Exalted Jesus in the Qur'an

1. Introduction

See also the article: Jesus in Qur’an

Jesus, the central figure of Christian faith, is called Isa (Arabic: عيسى) in the Qur’an. Jesus plays a very significant role in the Qur’an, because in 15 Surahs is his name. The picture of Jesus Christ in the Qur’an is determined by the many references to him. In more than hundred Surahs, Jesus has the most important position. He is also known as “Isa ibn Maryam” (“the son of Mary”). Jesus is only one time mentioned as nabi (prophet), but this is not so important, because the Qur’an has very many prophets. More important is that Jesus is called a rasul (sent). Only a rasul has received a holy book of revelation. Jesus has received the Injil (Gospel). Outside Jesus, only Muhammad, Musa (Moses) and Dawud (David) have received such a holy book of revelation. Eleven times Jesus is called Al-Messiah (the Messiah), however in the Qur’an is no connection between Messiah and divinity. The Qur’an rejects any suggestion to something divine outside God (shirk). Association of partners with God can be understood as a contradiction with monotheism. The Qur’an says that Jesus himself never said that he is God. Jesus had a miraculous birth, because he had a conception directly created by the command of Allah (God) and he was born of the virgin Mary. Jesus is connected with miracles (proofs, signs). Jesus himself is a miracle, because of his miraculous birth. Jesus is described in the Qur’an as having performed many miracles not done by other prophets, including healing the blind and the leper and the resurrection of the dead. Jesus has done more miracles than the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The Qur’an notes that all Jesus’ miracles were performed by God. Muslims believe that Jesus was a Muslim who was not crucified or killed, although the Qur’an doesn´t mention much about Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was taken alive into heaven: “Allah took him up unto Himself”. He learned his disciples and others to do God´s will and listen to him: “keep your duty to Allah, and obey me”. However, the message of Jesus was rejected by the Children of Israel (Jews). The Qur’an says that Jesus will come back before the Day of Judgment as “knowledge of the Hour”.

2. Origin

2.1. Uniqueness

See also the article: Jesus is God in the Qur´an

According to the Qur’an, the miraculous conception of Jesus was announced by angel who brought the message to Mary, the proposed mother of Jesus. The angel said: "Whose name will be the Messiah" (3:45): God said that he had decided to give a name for the child, not Mary. God gave him the name Messiah (Christ), Jesus, son of Mary. Therefore this this child was already in God’s presence, because the child already had a name [1]. The present tense of "Jesus, the son of Mary" (3:45) means that Jesus Christ already existed when the angel announced the message to Mary. Furthermore, "And among those brought near [to Allah]" in the same Qur’an verse implies that Jesus Christ is from God and born a baby by God’s command [2].The Qur’an considers Jesus as unique. The Qur’an only mentions it in comparison to Adam and his wife for the fact that they came into existence out of ordinary people. Jesus was born without a father and was created by a divine command (3:47, 19:21). He is a faultless and holy son (19:19). But Jesus is not exalted in the Qur’an as in the Gospel. The Qur’an shows two sides of Jesus’ position. From one side, Jesus is above all (2:253, 3:45, 43:63) and from another side there is the warning that Jesus is a human being as anyone else [3]. The Qur’an also rejects the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. However all Qur’an verses (4:171, 5:72-75, 5:116) are about the three deities God, Jesus and Mary and this is another doctrine than the Trinity (Father, Son Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit).

2.2. Annunciation

The annunciation is the announcement by the angel Gabriel (Arabic: Jibrail) to Maryam of her conception of Isa (Jesus). [4]. When the angel told Maryam that she would give birth to a faultless son, named Isa, she was so disturbed that she had forgotten to say that it is not possible to have a son without being touched by a man. As any girl, Maryam did not imagine that something like that is possible: “How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me” [5]. In the Qur’an chapter 19, Surah Maryam, she told the angel: “No man has touched me” and “I am not unchaste” [6]. That she was not unchaste means that she was not engaged in any sexual activity. Both conditions are telling us that Maryam was a virgin. Therefore Maryam could not believe to be the mother of Isa. The angel’s reply was: "Such is Allah; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is" [7]. The Quran, therefore, states that Isa was created from the act of God's will.

