of the time, the behavior of the mundane authorities, the public reactions, the concept of God, the status of man, the purpose of religion and the life – a study of these can provoke interesting thoughts similar to the ones I have mentioned. Until a satisfactory explanation of such inquiries is found, the believer cannot be at ease, nor can he enjoy any true peace of mind. So it may be advisable for all parties concerned to make a serious study of the matter and embark on a deeper course of investigation.
However, as far as the Muslims are concerned, such inquiries never arise, and such perplexities are irrelevant, for Islam stands firm in maintaining that Jesus was not crucified or killed, but was honored and raised to God Himself. It is reported in Christian Literature that Jesus appeared, after crucifixion, to some disciples. His appearance is quite probable and conflicts in no way with the Islamic beliefs. If it was true that he appeared, the Muslim would believe that this appearance was not after death on the Cross but after the asylum; which he had taken by the order of God as a step in God’s plan to save him and counteract the vicious conspiracy of the enemies. Instead of being crucified and humiliated as had been planned by the enemy, he was more exalted in rank and more honored as had been counter-planned by God.
The greatness of Jesus and the distinction of his role do not, according to the Muslims, emanate from the Christian belief that he was cold-bloodedly crucified because of his teachings and to atone for man’s sins. If this popular belief is valid, one might be tempted to say that the sacrifice of Jesus for atonement was in vain because sin has not been eliminated. Or one may even say that there are thousands of great heroes, like Jesus, who died in promotion of their causes, worthy and otherwise. These can be found everywhere, among the Germans, the Allies, the Communists, the officials of the United Nations Organization, the religious warriors, the freedom fighters, etc. So if this violent death is going to deify the dead, humanity must have countless gods and deities, and it would be arbitrary on anybody’s part to confine such deity to Jesus alone, disregarding the other heroes who died in similar situations.
Again, the Muslim does not face such a paradox. He believes that the greatness of Jesus arises from the fact that he was chosen by God and honored with His word; that he was entrusted with the revelations of God and commissioned to teach His message; that he was a prophet of character and personality; that he was sincere inwardly and outwardly; that he fought hypocrisy and blasphemy; that he was distinguished in the beginning at the time of his birth and in the end at the time of his ascension; and that he was a Sign to the people and a mercy from God. Peace be on him and his fellow prophets.
The nature of this survey does not permit us to deal thoroughly with the statements of the Qur’an on Jesus and his mission. What has been given here is only the fundamental part. For further study and investigation the reader may be referred to the Qur’an itself. To facilitate the references, a table showing the relevant chapters and verses in the Qur’an is here presented.