Note: See other articles in the Islam series: Islamic Paradise, Islamic Ideology and Islamic Infrastructure.
The typical Muslim estimation of Jesus of Nazareth is similar to the view of liberals or other nonbelievers generally but is also distinctive from most others. Mohammed could neither read nor write and probably had no direct contact with either the Old or the New Testament, only oral desert traditions. Yeshua is the Arabic name for Jesus; Isa is the name used in the Koran.
According to Islam, Jesus is listed as one of Allah’s special prophets. The most important prophets are Moses, David, Jesus, and Mohammed, for each was given a holy book to correct departure  from Allah: Moses the Pentateuch, David the Psalms, and Jesus the Gospels. The followers of Jesus corrupted the book Allah gave Him. Muslims consider Jesus to be a great prophet (Sura 2:253) but inferior to the other three for two reasons: (1) earlier prophets and Mohammed all had wives and children designated by Allah, and (2) His public ministry lasted only three years (Sura 13:38). Allah also sent many prophets to all the various nations, “And verily we have raised in every nation a messenger [proclaiming], Serve Allah, and shun false gods” (Sura 16:36). There have been no prophets or revelations since Mohammed. Of the prophets prior to Mohammed, “no difference do we make between them” (Sura 2:125-136).
According to Islam, Jesus was only a human, only a man, only a prophet (Sura 5:72-75). Jesus Himself, speaking from the cradle, called Himself a slave, not a son of God. “How can we talk to the one who is in the cradle, a young boy? He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the scriptures and hath appointed me a prophet” (Sura 19:29-30). Jesus’ limited ministry was to announce the messenger to follow: “Jesus son of Mary said … I am the messenger of Allah … bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One [Ahmad, a variant of Mohammed]” Sura 61:6).
According to Islam, Jesus had an ordinary but unusual physical birth. He was a human born of the virgin Mary by a special miracle. “O Mary! Lo! Allah hath chosen thee … She said, My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal has touched me?” (Sura 3:42, 47). One Muslim commentator says the virgin conceived “when the angel Gabriel blew up her garment.” Allah especially created Jesus in the likeness of Adam. “Lo! The likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him [Jesus] of dust, and then he said unto him: Be! And he is” (Sura 3:59). Fables about Jesus’ boyhood are declared to be true (Sura 5:110).
Muslims are confounded by the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Christian Godhead. How can Jesus, a man, be God? They think that Christians consider that somehow Jesus became God rather than that He eternally was God. Many Muslims mistakenly believe that the “Christian Trinity” consists of God, Mary, and Jesus. “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” (Sura 5:116). Teaching of a trinity is declared to be false (Sura 5:73).
Allah is unitary, without persons: “So believe in Allah and his messengers, and say not three – Cease! [it is] better for you! Allah is one God. For it is removed from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son” (Sura 4:171). Allah could never have a son (Sura 19:35, 90). “Say: he is Allah, singular. Allah, the absolute. He begetteth not nor was begotten. And to him have never been one equal” (Sura 112). Allah has no son, either in heaven or on earth. Though Jesus often called God “Father,” no devout Muslim would call Allah “father,” for Muslims consider Allah to be utterly transcendent and unknowable. Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock has an Arabic inscription in the ceramic tiles of the walls: “Allah has no son.”
Muslims recognize that the three-year public ministry of Jesus was unusual. Jesus was said to be faultless: “He [Gabriel] said, I am only a messenger of thy lord, that I may bestow on thee [Mary] a faultless son” (Sura 19:19). Jesus and others were considered righteous. “… John and Jesus and Elias. Each one [of them] was of the righteous” (Sura 6:86). Muslims recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, but they believe He was not God (Sura 4:171; 5:75-80). Jesus even performed miracles (which Mohammed never did). He healed the sick, raised the dead, and made a clay pigeon become alive – all done with Allah’s permission. “When Allah saith: O Jesus … thou didst shape of clay as it were the likeness of a bird … Thou didst heal him who was born blind and the leper … and didst raise the dead, by my permission” (Sura 5:110).
Traditionally, Muslim interpreters consider that Allah would not allow a devoted prophet like Jesus to suffer and die, for Allah delivers true prophets. “Then shall we save our messengers and the believers, in like manner as of old” (Sura 10:103). “The Messiah Jesus son of Mary … They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them” (Sura 4:157). They believe someone else was crucified instead of Jesus, and Allah secretly raised Jesus to himself. Jesus did not actually physically die, they say. Allah took Jesus directly to paradise without experiencing death, as he had done with Enoch and Elijah. “But Allah took him unto himself” (Sura 4:158).
According to Islam, Jesus is unable now nor in the future to function as an intercessor. “Allah’s apostle said, ‘Allah will gather all people on the day of resurrection and they will say, “Let us request someone to intercede for us with our lord” … They will go to him [Jesus], and he will say, I am not fit for this undertaking, go to Mohammed’” (Hadith 8:570). Jesus will, however, return to earth and judge people by the law of the Koran and establish Islam as the only religion of the world. He will thereafter die a “normal” death.
Many Muslims believe that Jesus will return from paradise and punish Jews and Christians for their failure to accept Mohammed as the prophet, and He will help establish Islam as the only religion of the world. “By him of whose hands my soul is, son of Mary [Jesus] will shortly descend amongst you people [Muslims] as a just ruler and will break the cross and kill the pig” (Hadith 3:425). “Allah’s apostle said, ‘How will you be when the son of Mary descends amongst you and he will judge people by the law of the Koran and not by the law of the gospels?’” (Hadith 4:658).
According to Islam, Jesus has not and cannot die for the sins of another. Each person is born good but weak. “Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak” (Sura 4:28). Sin is an offense against a deity, but Allah has no attributes, no moral character to offend. None can have fellowship with Allah; no human error hinders a relationship to him, for none is possible. Muslims can make mistakes, but they do not sin.
According to Islam, each person is fully responsible for his acts. Blame cannot be transferred to another. No one can die to erase the mistakes of another. “Each soul earneth only on its own account, nor doth any laden bear another’s load” (Sura 6:164). Allah can forgive by an act of will; the death of Jesus can have no significance. Allah sends to hell whomever he wishes. Such is solely of his will; neither demons nor men are there because they deserve it. “That I will fill hell with jinn (demons) and mankind together” (Sura 32:13). Only Muslims will ever be released from hell and taken to paradise. Men here can only hope for a shorter time of suffering by performing faithfully the five “pillars” of Islam. Allah alone wills who will be transferred from hell to paradise and when. The One who is the way, the truth, and the life, who alone gives eternal life, is both rejected and opposed.
1. “When the teaching of a prophet is distorted by people, Allah sends another prophet to bring humans back to the straight path. The chain of prophets began with Adam and included Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, David, and Jesus; the final prophet was Muhammad … Muslims maintain that Allah wrote the Christian Scriptures, but human writers, such as Luke, John, and Paul, changed and corrupted them. The original Scriptures must be considered lost.” - David Goldmann, Islam and the Bible (Moody, 2004), pp. 61, 65).
|Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. Since the death of his wife a year ago, at the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it.|