Summary of 2.6 Jesus in The Qur'an – Birth
The last program began the topic of Jesus (PBUH) in the Qur'an concerning his mission and nature. Four basic points were emphasized.
First, was the extent to which Jesus (PBUH) is mentioned in the Qur’an. Out of the hundred and fourteen chapters in the Qur’an, eleven chapters mention and discuss Prophet Jesus. Some of those chapters discuss Prophet Jesus in detail, while others are brief. There are two specific chapters that discuss the story of Jesus in depth. Chapters 3 and 19 are titled after his mother the Virgin Mary.
The second main point was regarding Jesus’ lineage. According to the Qur’an, he is a descendant of the Israelite prophets. In one specific verse, the Qur’an shows that he is from the lineage of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) the same as Moses and Muhammad. The Virgin Mary, the circumstances of her birth, her early childhood and her devotion are also discussed in depth.
The third basic issue discussed was the birth of Jesus (PBUH). The Qur’an is clear that his was a virgin birth. The Qur’an explains the coming of the Holy Sprit or Ghost, which is the archangel Gabriel in Islamic terminology, to give the news to Jesus. Then the discussion touched on the accusations that Mary had to deal with and how Jesus, as an infant, defended her.
The fourth and final point is a question of the father of Jesus. We know his mother but who is the father? Some people make an ironic conclusion that this is proof that his father must be God. According to the Qur’an, the likeness of Jesus is to Adam. God created Adam from clay and said to him ‘Be’ and he was. And we have shown that God created Adam without a father or mother and that doesn’t make him divine. Eve was created from man and that doesn’t make her divine. This completed the various aspects of the miraculous creations of Allah, which take different forms.
2.7 Jesus in The Qur'an – Humanity
Host: The Qur’an admits to the miraculous birth of Jesus, but why him?
Jesus’ birth is unique no question about it and every prophet’s miracle is also unique. All the miracles given to prophets are similar, but not identical. In that sense, each and every miracle in itself is unique. The various stories in the Qur’an, which have similarities with the Bible, show the miracle of Prophet Abraham. The people cast him into the fire and yet he came out alive without any scaring. This is unique, but it doesn’t make him divine. The miracle of Prophet Muhammad was the Qur’an, which is a perpetual miracle that is still around today. This miracle is unique but this doesn’t make Prophet Muhammad divine or supernatural. In this sense, the birth of Christ (PBUH) is also unique.
The point to remember is that the miracles of various prophets are similar, yet unique, because each prophet was given a miracle more suited to the kind of circumstances he was sent to deal with. To clarify, in the days of Prophet Moses (PBUH) the pharaohs were very skillful in the work of magic. When Moses became a prophet, the Qur’an states that God ordered him to throw his cane to the ground. It became a huge snake that swallowed all the trivial magic deeds that the magicians around him cast. That is how they immediately saw it as a sign from God that this person couldn’t be a magician but instead is a real prophet. That type of miracle was suited to the circumstances of Moses’ time.
By the same token, at the time of Prophet Jesus (PBUH), as historians agree, the people forgot the spirit of the law. They were bent on ritualism and formalism. Actually, there was the argument that the people at that time denied the existence of the world of the spirit. Some used to say that the soul or spirit of anything is in its blood. Some were very influenced by the Greek philosophy of cause and effect and they concluded that God is the first cause. It was needed at that time that God would show that He was above what human philosophers interpreted as the cause/ effect relationship. God is beyond this limited human understanding and myopic view. Given the circumstances of the people at the time of the mission of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) they needed to be reminded of the spirit of the law and the word of the spirit. It was very suitable to have the miraculous birth to remind them that the spiritual word does exist and is crucial.
I would like to conclude this by simply indicating that when we talk about miracles given to the prophets we are not talking about something that is self generated, but rather a divine gift given to the prophet to support him in his message. A prophet or messenger, whether he is Moses, Jesus, Muhammad or Abraham (PBUT) or any other, is not a miracle worker but is the medium through whom God manifested His power and signs to mankind.
Host: The Qur’an sometimes refers to Jesus by the term kalimah, which means The Word. If this is how he is referred to in the Bible, then how is it different? What is the difference between the two?
