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Finding the Historical Jesus in Islamic Traditions
By Rickey K Hood
Most Christians have little knowledge of the Muslim understanding of
Jesus. Some Christianâ€™s misunderstanding of Islam is that Muslims reject
Jesus all together, but they would be surprised to learn that Muslims
believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his miracles and even Jesusâ€™ Second
Coming. The stories and events in both Christian and Islamic traditions
share many similarities but also obvious differences. It is my attempt
in this essay to find the biblical base for many of the Islamic doctrines
that can be found in Christian literature. In my search for the biblical
base in Islam I will make clear comparisons of the scriptures from both
Islamic and Christian sources.
Islam, by tradition, is a re-teaching of the knowledge passed on by
earlier Prophets (writers). The Prophets of the Bible from Adam to Jesus
are all revered in Islam and by Qurâ€™anic doctrine there should not be any
distinction between one prophet and the next:
Qurâ€™an Surah 4:152#
To those who believe in Allah and His messengers
And make no distinction between any of the messengersâ€¦
But the Prophet Jesus is a unique case. The Qurâ€™an and other Islamic
sources separates Jesus from the other Prophets. He is often mentioned
in the Qurâ€™an and is a principal teacher next to Muhammad in Islamic
tradition. He is given the title of â€œWord of Godâ€ and â€œSpirit of Godâ€
denoting a special place of honor in the order of the Prophets.
Christians would not be offended by such praise toward their Savior and
Lord, but there is more to the understanding of the Islamic vision of
Jesus that is utterly different from the Jesus of the Gospels. The
Gospel Jesus is sent by God to redeem the world from sin. He is the Son
of God and the Lord of mankind. But the Jesus in Islam â€œis a
controversial Prophet. He is the only Prophet in the Qurâ€™an who is
deliberately made to distance himself from the doctrines that his
community is said to hold of him.â€# The Qurâ€™anic Jesus is in open
opposition to the Christian doctrines of his deification and the trinity:
Qurâ€™an Surah 5:116, 117
And behold! Allah will say: â€œO Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto
men, â€˜Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?â€™ He will
say: â€œGlory to thee!
Never could I say what I had no right (to say)â€¦ Never said I to them
Aught except what thou didst command me to say, to wit, â€˜worship Allah,
my Lord and your Lordâ€™â€
How then can the biblical Jesus of the Gospels be found in the Qurâ€™an and
other Islamic sources? Though Islam paints a very different portrait of
Jesus it is based on many of the sources found in the Christian
scriptures. My starting place for the search will begin with the births
of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Qurâ€™an Surah 19:2-5
(This is) a mention of the mercy of thy Lord of his servant Zechariah.
Behold! He cried to his Lord in secret. Praying: â€œO my Lord! Infirm
indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head doth glisten with grayâ€¦ My
wife is barren, so give me an heir as from thyselfâ€
In the time of Herod King of Judea there was a Priest named Zechariah and
his wife Elizabeth. Both of them were upright in the sight of Godâ€¦ But
they had no Children, because Elisabeth was barren and they were well in
Qurâ€™an Surah 3: 39-41; Surah 19:7.
While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angel called unto
him: â€œAllah doth give thee glad tidings of Yahya (John) to confirm the
truth of a Word from Allahâ€¦. (His prayer was answered): â€œO Zachariah!
We give thee good news of a son: his name shall be Yahya (John): on none
by that name have we conferred distinction before.
He was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood to go
into the templeâ€¦ and burn incenseâ€¦ the an angel of the Lord appeared to
him, standing at.. the alter of incense. â€œDo not be afraid, Zachariah;
your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and
you are to give him the name John.
Qurâ€™an 19:8; 10-11
He said: â€œO My Lord how shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I
have grown quite decrepit from old ageâ€¦. (Zachariah) said: â€œO my Lord!
Give me a sign,â€ â€œThy signâ€ was the answer, â€œshall be that thou salt
speak to no man for three nights although thou art not dumbâ€¦. So
Zachariah came out to his people from his chamber: he told them by signs
to celebrate Allahâ€™s praises.
Luke 1: 18,19; 22
Zechariah asked the Angel, â€œHow can I be sure to this? I am a old man
and my wife is well along in yearsâ€¦.â€ The angel answered, â€œI am Gabrielâ€¦
and now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this
happensâ€¦. When he came out, he could not speak to themâ€¦ for he kept
making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
Qurâ€™an Surah 3:42
Behold! The angel said: â€œO Mary! Allah hath chosen thee
And purified thee-chosen thee above the women of all nations.
