The figure of Jesus stands prominently in Islam based on the various Islamic traditions and the many accounts of Him in the Quran. In one of the narratives, it is alleged that after Prophet Mohammed had his dream in the mountains, he ordered the cleansing of the different idols in the great city of Mecca. However, when he saw the Virgin Mary and Jesus, he removed his coat and covered them (Larson, 2008), which is a clear sign of reverence. In yet another Islamic tradition, it is believed that Jesus was the only child not touched by the devil at birth (Larson, 2008). These accounts and narratives among many others are a clear indication that Jesus has an indelible mark in Islam. Therefore, this paper discusses the figure of Jesus in the Islamic religion by highlighting His reference in the Quran, specifically his birth, death, and return.
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Jesus in Islam
The best way to understand Jesus in Islam is by looking at Him in the Quran. According to Parrinder (2013), “Jesus is always spoken of in the Qur’an with reverence; there is no breath of criticism, for he is the Christ of God” (p. 16). One of the vivid descriptions of the birth of Jesus in the Quran is Surah 3:45-47 and it says,
Behold the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus. The son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah; He shall speak to the people in the cradle and maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous.” She said; “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: when He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is!”
These verses reference Jesus as also recorded in the Bible in Luke 1:26-38 (King James Bible). The underlying message here is the virgin birth of Jesus through the power of Allah. In both the Bible and Quran, Sarah is concerned with the possibility of bearing a child yet she has not had any earlier sexual encounter with a man. Mary’s pregnancy is further discussed in Surah 19:16-40 whereby she is promised of being nourished with drinking water flowing from a stream and fed with dates from a tree growing in the surroundings. Immediately after giving birth to Jesus, Mary goes back home, but she is accused of immorality because she is not married yet she has a child. These references place Jesus at the center of Islamic beliefs because they are found in the Quran.
Similarly, the person of Jesus Christ is given various names in the Quran. For instance, he is referred to as Issa, which is His conventional name in the Quran. According to Gibb and Kramers (1961), the Jews called Jesus Esau, because they hated him, while a section of believers hold that the term Jesus was coined from the Syrian word Yeshu. However, despite the origin of these names, the term Issa is referenced over 30 times in the Quran, which underscores his place in Islam. In other places, He is referred to as Ibn Mariam, which translates into Son of Mary. Additionally, Jesus is referenced as a sign or Aya, which is in line with Biblical references in Luke 2:34 whereby Prophet Simeon talks about Jesus as a sign that would be a sign spoken against by many as an indication of his inevitable persecution. Jesus is also referred to as Nabi or prophet, and this title is consistent with many Biblical accounts in both the New and Old Testaments.
The most outstanding reference to Jesus in the Quran is that of Al-Masih meaning he is the Messiah. According to Larson (2008), the term Al-Masih is used eleven times in the Quran and this reference is in line with the prophecy concerning Jesus in the Bible, specifically in Daniel 9:25 and John 1: 41 and 4:25. Woodberry (1987) notes that the Quran’s acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah “provides a natural opening for a mind-enlarging and life-enriching testimony. In the Muslim world, the concepts/names of the Messiah stand like large containers waiting to be filled or refilled by the Holy Scriptures and human experience in faith” (p. 177). Therefore, the reference to Jesus as the Messiah in the Quran is outstanding and it allows readers and believers to draw clear parallels between the two Holy books. In essence, studying the story of Jesus in Quran provides Christians with a credible source of information that corroborates the Biblical accounts.
Jesus’ miracles are also highlighted in the Quran, specifically in Surah 3:49 and 5:110. In these passages, Jesus heals the sick, restores sight to the blind, creates birds out of clay, and ultimately brings the dead back to life. These miracles are extensively covered in the Bible, specifically in the four gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Quran also depicts Jesus as a sinless prophet, which sets him apart from other Biblical figures such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses who were sinners; hence, the need for cleansing and forgiveness of sins. The account of Jesus being sinless as given in the Quran is supported by Biblical information found in John 8:46 and Hebrews 7:28.
