NY Times Book Review: Jesus Christ in Islam

March 4, 2017

NY Times Book Review

Recommended Read:  Jesus Christ in Islam

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Jesus in Islam

Mehdi Hasan


Muslims don’t worship Jesus, but they do revere him and believe about him much that Christians do.

So you’re telling me you believe in Jesus, as well as Muhammad?” I remember the perplexed look on my Christian friend’s face a few years ago. I had dropped a theological bombshell on him in revealing that Jesus was considered by Muslims to be a prophet of God.

“Not only do we believe in Jesus,” I replied, pausing for maximum dramatic effect, “we also believe in the Virgin Birth.” My friend’s eyes widened with surprise, his mouth agape.

Christians, perhaps because they call themselves Christians and believe in Christianity, like to claim ownership of Christ. It thus comes as a huge surprise to many of them – my friend included – to discover that the world’s second-largest faith, Islam, also stakes a claim to him.

Jesus, or Isa, as he is known in Arabic, is deemed by Islam to be a Muslim prophet rather than the Son of God, or God incarnate. He is referred to by name in as many as 25 different verses of the Quran and described as the “Word” and the “Spirit” of God. No other prophet in the Quran, not even Muhammad, is given this particular honour.

In fact, Islam reveres both Jesus and his mother, Mary (Joseph appears nowhere in the Islamic narrative of Christ’s birth). “Unlike the canonical Gospels, the Quran tilts backward to his miraculous birth rather than forward to his Passion,” writes Professor Tarif Khalidi, in his fascinating book The Muslim Jesus. “This is why he is often referred to as ‘the son of Mary’ and why he and his mother frequently appear together.” In fact, Mary, or Maryam, as she is known in the Quran, is considered by Muslims to hold the most exalted spiritual position among women. She is the only woman mentioned by name in Islam’s holy book and a 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. “She was the chosen woman, chosen to give birth to Jesus, without a husband,” says Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, an imam in Leicester and assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

For Muslims, however, the Virgin Birth is not evidence of Jesus’s divinity, only of his unique importance as a prophet and a messiah. The Trinity is rejected by Islam, as is Jesus’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. The Quran castigates Christianity for the widespread practice among its sects of deifying Jesus (and Mary), and casts the criticism in the form of an interrogation of Jesus by God:

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it

Muslims cherish and venerate Jesus the prophet – but, I often wonder, are we paying only lip-service to his life and legacy? Where, for example, is the Islamic equivalent of Christmas? Why do Muslims celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad but not that of the Prophet Jesus? “We, too, in our own way should celebrate the birth of Jesus … [because] he is so special to us,” says Mogra.

In recent years, the right-wing press in Britain has railed against alleged attempts by “politically correct” local authorities to downplay or even suppress Christmas. Birmingham’s attempt to name its seasonal celebrations “Winterval” and Luton’s Harry Potter-themed lights, or “Luminos”, are notorious examples. There is often a sense that such decisions are driven by the fear that outward displays of Christian faith might offend British Muslim sensibilities, but, given the importance of Jesus in Islam, such fears are misplaced and counter-productive. Mogra, who leads the MCB’s interfaith relations committee, concurs: “It’s a ridiculous suggestion to change the name of Christmas.” He adds: “Britain is great when it comes to celebrating diverse religious festivals of our various faith communities. They should remain named as they are, and we should celebrate them all.”

Amid tensions between the Christian west and the Islamic east, I believe a common focus on Jesus could help close the growing divide between the world’s two largest faiths. Others agree. “We don’t have to fight over Jesus. He is special for Christians and Muslims,” says Mogra. “He is bigger than life. We can share him.”

29 thoughts on “NY Times Book Review: Jesus Christ in Islam

  1. CLF and LaMoy, your reaction, please? I also hope Abnizar and Orang Malaya can contribute their thoughts. Of course, I will not seek the views of Harussani and Zakir Naik. –Din Merican

  2. Well.., if you allow for ‘Virgin birth’, it’s difficult to imagine what process besides a divine miracle Yeshua-Isa-Jesus came about. It certainly wasn’t about human parthenogenesis (akin to cloning) of the Blessed Virgin, cuz Jesus was a male. The Gospel of St John is emphatic about the Divinity of Christ (the ‘Anointed One’), but i won’t belabor you guys with such ‘stuff’.