The angel went to her and said, â€œGreetings, you who are highly favored!
The Lord is with you.â€
Qurâ€™an Surah 3:45
Behold! The Angel said: â€œO 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
But the angel said to her, â€œDo not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor
with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to
give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of
the Most High.â€
Qurâ€™an Surah 3:47
She said: â€œO my Lord! How shall I have a son
When no man hath touched me?â€ He said: â€œEven so;
Allah createth what He willeth: when He hath decreed
A matter, He but saith to it, â€˜Be.â€™ And it is!
â€œHow will this beâ€ Mary asked the angel, â€œsince I am a virgin?â€
The angel answered, â€œThe Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of
the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be
called the Son of Godâ€¦. For nothing is impossible with God.â€
The Gospel of Luke is the only book of the four gospels that bears
similarity with the Qurâ€™an in its telling of the births of John and
Jesus. The births of these historical Prophets are problematic because
all that is known are spiritualistic accounts recorded in the New
Testament, as you can see the same accounts are also recorded in the
Qurâ€™an, as it tells of the same Biblical events in the same Lukean
The historical Jesus was a man that strongly identified himself as a
revealed expression of Godâ€™s presence on earth. He was a man, as
Whitherington says it, â€œwho saw visions and received revelations â€˜in the
spiritâ€™ and who experience the spiritâ€™s power and used it to heal and
cast out demons.â€# The miracles of Jesus are well known and believed
among Muslims. His healing of the sick and raising of the dead are well
recorded in the Gospels, but these same accounts are also recorded in the
Qurâ€™an. The Qurâ€™an recounts the events in Jesusâ€™ life and ministry, this
time without a historical narrative. These accounts are in a poetic
narrative from a first person perspective, a God perspective. Though a
historical narrative is missing the events are consistent with the life
and ministry of the historical Jesus.
Qurâ€™an Surah 5:110a#
Then will Allah say: â€œO Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favor to thee
and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit so
that thou did speak to the people in childhood and in old age.
Luke 2:42, 46,47
When he was Twelve years old, they went up to the Feastâ€¦. After three
days they [Mary and Joseph] found him [Jesus] in the temple courts,
sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. Everyone who
heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Qurâ€™an Surah 5:110b
Behold! I taught thee the book and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel
Luke 2: 40
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the
grace of God was upon him.
Qurâ€™an Surah 5:110c
And behold! Thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird,
By My leave.
And thou breathiest into it and it becometh a bird
By My leave.
Infancy Gospel 15:2,6#
Who when they were at play, he (Jesus) made clay into several shapesâ€¦He
had also made the figures of birds and sparrows, which when he commanded
to fly, did flyâ€¦#
Qurâ€™an Surah 5:110d
And thou healest those born blind, and the lepers,
By My leave.
And behold! Thou bringest forth the dead
By My leave
As he approached the gate of the town a dead man was being carried out,
the only son of a widowed motherâ€¦ The Lord was moved with pity upon
seeing her and said to her, â€œDo not cry.â€ Then he stepped forward and
touched the coffin; â€œYoung man, I bid you get up.â€ The dead man sat up
and began to speak.
Qurâ€™an Surah 5:110e
And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee
The Clear Signs,
They got up, drove him (Jesus) out of the town, and took him to the brow
of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the
cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Qurâ€™an Surah 5:110f
And the unbelievers among them said: This is nothing but evident magic.â€™
But some of them said, â€œBy Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving
The Qurâ€™anic text of these events are like bullet points of the life of
Jesus as seen in the above examples. As a curious note once again the
Qurâ€™an pulls greatly from the Gospel of Luke for its image of Jesus.
â€œIn a well known passage in Josephusâ€™s work the Jewish Antiquities,
written probably in the early 90s CE, Josephus says the following about
Jesus: â€˜At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise manâ€¦ a doer of
startling things, a teacher of people who received the truth with
pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many
Greek originâ€¦.â€™â€# The Muslim Gospel speaks of Jesus as a wise man,
teacher and worker of signs. This collection of Islamic sayings and
teaching of Jesus, was â€œnot found as a complete corpus in any one Arabic
Islamic source. Rather, it was scattered in works of ethics and popular
devotionâ€¦ and histories of prophets and saintsâ€# The Muslim Gospel is a
collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. In appearance it brings to
mind the format of the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of what Jesus
said. There is no particular subject order, much of the narrative is
missing but the major elements that identify the teachings of the
historical Jesus are preserved. These writings were written during the
years of 748 CE to 1791 CE. Much of the Sayings in this collecting
borrow heavily from the Synoptic Gospels with only slight variation.
