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Jesus Through The Eyes Of Islam

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Cen­turies of con­fronta­tion with the Chris­t­ian West fol­lowed by a peri­od of intense mis­sion­ary activ­i­ty, which still con­tin­ues in cer­tain regions of the Islam­ic world in new forms, have cre­at­ed among some con­tem­po­rary Mus­lims an aver­sion not only to Chris­tian­i­ty but, in the case of some of the mod­ernised class­es, even to the Islam­ic con­cep­tion of Christ and Mary. In response to the aggres­sive attack made upon Islam by so many Chris­t­ian sources dur­ing the past, cer­tain mod­ernised Mus­lims have tried to for­get or push into the back­ground the clear teach­ings of Islam con­cern­ing Chris­tian­i­ty. There have been even more extreme reac­tions among the Mus­lims of the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent. As a result, they have cre­at­ed a Chris­tol­ogy in cer­tain quar­ters that is, to say the least, com­plete­ly removed from the tra­di­tion­al Islam­ic teach­ings on the subject.

In this short expo­si­tion, it is not with such recent reac­tions but with the tra­di­tion­al Islam­ic teach­ings con­cern­ing Jesus that we shall con­cern our­selves. It might appear uncon­vinc­ing to cer­tain Chris­tians that Islam places such an empha­sis on the role of Jesus, but to under­stand the total per­spec­tive of Islam this empha­sis is of sig­nif­i­cance. More­over, in the sec­u­larised world of today it might be of spir­i­tu­al com­fort for Chris­tians, besieged by a cor­ro­sive atmos­phere which seeks to eat away the very sinews and bones of reli­gion, to realise that mil­lions of Mus­lims on earth bear wit­ness to the Divine ori­gin of Chris­tian­i­ty and revere its founder, although nat­u­ral­ly in a dif­fer­ent perspective.

Islam does not accept the idea of incar­na­tion or fil­ial rela­tion­ship. In its per­spec­tive, Jesus the son of Mary, Isa ibn Maryam, was a major prophet and spir­i­tu­al pole of the whole Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion, but not a God-man or the son of God. Nev­er­the­less, his mirac­u­lous birth from a vir­gin moth­er, who is in fact referred to in the Qur’an as the woman cho­sen above all the oth­er women of the world, is explic­it­ly men­tioned. So is the fact that he was the Spir­it of God” (ruhal­lah). His spe­cial func­tion as the bringer of a spir­i­tu­al way rather than a reli­gious law is also basic to Islam­ic teach­ings. The Qur’an, how­ev­er, does not accept that he was cru­ci­fied but states that he was tak­en direct­ly to heav­en. This is the one irre­ducible fact” sep­a­rat­ing Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam, a fact, in real­i­ty, real­i­ty placed there prov­i­den­tial­ly to pre­vent a min­gling of the two reli­gions. All the oth­er doc­trines, such as the ques­tion of the nature of Christ or the Trin­i­ty, can be under­stood meta­phys­i­cal­ly in such a way as to har­monise the two per­spec­tives. The ques­tion of the death of Jesus is, how­ev­er, the fact’ that resists any inter­pre­ta­tion which would be com­mon to the Chris­t­ian and Islam­ic views of the event. It could be said that this event was greater than any sin­gle descrip­tion of it. In any case, the mean­ing of the cru­ci­fix­ion and the idea of redemp­tion it sig­ni­fies are per­haps the most dif­fi­cult of all aspects of Chris­tian­i­ty for an ordi­nary Mus­lim to grasp.

The Prophet of Islam held Chris­tians in spe­cial esteem and empha­sised the func­tion of Christ with­in Islam by refer­ring to Christ’s sec­ond com­ing at the end of the world. Islam­ic escha­tol­ogy, there­fore, although not iden­ti­cal with the Chris­t­ian, is relat­ed to the same cen­tral fig­ure of Jesus. Through the escha­to­log­i­cal role assigned to Jesus in Islam as well as the many ref­er­ences to him and the Vir­gin Mary in the Qur’an, Jesus plays a role in the dai­ly reli­gious con­scious­ness of Mus­lims equal to that of Abra­ham and fol­low­ing, of course, the role of the Prophet. More­over, in Islam­ic eso­teri­cism, he plays a major func­tion to which the many writ­ings of Sufis such as Ibn Ara­bi, Rumi and Hafiz attest.

