Jesus, Peace Be Upon Him: An Islamic Perspective
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
Our Christian brothers observe Good Friday to mark what they believe to be the day on which one of the great prophets of Allah, Jesus, peace be upon him, was crucified.
Good Friday is the Friday before the Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday is celebrated to commemorate what our Christian brothers believe was the day on which Jesus, (pbuh), rose from death after the supposed crucifixion. He is supposed to have appeared to his disciples before he ascended to heavens. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the full moon following the Vernal Equinox which falls around March 21 and heralds the spring season. Devout Christians celebrate Easter after 40 days of fasting which starts with Ash Wednesday. While the devout Christians remember Jesus (PBUH) in these ceremonies, those that relish the memories of the Roman Civilization enjoy the revelries of March Madness in this period. Muslims of Central Asia celebrate Jashn e Nauroz during this time.
It is worthwhile to share with our Christian brothers the Islamic perspective on the Virgin birth of Jesus to Mary (peace be upon both of them), his ascension to heaven and his second coming on this occasion. The Qur’an has spoken extensively about this great prophet and his ancestors and has devoted a considerable portion of the Chapter of Al- Imran, Al Maida, Al Nisa and Mariam to elucidate this.
Allah chose Children of Israel from amongst all people based upon His knowledge says Qur’an (Ch 44 V 32), and blessed them with what He had not given to anyone (Ch 2 V 47). The adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely was equally applicable to Children of Israel. The result was that children of Israel had to face the humiliation of Serfdom in the land of Egypt where once their ancestor Joseph (PBUH), son of Jacob, was the confidant and Treasury Secretary of the Pharaoh. Allah showed His mercy and liberated the Children of Israel through Moses (PBUH) and brought them back to The Holy Land which was promised to their patriarch Abraham (PBUH). When they did not correct their course, Allah punished them twice. Once through Nebuchadnezzar and again through Titus and dispersed the Children of Israel all over the world (Ch 17 V 3-7). It was toward the end of their first trial when Nebuchadnezzar took them captive after pillaging Holy Land, and before the beginning of the second trial when Titus sent them into exile out of Jerusalem, that Jesus (PBUH) came to mend the lost sheep of Israel.
The ordeal of Israelites is attributed to the moral decay and excessive involvement in worldly good in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Psalms and Gospels. Qur’an also mentions in great detail about it in several places (Ch 2 V 51-103). Qur’an mentions the misfortune of Israelites to warn Muslims about the pitfalls and consequences of drift. Unfortunately, Muslims consider this as mere denunciation of Jewish people by God and thereby lose the golden opportunity of self-correction in light of the lessons of their predecessors. This is in spite of the warning by Nabi SA that Muslims will go astray exactly like them (Tirmizi 2180).
Israelites who had bequeathed the memory of the glorious time of their ancestors through scriptures and through folk lore, prayed vehemently for a savior to rescue their faith and their community from the abyss into which they had fallen. But such people were few and most people denied any moral dimension to their suffering and were happy with their life under Roman domination and Roman lifestyle. Many prophets had even predicted the coming of Messiah.
Two Jewish families from amongst the inhabitants of Jerusalem were especially worried about the condition of their brethren and prayed fervently that God grant them children whom they could dedicate in His service. One was the family of Imran (Ch3 V35-36) and the other was the family of Zachariah (Ch19 V2-15), the cousin of Imran. While the family of Imraan was young, that of Zacharia was very old. When Imran’s family was granted a girl, Mary (peace be upon her), they complained as to what good is a girl to discharge the lofty burden of service to God and His people. Allah said in reply: that a boy would not be like this girl because this girl and her progeny are kept safe from insinuation of Satan (Ch 3 V 36). This was the girl who later gave birth to Jesus without being touched by a man (Ch 3. V 42-48).
