Rasul Allah – The Messenger of God
There are many differences between Islam and Christianity, but also similarities; Jesus has a significant role for Muslims too. Aiman Mazyek on the Islamic prophet known as Isa in the Koran
One of the key aims of inter-religious dialogue is to highlight similarities alongside differences. In the Christian-Islamic dialogue, this can be done very effectively using the examples of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Both the prophet Jesus and his mother Mary are held in high regard within Islam.
A whole "Sura", a section of the Koran, is named after Mary. The prophet Muhammed said of her, "Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee, chosen thee above the women of all nations." According to Islamic teachings Mary's pregnancy is a sign from God. In Sura 3, verse 45 Mary turns to her creator shocked and asks, "My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me?"
And so in this miraculous way Jesus was born at the command of God, who had also produced the first human being, Adam, without an earthly father. In the Koran we read "The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: 'Be.' And he was." (Sura 3, 59)
High esteem accorded to Jesus within Islam
Muslims respect and look up to Jesus, treating him with the same esteem and honour reserved for the other messengers of God. The faithful, says the Koran, "believeth in Allah, His angels, His books, and His messengers. We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His messengers." (Sura 2, 285) "His books" includes the Torah and the gospels, which Muslims believe in as the word of God sent down to earth.
The also explains why Muslims feel offended when he is sometimes represented in an insulting manner in films and caricatures, or when his honour is discredited in books. Many Muslims feel just as much sadness or outrage at the denigration of Jesus as they would if it were Mohammed.
Both Christians and Muslims believe in a God who created us human beings, the world and the universe and who knows the beginning and the end. Muslims however believe that God is and remains one and indivisible (Sura 5, 116) Jesus, unlike in Christian teachings, is not the son of God:
"It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, 'Be', and it is." (Sura 19, 35)
"I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave"
Jesus is God's messenger to his own people, the Jews, and so he is called Mahdi (messiah) and will walk on this earth once more before the day of resurrection.
All the prophets, including the prophet Jesus, are marked with wounds. In the Koran, Jesus speaks to his people: "I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord." At the end of the same verse we read, "I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave." (Sura 3, 49)
There is one other fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam's view of Jesus Christ. According to Islam, Jesus of Nazareth did not die on the cross. Jesus' enemies wanted to hurt him but, as it says in the Koran, "they plot and plan, and Allah too plans; but the best of planners is Allah." (Sura 8, 30)
And later: "They said (in boast), 'We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah,' but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them." (Sura 4, 157)
Most interpreters of the Koran understand these words to mean that the man crucified and killed by Jesus' enemies only appeared to be Jesus, but was in fact someone else. Ultimately the Koran says, "Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise." (Sura 4, 158)
When Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, it is also a happy day for Muslims, due to the great respect Isa enjoys within Islam.
© Ayman Mazyek/Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Steph Morris
Produced for SWR cont.ra radio programme.