    Nah, focusing on Jesus will lead to more theological arguments than ecumenism between the two religions.

    Both Christians and Muslims have totally opposing worldviews, although the latter ‘borrowed’ many of it’s rituals, traditions, liturgy and theology from the Judeo-Christian corpus. For example the ‘salat’, daily prayer schedules, fasting and even architecture (cf domes and minarets which parallel that of early domed churches which were Roman and bell towers).

    The writer is probably trying too hard but matters of faith cannot be ‘rationalized’ so easily. The Trinity is just that – a matter of faith, deep reflection and experience. The Key Christian beliefs are the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ; and thus the Incarnation, Atonement, Reconciliation, Redemption and Universal Salvation..

    Perhaps the writer might find it easier chatting up Unitarians, but i doubt it.

  3. All prophets are prophets of God and believe in the One God. Muslims are followers of prophet Muhammad pbuh. To be a Muslim one must declare the shahadah ‘I declare that there is no God except Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet and Messenger”
    People including all the prophets before Muhammad pbuh only declared one half of the Shahadah I.e. ‘There is no God except Allah”
    In Islam apart from the 5 pillars of Islam there is the 6 rukun Iman where Muslims believe in Allah, all the Prophets, all books and messages sent down by Allah to the Prophets. Thus a true Muslim will revere Jesus too and not oppose his disciples. Sadly in Malaysia the Islamic authorities have painted the Christians as enemies of Islam. Yet in the same breath they say to follow the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet.

    On celebrating the birthdays of the Prophet, Malaysians Muslim authorities have followed the Wahhabism and declared it bidaah. We are not celebrating the birthday but commemorating the birthday by saying the Salawah and sending blessings to the Prophet pbuh. Even Allah has declared ‘send blessing to my Prophet” and I will bless thou likewise.
    Anyway Allah knows best.

  4. Quote:- “Joseph appears nowhere in the Islamic narrative of Christ’s birth”

    If Joseph appears nowhere in Jesus’s birth, then who was Jesus’s father? If Jesus was merely a prophet, then Jesus was just another human being conceived and birthed naturally with a human father, in this case Mary’s husband, Joseph.

    By not recognizing Joseph, the husband of Mary, as the putative father of Jesus, one of two things must have happened:

    1. some human father, other then Joseph, was the biological father of Jesus, meaning Jesus was the result of Mary’s adultery if she was married to Joseph or conceived out of wedlock if she was not married to Joseph, meaning Jesus was a bastard defined as a child born to unmarried parents;

    2. the “Holy Spirit” was the “father” — Mathew 1:18, meaning God was the father, meaning therefore Jesus was the Son of God.

    It’s one or the other, cannot be both.

    • Jesus cannot be a son of a bastard because he performces miracles including raising dead person unlike Muhammad who after 600 years claim to be prophet but could not performce a single miracle. He has many wives including a 6 year old girl. He is just a crook deceptive evil.

  5. It is plain to me that Muhammad drew his inspiration from the Judaeo-Christian monotheistic religions which were pressing down into Arabia of his day, made some changes to them to come up with his religion. Simply put, Islam is a copy cat religion. In my opinion, it’s the most intolerant and the most violent religion in the world. Muhammad was a brilliant warrior and a great plagiarist.

    Since Islam has the same Judaeo-Christian root, there are many similarities and Muhammad had made many changes, too, to suit his needs at the time. While Jews and Christians believe Jesus died, Muslims believe he was raised to heaven without being put on the cross and god transformed another person to appear exactly like Jesus who was crucified instead of Jesus. Muslims do not believe Jesus was divine or that he is the redeemer of our sins, Muhammad told them every soul is responsible for their actions in Islam. But Muslims do believe Jesus is the Messiah and this is mentioned in the Quran several times. The Quran also says Jesus was able to speak 2 days after he was born.