The fact of virgin birth of Jesus (PBUH) was indeed a miracle in that era when there was great emphasis on miracles to draw attention and push the message. Beyond that it pointed to the fact that in the decadent society of that time there was not a single virtuous man in Jerusalem that could give Mary (PBUH) a child that was safe from insinuation of Satan to lead the Israelites out of the mess they were in. A few years before the birth of Jesus (PBUH), the old Zechariahs were also granted a son, Yahiya (John the Baptist, PBUH), so that he could be the herald and support to Jesus (PBUH) in his prophetic mission. The agony of Mary in giving birth to Jesus without any man touching her is chronicled in the Qur’an (Ch 19 V 16-34). The suffering of Jesus and John the Baptist are chronicled in Gospels.
Qur’an asserts that Jesus attested the legitimacy of his virgin birth and said as an infant in the cradle that he is a servant of God and His prophet (Ch 19 V 230-34). But the skeptics refuse to believe in virgin birth of Jesus (PBUH). They attribute his birth to marriage of Mary with carpenter Joseph based upon some record of Roman census. This must have been done to restore the honor of Mary in the traditional society, but they diminishe the creative genius of God which we see in every creation.
When God can create Adam without a father or mother; when He can create Eve without a mother, why can’t He make Mary (PBUH) give birth to Jesus without a biological father? Surprisingly, this skepticism is more pronounced in the educated community which knows that in the primitive hermaphrodite animals God has kept that phenomenon where animal reproduces without mating with a partner. We are more enamored with our concept of X and Y chromosome than the creative genius of God. We debunk this possibility of virgin birth of male Jesus because we think that it is impossible for Mary to conceive and give birth to a man with absence of Y chromosome in her genome.
Allah snubs these skeptics by saying: Creation of Jesus is like creating Adam whom He created from Clay and brought it into life by blowing His spirit and by His command “Be” and he became (Ch 3 V 59). Qur’an further says: Messiah (Jesus) the son of Mary, the Messenger was the word which was blown into Mary by Allah, and from His spirit (Ch 4 V 171). This verse makes it clear that Jesus (PBUH) came into existence in a miraculous way, and he was the messenger of God and not His son, or the one of three. Qur’an also speaks about the miracles given to Jesus (Ch 3 V 45-63). Thus, Qur’an restored the dignity and chastity of Mary, majesty of Jesus, and the power of Allah SWT to create anything the way He wants.
It is interesting to know that the word Kun (Be), which is the command of Allah, to bring anything into existence is also a platonic concept, Logos. According to this concept at the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the Word was God (History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, P 351). This platonic concept that God is word, and Jesus (PBUH) was created from word led to the belief that Jesus (PBUH) is the son of God. When Allah intends to create something He says Be and it happens (Ch 36 V 82). This does not mean that everything that is created is the son of God. Faithful made him the son of God because of the use of the word father by Jesus (PBUH) allegorically for want of a better word to impress upon his followers the kindness and generosity of God.
Crucifixion or Ascension
The suffering of Jesus (PBUH) by the Pharisees and the rulers of Jerusalem leading to his supposed crucifixion is well known. But Qur’an says emphatically: They say that they killed the messenger of God, Messiah son of Mary. They did not kill him or crucified him, but it only appeared to them so. They are indeed confused without any knowledge and believe in their imagination, for sure they did not kill him, but Allah lifted him unto Himself (Ch 4 V 157-58).
Allah further says: Allah said to Jesus, I will recall you and raise you up to me (Ch 3 V 55). The word Muthawaffeeka which is used in this verse and is translated as recall is derived from the word Tuwaffa which means to take back one’s share in full. Some scholars assert that this word applies to lifting of both the soul and the body. As for the lifting of soul in ordinary cases of death the word used is Mautha. For Allah to use the word Mutawaffeeka instead of Mautha indicates that this lifting of Jesus was not an ordinary event but something different than the ordinary, and that is why Allah has used the special term Mutawaffeeka (Tafheemul Qur’an). But some scholars like Muhammad Assad opine that it was an ordinary lifting of soul with exaltation as it is mentioned in Qur’an with regard to Idris (Enoch AS Ch 19 V57).
