Jesus in Islam

Prophet Isa (Jesus) in the Qur’an

Islam teaches that Prophet Isa or Jesus (peace be upon him) is a Prophet and Messenger, deputed by God to guide his community.

Islam rejects the belief that Jesus was Divine in any way. The doctrine of the Trinity is rejected, as is the belief that Jesus was the son of God.

As a Prophet and Messenger, Jesus is mentioned and praised in many places in the Holy Qur’an. He is described as:

– “Isa, son of Maryam”: to correct the mistake that Isa was the son of god or god

– “The Messiah (al-Maseeh)”: this is a Hebrew word which means a Prophet or a Messiah. Allah (SWT) not only calls Prophet Isa ‘a Messiah’, He calls him ‘the Messiah’. This was because the Jews were waiting for a specific Messiah who would save them, and so Allah (SWT) is telling them that Jesus is this specific Messiah for whom they were waiting.

– “The Messenger of Allah”: this is to bring both Jews and Christians back to the path of truth: Jesus was not an ordinary man as the Jews believe, nor was he divine as the Christians claim.

Here the Qur’an also confirms the fact that in the Bible itself Jesus never refers to himself as God, but rather describes himself as being sent by God.

– “The Word of God”: some Christians claim that this description of Jesus, which is also present in the Bible, indicates that Prophet Isa is God, because ‘the word of God is part of God’. However, this is not what the Qur’an means. What the Qur’an means by ‘the word of God’ is ‘the creature or sign of God’. Allah (SWT) uses ‘word’ in other places in the Qur’an to describe his signs and creatures.

– “The spirit of God (Ruhullah): Again, some Christians claim this description indicates that Jesus is God. However, Allah (SWT) uses this expression for all humans, beginning with Prophet Adam. What Allah means by ‘soul’ is ‘life’. Also ‘from God’ means God is the source, like when we say: ‘I am from Australia’ and not that Jesus is part of God. This description means that Jesus was given life and soul from God. While every human being can be described as a spirit from God, this title is used to refer to Prophet Isa (as) as an honour for him and because his birth was unique.

– “Prophet Isa is supported by the Holy Spirit”: this either means Jibrail (as), or a special entity that was with all Prophets and Imams. It is the secret behind their sinless nature. The Christians also claim that the Holy Spirit is a part of God. However, the Qur’an says: “We supported him with the Holy Spirit”, meaning that Allah (SWT) controls both the Holy Spirit and Jesus and they are both His creatures, and not a part of Him.

Refuting the Doctrine of Trinity

It is important to note at the outset that the term ‘Trinity’ is not mentioned in any place in the Bible. There are only two verses in the Bible which mention the three personas of Trinity and thus may be capable of being interpreted to be referring to this doctrine. They are:

– Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

– 2 Corinthians 13:14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”.

In addition to this, there are other verses which are claimed to be referring to the Divinity of Jesus Christ, such as the following:

– John 10:30 “I and My Father are one.”

– 1 Corinthians 8:6 “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”

These limited verses are not sufficient to form a foundation for a doctrine which forms the basis for all of Christian theology. Christian theologians by and large accept this. The reasons for this are:

  • The verses claimed to be direct references to the belief in Trinity and the divinity of Jesus are small in number. Surely such a foundational belief should receive more attention in the Scripture.

  • The claimed references are not clear in indicating the doctrine of Trinity. Christian theologians generally accept this. There is nowhere in the Bible that says that “God is three persons” or “God is a Trinity” or “God is three persons in one”. The above verses simply refer to the status or importance of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. There is no indication all they are Divine, or that they are united in one substance with God.

Christians also argue that while Trinity is not clearly expressed, the pattern of the description of divine activity in the New Testament necessarily leads to a Trinitarian belief in God. The mention of the three elements together, and the general flow of the New Testament language,leads to this belief.

This argument is disputable because if the New Testament showed a pattern of divine activity that could only be understood in a Trinitarian sense, then there should not be any passages or verses in the Bible which contradict this understanding, or which point to a Unitarian understanding of God. The fact is that there are a number of such verses which contradict a Trinitarian understanding of God, some of which are quoted below:

– John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

– Mark 10:17-18 “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”

– Mark 13:32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

The text in these Biblical verses clearly indicates that there is one God, that the Son is not God, and that the Son and God are distinct. This obviously invalidates the argument that the pattern of Divine activity in the Bible leads to a Trinitarian understanding of God.

Another argument put forward by Christian theologians is that the reason the Bible does not clearly express the doctrine of Trinity is because of the limitations of language itself. Human language is usually directed at the material, and is often incapable of grasping metaphysical concepts, including the nature of God. Of course, the problem of limitation of language is encountered by all religions when it comes to trying to understand or explain the nature of God.

