Often times the most potent arguments are not the most complex and intricate, but rather those that are simple yet resonate loudly. Even Muslims themselves can forget that. Sometimes we need a return to basics in order to find the answers that plague us. In the case of religion, no question is more hotly contested then the nature of Jesus Christ, upon whom be peace. As such, I have compiled a few excerpts from the Qur’an, speech of Allah Himself, to articulate what Christ’s role for humanity really is:
[And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah]. He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.”
She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel. And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah. And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And [I have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear Allah and obey me. Indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is the straight path.”
[Surat ‘Aali ‘Imran, ayaat 49-51]
First it is important to outline some key points of Jesus’ message according to the Qur’an:
- Allah is able to create whatever He wills through the command “Be.” Jesus was created this way.
- Jesus was a messenger to the Children of Israel
- Jesus claimed to confirm what was in the Torah, changing some lawful matters
- Jesus acknowledged Allah’s Lordship as the same over him and others
In the beginning of the Gospel of John chapter 1, the Word of God is described as an entity through which “all things were made.” Later it describes the Word as “becoming flesh and made dwelling among” humanity, and that it was the “glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father.” To Christians, Jesus is the Word of God through which God creates the whole world itself. It is thus one of the pillars that is used to prop up the creed in Jesus’ divinity.
Allah rebuts this belief by clarifying that Jesus was indeed created from a word from God, but not the entirety of God’s speech itself. Rather, God’s speech is entirely His and is an attribute of His will. Jesus is created from the command of God, just like any other command;
Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was.
[Surat ‘Aali ‘Imran, ayah 59]
Thus the first evidence presented is the fact of Jesus’ own creation; his miraculous origins carries the similitude of the first man to walk the Earth – Adam (upon whom be peace). Itself, the comparison immediately highlights humanity (Adam is the father of humanity) as opposed to divinity. It also removes Jesus’ lack of a father as proof of being the begotten Son of God, as this miraculous characteristic is not unique solely to Jesus.
Even more fundamental, the concept of creation is important. How can something that is created be divine? God is universally acknowledged as being eternal and uncreated. If Jesus, the Son, was brought into existence from non-existence, then that immediately casts doubt onto his share of divinity. The attributes of divinity are of such a nature that they cannot be “attained” after not having them; you cannot suddenly ‘become’ eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowledgeable, because not having them initially is proof in of itself of a temporal, impotent, and ignorant nature.
They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary. Say, “Then who could prevent Allah at all if He had intended to destroy Christ, the son of Mary, or his mother or everyone on the earth?” And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them. He creates what He wills, and Allah is over all things competent.
[Surat al Ma’idah, ayah 20]
Likewise, Jesus’ own mortality is further proof that he was not God. Jesus, as a man who walked the Earth, was subject to the same limitations and laws of reality that govern the rest of mankind. If it were to occur, an earthquake or a plague could have taken his life just like any other person. By virtue of being a man, Jesus was subject to the larger divine Decree of reality, and if God had decreed destruction for Jesus, nothing could prevent that decree from being fulfilled.
Here Allah shows how praying to and worshiping Jesus as a savior capable of abating God’s punishment, is actually misguidance. Jesus would not be able to save himself if God decreed it, let alone anyone else. In fact, this is something Christians already affirm and believe; central to Christian doctrine is the belief that Jesus was crucified and killed by the Romans opposing his message. Muslims, ironically, deny Jesus’ death although it may have historically appeared so. One would think that the death of one’s God would be the single most hated concept to the person who holds that God dearly to their heart. However, to Christians it is a required tenet.
The mere fact that Jesus was killed, and at the hands of humanity no less, shows how limited a being he was. Now of course, one may choose to believe in a God that is capable of being killed by his own creation. But is this really a God worthy of one’s worship? For if creation has power over the creator, then seeking help, guidance and salvation from that God is meaningless. One might as well start worshiping themselves, or the collective potential of humanity’s technological and intellectual prowess. And indeed, people have started doing so subconsciously. Such is the secular society we live in today.
The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded.
[Surat al Ma’idah, ayah 75]
A fact as simple as the fact that Jesus ate food reinforces his humanity. God does not require sustenance from his creation. Humanity, on the other hand, does; that is because humanity relies on external forces and circumstances to survive. God is self-sufficient. If Jesus was indeed God incarnate, then at the very least one would expect him to behave otherworldly and unlike any other normal human being. In fact, the Qur’an recounts that when angels visited Abraham (upon whom be peace), they were immediately recognizable to him as being strange in addition to refusing the food that he offered them. Angels do not eat our food since their sustenance is directly from Allah. If God Himself was on Earth, then the obviousness of it would have been infinitely more pronounced.
And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen. I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness. If You should punish them – indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them – indeed it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.
[Surat al Ma’idah, ayah 116-118]
Finally, Jesus’ limitations extend into the realm of knowledge. He admits to being unaware of the unseen matters, and that only God knows what’s inside him, not the other way around. This sentiment is echoed in the Bible when Jesus admits to being ignorant of the Day of Judgment in Matthew 24:36. Elsewhere the Qur’an presents a rationale for the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) regarding knowledge of the unseen:
They ask you, [O Muhammad], about the Hour: when is its arrival? Say, “Its knowledge is only with my Lord. None will reveal its time except Him. It lays heavily upon the heavens and the earth. It will not come upon you except unexpectedly.” They ask you as if you are familiar with it. Say, “Its knowledge is only with Allah , but most of the people do not know.”
Say, “I hold not for myself [the power of] benefit or harm, except what Allah has willed. And if I knew the unseen, I could have acquired much wealth, and no harm would have touched me. I am not except a warner and a bringer of good tidings to a people who believe.”
[Surat al ‘A’raf, ayaat 187-188]
If Jesus was God and therefore retained all of his divine attributes, he would have undoubtedly held the knowledge of everything. This would not only grant him knowledge of the Day of Judgment, but it would have also given him the ability to acquire as much worldly wealth and prosperity as he desired, and to avoid every harm that could have afflicted him.
One could say that Jesus deliberately didn’t acquire all the wealth that he could, and that he was feigning ignorance on purpose. But that would also mean that he deliberately allowed the normal harms of life to touch him, in addition to the greatest harm of crucifixion on the cross. However, some of the last words of Jesus on the cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Mark 27:46 and Matthew 15:34) – do not jive very well with that theory. To say that even those words were chosen on purpose would paint the picture that Jesus’ entire human existence was an ‘act’ and that his humanity was never genuine at all. To say such behavior was indeed genuine would admit that he lacked divine attributes, thus not being fully God.
Whichever way the Christian chooses to interpret it, Jesus loses either his humanity or divinity. What that leaves us with is the central inconsistency in Christianity: the concept of the “God man” who is fully God and fully man. Such a thing is merely a play of words, and cannot exist in reality because of its inherently impossibility.
However, just because Jesus is not considered God does not mean he is degraded:
O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. Never would the Messiah disdain to be a servant of Allah, nor would the angels near [to Him]. And whoever disdains His worship and is arrogant – He will gather them to Himself all together.
[Surat an Nisaa’ ayaat 171-172]
One may think that they are pleasing God by raising Jesus’ status to godliness, however God tells us that such a thing only serves to degrade God by making Him human-like (in the mind of the individual; God is exalted over what they say). Jesus, as a messenger and Messiah of God, would be proud to be called a slave of God, as such a title is a title of honor and not disgrace. The only ones who feel disgraced at being called slaves of God are those who are arrogant and don’t really ‘worship’ God. And of course, God has a place for those people.
Jesus came to the Children of Israel not to challenge their existing theology, but to call them back to the beliefs that were already in the Torah. He was sent as a messiah to help re-establish God’s kingdom and rule on the Earth, which is why many desired him dead so as to disprove his messiah-hood. In Judaism, Jesus’ death proves he wasn’t the messiah, hence Jews continue to await a messiah. In Christianity, Jesus’ death is reinterpreted as a spiritual success so as to avoid the apparent failure of his messianic mission. In Islam, Jesus’ live salvation keeps the fulfillment of his physical messianic prophecy alive until when he is decreed to come back to give victory to the believers at the end-of-times. When Christians claim that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, it merely strengthens the Jewish claim against Jesus as being a false messiah. Knowing the Israelite context in which Jesus emerged from is very important for determining Jesus’ true message.
As Jesus says in John 20:17 to Mary Magdalene:
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.‘” (NIV)
Jesus affirms his subservience to the common God, the singular God of creation. As I’ve bolded in the Qur’anic verses above, Jesus is quoted as teaching nothing but to worship ‘his God and our God.’ This harmonizes previous Jewish monotheistic belief with Jesus’ teachings, as the advent of God Himself in the form of a man coming to rid the world of the punishment for sin is nowhere in Jewish teaching, but rather a later Christian doctrine. God will forgive whom He wills, and will punish whom He wills. And God does not wrong his slaves.
These are the proofs that Allah presents, and so it also implies that they are sufficient as evidences against those willing to argue them. I urge my Christian brothers in humanity to deeply think about the implications of the worship they direct to Jesus, upon whom be peace, and to remind them that idolatry is among the unforgivable sins in God’s eyes. Remember the first commandment:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-31 (NIV)