2.3. Virgin birth

The miraculous birth is together with the miraculous conception the most distinguished aspect of Isa’s life [8]. Mary was a virgin when Isa was born and she became an instrument to bore an exceptional child that God used to perform his actions. Mary guarded her chastity (“farjaha”, her opening) [9]. The Qur’an is telling us that the fact that Jesus was born without a human father raises some questions: “Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, "O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented” [10]. The Qur’an made it quite clear how the virgin birth should be integrated into a monotheistic view. The matter of Jesus’ birth is a sign that proves God’s unlimited power [11]. The Qur’an does mention that after Jesus was born under the palm tree, Jesus told her to refresh herself from the ripe dates to give her power to survive: "And the pangs of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of the palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died ere this and had become a thing of naught, forgotten! Then (one) cried unto her from below her, saying: Grieve not! Thy Lord hath placed a rivulet beneath thee, And shake the trunk of the palm-tree toward thee, thou wilt cause ripe dates to fall upon thee. So eat and drink and be consoled" (19:23-26 - Pickthall). This miracle of the palm tree can be found in the Latin Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew ) [12]. Christians in the time of Muhammad were probably familiar with this miracle.

2.4. Faultless son

The Qur’an does mention that Isa is faultless, because the angel announced: "He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son" (19:19 - Pickthall). Faultless means without sin and Qur’an translators also translate the Arabic word “zakiyya” with faultless, pure or holy. This implies that Isa was without sin.

2.5 Qur’anic Jesus of Muslims

That the fertilization of Isa was without an earthly father was hard to understand for some Muslim scholars. So, they launched the idea that the angel Jibrail blowed into her sleeve and that she might conceive, apparently thus receiving the spirit. However, for this idea is no evidence in the Qur’an. It is just a human invention and a vulgar legend [13]. Other Muslims recognized the uniqueness of Isa in the Qur’an and the very close relation of Isa with God: “Every person is related to his formal father and not to the breather of the spirit into the human form. But when God formed the human body as he says in the Qur’an, “when I formed it”, God breathed into it of his spirit. Thus the spirit is related to God in his being and in his essence. But Jesus is like that. For the making of his body and human form was in the spiritual breathing” [14].

3. Titles

3.1. Prophet

See also the article: Jesus: only a prophet in Qur’an?

The Qur’an says that God blessed Isa, taught him wisdom, Torah and the Gospel and appointed him as a prophet. Isa brought the message from heaven to mankind: “Indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is the straight path” (3:51, 43:61). Like all other prophets, Isa based his teachings on God’s authority an obeyed to God’s will. Isa was sent to set mankind on the right path and to work for the conversion of the people (19:43, 5:4-50, 61:6). Unlike other prophets, Isa is in the Qur’an the prophet of peace, “Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!” (19:33).

3.2. Messenger

The Qur’an denies that Jesus was more than a messenger: “The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him” (5:75). Jesus was man of flesh just like all the other messengers of God. Of all messengers, Jesus is at a higher position than other messengers: “We have made some of these messengers to excel the others among them are they to whom Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by (many degrees of) rank; and We gave clear miracles to Isa son of Marium, and strengthened him with the holy spirit. And if Allah had pleased, those after them would not have fought one with another after clear arguments had come to them, but they disagreed; so there were some of them who believed and others who denied; and if Allah had pleased they would not have fought one with another, but Allah brings about what He intends” (2:253 - Shakir). See also 3:45.