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One of the most controversial issues surrounding Jesus between Christians and Muslims is His death on the cross. Various theories are put across to explain what exactly happened on the cross. Some Islam texts claim, also known as the substitute theory, is the belief that God presented someone else akin to Jesus for crucifixion (Larson, 2008). Other accounts show that after Jesus was nailed on the cross, he temporarily lost his consciousness before being revived at the tomb, which is mainly referred to as the swoon theory (Larson, 2008). However, regardless of what happened on the cross – whether Jesus died or not, the main point is that the Quran and Islamic traditions acknowledge his existence. The topic of his crucifixion would not arise if he had not lived in the first place.
The return of Jesus is also intricately captured in Islamic eschatology. According to Larson (2008), the return of Jesus is mentioned in two verses in the Quran. In the first one, 4:159, people are argued to believe in Jesus before he dies because, on the Day of Judgment, He would be used as a witness against those being judged. Similarly, Surah 43:61 states, “And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment).” The only way Jesus can witness against believers on the day of judgment is through his second coming given that it has been established that the Quran records that he died. The concept of the second coming is equally highlighted in the Bible, especially in the book of Revelations, which gives extensive accounts of what will happen in the end times, when Jesus rides chariots and returns to rupture those who have remained faithful to Him and oversee the judgment and punishment of the wicked.
Additionally, Jesus’ conception of himself as presented in the Quran shows that he existed at one point in history, whether as the son of God or a prophet. The first encounter of Jesus in person is shortly after His birth where He intervenes to protect Mary from the baseless accusations that she is immoral for bearing a child outside marriage (Djaballah, 2004). In this case, Jesus is presented as sovereign because as a child, the only way He could learn to speak and give words full of wisdom and guidance is through God’s intervention. To some extent, it suffices to argue that Jesus received these words from God whilst still in His mother’s womb. Therefore, without getting into the underlying concepts of whether a child could or could not receive any message from God, the Quran is specific that Jesus acted as recorded. These accounts place Jesus at the center of the Quran: hence, in Islam.
Finally, Jesus’ teachings and mission on the earth are captured in the Quran. Jesus’ message as shown in both the Quran and the Bible, promotes the concept of monotheism, which ascribes to the existence of only one God. Additionally, Jesus came to bring the truth according to Surah 43:63, which states that Jesus came to enlighten his followers “with clear proofs, with wisdom, and to make clear to you some of that concerning which you differ.” This information is consistent with Biblical accounts, especially in John 14:6 where Jesus tells his disciples that He is the truth, the way, and life. As such, it suffices to argue that Jesus is presented in the Quran and His accounts are mainly consistent with His records in the Bible. This assertion underscores the claim that the Jesus of the Bible is the same as the Jesus of the Quran with few canonical differences mainly caused by differing Islamic and Christian beliefs.
The figure of Jesus stands consciously in Islam through His numerous references in the Quran and Islamic traditions. His virgin birth, his life characterized by miracles, and his death are extensively covered in the Quran. Immediately after He is born, he starts his ministry by defending his helpless mother, who is being accused of immorality. He then goes on to perform numerous miracles including raising the dead and restoring health to the ailing. His death, albeit controversial among Muslims, is recounted in detail. Therefore, Jesus is extensively chronicled in Islam. Even though He is mainly presented as one of the many prophets delivering God’s message to His people, this paper is concerned with discussing his presence in Islam, not His divinity. This paper has successfully shown that Jesus features prominently in Islam, specifically through the information contained in the Quran concerning his birth, life, and death.
Djaballah, A. (2004). Jesus in Islam. Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 8(1), 14-30.
Gibb, H. A., & Kramers, J. eds. (1961). Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam. Cornell University Press.
King James Bible. (2008). Oxford University Press.
Larson, W. (2008). Jesus in Islam and Christianity: Discussing the similarities and the differences. Missiology, 36(3), 327–341.
Parrinder, G. (2013). Jesus in the Qur’an. Oneworld Publications.
Quran. (2008). Oxford University Press.
Woodberry, J. D. ed. (1987). Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road: Crucial issues in witness among Muslims. MARC Publications.