    Muhammad claimed himself the final prophet and used his religion to unite his gullible people to conquer and to kill his enemies. Unfortunately, many Muslims today still live in Muhammad’s time. Unlike the Judaeo-Christian religions, Islam has remained unchanged from Muhammad’s intolerant and violent era. In my opinion, Islam as a religion is more accurate to be called Muhammadism.

    I don’t believe in a god. I don’t believe one needs religion to make life seem worth living. I am happy and filled with purpose and with eagerness about life as any one trained to pass all his troubles on to a god, or the god’s local agent, the pastor or imam. My satisfaction comes from functioning healthily, from physical and mental exercise, whether it be playing golf or tackling a pharmaceutical chemistry problem….

  6. “…dont believe in a god . ” ? – dont ‘die’ then, the oldest lady in the US still had to die at the the age of 126, without that belief , you will burn in ‘ hell ‘ – no mercy at all upon you…..(because you do not believe in the Creator of the entire Universe ) !

    On the two major religions, Islam does not accept ” Trinity ‘ and the doctrine of Redemption by Jesus as the savior , each soul MUST seek for his own salvation….

    In the Koran, Jesus never claimed to be the ‘son’ of God…..this ‘ distortion ‘ emanated 354 years AD , AFTER death of Jesus , during the Emperor Constantine , by inserting the liturgy “…..begotten son of God …” in the Christian invocation during worship – 354 years AD ? – no record of Jesus himself claiming himself to be ‘ son of God ‘ – to be legitimate and true, Jesus must (MUST ) in his lifetime 354 years preceding or before Constantine proclaimed it) , proclaim that
    he was the begotten son

  7. To be fair, we Christians have very little reason to believe that Jesus was borned on December 25th.

    Following reasoning of replacing celebration of Winter Solstice with Christmas is widely known, at least amongst the Christians I hang out with.

    As such, I could definitely understand why a more secular West would want to lower the significance of Christ on that seasonal Merry making day.
    I think the author has mistaken the secular West wanted to be sensitive. Perhaps, a few liberal elites may have that thought. But, I am doubtful that is the case for the mass culture.

    As such, I am more sympathetic for most who likely see no significance of grace of Christ to want deemphasize the Christ on Christmas. At least, I can remember my mom would drag my whole family to a Catholic Church on Christmas Eve, even though none of us knew why the good news is good. I never liked it. I always thought it was phony. Today, I know behind every experience of grace is a realization of one more person knowing how messed up he or she is. That is a somber hard truth that won’t go well with any rational thinking individual on a Merry making seasonal holiday.

    But, I really appreciate the author raised the importance of the tradition of reverence towards Jesus. At times, I suspect many Muslims revered Jesus more than Christians. Most of all, it is much needed in Trump world run amok by proud individuals who might be confused by a thought that he or she owned Jesus, or only his kind deserves Jesus’ grace.

  8. See.., Whaddya i tell you? Quarrelsome fellas, aren’t we?
    Ignorance is sometimes Bliss.
    To you your Scripture, to me, Mine. Can or not?

    For Abnizar, who knows zilch about the Bible – but goes on talking about the Christian Creeds of which the Apostolic was the first even before the Nicene:


    Nah. The twain will never meet. So just concentrate on and seek the ‘Goodness’ of your own religion or lack thereof, and not mine.

  9. It’s typical of a religious freak to commence his religious views in a verbal or physical tirade of abuse at an individual or group of people because of a difference in belief. I’ve a scientific explanation to the creation of the universe but I don’t believe a religious freak has the intelligence to understand it. So the religious freak believes in his creator only because he is afraid that, if not, he would burn in hell. What a coward! If there were a hell, I welcome him to come see me burn in it. Bet he doesn’t have the courage to come, giving the excuse he has to go meet his seven virgins in heaven.

