Christians, perhaps because they call themselves Christians and believe in Christianity, like to claim ownership of Christ. But the veneration of Jesus by Muslims began during the lifetime of the Prophet of Islam. Perhaps most telling is the story in the classical biographies of Muhammad, who, entering the city of Mecca in triumph in 630AD, proceeded at once to the Kaaba to cleanse the holy shrine of its idols. As he walked around, ordering the destruction of the pictures and statues of the 360 or so pagan deities, he came across a fresco on the wall depicting the Virgin and Child. He is said to have covered it reverently with his cloak and decreed that all other paintings be washed away except that one.
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 six times with the title of "Messiah" (or "Christ", depending on which Quranic translation is being used). He is also referred to as the "Messenger" and the "Prophet" but, perhaps above all else, as the "word" and the "Spirit" of God. No other prophet in the Quran, not even Muhammad, is given this particular honour. In fact, among the 124,000 prophets said to be recognised by Islam--a figure that includes all of the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament--Jesus is considered second only to Muhammad, and is believed to be the precursor to the Prophet of Islam.
In his fascinating book The Muslim Jesus, the former Cambridge professor of Arabic and Islamic studies Tarif Khalidi brings together, from a vast range of sources, 303 stories, sayings and traditions of Jesus that can be found in Muslim literature, from the earliest centuries of Islamic history. These paint a picture of Christ of the Gospels. The Muslim Jesus is the patron saint of asceticism, the lord of nature, a miracle worker, a healer, a moral, spiritual and social role model.
"Jesus used to eat the leaves of the trees," reads one saying, "dress in hairshirts, and sleep wherever night found him. He had no child who might die, no house which …