3.3. Messiah

Messiah (Arabic: al-Masih) is almost a second name for Isa, more an additional name than a title in the Qur’an. Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah. Isa is seven times called Messiah in in the Qur’an [15]. All verses are from the Median period, because Muhammad had not so much contact with Christians in Mecca. Muslims will note that Messiah only means “anointed one” or “touched one”. For Christians, Isa as Messiah is the object of faith. Contrary to Christian teachings, the Qur’an doesn’t teach the divine status of the Messiah:“They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord” (5:72 - Pickthall). This means in short that Christ should not be associated to God. According to the Qur’an, all prophets before Isa had God’s protection in words and actions. But the Qur’an doesn’t call them a Christ, because they are not Christ. The reason why the Qur’an calls Jesus the Messiah is hard to find in the Qur’an [16]. The Arabic nickname of Messiah is “laqab”. It was derived from the verb “masaha” which occurs in the Qur’an in wiping parts of the body with water (5:6) or to clean the earth (4:43, 5:6) [17]. This is close to the Gospel, where the Messiah is the promised Savior promised by the prophets of Israel [18].

3.4. Spirit of God

The Qur’an calls Jesus “Spirit of God” (Arabic: Ruhruh min Allah) because Maryam conceived him as a virgin through an action of God’s spirit (4:171). The word “Spirit” has different meanings in the Qur’an [19][20]:

In two cases the word “Spirit” is in connection with Isa: as helper and supporter and that Isa himself is the Spirit of God. The list of different “Spirit” meanings makes clear that the Qur’anic word “Spirit” is confusing. Although the Qur’an says that Jesus Christ is not divine, his titles are an opening to consider his person as exceptional [21].

3.5. Word of God

Jesus is called “Word of God” (Arabic: kalimah min Allah) in Qur’an 3:45 and 4:171. This is comparable with the “Word of God” (Greek: logos) in the Gospel of John (John 1:1-14). It is also possible to see Qur’an 3:39 and 19:34 are as references to Jesus as the Word of God ) [22]. Qur’an 19:34 has the word “qawl”, which means “word” or “statement”. The vocalization of this word in the standard Egyptian edition of the Qur’an (1923) refers to “statement”, while most original readers went to “word” [23]. Qur’an 3:39 says that the prophet John the Baptist (Yahya Ibn Zakeria) would “confirm the truth of a word of God”. Some philologists have argued that “kalimah” a “book” or “scripture” and this can be the Gospel [24]. However Qur’an commentators say that “kalimah” is not divine.

4. His works

4.1. His status

The Qur’an denies that Jesus is God (5:17, 5:72, 5:116, 9:30), but explains that Jesus is a servant of God (4:172, 19:30, 43:59). The Qur’an says that Jesus is an ordinary human being like any messenger or prophet of God (19:21, 66:12). However the Qur’an also mentions Jesus “a Mercy” (19:21), “eminent in this world and the hereafter” (3:45). Jesus was not only for the Children of Israel (3:49, 43:59), but a sign for humanity as a whole (19:21): “He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And (it will be) that We may make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained” (19:21 - Pickthall). It is possible that the pagans in Arabia in Muhammad’s time considered Jesus as the Son of God in the same way they considered their idols as daughters of Allah. However, they preferred their idols over Jesus, because according to them Jesus is no better god than their material idols. Therefore Allah had to tell them that Jesus is not such a god, but only a man and Allah’s slave [25].

4.2. Physical Description of Jesus

Because Jesus is in the Qur’an just a man and God’s slave, his anatomy did not differ from any other man. All his organs and any of the distinct types of material of which people are made functioned in the same way like ours. Jesus was hungry and thirsty, so he had to eat and drink as we do.

4.3. Miracles

The miracles of Jesus are mentioned in the Qur’an, but with less detail than in the Gospel: The Qur’an says that all miracles were done by Allah’s leave, like the early prophets.

4.4. Mission

The Qur’an says that Isa guided the people of Israel: “And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (with this message)” (3:49). “O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of Allah (sent) to you” (61:6). Isa was in the footsteps of the prophets of Israel, including Yahya Ibn Zakeria (John the Baptist): “And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him” (5:46).

