How Muslims see Jesus
All Muslims are required to believe in God's Prophets and Messengers. As we read in Qur'an 2:136: Say, O Muslims: We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes; that given to Moses and Jesus; and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord. We make no difference between them, and we submit to God (in Islam). Qur'an 3:84 and 4:163 convey the same idea.
Muslims believe that 124,000 or 224,000 Prophets have been sent to humanity. The Qur'an mentions 28 of them by name. In this context, it sometimes points out those Prophets who possess a great importance for humanity. One of these is Jesus. His relationship with the Holy Spirit is mentioned specifically, as is what such others as Zechariah and John endured from their communities: We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers. We gave Jesus son of Mary clear (signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that whenever a Messenger comes to you with (a message) that you dislike, you become puffed up with pride? You call some imposters and kill others (2:87). This matter is also discussed in 2:253.
His birth, life, and death
Of the few differences between the core beliefs of Islam and Christianity, the nature of Jesus seems to be the most serious one. Below are several Qur'anic passages in full.
Mention Mary in the Book, when she drew aside from her family to an eastern place. She took a veil (to screen herself) from them. We sent Our spirit to her in the form of a well-formed man. She said: I seek refuge in the Beneficent God, if you guard (against evil). He said: I am only a messenger of your Lord. I give to you a pure son. She asked: How can I have a son, as no man has touched me and I have been chaste? He said: Even so. Your Lord says: It is easy for Me, and that We may make him a sign to humanity and a mercy from Us. It is a matter decreed.' So she conceived him and withdrew to a remote place. The throes (of childbirth) compelled her to go to the trunk of a palm tree. She exclaimed: If only I had died before this and been forgotten! (The child) called out to her from beneath her: Do not grieve, for your Lord has caused a stream to flow beneath you. Shake the trunk of the palm tree, and it will drop fresh ripe dates on you. So eat and drink and refresh the eye. If you see anyone, say: I've vowed a fast to the Beneficent God and will speak to nobody today.' She came to her people with him, carrying him. They said: O Mary, you have done something strange. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a bad man and your mother was not unchaste. But she pointed to him. They asked: How should we speak to a child in the cradle? He (Jesus) replied: I am a servant of God, Who has given me the Book and made me a Prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I may be, has enjoined on me prayer and poor-rate so long as I live, and to be dutiful toward my mother. He has not made me insolent, unblessed. Peace on me on the day I was born, on the day I die, and on the day I am raised to life. Such is Jesus, son of Mary. (This is) the saying of truth about which they dispute. (19:16-36).
And when the angels said: O Mary, God has chosen and purified you, and chosen you above all women. O Mary, obey your Lord, humble yourself, and bow down with those who bow. This news concerns matters of the Unseen that We reveal to you (O Muhammad). You were not with them when they cast pens (to decide) which one would be responsible for Mary, nor were you there when they argued among themselves. When the angels said: O Mary, God gives you good news with a Word from Him (of one) whose name is the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter and of those made near (to God). He shall speak to the people while in the cradle and when of old age, and (shall be) one of the good ones. She exclaimed: My Lord! No man has touched me, so how will I give birth to a son? He said: Even so, God creates what He pleases. When He has decreed a matter, He only says to it, be' and it is. He will teach him the Book, the wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospels. (He will make him) an apostle to the Children of Israel. (Jesus will tell them:) I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. Out of dust I make for you a figure in the form of a bird. I breathe into it and, by God's Will it becomes a bird. I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with God Will. I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses. There is a sign in this for you, if you are believers. I verify that which is before me of the Torah and allow you part of that which has been forbidden to you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so be careful of (your duty to) God and obey me. God is my Lord and your Lord, so serve Him. This is the right path. But when Jesus perceived their unbelief, he asked: Who will help me in God's way? The disciples said: We are helpers (in the way) of God. We believe in God and bear witness that we submit. Our Lord, we believe in what You have revealed and follow the apostle, so write us among those who bear witness. They planned and God planned, and God is the best planner. When God said: O Jesus, I am going to terminate the period of your stay (on Earth), cause you to ascend to Me, purify you of those who disbelieve, and make those who follow you victorious over those who do not believe until the Day of Resurrection. You will return to Me, and I will decide between you concerning that in which you differed. As for the non-believers, I will chastise them severely in this world and the hereafter, and they shall have no helpers. As for those who believe and do good deeds, He will pay them fully their rewards. God does not love the unjust. We recite this to you (O Muhammad) of the communications and the wise reminder. The likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust and then said Be' and he was. (This is) the truth from your Lord, so be not of the disputers. But whoever disputes with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, say: Let's call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, and our near people and your near people, and pray earnestly that God curse the liars. This is the true explanation, and there is no god but God. Most surely God is Mighty, Wise (3:42-62).
Because they broke their covenant, rejected God's communications, wrongfully killed the Prophets, and said: Our hearts are covered, God set a seal upon them owing to their unbelief. Only a few will believe. And for their unbelief and slandering Mary. And their saying: We killed the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Apostle of God. But they neither killed or crucified him, but it appeared to them (that they had done so). Those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it. They have no knowledge about it but only follow a conjecture. They did not kill him, for God raised him to Himself. God is Mighty, Wise. (4:155-58)
Jesus' true nature
The following verses show that the Bible and the Qur'an use similar terms when describing Jesus: son of Mary, the Messiah, an apostle of Allah (in which it differs from Christianity), His Word which He communicated to Mary, a spirit from Him, and a mercy from Him. For example: Mary the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity. We breathed into (her) of Our Spirit, and she testified to the truth of her Lord's Words and His Revelations and was one of the devout (servants) (66:12). Here are God's tidings to Mary about her son: Behold! The angels said: O Mary, God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary (3:45).