There is a verse in the gospel of John which points to the disappearance and lifting of Jesus (PBUH) in the unusual way as described in the Qur’an without undergoing that torture and crucifixion. Maulana Hameed udDeenFarrahi refers to one such verse in the Gospel of John which is not seen in any other gospels. These things spoke Jesus and disappeared and did hide himself from them (John, Ch 12 V 36). Commenting about this verse in his exegesis of Surah e Theen (Fig), MaulanaFarrahi says: This verse from Gospel of John describes the last moments of Jesus life correctly, and that is, he disappeared and he was not arrested by the army. The subsequent events described in various Gospels, he says, only cause confusion and do not have the flavor of prophetic words.
It is difficult to believe that the Merciful and loving God would allow His prophets to be subjected to that extreme torture by His enemies. Therefore, it is appropriate of His Power and Glory to rescue His messenger. Allah says in the Qur’an that He rescues His messengers and their follower and this is the right of the believer over Him (Ch.10 V 103). When the army came to arrest Jesus (PBUH), the few faithful followers of Jesus were made to escape to keep his mission alive, while Jesus (PBUH) was lifted in a mysterious way. The army took hold of someone resembling Jesus from the crowd and crucified him. This is the reality which is emphatically described in the Qur’an in the following verse: They boast that they have slain Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God. They did not slay him or crucified him, but it only appeared so to them. They are indeed confused without any knowledge and believe in their imagination, for sure they did not kill him, but Allah lifted him unto Himself. Allah is powerful and Wise (Ch 4 V 157-158).
The Israeli prophets had foretold the coming of Messiah, and the Jews were expecting their savior. Jesus (PBUH) came and he was not recognized by them and in fact he was tormented and rejected by them. Therefore, Allah swt lifted Jesus (PBUH) to Himself. There are plenty of narrations attributed to Muhammad SA about the second coming of Jesus (PBUH) close to the hour. Nabi SA in one of the Hadiths says: By the One in Whose Hand is my soul; son of Mary shall soon descend among you and will judge justly (Tirmizi 2233).
Qur’an only has an oblique reference to the second coming of Jesus. It says: He spoke to men while he was in cradle and he (Jesus) will speak when he is old (Ch 4 V 46). As Jesus was lifted up in early age and did not reach the old age, it is implied that he is going to come again and live his old age and speak. Another verse in the Qur’an says: Everyone from amongst the people of book shall believe in him (Jesus) before their death and he (Jesus) will be a witness (Ch4 V 159). Shabbeer Ahmed Usmani RA in his commentary on the above verse writes: Isa AS (Jesus PBUH) is alive in heaven and he will come at the end of time, will kill Dajjal (Anti-Christ) and will be a witness to the fact that Jews denied him and the Christians made him a Son of God.
A question that is raised by the skeptics is that why Allah is not explicit in His utterances about the second coming. Allah is explicit but we confound his statements by our explanations to suit our desires. This apart like The Real Sovereign Allah swt does not give out the detail of his future plan and keeps all options to Himself so that people do their best both in the stress of fear and comfort of hope, and that He has every option to adopt depending on the exigency of the situation. It is His world and His Word, He can treat His world as He wants, and change His word as He wants.
Describing the purpose of the revelation of Qur’an, Qur’an says: Allah wants to clear things for you and guide you to the correct way of the people before you and bring you towards Him, He is knowledgeable and Wise. Allah is indeed eager that you return to Him, but those who want to push you farthest from the truth direct you to follow your vain desire. Allah wants to make things easy for you, for you are created weak (Ch 4 V 26-28). We are given the freedom to either accept what is told to us by The Knowledgeable and Wise Allah on matters relating to distant past which we can’t understand by ourselves due to our limitation, or follow our desire and stray farther away from truth.