11. The Jesus of Islam
Part 2 – Jesus remains a man not a god
Despite Jesus’ unusual birth to a virgin Islam still considers him to be simply a man chosen by Allah to be a prophet. He is viewed as a created being from the dust just as Adam was (Qur’an 3:59). To consider Jesus as anything more than his humanity would be to ascribe to him some status of divinity, and as we have seen previously this is a serious sin.
Allah reveals himself through the Qur’an as being one, and in being the only one. He is if you like singular in construction and the only one of his kind.
During Muhammad’s life the early Church was spreading rapidly throughout the world and he would have heard of their radical concept of a Trinitarian God – that is a God which is three in one.
Such a paradox, which is accepted in Christianity through faith and the testimony of the Bible, seemed to simply be a wilful act to distort the truth about Allah and elevate a man into a deity. If you remember from one of the first podcasts in this series at the birth of Islam Muhammad was reacting against an Arab people who were polytheists, that is belief in and the worship of many different gods and spirits. Muhammad placed the Christian view of Jesus into this category.
The Qur’an summarises all of this in the following:
Qur’an 4:171 – ‘O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter anything concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (It is) better for you! – Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son.’
Interestingly, there are two aspects regarding the Islamic view of Jesus which are not fully explained. In the previous verse you may noticed that Jesus is referred to as a ‘word’ and a ‘spirit’ from Allah. What exactly does this mean? The Qur’an does not make any further reference to it and they are unique to him.
From a Christian perspective Jesus being described as a ‘word’ is familiar as it is found in the opening verses of John’s Gospel to denote his divinity. Alongside this, the Qur’an also makes the unexpected claim that Jesus was holy, faultless, pure, or righteous depending on your translation from the Arabic in Qur’an 19:19.
These characteristics are commonly associated with divinity outside of Islam and offer a stark contrast to Muhammad who required forgiveness for his sins (Qur’an 48:2). Many Muslims are not aware of this last verse and can take offense at the suggestion that their greatest prophet is in fact sinful, so refer to it with care and respect.