Jesus provides common ground for Dialogue between Christians & Muslims

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With the approach of Christmas and the celebration by Christians of the Story of the Nativity, Imam Qari Asim, CMF Trustee and Chair of the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board, writes about how Muslims too venerate Jesus and Mary. Citing verses of their mention in the Qur’an, he emphasises the grounds for a deeper dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Jesus in Islam

According to Christians, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus. For Muslims the birth of Jesus Christ is a special occasion. It may come as a surprise that Jesus is also an important figure in Islam. Unless a person believes in Jesus as a prophet of God, he or she can’t be a true Muslim.  Jesus, or Isa, as he is known in the Qur’an, is deemed by Islam to be one of the five elite prophets. Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) is referred to by name in as many as 25 different verses of the Qur’an and described as “the Word”  and the “Spirit from God” . Prophet Jesus was called “The Word” for a few reasons, including the word of God was delivered through Prophet Jesus (pbuh). Further, like Prophet Adam (pbuh), Jesus was created without a father by the word of God, “Be”. He came into being as a result of God’s command. No other prophet in the Quran is given this particular honour.

However, an important distinction between Christians and Muslims is that he is not called a son of God, but rather  Jesus son of Mary or Isa ibn Maryam, as it is known in the Qur’an. 

In fact, Islam respects and venerates both Jesus and his mother. Mary, or Maryam, as she is known in the Qur’an, is considered to hold the most exalted spiritual position among women. God says in the Qur’an that she was chosen above all women [Chapter 3:42]. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an and the 19th chapter of the Quran is named after her.

But the real significance of Mary is that Islam also considers her a virgin and endorses the Christian concept of the Virgin Birth. The story of Prophet Jesus’s birth is told in the Qur’an it is also the story of his first miracle.

After he was born, Mary took the baby Jesus to her people, but they accused her of committing a sin. They said, “Mary, you have committed a terrible thing.” narrates the Qur’an.  Without speaking, Mary pointed to the baby as if to say, Do not ask me, ask the baby. In utter surprise, the people asked how they could speak to a baby; Jesus then miraculously started speaking.

According to the Qur’an, Jesus said, “I am indeed the servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He made me blessed wherever I am and advised me of prayer and charity as long as I live. He made me kind to my mother and never made me arrogant or disobedient.” [Qur’an19:30]

The miracles performed by Jesus were not limited to his cradle according to the Qur’an. The Qur’an goes on to describe many other the miracles of Prophet Jesus such as healing the sick and raising the dead. These miracles are not ascribed to his divinity. Instead, Jesus is a sign to all humankind of God’s endless mercy.

Muslims believe Jesus performed miracles throughout his life: “Then will God say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favor to you and to your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the Holy Spirit (the angel Gabriel) so that you did speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold: you make out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and you breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by My leave, and you heal those born blind, and the lepers by My leave. And behold! you bring forth the dead by My leave.’ ” [Qur’an 5:110].

Muslims also believe Jesus will return to Earth before the Day of Judgment to restore justice and defeat “the false messiah” — also known as the Antichrist.

There are several elements of the life and teachings of Jesus عليه السلام in Islam that form a basis for mutual respect with Christians and all human beings, for that matter. His message of love for God and love for our neighbours, his virgin birth, his unique title as the Messiah, his signs and wonders, his ascension to heaven, and his eventual return to restore the truth and justice form the foundation for dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

We find many parallels between the teachings of Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon both of them). For instance, one of the most famous sections of the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus عليه السلام is said to have delivered some of his more important wisdom-sayings, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” [Matthew 5:7] Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said likewise, in a tradition given great importance in some Islamic curricula, “Be merciful to those on the earth, and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”[Tirmidhī]

Throughout history many Islamic thinkers have used Jesus as an important religious model. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the 11th- and 12th-century scholar, encouraged Muslims to pray as Jesus prayed. Ibn ‘Arabi called Jesus wilaya (“seal of the friend of God”) because he is the Spirit of God.

A common focus on Prophet Jesus could help close the divide between the world’s two largest faiths. Reconciling Christianity and Islam based on a true understanding of each other’s religions could serve as a bulwark against the divisions that we see in our world.

Differences should be occasions for, not obstacles to, dialogue. We must celebrate and promote that which binds us together, but equally challenge and debate the issues that may lead to division.

Imam Qari Asim, MBE

Chair, Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board and Senior Editor, ImamsOnline