Some of the Sayings can be traced back to Christian monks and apocrypha,
though most have their origins from Sufi mysticism.
Jesus said, (1)â€œIf it is a day of fasting for one of you, let him anoint
his head and beard and wipe his lips so that people will not know that he
is fasting. (2) If he gives with the right hand let him hide this from
the left hand. (3) If he prays, let him pull down the door curtain, for
God apportions praise as He apportions livelihood.â€
Matthew 6:17-18; 6:3,6
(1)â€¦when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it
will not be obvious to men that you are fastingâ€¦# (2) But when you give
to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is
doing. (3) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray
to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done
in secret, will reward you.
Jesus said to his disciples, (1)â€œDo not take wages from those whom you
teach, except such wages as you gave me. (2) Salt of the earth, do not
become corrupt. Everything when if becomes corrupt can be treated with
salt, but if salt is corrupted it has no remedy. (3) Know that you
possess two traits of ignorance: laughter without [cause for] wonder, and
morning nap without wakefulness.â€#
Matthew 10:9,10; 5:13
(1) These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructionsâ€¦ Do not
take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts: take no bag for
the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for worker is worth
his keep. (2)â€œYou are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its
saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for
anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
Satan said to Jesus when he placed him in Jerusalem, â€œyou claim to raise
the dead. If you can truly do so ask God to turn this mountain to
bread.â€ Jesus said, â€œDo all people live from bread?â€ Satan said, â€œIf
you are what you claim to be, jump from this place, for the angels will
receive you.â€ Jesus said, â€œGod ordered me not to put myself to the test,
for I do not know whether He will save me or not.â€
The tempter came to him and said, â€œIf you are the Son of God, tell these
stones to become bread.â€ Jesus answered, â€œIt is written: â€˜Man does not
live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of
God.â€™â€â€¦the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the
highest point of the temple. â€œIf you are the Son of God,â€ he
said, â€œthrow yourself down. For it is written: â€œHe will command his
angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that
you will not strike your foot against a stone.â€ Jesus answered him, â€œIt
is also written: â€˜Do not put the Lord your God to the test.â€
Jesus said, â€œThe scholars of evil are like a rock, which has fallen into
the mouth of a river: it neither drinks the water nor allows the water to
pass to the crops. The scholars of evil are also like the channels of a
sewer: their exterior is white plaster and their interior is foul; or
like tombs which are grand on the outside full of dead bones inside.â€
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut
the kingdom of heaven in menâ€™s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor
will you let those enter who are trying toâ€¦. Woe to you, teachers of the
law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which
look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead menâ€™s
bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear
to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and
It is written in the Gospels, â€œHe who prays for those who treat him badly
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate
youâ€¦. Pray for those that mistreat you.
Jesus said, â€œWhat does it profit a man if he sell his soul for all that
is in the world, and then leaves all that he sold it for as an
inheritance to someone else while he himself has ruined his soul?
Blessed is he who saves his soul, preferring it to all that is in the
What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits
his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
In these sayings Jesus shows himself as a holy man, and Godâ€™s Sophia.
The Muslim Gospel is in agreement with the historical Jesus when it
refers to him as the â€˜word of Godâ€™ and the â€˜spirit of Godâ€™ made flesh.
He is, according to Whitherington, a â€œbearer or conveyer of the divine
presence on earthâ€¦ [this] would not have been true of Prophetsâ€¦ in early
The historical Jesus was also an apocalyptic preacher convinced of his
place in end-time events. Apocalyptic predictions were popular before,
during and after the time of Jesus. Jesusâ€™ predictions put him in the
same company as Isaiah and Daniel as a Prophet of Godâ€™s final judgment on
the nations. Islam inherited its eschatology (end-time theology) and
apocalyptic (revelation: revealing of future events) theology from
Christianity and Judaism. Jesusâ€™ preaching as an end-of-the-world
prophet â€œin the Synoptic Gospels raises the issue of whether Jesus meant
the end of the world, or simply the end of his world as it was.â€# Islamic
apocalyptism raises the same questions. Is this final conflict a
localized event or a global exchange? It is definitely clear that Jesus
is a major player in the end time prophecy. Both Christians and
Muslims â€œbelieve that ultimately not just the world order as [Jesus] knew
it but the world itself and all its inhabitants would be radically
changed when God chose to bring human history to a close.â€# In the
gospels Jesus quotes Daniel when he refers to â€œthe abomination that
causes desolation,â€ Christian tradition calls this character the Anti-
Christ. Islam also has an eschatological Jesus (end-time Jesus) similar
to the Jesus of the Gospels. The final conflict will be between Jesus
and the Dajjal (Anti-Christ).