4.5. Injil (Gospel)

The Qur’an does mention that Isa received a holy book, the Injil. The Injil is the last Previous Scripture that the Qur' an praises:“Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah's will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe” (2:97). “It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).” (3:3 – Yusuf Ali) ”And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient” (5:46-47). "(I have come to you), to attest the 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 Allah, and obey me" (3:50). Christians are to be judged by the Gospel [28]. Therefore the Qur’an confirms the Gospel.

4.6. Disciples

Isa was a Jew and also his first disciples were Jews [29]. The Quran says that Isa had a number of students who followed his guidelines: “Behold! the disciples, said: "O Jesus the son of Mary! can thy Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?". Said Jesus: "Fear Allah, if ye have faith". They said: "We only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that thou hast indeed told us the truth; and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle". Said Jesus the son of Mary: "O Allah our Lord! Send us from heaven a table set (with viands), that there may be for us - for 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 (of our needs)" (5:112-114 – Yusuf Ali). “But when Jesus became conscious of their disbelief, he cried: Who will be my helpers in the cause of Allah? The disciples said: We will be Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah, and bear thou witness that we have surrendered (unto Him). Our Lord! We believe in that which Thou hast revealed and we follow him whom Thou hast sent. Enrol us among those who witness (to the truth)” (3:52-53 - Pickthall).

5. Crucifixion and ascension

5.1. Crucifixion

See also the article: Crucified Jesus in the Qur'an

The Qur’an doesn’t mention much about the crucifixion of Jesus in contradiction with the detailed description of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This is an indication that it is not an important issue. The only verse that denies the crucifixion is 4:157: “They did not kill him”. However, in harmony with the previous verses 4:153-156, “they” are the Jews. This is in agreement with the historical fact that Jews did not crucify people. It were the Romans who crucified people. This is an opening to the view that 4:157 doesn’t deny the crucifixion of Jesus.

5.2. Ascension

According to the Qur’an, Jesus was taken up to Heaven alive:“[Mention] when Allah said, O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you [in submission to Allah alone] superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ” (3:55).

5.3. Second coming of Jesus

According to the Qur’an, Jesus Christ will return. God has declared that Jesus is a sign of the Day of Judgment: “He is a Sign of the Hour. Have no doubt about it. But follow me. This is a straight path” (43:61). Because of this verse, many Muslims believe that, Jesus comeback will be in the midst of a war against the Antichrist (false Messiah) and his followers.

6. Jesus and Mohammad

6.1. Ahmad and Muhammad

Muslims believe that Jesus prophesied in the Gospel about Muhammad, because in the Qur’an is written [30]: "And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One. Yet when he hath come unto them with clear proofs, they say: This is mere magic" (61:6 – Pickthall). Muslims also refer to the Gospel of John to support their claim that Jesus announced Muhammad [31]. However this conclusion cannot be derived from the original Gospel verses. The Arabic word “Ahmed” means “praised one” and “illustrious”, but many Muslims explain that Ahmed is connected with Muhammad, but there is no evidence for the name Ahmad before Muhammad [32]. Muslims accuse Christians that they replaced the original word Periklytos by Paraclete, but there are no original Greek texts to prove this. Therefore there can be no other explanation than that the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete announced by Jesus and not Muhammad.

6.2. Miracles

Miracles are to prove that someone is prophet, messenger or more than that. Muhammad did not perform a miracle [33]. In contrast to Muhammad, Isa performed many miracles: healer of the sick [34]; he was taken to heaven by God (Qur'an 4:158) and he will come back again [35]. Isa is the greatest miracle worker in the Qur’an.

7. Common elements of with the Gospel

7.1. Creator

Jesus was able to create according to the Qur’an (3:49, 5:110). The creation acts of Jesus can also be found in the Gospel (John 5:21).

7.2. Faultless

Only Jesus was without sin (19:19). The Qur’an confirms the Gospel (John 8:46).