The problem is different in Christian theology though, because not only does a Christian theologian need to explain the attributes of an Absolute, Immaterial God, but he also needs to explain how God can be three persons having one substance – in other words, be three in one. Christian theology also has to explain how the three can be distinct, without having parts that distinguish them from each other, and how they can be mutually inter-dependent but at the same time each keep their independence, an attribute which any God must have. If we agree that the problem is linguistic, then it is a very difficult problem.

One can clearly see, though, that the problem is not merely linguistic. Christian theologians also acknowledge this. It is not only a problem of how we express these ideas in words, but also how we conceptualise them in our minds. It is impossible to understand logically the above contradictions that make up the doctrine of Trinity. The answer given by Christian theologians is that the problem is not with the doctrine of Trinity, but with the difficulty in conceptualising God in the first place.

This argument is clearly flawed. When a Muslim theologian, for example, says that it is difficult to conceptualise God, they mean the following: we can use our intellect to come to a logical conclusion that there must be God. We can also know how to describe God’s attributes with guidance from the Scriptures. However, our intellect also comes to the conclusion that the Essence of God is beyond the limits of the intellect, and so we declare ourselves incapable of defining God or conceptualising His Essence. There are no paradoxes or contradictions in this.

This is very different to the statements of the doctrine of Trinity. These statements are internally contradictory and go against some simple rules of logic. The difficulty in conceptualising them has nothing to do with their metaphysical subject matter, or with trying to resolve the deep mysteries of God. Rather, these statements are internally self-contradictory, and thus impossible to prove logically or to even conceptualise.

Maryam (Mary) in the Qur’an

Islam teaches that Mary or Maryam (peace be upon her) was a pious and chaste woman who dedicated her life to God. She lived a life of worship and devotion to God. God blessed her with the birth of a son who would be a great Prophet and Messenger, Isa or Jesus (peace be upon him). The birth of Jesus was unique in that he was miraculously born without a father. This was by God’s decree and was a sign and miracle from God.

There are two great accusations against Maryam (as):

– The Jews accuse her of being an unchaste woman and that she had a child through adultery.

– Some Christians (e.g. Catholics and Orthodox Christians) say that she was ‘the mother of God’, although even in the Bible this title is not given to her.

– Other Christians (e.g. Protestants, Presbyterians) give very little significance to Mary and she has little role in their theology.

The Qur’an frequently uses the expression “Isa, the son of Maryam”. This is to indicate that Prophet Isa is not the son of God, and also to show that Maryam is not the mother of God.

The Qur’an mentions that Prophet Isa and Maryam were both worshipping God, and were eating and drinking- making it impossible for them to be gods themselves.

“O Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to people worship me and my mother as two gods besides Allah? Jesus says: ‘Glory be to You, I would not say what I do not have a right to say, I only said what You commanded me to say…”

The Holy Qur’an mentions many virtues for Mary:

-She is one of the four best women in history.

-She is the only lady whose name is explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an.

-She is the first woman to be ‘chosen’ by Allah (SWT).

-She is the only woman to have a child without being with a man.

-She is the first sinless woman.

-She was a woman who was spoken to by angels.

-She has the right of intercession.

The Life of Maryam (as)

Her father’s name was Imran, and her mother’s name was Hanna. She had a sister called Elizabeth, who was married to Prophet Zachariah. Both these sisters could not have children. Hanna and Imran both prayed for a child sincerely and Hanna vowed that if she had the child, she would dedicate him to the service of Allah. Her husband had a dream that a boy would be born into his family, and so when she finally fell pregnant they assumed that this was the boy. However, before Hanna gave birth, her husband Imran died.

When Hanna gave birth, she had a girl, Maryam (as), and not a boy. She was shocked, but decided to go on with her vow, nonetheless, and it became the responsibility of Prophet Zachariah to look after Maryam.

Allah (SWT) would send her sustenance miraculously: she would have the fruits of winter in summer and the fruits of summer in winter.

One day, Maryam (as) is visited by angels, and she is given the good news of a child, called Isa. However, Maryam was not married and so this worried her greatly. The angels said to her that Allah (SWT) had willed this and so this would happen, and that this was a sign for people and a mercy from God.

Now, Maryam’s challenge was to face the accusations of the whole community. Maryam ran away into the wilderness when she realised she was pregnant. Then Maryam started to feel the pangs of childbirth and she was guided to a date-palm. Maryam wished that she had died before this happened, and that she was forgotten by everyone.

At this point, Maryam had reached the threshold of her patience, and so Allah (SWT) came to her rescue:

“O Maryam, do not grieve. Your Lord has made under you a river, and shake the date-palm above you, so eat and drink, and be happy. Then if you see any person, tell them that I have made a silent fast…”

Once Maryam returned to her community, the accusations began. The whole town heard about this. Maryam responded by pointing to her baby, Prophet Isa. The people made fun of her, but suddenly Prophet Isa began to speak:

“He said: I am the devotee of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and has made a prophet, and made me blessed wherever I am…”