Then it [the question about the Hour] was referred to Jesus, who
said, â€œNo-one knows about its timing except God;â€
Matthew 24:3; 24:36
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciple came to him
privately. â€œTell us,â€ they said, â€œwhen will this happen and what will be
the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?â€â€¦â€œNo one knows about
that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only
â€œâ€¦What my Lord told me was that the Dajjal (Anti-Christ) will appear, and
when he sees me he will begin to melt like lead. God will destroy him
when he sees meâ€¦â€
â€œSo when you see standing in the holy place â€˜the abomination that causes
desolationâ€™ spoken of through the prophet Danielâ€”let the reader
â€¦My Lord has told me that when that happens, the Hour will be very close,
like a pregnant woman whose time is due, but her family do not know
exactly when she will deliver.â€
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will
be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the
beginning of birth pains.
â€¦At that, God will send the Messiah, Son of Mary, and he will descendâ€¦
â€œAt that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all
the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming
on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
In both traditions Jesus saw himself as key to the coming of the end-
time. The Biblical Jesus saw himself as the Son of Man sent by God as
His agent on the earth to carry out his will in the last days. The
Islamic Jesus saw himself as the son of Mary sent by God to do the same.
In conclusion, the person of Jesus is a matter of interpretation. In
Christian belief he is the Son of God and Savior of the world. For both
Muslims and Christians Jesus is a teacher, preacher, healer, wonder-
worker, prophet and Christ. In my search for the historical Jesus in
Islam I have shown clear parallels of the Jesus of both faiths. Though
Islam paints a portrait of Jesus in its own image, the Jesus before them
is the same Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and the historical records as
seen in the writings of Josephus. I hope this essay has served as a tool
to enlighten Christians and Muslims about the man named Jesus.
The Holy Qurâ€™an. (Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, Saudi Arabia: Holy Qurâ€™an
King Fahd, Printing Complex 1989).
2Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic
Literature. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: First Harvard University Press,
3 The Holy Bible: The New International Version. (Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973)
4 Whitherington III, Ben, the Jesus Quest: the third search for the Jew
of Nazarath. New expanded edition. InterVarsity Press P. O. box 1400,
Downers Grove, Illinois. 1997, 93
5 Holy Qurâ€™an. 323.
6 The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. (Hudson
Street, New York, NY: A Meridian Book, 1926), 34.
7 This is not historical, but this shows how the Qurâ€™an borrowed from
other text that was once concerned scripture
8 Witherington, 162.
9 Khalidi, 3
10 Ibid. 53.
11 Matt. 6:17,18. New International Version.
12 Khalidi, 55.
13 #3 is unique to the Muslim Gospel, it does not compare with any
sayings of the Biblical Jesus.
14 Khalidi, 72.
15 Khalidi, 165.
16 Khalidi, 170.
17 Khalidi, 213.
18 Whitherington, 162.
19 Ibid. 97.
21 â€˜Ataâ€™ur-Rahim, 271. (a b, c)
22 â€˜Ataâ€™ur-Rahim, 273.
â€˜Ataâ€™ur-Rahim, Muhammad and Thomas, Ahmad, Jesus Prophet of Islam.
Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 1 Wynne Road. London, United Kingdom: Ta-Ha
Bible: The New International Version. Zondervan Publishing House.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973.
Khalidi, Tarif, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic
Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University
Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. A Meridian
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY: A Meridian Book, 1926.
Qurâ€™an. King Fahd Holy Qurâ€™an Printing Complex, P. O. Box 3561
Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, Saudi Arabia: Fahd Holy Qurâ€™an Printing, 1989.
Whitherington III, Ben, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of
InterVarsity Press P. O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity
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