    I wish we can all behave in a civil manner, being polite and courteous to others of different beliefs.

  10. One can really be baffled by the conundrum arising from claims and counter claims of spirited followers(?) of both Christianity and Islam (as well as those of other faiths).

    All these word and thought battles are fundamentally flawed and self-defeating. Anyway, why dissect and bisect religious scriptures? What the prophets intended or meant are not for we mortals to define and interpret. If you accept it as given and god-ordained, just follow the faith and practise it without losing your common sense. All faiths essentially tell their followers to think, do and be good.

    A handful of disciples of a Swamiji went to him to get his blessings to go to the Ganges river to bathe and purify themselves. He blessed them and at the same time handed them a bitter gourd and told them to dip it in the river water as many times as they can as they bathed there and bring it back on their return. They did accordingly. He told them the bitter gourd will now taste sweet and he cut it to small pieces and gave one to each to eat. They ate, sulked and spitted it out telling the Swamiji it was very bitter. The Swamiji then told them that bathing in the Ganges any number of times will not purify and transform a man if he does not make own efforts to change himself and rid himself of evil thoughts and evil deeds.

  11. Wah ! scientific people have scientific explanation about the creation of the universe, which ? Is it the big bang ‘explosion’ that created the universe ? but what existed before the big bang, to cause the big bang , or it happened by itself ? Very clever , these double freaks …… nit-wits ! !

    Again, i think you have misunderstood my saying that it was Emperor Constantine 354 years LATER , to insert the word ‘ begotten ‘ son of God , which implies sexual intimacy between ” Al’Mighty Lord ” and virgin Mary (God forbid ) , when in fact it was mere ‘ Be & it is ” (kun faya kun, power of the Lord of the universe. ) –

    Do you understand that it was the one single interpolation of the word ‘ begotten ‘ by the Emperor , which has indeed demeaned the Al’Mighty Creator of the universe ? – the implication of sexual intimacy like all created creatures, man and ‘beast ‘ alike ?

    OK – let me tell you , which you might not understand : without ‘ begotten ‘ , in the universal sense , that we all ( yes all of created beings ) ARE indeed ‘ children of God ‘ , so the word ‘ Son ” was mere symbolic , than sexual or biological. connotations . don’t agree ? ( all of human species metaphorically are’ children’ of God ) AND not Jesus pbh ALONE is the Son of God , just so, that Christians impute ‘ divinity ‘ to him on a par with God ( which Muslims deny )

    (Surah Al’Maryam in the Koran is very clear on this ….) – the reason why Muhammad pbh came as the last & final Messenger , who achieved 20 terrestrial empires & one Spiritual empire….ANY MAN GREATER THAN HE ? ?

  12. By H.A.R Gibb : Mohammadanism , 1953 : Quote :

    ‘ Well then , if the Qura’n were his own composition other men could rival it . Let them produce ten verses like it if they could ; and it is obvious they could not; then , let them accept the Qura’n as an outstanding miracle ….”

  13. “I wish we can all behave in a civil manner, being polite and courteous to others of different beliefs.” LaMoy

    Well.., don’t hold your breath, buddy. Courtesy and civility are rare commodities nowadays. Legalism and intractability is rife.

    We’ll have plenty of linguistic and heuristic vitriol and ‘dungu’ blabbering from self-sanctified Monadist(s) who insists on punishing us with their ‘Vision’ of the hereafter. The Now matters not.

    As i’ve said, a waste of time and effort in ecumenism.

    Funny thing is that as we get older and learn more, our discernment, tolerance and forbearance should get broader and deeper. But in some cases, the ‘angst’ becomes dangerously exothermic. Wonder why?


    Ulamak hegemony of the Malay Muslim mind via their exclusive interpretation of the Quran is what we have to deal with today. They were the guys who studied Arabic in the Middle East and understood Quranic Arabic and could interpret the verses of the Quran. The Muslim Malay community called them orang2 alim (men of knowledge). After that no one dared question them. If they are wrong, the community suffers.Even the politicians defer to them. That explains why Hadi, Harussani, and Zakir Naik and their ilk are respected and feared by UMNO politicians.