The Qur'an says that God will give you (Mary) the good news of a word from Him his name is Christ or Messiah the son of Mary (3:43). The difference between the Qur'an and the Bible is the interpretation of term ‘word.’ There is an essential difference between the theological understanding among the Christians and the Qur’anic usage. The theological interpretation among Christian scholars is that the ‘word’ here is related to some kind of attribute of God. In fact, refer to the gospel of John in the very first verse that the word was with God and that the word was God. According to many Biblical scholars this seems to be an influence of Greek philosophy or the Platonic philosophy, which considered the ‘word’ as divine intelligence. In that sense the ‘word’ is regarded as one aspect of God or divinity itself.
The Qur’anic understanding of it has nothing to do with this philosophy. In the Qur’an, the term a ‘word’ from God translates as a command from God or sign of God. The Qur'an better explains it “For to anything which We have willed, We but say the word, "Be", and it is.” (16:40) This means that the word ‘be’ symbolizes the will and command of God, which is the word of God. All of us have been created by the word ‘be.’ In that sense, according to the Qur’an, the same term was used to create Jesus, you and I and we are all creatures of God. All of us are words of God because we were created by the command of God. In the Qur’an there are at least twelve places where ‘words’ of God is used in the plural which shows again that it was not uniquely used for Jesus. All of us are ‘a word of God’ because we were created by His command.
Host: What is the difference between Islam’s understanding of the phrase ‘Holy Spirit’ with that of Christians’?
The general understanding of the Holy Spirit is influenced by Greek philosophy, particularly the Platonic ideologies. The gospel of John shows this influence quite extensively. The whole idea of God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost is based very closely on this same Greek philosophy that the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost is a component of God.
The Qur’an has two different kinds of expressions for the word spirit. The equivalent Arabic word for the word spirit is rooh’. In reference to Jesus, in particular we find that the Qur’an mentions that Jesus was a spirit proceeding from God. There is also the expression of Holy Spirit/Ghost and each has a different meaning.
First, let’s take what the Qur’an means when it says that Jesus was a spirit proceeding from God. Is it exclusive to Jesus or does it apply to other people as well? The answer is that it applies to all because the word rooh’ appears in the Qur’an in meanings that relate to the context of the verse. For example in 42:52 the word spirit is used to refer to revelation (the Holy Book) and that it is a spirit from God. In 58:22, for example, the spirit is used in a sense of support from God “and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself.” It is also used as the secret of life or the source of our spirituality. This is what is referred to in the Qur’an in respect to Jesus (PBUH) as well as to other human beings. Chapter 4 verse 171 mentions the spirit in reference to Jesus. It was also mentioned in a general sense to refer to all human beings because all of us have something of the spirit of God in us. The Qur'an says, “But He fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him something of His spirit.” (32:9) This refers to the creation of all human beings. This means that every human being derives his spirituality, his instinctive natural feeling of a connection with his Creator, from the spirit of God that was breathed into him at the time of creation.
The other usage of the term Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is actually used specifically for archangel Gabriel. He is called Roohul Qudoos which means Holy Spirit or AlRoohul Ameen which means Honest Spirit. The Qur’an mentions him as the angel who brought revelation to prophets in the past including Prophet Muhammad.
“We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an apostle with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?- Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay!” (2:87)
“Then will Allah say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel and behold! thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: 'This is nothing but evident magic.'” (5:110)
All of these verses show that Roohul Qudoos is actually referring specifically to Gabriel. According to Islam, Gabriel and all other angels are creations of Allah- they are not part of Him. They are all servants of God just as the prophets are.
Host: What negations are there of the divine nature of Jesus in the Qur'an? The Qur’an itself has only denied that Jesus was the son of God and that God was the father of Jesus.
Some writers don’t have a deep understanding of the Qur’an, they quote one verse and they don’t relay other verses that relate to the same subject. In fact, what the Qur’an negates is all forms of deification whether it is in the mainstream of Christianity, or those who were regarded as heretics at one point or other in the history of the Church.
For example, the Qur'an states, “And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah.?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say, to wit, 'worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.'” (5:116-120)
The Qur'an also says, “They do blaspheme who say: “(Allah) is Christ the son of Mary.” But said Christ: “O Children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever joins other gods with Allah,- Allah will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help.” (5:72)
This chapter continues, “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to Allah, and seek His forgiveness? For Allah is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful. Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him.” (5:73)
Finally, one may recall in our series on Islamic monotheism that the idea of God sending a son to take away the sins of humanity is also negated in the Qur’an in chapter 112, which one of the shortest and most important chapters in the Qur’an. It says, “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.” (112:1-4) The idea of God having a son and all other forms of deification are very clearly negated in the Qur’an. Muslims believe that Jesus never said anything that implied his divinity.
