Who Is Jesus for Muslims? Islam Scholar Zeki Saritoprak

By Frykholm, Amy | The Christian Century, June 7, 2017 | Go to article overview

Who Is Jesus for Muslims? Islam Scholar Zeki Saritoprak


Frykholm, Amy, The Christian Century


ZEKI SARITOPRAK'S BOOK Islam's Jesus examines the role of Jesus in the Qur'an and in Islamic theology. He has written about many Islamic theologians, mystics, and scholars, including the 13th-century poet and Sufi mystic Rumi and the early 20th-century Turkish Muslim scholar Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. A professor of Islamic studies at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, he has been involved in interfaith dialogues, including the Catholic-Muslim dialogues cosponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Islamic Society of North America. His book Islamic Spirituality: Theology and Practice for the Modern World will be published in November.

Who is Jesus in Islam?

In Islam, Jesus, peace and blessings be upon him, is one of the five greatest messengers of God who are collectively known as the 'Ul al-Azm or the Possessors of Steadfastness. Jesus is also a real person who lived in Roman Judea in the first century of the Common Era. Muslims share with Christians most of the basic outlines of Jesus' story, though there are certainly differences. In Islam, as well as in Christianity, Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary and was without a father. But for Muslims, Jesus is neither God nor the Son of God.

Like all messengers of God in Islam, Jesus came to his people with a message. Jesus' message is called the Injil, or the gospel. As in the Christian tradition, he is a miracle worker and a healer. He gave sight to the blind and brought the dead back to life. The Qur'an has additional miracles ascribed to Jesus. For example, Jesus speaks from his cradle and makes a bird out of clay and breathes into it to turn it into a real bird.

What is the significance of these additional miracles?

These miracles each occur for a specific purpose. Let's take the example of Jesus speaking from his cradle. After he was born, Mary took the baby Jesus to her people, but they accused her of adultery. They said, "Mary, you have committed a terrible thing." Without speaking, Mary pointed to the baby as if to say, Do not ask me, ask the baby. The people asked how they could speak to a baby; Jesus then started speaking.

According to the Qur'an, Jesus said, "I am indeed the servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He made me blessed wherever I am and advised me of prayer and charity as long as I live. He made me kind to my mother and never made me arrogant or disobedient."

Beyond believing Jesus is one of the five elite messengers of God, Muslims believe that Jesus will return to bring justice to the world. Muslim theologians call this "the descent of Jesus" to earth. This eschatological return of Jesus is unique among the prophets of God.

How does Jesus' return figure into Islamic eschatology?

Some say that Jesus will literally and physically descend from the sky and lead a great battle against ad-Dajjal or the Antichrist. Others understand this allegorically, which is the approach I prefer and one that I think is more in keeping with the spirit of the Qur'an and the words of the Prophet of Islam. Some of the most interesting and productive interpretations relate Jesus' coming down to the strengthening of spirituality. I also see this as a sign of alliance between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. But there is a lot of complexity in this area of Islamic theology.

Why is Mary, the mother of Jesus, so important to the Qur'an?

Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur'an, and chapter 19 is named after her. Her father and mother are mentioned as virtuous people. According to the Qur'an, her mother was a constant worshiper and asked God to give her a son so that she could dedicate him to the temple. God accepted her prayer but did not give her what she wanted. Instead, he gave her Mary, who would be the mother of Jesus.

In Islam, the birth of Jesus is considered miraculous and the only such example in human history. …

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