    I do not know whether I understood your comments. What I am saying in response to your view is that it is their arrogance amidst inbred parochialism that prevents Malay muslims from being civil and courteous to one another and to the so-called infidels. Or is it inferiority and insecurity? Let me know what you think–Din Merican

  14. Yup Din, you understood me. And you are correct, to me at least, about your criticisms of the modern Malay version of Islam.

    However, the exclusivity that you spoke about occurs in superficial renditions of all religions including my own. What makes it different is the constant politicizing and insistent institutionalizing of a religion that is monolingual – in the pretext that the Scripture can only be read in God’s own language.. That’s Medieval, before Enlightenment.

    The heresies that early Christology faced are seen in contemporary Islam. Nothing new and nothing has changed. And unless one dares to struggle to understand the context and hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) of the Scripture then the faith is at best shallow, experiential and violable.

    While true faith of depth enjoins us to be humble, contrite and courteous to Others who do not share our point of view – we should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. It is always better to suffer doing good than doing evil. In my experience, doing nothing at all is better than flogging any ‘Faith’. Scripture, tradition (in thought and faith – not mere liturgy and outward appearances), reason and lastly experience are immutable.

    The Arrogance and Parochialism in Malusia has nothing to do with insecurity or inferiority – but of sheer Ignorance and Poverty of Thought. Uncritical thinking at it’s nadir.

    I have interacted with all sorts of Muslims, from the simple kampung folk, an ex-Federal territory imam who remains a good friend, Saudi Royalty to the Sufi’s in India. I was even invited to Mecca by the deputy keeper of the key, provided i do not enter the Holy Precincts – to look at the re-urbanization efforts – but demurred cuz of the sensitivities that would have caused.

    There must be mutual respect not rancor. Only then can we talk of ‘Religion of Peace’. I prefer Mercy.

  15. Hmm, so one religion venerates Christ as the Son of God and the other religion dismisses him as just another prophet.

    Funny how supposed bridge building just creates more trouble.

    The only commonality Islam and Christianity have are their extremists.

    Look to put it simply, their desideratum are totally different.

  16. I dont get it ! why all the fuss and disenchantment over a very simple thing I had expressed. All I am trying to say is , these are all symbolic terms : Hell-fire , we are all children of God , and the few who says ‘Son of God ” …..well that’s okay (only symbolic expression ) – BUT what I had raised in the beginning was the abberation by Emperor Constantine 354 later ( AD ) , by ADDING : ‘ Begotten ” son of God, which makes my jaws drop…..

    Do you want to know many symbols relating to Heaven & Paradise in the after life, plenty of those metaphorical terms in the Holy book of Revelation, but I earnestly hope you would try to make a study on these …. (small thing I had said , ‘ symbols ‘ ) – good luck then…..

  17. NB – angels in Paradise , who are they ? Again symbolic , because angels are neither male nor female, true….they are ‘ neutral’ , for having earned ( EARNED ) this eternal life, because of ‘good life they have EARNED whilst on Earth ‘ with their sufferings…..

  18. “……these are all symbolic terms….”


    Symbols have meaning. They carry weight. They are not mutually exclusive to the fidelity of those who embrace them.

    Sometimes they are not even symbols but talismans – metaphorically speaking, that it.

  19. Dear Conrad , this another : “……Our Father thou art in Heaven , hallowed be thy Name, Thy Kingdom come……” ? Not actual ‘father ‘ as in human life , but ‘symbolism ‘ , or if not , ‘ figuratively ‘ or metaphorically speaking ……? –

    ” begotten ” refers to human father with siblings….., but never to ” Father in Heaven ” ……. ( as per Constantine …..? )

    • Abnizar, you are joking, right ? I mean what you just wrote is an attempt at humour, right ?