In the following verses, God tells Jesus about himself and his mission: I [Jesus] have come to you [the Children of Israel] with a sign from your Lord. Out of dust I make for you a figure in the form of a bird. I breathe into it and, by God's Will, it becomes a bird. I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with God Will. I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses. There is a sign in this for you, if you are believers (3:48-49). See also 5:110. Significantly, the miracles of his forming a bird-like figure from dust and its coming to life by God's Will, as well as telling people what they have in their houses, are not mentioned in the Bible. In 61:6, we also read: And remember, Jesus, son of Mary, said: O Children of Israel, I am God's Messenger (sent) to you, confirming the Torah (Law) (that came) before me. I give glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad. But when he came to them with clear signs, they said: This is clear sorcery!' See also 5:46 and 43:63.
The following verse is also remarkable: The likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust and then said Be and he was (3:59). And lastly we have the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary is only an apostle of God and His Word that He communicated to Mary and a spirit from Him(4:171).
Muslims also are waiting for Jesus to return to the world. Many sayings of the Prophet indicate that Jesus must return as a king to this world before the Last Day can come. The following verse can be considered in this context: (Jesus) shall be a sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment). So have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow Me. This is a Straight Way (43:61). Another one, mentioned earlier, mentions his coming implicitly: You spoke to the people in childhood and in maturity (5:110). His speaking in both childhood and maturity is generally interpreted as in his first and second visit to this world. And lastly: Peace on me on the day I was born, on the day I die, and on the day I am raised to life (19:35).
In the two parts of this article, I have presented Islam's fundamental approach to Christianity. This should be considered the main approach, as all claims are stated parallel to Qur'anic verses. Based on my studies of comparative religion, I conclude that the Qur'an and the Bible have many parallel concepts.
How do we answer the following valid questions: What does the Qur'an offer? Can Islam and Christianity be combined to defeat unbelief and our current social problems? I do not mean that these two religions should be mixed, as has happened in the past, but that we should accept their common principles. In other words, we should use their combined power to oppose enmity, intolerance, and the lack of dialogue, love, and hope in our personal lives and society; the crushing of civilizations and the effects of materialism on our communities, religions, cultures, and young people; and the lack of faith, immorality, and other social problems.
The Qur'an suggests several things to Muslims and Christians. For example, it tells the Muslims: Do not dispute with the People of the Book except by what is best, except for those who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, our God and your God is One, and we submit to Him (29:46); Those to whom We have given the Book rejoice in what has been revealed to you. Some confederates deny part of it. Say: I am only commanded to serve God and not associate anything with Him. I invite (you) to Him, and to Him is my return (13:36); and: If they dispute with you, say: I have submitted myself entirely to God and (so has) everyone who follows me. Ask those who have been given the Book and the unlearned people: Do you submit yourselves? If they submit, they are following the right way, If they turn back, you are responsible only for delivering the message. God sees the servants (3:20).
The Qur'an expects the Christians to accept Muhammad's messengership and the Qur'an. This does not mean that they must convert to Islam, for all that is required is acceptance, just as Muslims accept Jesus and the Book given to him. For example: O People of the Book, do not exceed the limits in your religion or speak (lies) against God. Rather, (speak) the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, is only God's apostle and His Word that He communicated to Mary and a Spirit from Him. So believe in God and His apostles. Do not say three, but desist, for that is better for you. God is only one God. Far be it from His Glory to have a son. Whatever is in the heavens and in Earth is His. God is sufficient for a Protector (4:171). See also 19:35-36.
The next verse talks to those who believe in the previous Books: O believers, be careful of (your duty to) God and believe in His Apostle. He will give you two portions of His mercy, make for you a light with which you will walk, and forgive you. God is Forgiving, Merciful (57:28). We can read two portions of His mercy as being a reward for both of the Prophets that they follow.
Other verses ask and require them to reconsider the signs in their Books: O People of the Book, why don't you believe in the communications of God while you witness (them)? (3:70) and: Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures), the Law (Torah) and the Gospels, for He commands them (to do) what is just and forbids them (to do) what is evil. He allows them to do what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure). He releases them from their heavy burdens and the yokes that are upon them. These are the people who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the Light sent down with him. They will prosper (7:157).
The Qur'an makes two more offers to the People of the Book. The following verse is probably the last offer, if the ones mentioned above were rejected: Say: O People of the Book, come to an equitable proposition between us and you that we will serve only God and will associate nothing with Him, and (that) some of us will not take others for lords besides God. If they turn back, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims' (3:64). In this ultimate offer, no Prophets are mentioned. Since everything is secondary when compared to belief in God, the Qur'an shows its flexibility in all matters except serving only God, associating nothing or no one with him, and not setting up lords besides Him.
Another original offer is to establish dialogue by cooperating or gathering around Abraham's religion: Who has a better religion than he who submits himself entirely to God? He is the doer of good (to others) and follows the faith of Abraham, the upright one, whom God took as a friend (4:125).
Suggested Reading List
Gulen, M. Fethullah. Prophet Muhammad: Aspects of his Life, The Fountain, 2000. Gulen's Essentials of the Islamic Faith is also a good source of related information.
Hasan, Ahmad (trans.). Sunan Abu Dawud, book 36 (Online at www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah).
Khan, M. Muhsin (trans.). Sahih Bukhari, books 55 and 56 (Online at www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah).
Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said. Risale-i Nur Collection: The Letters. The Nineteenth Letter: Sixteenth Sign. Konak-Izmir, Turkey: Kaynak AS, 1998. (Online at www.nur.org or www.risale-inur.com). Related topics are discussed throughout the entire collection.
Siddiqui, Abdul Hamid (trans.). Sahih Muslim, books 30, 31, and 41 (Online at www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah).