The purpose of this brief article is to show that Paul, the self-acclaimed “apostle” whom the Christians follow, has no place in Islam at all. Muslims believe that between the time periods of the Prophet Jesus(P) and the Prophet Muhammad(P), no Messenger of God had come between them, whether to the Gentiles or the Jews. This is based on an agreed hadith recorded by Imam Muslim and Imam Bukhari, as follows :
Volume 4, Book 55, Number 651 :
Narrated Abu Huraira : I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers, and there has been no prophet between me and him (i.e. Jesus).”
We know of only one man who claimed to be a messenger of God in this intervening period. That man was called Paul, formerly known as Saul, of Tarsus.
Self-Proclaimed Apostle of Jesus
According to the Christians, Paul of Tarsus was an “apostle of Jesus”. Jesus(P) had allegedly appeared to him in a “vision” as God and chose him as his “apostle”. Hence, Paul is also a “messenger” of God because Jesus(P) is believed to be God. It is said that Paul was sent “to the Gentiles” to preach to them the Gospel, i.e. he “has been entrusted with the task of preaching” with a message (Galatians 2:7 – 10).
Since Paul claimed that he was sent by Jesus(P) to the nations with a particular message, it, therefore, follows that he is a “messenger”, and hence he uses the title “apostle” for himself.
Quotes from the New Testament where the title “apostle” is applied to him are as follows :
- “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…” (Romans 1:1)
- “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” (1 Corinthians 1:1)
- “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God, the Father…” (Galatians 1:1)
Thus we see that based on the earlier hadith cited from Bukhari and Muslim, Islam clearly denies the so-called “apostleship” of Paul and dispute his claim that he was ever an “apostle of God”, as he lived between the time periods of Jesus(P) and Muhammad(P).
However, the missionary Sam Shamoun took exception to this and proceeded to state otherwise in his article.
Missionary Confusion Between Historical Records and the Theological
One of the claims that the missionary Shamoun made is that Paul was apparently “recognised” as a true follower of Jesus(P), simply because he was mentioned in Muslim records of the Sirah. According to the missionary :
Contemporary Muslims […] may deny the apostleship of Paul, but the first Muslims did not as the following citations conclusively prove
He then proceeds to quote citations from sources which are merely the record of historians, and they were not even from Muslim theologians regarding the position of Paul in Islam. Even then, some of his quotes are at best spurious and deceptive. Consider the citation which the missionary has provided to us from the translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah :
Those whom Jesus son of Mary sent, both disciples and those who came after them, in the land were : Peter the disciple and Paul with him, (Paul belonged to the followers and was not a disciple) to Rome. Andrew and Matthew to the land of the cannibals ; Thomas to the land of Babel, which is in the land of the east ; Philip to Carthage and Africa ; John to Ephesus the city of the young men of the cave ; James to Jerusalem which is Aelia the city of the sanctuary ; Bartholomew to Arabia which is the land of Hijaz ; Simon to the land of Berbers ; Judah who was not one of the disciples was put in place of Judas.1
Compare the above description of the disciples of Jesus(P) with the accounts in Acts and you would find the relevant parallels. Apart from the fact that Ibn Ishaq clearly wrote that Paul was not a disciple of Jesus(P), the footnote to this passage also says :
The form of the names shows that the source was Greek. It probably came to I. I. through Syriac.2
So what does this tell us ? It shows that Ibn Ishaq had merely recorded this as a statement of history based on a secondary source from the account in Acts which was either the Greek or the Syriac, and not from an Islamic viewpoint. This we can see as stated in the Introduction of the same work, that :
Occasionally, he [Ibn Ishaq] inserted verses in his narrative, and sometimes gives his own opinion.3
Thus we see the deception that this missionary has no doubt instilled in his twisting of Ibn Ishaq’s work. The rest of his citations from Muslim historians, we repeat, also affirm that Paul was merely a follower of Peter, and not a disciple of Jesus(P).4
Conclusions : Paul In Islam
So what do the early Muslim theologians say about Paul in Islam ? The reality is that the early Muslims theologians recognised that Paul was a hypocrite and the corrupter of the religion we know today as “Christianity”.
We hence would like to sum up the position of Paul in Islam with the words of the eminent Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728H), that :
This is just like what Paul fabricated when he entered into the Religion of Christianity in order to corrupt the Religion of the Christians.5
Ash-Shahratain (d. 1153), a theologian of the Asharite school, echoes the above words of Ibn Taymiyyah by stating that :
Paul, however, disordered his affair, made himself (Peter’s) partner, altered the basis of his knowledge, and mixed it with the argument of the philosophers and the (evil) suggestion of his heart.6
In conclusion, while Paul holds a significant place in Christianity, his role within the purview of Islam is fundamentally different. Islam, based on both theological interpretations and historical records, refutes his self-proclaimed apostleship. And only God knows best !
- A. Guillaume (trans.), The Life of Muhammad : A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 653
- ibid., Introduction, p. xv
- This is consistent with the recording of the activities of Peter and Paul, as seen in the accounts given in Acts, chapters 9 – 13.
- This statement was originally stated by al-Laalikaaiee (no. 2832) from ash-Shaibee. It was authenticated by Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah in Minhaajus-Sunnah (1÷29) and he pointed out the earlier scholars who did this. It was declared hasan by al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari(12÷270).
- As quoted by William Montgomery Watt, Muslim-Christian Encounters : Perceptions and Misconceptions (Routledge, 1991), p. 69