  20. Sorry Conrad, human language fails me…..never sufficient …. –

    Please see if you like this on Francis Collins’ book ‘Language of God ‘ :

    1. Archbishop Desmond Tutu :

    ” What an elegantly written book . In it Francis Collins , the eminent scientist , tells why he is also a devout believer…A real godsend for those with questioning minds but who are also attracted to things spiritual …..”

    2. Kenneth Miller , Brown University , author of ‘ Finding Darwin’s God ‘ :

    ” The Language of God is a powerful confession of belief from one of the world’s leading scientists . Refuting the tired stereotypes of hostility between science and religion , Francis Collins challenges his readers to find a unity of knowledge that encompasses both faith and reason ”

    Remark : the word ‘ unity ‘ is so powerful , so I am baffled by we as humans should feel angry and throw tantrums at each other, even for little, little arguements …..( when Science & spirituality ’embrace ‘ one another ? ? )

    • Abnizar, have you read Collin’s book as opposed to just posting a few review quotes on it ?

      Btw while I admire Collin’s ruminations, please read anything by Mircea Eliade on hierophany to understand why as an “atheist” I never put much stock on the popular dissonance argument favoured by my atheist brethren.

      More importantly what has this got to do with what you or I wrote ?

  21. The overall message Prophet Muhammad and his followers of the past and present seem to project is that Islam is the only true religion and all others are false.
    If it is that great (in relation to other religions) and Muslims believe it so wholesomely, why it is mandated that a Muslim should remain a Muslim throughout his life, failing which he can be punished to the extent of being put to death? With this dagger hanging over the head of every Muslim how can one seriously consider Islam to be elegant, considerate and humane?

    What is needed is not emotional outburst but a rational and commonsensical response. Quoting scriptures left and right does not help. Why the Quran says “kill the infidels”. The answer is very simple as I see it. The Prophet’s early followers were killed by the infidels (non-believers in Prophet-found Islam) hence the call to kill them for self-protection and to advance the propagation of this new religion. This could and must have been the context. If the context is taken out, Islam could be mistaken for a butcher religion.

  22. Don’t worry about all these long, long things ….never ending…..It doesn’t matter what religion as long as one believes in the Lord of the Universe !

    Many are called , but only a few are chosen……its not the long, long journey for which man gets lost in the forests……


  23. To add to the mystery ( but not to your agony ) , please try how to resolve the Conundrum by Master Loa Tzu , in his teaching of the Tao (the Way ) .

    He says : ‘ For those who claim to know the Tao , they actually do not ‘ know ‘ it !

    But for those know , they cannot say it ……’

    Such is the mysticsm of of Lao Tzu’s teaching , when many of his followers left disgruntled , the few who remained and could resolve the mystery, he claimed them to be the true & legitimate desciples , were the ‘ chosen ‘ ones by grace –

    ( Btw – all religions have their own way to find their Savior , but whether they found it or not …..well…..may Al’Mighty give them ‘ Hidayah ‘ – peace )

  24. ( No calumny is intended towards or against anybody, just clear the clogged things in my breast ….) – these two Quotes :

    1. In Prof Tareq Ramadan’s book ” In the footsteps of The Prophet ‘ its Introductory part :
    ” Muslims do not consider the Messenger of Islam a mediator between
    God and people . Each individual is invited to address God directly ( no intercessation can work ) …its each believer’s responsibility in his relationship with One. Muhammad simply reminds the faithful of God’s presence : he initiates them into His knowledge and discloses the initiatory path of spirituality…..that they must transcend the respect and love for him in their worship….they must offer to and ask of the One , who begets not and is not begotten…..” –

    2. (fortified by Khalil Gibran’s (supreme ) ) quote :

    ” And what is it to cease breathing
    But to free the breath from its restless tides
    That it may rise and expand and
    Seek God unencumbered …..

    Only when you drink from the river of silence
    Shall you indeed sing
    And when you have reached the mountain top
    Then you shall begin to climb
    And when the earth shall claim your limbs
    Then you shall truly dance …..

    ( Sigh…..or Lament ……? ) – when the tide falls, then you shall truly know ….)

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