It’s All About Jesus
Sharing Christ with Muslims
The typical Muslim will say about Jesus, “Our holy book affirms His virgin birth, His prophethood, His power to work miracles, and His soon return.” This statement sounds like something every Christian could easily affirm.
However, the reality is that in most Islamic contexts, the best thing a Muslim could do — embrace Jesus as Savior — is seen by the Islamic community as the worst thing he or she could ever do.
The topic of Jesus is one of the most theologically charged conversations you will have with Muslims, and yet it is the most important one. We must always be aware of the Islamic redefinition of the Person and work of Christ. Our loving witness to Muslims must be firmly grounded in the biblical facts of Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion.
Quranic Isa vs. Biblical Jesus
In the Muslim holy book, the Quran, Jesus is called Isa. Eleven times the Quran refers to Isa as Messiah. Other Quranic titles for Isa are: servant or slave of Allah, a prophet for the Jews, a messenger (rasul) with a book (the Injil) from Allah, a spirit from Allah, and a sign to the people.
As you interact with Muslims, you will discover that the Quranic titles of Isa carry entirely different meanings than the Bible’s revelation of Jesus. There may be some superficial commonalities, but ongoing investigation reveals irreconcilable differences.
The Quran bears its own message about Jesus — one meant to reinterpret and replace the earlier biblical revelation. When sharing the good news of Jesus with Muslims, it is important to understand that the two most important irreconcilable differences about Jesus are His incarnation and crucifixion. Let’s now investigate the Isa of the Quran and the Jesus of the Bible.
The Quranic Isa has a special birth — as a creation of Allah. The Quran is filled with incomplete narratives, especially regarding Jesus’ life, works and purpose. While attempting to redefine the Person and mission of Jesus, the Quran exalts the person and mission of Muhammad.
Of the 93 places where the Quran speaks of Isa, the majority are references to his nativity. It is clear that the Quran wants to refute and reframe the former Scriptures (the Bible) regarding the Incarnation.
Two main passages in the Quran deal with the birth of Isa: Sura 3:33-49 and 19:16-34. The Quran and Bible agree that an angel was sent to the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of a son. In the Quran, Mary is told to name her son “Isa al-Messiah.” In the Bible, He is to be called Jesus (Luke 1:31).
Quranic Isa is merely a creation of Allah’s power (Sura 3:47) and a physical offspring of Mary (19:35). On 23 occasions, the Quran mentions Isa as the “Son of Mary” — emphasizing His natural birth and de-emphasizing His eternal existence.
The Quran attributes miracles to Isa. As a baby, Isa speaks from the cradle (Sura 3:46), a story obviously derived from apocryphal fables. In Sura 19:30-33, Isa again speaks from the cradle and this time claims to be a servant of Allah. The baby Isa goes on to claim that he was given a book (the Injil) and was appointed as a prophet.
While yet an infant, Isa then creates doves from clay and breathes life into them by Allah’s permission (3:49). In adulthood, Isa heals the blind and lepers, and raises the dead (3:49). Sura 2:87 states that the miracles attributed to Isa are clear proofs that he was sent as a sign from Allah to the people.
It is important to note that Isa does these things by the “leave of Allah” (with Allah’s permission) — and only as a created being.
The topic of Jesus is one of the most theologically charged conversations you will have with Muslims, and yet it is the most important one.
Ironically, the famous Muslim commentator Yusuf Ali affirms Isa’s ability to do these things in the Quran, but rejects the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ miracles. The redefined Isa of the Quran is a prophet with a unique birth narrative, a created being who is a slave of Allah, and a sign to the people. The Quran carefully but clearly denies the truth of the Incarnation.
The Quran denies the death of Isa. For Christians, Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, became flesh that He might atone for the sins of mankind. Muslims consider it unthinkable that Allah would allow the revered prophet Isa to suffer the humiliation of dying on the cross. This helps us understand why the Quran configures a way for Isa to escape the cross. Before he could be crucified, Allah rescued Isa by “taking him up.”
In Islamic theology there is no need for the atonement. Everyone is born pure, and when a person sins it is just a mistake. Humanity’s real sin is forgetfulness, and the Quran does not consider forgetfulness an “egregious sin against Allah.” In Islam, there is no need or place for a substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Each person must fulfill Allah’s requirements, including doing enough good works, to pay for his or her own sins.
Sura 19:33 speaks of Isa referring to “the day I die,” and in Sura 4:157 the Jews boast that “we have killed Christ Jesus.” Nevertheless, the Quran emphatically states that “they killed him not nor crucified him. But so it was made to appear to them” (Sura 4:157). While Islamic interpretations of this particular verse vary, all mainstream Muslim scholars agree that Isa was not divine and that he did not die on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
In his book Jesus in the Quran, Geoffrey Parrinder speaks of the Quranic description of Allah. He paints a vivid picture of how Muslims must live with a god who does not reveal himself. Instead Muslims live with a mysterious, unknowable, capricious deity.
Parrinder says: “As in no other book, the sense of an absolutely overwhelming being proclaiming himself to a people that had not known him. Not even in the Old Testament do you have such an extreme omnipotence and transcendence. Nowhere is God revealed as so utterly inscrutable, so tremendous and so mysterious.”
What a contrast from the Bible where God creates humankind for fellowship, seeks them even when they sin, and offers redemption from their state of sin. From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, our loving Father is always seeking relationship with His creation. What a story we have to share with our Muslim friends.
We have the wonderful privilege of telling Muslims how Jesus is foretold in the Old Testament and fully revealed in the New Testament.
Immanuel and the Lamb of God
So, where do you start in your attempt to share with Muslims the Jesus of the Bible? The two names that illustrate His incarnation and atonement are a good place to start. Jesus is Immanuel, the Almighty God who has come in the flesh (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). He is also the sinless Lamb of God, who alone takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi tells of his struggle in understanding the biblical Jesus: “I could not believe it. It simply could not be true. Jesus could not be God. There had to be some other explanation, or else my family and everyone I loved was caught in a lie. If Jesus truly did claim to be God, then the Quran is wrong and Islam is a false religion.”
Qureshi had a Christian friend who faithfully read the Scriptures to him and patiently presented Jesus as the answer to all his questions. Slowly but surely, the powerful light of the gospel opened Qureshi’s mind and heart. He surrendered to Jesus as Immanuel and Lamb of God! May you be led by the mighty Spirit of God to share the Jesus of the Scriptures with your Muslim friends.
For more information on this topic, go to the resource page at reachingmuslimpeoples.com.
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of six articles on Christianity and Islam that is running on Fridays throughout the Muslim month Ramadan, which began May 6 and ends June 4. Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, so we encourage readers on this day especially to pray for the spread of the gospel among Muslims, both in the U.S. and around the world.
Ramadan 2019 Article Series