7.3. Day of Judgment

On the last day Jesus is a witness against unbelievers (4:159). See also the Gospel (John 5:22-23). According to the Qur’an, Jesus is the knowledge of the last day (43:61) and this is confirmed and explained with details in the Gospel (Luke 17:30; 21:25-28).

7.4. Mercy

God gave grace to Jesus (5:110). The Gospel mentions the same grace of God to Jesus, the Word of God (John 1:14). The Qur’an tells us that Jesus is God’s mercy (19:21). This is confirmed in the Gospel (Matthew 20:30,34) .

7.5. Guidance of the early prophets

Belief in the prophets involves faith in all the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an without making distinction between them (6:89-90, 6:34). Both verses are with the same kind of message in the Gospel (Matthew 5:17). Jesus explains about the prophets and righteous people that he is the Word of God (3:45) and the teacher for mankind (Matthew 13:17). Therefore the Gospel makes known, that Jesus is more than a prophet, he is the one to be followed (John 1:12).

References

  1. Ibrahimkhan O. Deshmukh, The Gospel and Islam. GLS Publishing, Mumbai, 2011, p. 212.
  2. Ibid, p. 211.
  3. Ibid, p. 212.
  4. Frederic Ntedika Mvumbi, The Identity of Christ in Islam, Paulines, Nairobi, 2008, p 80-81.
  5. Qur’an 3:47.
  6. Qur’an 19:20.
  7. Qur’an 3:47.
  8. Qur'an 19:16-26.
  9. Neal Robinson, Jesus, in: Jane Dammen (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, Vol Three, J-O, 2003, p. 14.
  10. Qur'an 19:27.
  11. Heikki Raisanem, The Portrait of Jesus in the Qur’an: reflections of a Biblical Scholar, in: Muslim World, 70, 1985, p. 126.
  12. Neal Robinson, Jesus, in: Jane Dammen (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, Vol Three, J-O, 2003, 13.
  13. Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, Faber and Faber, London, 1965, p. 69.
  14. Andreas D’Souza, Jesus in Ibn-Arabi’s Fuu al-ikam, in: Islamochristiana, 8, P.I.S.A.I., Rome, 1982, p. 188.
  15. Qur’an 3:45, 4:171, 4:172, 5:17, 5:75, 9:30, 9:31.
  16. Frederic Ntedika Mvumbi, The Identity of Christ in Islam, Paulines, Nairobi, 2008, p 88.
  17. Neal Robinson, Jesus, in: Jane Dammen (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, Vol Three, J-O, 2003, 12.
  18. Frederic Ntedika Mvumbi, The Identity of Christ in Islam, Paulines, Nairobi, 2008, p 88.
  19. H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers (ed.), Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill, Leiden, 2001.
  20. Michael Sells, Spirit, in: Jane Dammen (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, Vol Five, Si-Z, 2006, p. 114-117.
  21. Frederic Ntedika Mvumbi, The Identity of Christ in Islam, Paulines, Nairobi, 2008, p 92.
  22. Neal Robinson, Jesus, in: Jane Dammen (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, Vol Three, J-O, 2003, p. 14.
  23. Ibid, p. 15.
  24. Ibid, p. 14.
  25. Ibrahimkhan O. Deshmukh, The Gospel and Islam. GLS Publishing, Mumbai, 2011, p. 213-214.
  26. Matthew 26:17-30.
  27. Neal Robinson, Jesus, in: Jane Dammen (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, Vol Three, J-O, 2003, p. 16.
  28. Qur’an 5:41-49.
  29. Neal Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity. The Representation of Jesus in the Qur’an and the Classical Muslim commentaries, London, 1991.
  30. Hans Küng, Islam, Past, Present & Future, Oneworld Publications, 2009, p. 489-501.
  31. John 14:16-17, 26, 16:7-14.
  32. W. Montgomery Watt, ‘His Name is Ahmad’, in: The Muslim World, 1953, p. 43.
  33. Qur’an 29:50.
  34. Qur'an 3:49; 5:110.
  35. Qur'an 3:45, 43:61.