If the Qur’an­ic descrip­tion of Jesus is close­ly analysed, it will reveal Jesus as pos­sess­ing three aspects, per­tain­ing to the past, the present and the future, and cor­re­spond­ing respec­tive­ly to his func­tion of pre­serv­ing the Torah, cel­e­brat­ing and per­pet­u­at­ing the Eucharist and announc­ing the com­ing of the Prophet of Islam. The Mus­lims inter­pret the perik­le­tos (mean­ing The Illus­tri­ous”) as parak­le­tos (The Praised), which cor­re­sponds to one of the names of the Prophet of Islam, Ahmad (from the root h‑m-d mean­ing praise”). The Qur’an states :

And when Jesus son of Mary said : O Chil­dren of Israel ! Lo ! I am the mes­sen­ger of Allah unto you, con­firm­ing that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah and bring­ing good tid­ings of a mes­sen­ger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One (Ahmad)’ (LXI6)

For Mus­lims, it is incon­ceiv­able that such a major reli­gious man­i­fes­ta­tion as Islam should have been passed in silence by Christ, and they see in his announce­ment of the reign of the Par­a­clete a ref­er­ence to the com­ing of Islam. His func­tion in the future is in fact, as stat­ed in the above Qur’an­ic verse, to announce the com­ing of the Prophet of Islam and of course also to bring the present human cycle to its end.

In the tra­di­tion­al Islam­ic reli­gious con­scious­ness, Jesus joins with Moses and Abra­ham to rep­re­sent the ternary aspect of the monothe­is­tic tra­di­tion whose sum­ma­tion is to be found in the Prophet of Islam. In this per­spec­tive, Abra­ham rep­re­sents faith, Moses law and Christ the spir­i­tu­al way. The Prophet of Islam as the final Prophet, the seal of prophe­cy’, is the syn­the­sis of all these aspects. Also in the same way that the Prophet is the seal of prophe­cy’ Christ is con­sid­ered by most Sufis as the seal of sanc­ti­ty’ in the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion. There is, in fact, a spe­cial type of Chris­tic wis­dom’ (hikmah isawiyyah) with­in Islam, con­sist­ing of ele­ments of inward­ness, ante­ri­or­i­ty and a kind of Divine elixir or nec­tar which can be seen in cer­tain forms of Sufism. More­over, this wis­dom, as well as the spir­i­tu­al per­son­al­i­ty of Jesus, are close­ly relat­ed to the Vir­gin, and the Qur’an refers to the two as a sin­gle real­i­ty. It states, for instance,

And We (Allah) made the Son of Mary and his moth­er to be a (mirac­u­lous) sign’ (XXVI, 50)

Despite dif­fer­ences which exist, and which in fact must exist if each reli­gion is to pre­serve its own spir­i­tu­al genius and authen­tic­i­ty, the Islam­ic con­cep­tion of Jesus pro­vides a firm basis for an under­stand­ing of Chris­tian­i­ty by Mus­lims if they only refrain from react­ing to the intim­i­da­tions caused by mod­ern attacks against Islam and return to a close study of their own tra­di­tion­al sources. But this con­cep­tion can also aid Chris­tians to grasp bet­ter what Islam real­ly means to those who breathe with­in the uni­verse it has brought into being. Per­haps the Islam­ic con­cep­tion of Christ can serve as a basis for a bet­ter under­stand­ing of Islam on behalf of Chris­tian­i­ty. It could enable Chris­tians to realise that the sun of their spir­i­tu­al world which they so love is also a shin­ing star in the fir­ma­ment of anoth­er world and plays an impor­tant role in the reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al econ­o­my of anoth­er human collectivity. Jesus Through The Eyes Of Islam 26

This arti­cle was tak­en from its online ver­sion and edit­ed accordingly. Endmark

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