Host: Why then in the Qur’an, when God speaks about creation and that is exactly the same as The Old Testament, does He say ‘We have created? Why does God say We and not I?
There was an argument that was raise saying that the Qur'an proves the trinity because God says ‘We’ and, in Arabic, we refers to the plural meaning at least three. It is well known that in many languages, Arabic and English included, and in The Old Testament the term we is used by those in power. For example, historically Kings and Queens and other royalty have used the word we when talking of themselves. Of course when God speaks, He’s entitled to use this majestic form of the language.
In fact, there are scholars who have studied how many times the word Lord, for example, appeared in the Gospel and how the idea of using Lord in a religious sense to refer to God had been something that came up much later on in Christianity. This takes care of the question of using ‘We’ as the Qur’an is full of conclusive evidence showing the Oneness and Uniqueness of Allah. Concerning Christ, the Qur’an is filled with evidence that he is a messenger, a prophet and a servant of God.
Host: Is there any way that a Muslim can reconcile himself with the ideas of the son of God or ‘Lord’ as they are explained in Biblical literature (The New Testament)?
In all fairness to our Judaea Christian brothers, I cannot answer that question unless I explain, first, how the Bible uses the term Lord and the term son of God. This might be the most conclusive evidence, not from a Muslim’s point of view, but from the Bible itself.
Take the word Lord, everybody knows that this term doesn’t necessarily mean divine. In England, there are many Lords but no one would say that there are so many Gods there. Lord means master. It is believed that this was the exact meaning people meant when they addressed Jesus as Lord in the New Testament.
The second term is the son of God. There is ample evidence in The Old Testament that son of God is used for a person who is close to God because of his spirituality and faith, but never because of his divinity. The Book of Exodus says that Isreal was called the first born son of God (4:22-23) but nobody says that he is divine. In the psalms of David, David is referred to as the son of God (2:7). In the first Chronicle, Prophet Solomon is also referred to as the son of God (2:10).
Ezra (Uzair in the Qur’an 9:30) is referred to in the Old Testament. He lived in 450 B.C. and was regarded as a son of God because of his crucial role, during the Babylonian exile, in recollecting the law of the Torah about a thousand years after Moses. Evidence from The Old Testament itself shows that the term son of God was used in a metaphoric sense not necessarily in an exclusive or divine sense.
Even The New Testament uses it in a similar way as The Old Testament. For example the book of Matthew says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (5:9) There are similar quotations in Matthew (5:45 and 23:9). In fact, The Old Testament even uses the term sons of God. In the book of Job, this term is used as a plural. It is quite apparent that when Jesus (PBUH) used the term father to refer to God or son to refer to himself, he only meant it in the metaphoric sense. He meant it in the same way that all human beings are children of God because we depend on Him and that God is the father because he loves and cares for all of us.
Host: Has Jesus personally denied his divinity?
Actually the verses that have just been quoted from the Qur’an show Jesus denying his divinity. He actually rebuked the people who would develop those philosophical ideas after he is gone. An example is when Satan came to Prophet Jesus and tried to tempt him as it appears in the book of Matthew (4:1-11). Now the question is how can Satan tempt God? This is conceivable if the person who is subjected to temptation is a human being and that is what Jesus spoke of. Also on many occasions Jesus had gone to the wilderness or mountains to pray. Now what does it mean that Jesus is praying? He is praying to someone who is greater than himself. He is praying to his God and Lord and in accordance to the definition of the Trinity this doesn’t make sense. Nobody prays to himself so why would Jesus pray to himself if he was God?
In the book of Matthew, Jesus denies any knowledge of the unseen or the last hour (24:36). Again the knowledge of the unseen is definitely one of the divine attributes and if somebody doesn’t know the future then he is not God- he is a human being. He may be pious, he may be a messenger, but he is not God.
Additionally, the Gospel of Mark says that when someone ran after Jesus and said ‘Good Master’ Jesus would reply, Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone. (10:17- 18) Here this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not good but goodness in the absolute sense is a divine attribute and that is not to be used on him. In the Gospel of John, Jesus admits and says that “father is greater than I” (14:28), which is very clear evidence he never meant that he is divine and even denied it and clarified that he is simply a human and messenger of God. That is exactly what the Qur’an, 600 years later, confirms.