In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
I recently came across the blog of Dean Esmay, who had a blog post that said this:
“I have Christian friends who often wish to assure me that the primary problem with the Islamic world is that because Muslims don’t have Christ, well, theirs is a false faith and thus, when you get right down to it, if it’s not satanic it’s at least fundamentally flawed. This, somehow, explains why they’re terrorists.”
This is very interesting, and it is not the first time I have heard people say something similar. I remember watching the Rev. Pat Robertson speak at the National Press Club, and he said – if my memory serves me correctly – that there is a great spiritual hunger in the Muslim World to know about Jesus Christ. This perplexes me, because, we Muslims know a lot about Jesus Christ.
Take this story:
The young woman was standing, as she was wont to do, in an eastern section of the temple in solemn and sincere prayer to God. Suddenly, the angels spoke to her and said, “O Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and he has chosen you over all women of all peoples. Mary, obey your Lord devoutly, worship, and bow in prayer with those bowing in prayer.” Then, the angel of Revelation appeared to her in her prayer niche in the form of a man.
She was startled and said to the spirit: “I take refuge from you with the Benevolent One, if you are conscientious.”
He then said, seeking to allay her fears, “I am only a messenger from your Lord, to give you a sinless son.”
“How shall I have a son,” she said taken aback by this news, “when no man has touched me, and I have not been unchaste?”
He replied, “It will be so. Your Lord says, `It is easy for me; and We intend to make him a sign for humankind, and a mercy from us. So the matter is decided.'”
This story was not taken from my copy of the Holy Bible. I pieced this story from the Holy Qur’an, from verses 3:42-47 and 19:16-21. In addition, the story of the birth of the Virgin Mary (3:35-37) and John the Baptist (3:38-41, 19:1-15) are also recounted in the Qur’an. Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) is all over the Qur’an.
The story of his birth is told twice in the Qur’an (3:42-47 and 19:16-33). In addition to the story of the birth, the Koran recounts how Jesus spoke in his infancy (3:46 and 19:29-33), healed the blind, those stricken with leprosy, and raised the dead back to life (5:110). The Qur’an even mentions that Jesus used to fashion birds out of clay and breathe life into them, all by the permission of God Almighty (3:49). In addition, the Qur’an recounts the story of what seems to be the Last Supper (5:112-116). All in all, the Qur’an mentions Jesus by name more than 25 times. In contrast, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is mentioned by name only four times in the entire Qur’an.
The Qur’an describes Jesus as being “honored in the world and the hereafter, and one of the intimates of God” (3:45) and “in the ranks of the righteous” (6:85). He is also described as “a word, from God, which God sent down to Mary, [and] a spirit from him” (4:171) and that Jesus was “strengthened with the Holy Spirit” (2:253, 5:110). Classical commentators have interpreted the “Holy Spirit” to mean either divine inspiration or the Angel Gabriel. Yet, with all this, Muslims still do not believe Jesus to be divine: “People of Scripture [i.e., Christians], do not go into excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, the Son of Mary, was only a messenger …” (4:171)
Islam also rejects the notion of a triune deity: “… So believe in God and God’s messengers. And do not speak of a trinity; it is best for you to refrain. God is one sole divinity, too transcendent to have a son, in possession of all in the heavens and on earth. And God is a good enough patron” (4:171). Muslims also do not believe it was Jesus who was on the cross. Rather, Jesus was saved by God before the Romans could arrest him: “… They did not kill him, they did not crucify him, although it was made to seem thus to them …They surely did not kill him: rather God raised him up to the Divine Presence; and God is almighty, most wise” (4:157-158).
Yet, Muslims do not revere Jesus Christ (pbuh) alone, but they also highly revere and respect the Virgin Mary. She is the best woman, according to the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad, ever to walk the face of the Earth. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and the 19th chapter is named after her. The Virgin is described as “a woman of truth” (5:75), and God set the Virgin Mary as an example for the ideal believer: “And God sets forth, as an example to those who believe … Mary the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity” (66:11-12). The Blessed Virgin, just like her son, is accorded no divinity according to Islam.
So, we Muslims have plenty of Jesus Christ (pbuh); we know a great deal about Jesus Christ (pbuh). Although we don’t worship him, this does not mean that we love him any less. Belief in and love for Jesus Christ (pbuh), along with all of God’s prophets, is absolutely necessary for one to be considered a Muslim. In addition, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are full of references to Jesus, and Islamic literature is also full of sayings attributed to Jesus Christ. In fact, salvation for Muslims necessarily includes belief in Jesus Christ. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said, “If anyone testifies that none has the right to be worshiped but God alone, who has no partners, and that Muhammad is his slave and his apostle, and that Jesus is God’s slave and his apostle and his word which he bestowed on Mary and a spirit created by him…God will admit him into Paradise.”
No, we Muslims may not celebrate Christmas with our Christian friends and neighbors. No, we Muslims may not decorate our homes with Christmas lights like our Christian friends and neighbors. Yet, that does not mean we do not love, honor, respect, and revere Jesus Christ (pbuh). No devout Muslim would ever fathom attacking or maligning the character of Jesus Christ (pbuh), as some self-described devout Christians have brutally attacked the character of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
So, perhaps you can see why I always scratch my head when some people say “you Muslims don’t got Jesus.” Quite clearly, we got plenty of Jesus in our religion, and Christ holds a very prominent place in the Islamic belief system. One would think that the common love for Jesus Christ between Muslims and Christians would be a bridge of friendship and mutual understanding between the two faith communities. After all, the Qur’an does say: “…nearest among [the people] in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians’…” (5:82).
Sadly, however, this ideal has failed to become reality, and Muslims and Christians have fought each other bitterly at various times throughout human history. Yet, it does not have to be so. There can be a pax Muslimo-Christiana. All it takes is for Muslims and Christians to remember Jesus Christ (pbuh).