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17. Understanding Islam


Islam recognises Christ as one of the five greatest prophets. His name in Arabic in Islam is Isa, which is probably derived from His Greek name rather than the Hebrew or Aramiac. Arabic Christians on the other hand call him Yasuuʽ, derived from His Hebrew name Yeshuʽa. According to Islam, Christ is a mere creature, a messenger (prophet who brought a message from God, in this case the Injeel as outlined above) to the children of Israel, and who foretold the coming of Mohammed. The Qur’an refers to him as al-Maseeh Isa (the Messiah – or Christ – Jesus), or the Son of Mariam. In this book I primarily use His title Christ, as both Christianity and Islam use this for Him and I suggest that you might like to do the same in your early discussions with Muslims so as to avoid both adopting a name which Arabic Christians do not use and which might suggest theological compromise and using a name which your Muslim contacts might resist. Using a name used by both parties can help move the discussion forward, even though (as will become clear in your discussions!) we do not agree that the Christ of Islam is the same as the Christ of the Bible.

The Bible presents Christ to us as God incarnate, Saviour, Redeemer. Nowhere – Old or New Testament – does the Bible present Him as a mere human; He is the one to be worshipped, and the one who saves His people. Theologian C.S. Lewis highlights this point in his book Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

As Lewis states, the view of Christ as being a great human teacher is patronizing nonsense, and not one which is open to us. Yet this is exactly how Muslims see Christ. Islam presents Christ as one of the greatest prophets, a miracle worker, a great teacher, sinless but nonetheless merely human. Islam completely denies the priesthood of Christ, His crucifixion, His divinity. This is enough to place the Qur’an and the Bible in complete contradiction, but Christ in Islam is a very complicated subject which makes it a little too hard to make any single judgment.

Christ is mentioned in the Qur’an over 90 times, and whenever we talk about Christ this is where Muslims’ thoughts will automatically turn. To Muslims, the Qur’an is always correct no matter what it disagrees with. A highly educated Muslim once told me that if a verse in the Qur’an disagrees with logic, science, personal experience, scientific experiment and history, he would still believe the verse in the Qur’an and reject all the others. This means whenever there is a contradiction between the Christ of Islam and the Christ of the Bible, Muslims will reject the Biblical view out of hand.

How though is Christ presented in Islam? Despite the fact that Islam denies the person of Christ as described in the Bible, the Qur’an has given Christ a position and characteristics not given to anyone else including Mohammed. Although some of the things attributed to Christ in the Qur’an are attributed to other prophets – such as miracles, as the Qur’an also attributes many to Moses – Christ is set apart by having all of these attributes combined. The rest of this chapter will look at nine ways in which Christ stands out from the other prophets in Islam. The following two chapters will look more in depth at the miracles of Christ as described in the Qur’an, and then the Islamic rejection of Christ’s divine nature.

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