Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Muhammad and Jesus

Most non-Muslims don’t realize that Muhammad had a lot to say about Jesus. According to Muhammad, Jesus’ mother Mary was a virgin who was told by angels that the son she would have would be known as Christ Jesus and that he would speak to men even as an infant from his cradle. Muhammad taught that Jesus would grow up to be a righteous prophet and a man of great honor.

Muhammad said that God strengthened Jesus with holy inspiration, revelation, and with the “holy spirit.” Jesus was empowered not only to heal the blind and those who were lepers, but even to raise the dead! Muhammad also calls Jesus a Word from God and says Jesus was a “Spirit proceeding from” God (Qur’an, Suras 2:87, 253; 3:39-49; 4:171; 5:110; 6:84-85).

This creates an interesting dilemma. Muhammad never claimed to be anything other than an ordinary man who was God’s prophet. He never healed the sick. He never raised the dead. In fact, Muhammad never really did any miracles. He died of natural causes and remained dead. Even his story about ascending to heaven after meeting Jesus, Abraham and Moses in Jerusalem was somewhat contradicted by his own wives who said Muhammad had a dream or vision but that he never went anywhere that night!

On the other hand, by Muhammad’s own testimony, Jesus did amazing miracles and even raised the dead! Muhammad not only called Jesus a righteous prophet whom God had endowed with inspiration and revelation, but Muhammad also said Jesus was a spirit proceeding from God; even the Word of God born of a virgin! (One Muslim apologist tried to explain the “spirit proceeding from God” by saying that this expression was used of others beside Jesus. The verses he cited from the Qur’an, however, all related to the idea that God breathed his spirit of life into the first man. None of them said anything about someone being a spirit proceeding from God. There is a huge difference).

Although Muhammad taught that he (Muhammad) was the last and greatest prophet, what he taught about Jesus sounds like Jesus was much greater than Muhammad! To think of Jesus as a Word proceeding from God Himself, is the same kind of language the Gospel of John uses to argue for Jesus deity when it says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In the Gospel of Matthew, the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin leads to the author’s calling Jesus, “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.”

But although Muhammad had great respect for Jesus, he adamantly denied Jesus’ deity. Why would someone who taught that Jesus was born of a virgin, was inspired by God, did amazing miracles, raised the dead and was a Word or Spirit proceeding from God; and who believed the Gospel (Injil) was sacred—stop just short of proclaiming the Gospels’ teaching on Jesus’ deity?

The answer comes from Muhammad’s strong advocacy of monotheism (the idea that there is just one God). Muhammad and his followers had been persecuted by the tribes of Mecca for his unflinching opposition to their polytheism (the idea that there are many gods). In Muhammad’s day there were people who called themselves Christian but who had actually mixed Gnosticism in with their brand of Christianity. The Gnostics were essentially polytheists who believe in multiple levels of gods and goddesses.

These Gnostic “Christians” taught that there were at least three “Christian” Gods: God the Father, God the Mother and God the Son (See for example, the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of the Hebrews). The idea that there were three Gods (like the three goddesses of Mecca), or that God the Father would have sex with God the mother and produce God the son, was rightfully repugnant to Muhammad and he rejected that teaching.

There are numerous examples in the Qur’an in which Muhammad had interacted with these Gnostic “Christian” ideas but unfortunately, Muhammad does not seem to have been aware that genuine Christianity had also rejected the polytheism of these Gnostic pseudo-Christians. Genuine Christians were (and are) staunch monotheists who believe there is one and only one God who exists eternally as Father, Son and Spirit.

While modern Muslims may think the idea of one God existing in three persons is contradictory and charge Christians with being polytheists, their criticism is no more valid than charging modern physicists with contradiction for their belief that light is simultaneously particle and wave at the same time (no, not waves of particles). In fact, the charge is no more valid than if Christians were to charge Muhammad with being a polytheist for his mention of the “holy spirit” and for believing that Jesus is a word or spirit proceeding from God.