New Horizons

Rock of Offence: What Do Muslims Think of Jesus?

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Name above all names. The Way, the Truth, the Life. King of kings and Lord of lords. These traditional, biblical phrases express the depth of Christian devotion to Jesus.

In the Qur'an, too, there are many references and allusions to Jesus the Messiah. He holds a place of honor, and public abuse or ridicule of Jesus is offensive to Muslims.

A look through the Qur'an reveals that Muhammad affirmed the stories of the annunciation of Jesus to Mary and his virgin birth. He is presented as a sign to mankind, a prophet who affirms the Law of Moses, a worker of healing miracles who received the Holy Spirit for God-appointed tasks.

But Christians assert far more. Jesus is Christ the Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, the Savior of all who put their trust in him, to be worshiped and adored. These things Muslims strongly deny.

For the Muslim, Jesus of Nazareth is certainly not the Son of God, and the notion of a Trinity is utterly rejected. The idea that God could have a son is offensive because, for Muslims, it implies that God had a physical, sexual union with a woman. The Qur'an asserts: "Mary's son ... was but a mortal whom We (Allah) favored." In another passage it declares: "They say: 'God has begotten a son.' God forbid! Self-sufficient is he." And again: "Those who say: 'The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son' preach a monstrous falsehood at which the very heavens might crack."

The Qur'an goes on to deny that Jesus truly died. "They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did." One interpretation of this crucial statement is that Muhammad thought that some kind of double suffered the execution, but the "real" Jesus was rescued and taken away by Allah. With the denial of Jesus' death, the Christian understanding of the Cross as the way of forgiveness of sins and as the door of salvation is rejected too. Nor is there any place for Jesus' resurrection.

Yet the portrait of Jesus in the Qur'an is a dignified one. Jesus is a prophet, one of a long line of prophets from what Christians call Old Testament history. A primer for new Muslim converts names Jesus as a messenger of Allah, one of five messengers in world history "known for their firm stand and endurance in struggling for the cause of Allah."

But he is not the last or greatest of the five; that place is reserved for Muhammad. Muslims declare that Jesus was sent by God to be merely a forerunner, "to give news of an apostle that will come after me whose name is Ahmad"—another name of Muhammad's.

Muslims are bound to see Christian worship of Christ as deeply blasphemous. But in Muslim majority contexts this is not a theoretical matter. The Muslim who becomes a Christian has not just made a blunder; he or she has become committed to an offensive belief which deliberately asserts what the Qur'an denies. Hence the abhorrence of conversion among Muslims and the penalties for it.

In state schools in Muslim countries, children of Christian parents are exposed again and again to the insistent denial of what their homes and churches teach, sometimes with ridicule or even threats. The pressures upon such children are grave and great.

Not for nothing did Peter write, before there were ever any Muslims, that for people without Christian faith the Lord is "a stone to trip over, a rock to stumble against" (1 Pet. 2:7-8 NEB).

Reprinted (with slight editing) from Barnabas, the magazine of the Barnabas Fund, which evaluates the needs of persecuted Christians and monitors the spread of Islam. Further information can be obtained from The Barnabas Fund, The Old Rectory, River Street, Pewsey, Wiltshire, SN9 5DB, Scotland. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 2002.

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