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17. Understanding Islam

7.5. Christ fed the multitude

Sounds familiar? I’m sure you have all read the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand in John chapter 6. The Qur’an however tells not this story, but a different one.

“[And remember] when the disciples said, ‘O Jesus, Son of Mary, can your Lord send down to us a table [spread with food] from the heaven?’ [Jesus] said, ‘Fear Allah, if you should be believers.’ They said, ‘We wish to eat from it and let our hearts be reassured and know that you have been truthful to us and be among its witnesses.’ Said Jesus, the son of Mary, ‘O Allah, our Lord, send down to us a table [spread with food] from the heaven to be for us a festival for the first of us and the last of us and a sign from You. And provide for us, and You are the best of providers.’ ” (Qur'an 5:112-114)

I’m sure you can also see similarity with another Biblical account here, that of Peter’s vision in Acts 10. It is quite feasible that Mohammed could have confused the two stories he heard from Christians around him during his childhood. Quite how this story is significant or what it means isn’t clear from the Qur’an itself, and so we have to go to commentaries to understand what Muslims believe about it. They relate several stories about the table Jesus requests from God; most of them are not accepted by scholars but popular among lay Muslims. One commentator tells how Jesus asked the Israelites to fast for thirty days; when they had done so, they returned to him and said they were hungry; they asked Jesus to ask Allah to send them a feast from heaven. So Jesus put on rags and sat on ashes and prayed. Angels came with a table and on it were seven loaves of bread and seven fish and they brought before the people and they all ate their fill. (Ibn Kathir, Qur’an Commentary on 5:112-115).

Miracles are a defining characteristic of messengers in Islam, with the interesting exception of Mohammed, as Allah said in the Qur’an that he would not perform any miracles because previous generations had refused to believe in the miracles of earlier prophets (though the Qur’an is considered to be a miracle, and other miracles have been attributed to Mohammed in less reliable Sunnah and in folk stories as noted above). No other Islamic messenger comes anywhere close to performing the level of miracle attributed to Christ. So this sets him above other messengers. At the same time, however, some of the miracles he is said to have performed do not paint him in the best light. Take for example the story of him changing innocent children into pigs, which contradicts the Islamic doctrine of the sinlessness of prophets.

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