Finding the Biblical Jesus in Islamic Traditions
By Rickey K Hood
Finding the Biblical Jesus in Islamic Traditions
By Rickey K Hood
Most Christians have little knowledge of the Muslim understanding of
Jesus. Some Christian’s misunderstanding of Islam is that Muslims reject
Jesus all together, but they would be surprised to learn that Muslims
believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his miracles and even Jesus’ Second
Coming. The stories and events in both Christian and Islamic traditions
share many similarities but also obvious differences. It is my attempt
in this essay to find the biblical base for many of the Islamic doctrines
that can be found in Christian literature. In my search for the biblical
base in Islam I will make clear comparisons of the scriptures from both
Islamic and Christian sources.
Islam, by tradition, is a re-teaching of the knowledge passed on by
earlier Prophets (writers). The Prophets of the Bible from Adam to Jesus
are all revered in Islam and by Quranic doctrine there should not be any
distinction between one prophet and the next:
Quran Surah 4:152
“To those who believe in Allah and His messengers
And make no distinction between any of the messengers.”
But the Prophet Jesus is a unique case. The Quran and other Islamic
sources separate Jesus from the other Prophets. He is often mentioned
in the Qur’an and is a principal teacher next to Muhammad in Islamic
tradition. He is given the title of Word of God and Spirit of God
denoting a special place of honor in the order of the Prophets.
Christians would not be offended by such praise toward their Savior and
Lord, but there is more to the understanding of the Islamic vision of
Jesus that is utterly different from the Jesus of the Gospels. In the
Gospels Jesus is sent by God to redeem the world from sin. He is the Son
of God and the Lord of mankind. But the Jesus in Islam is a
controversial Prophet. He is the only Prophet in the Qur’an who
deliberately distance himself from the doctrines that his
community is said to hold of him. The Qur’anic Jesus is in open
opposition to the Christian doctrines of his deification and the trinity:
Qur’an Surah 5:116, 117
“And behold! Allah will say: O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto
men, ‘Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allahâ’. He will say: ‘Glory to thee!
Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Never said I to them except what thou didst command me to say, to wit. worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’”
How then can the biblical Jesus of the Gospels be found in the Qur’ân and
other Islamic sources? Though Islam paints a very different portrait of
Jesus it is based on many of the sources found in the Christian
scriptures. My starting place for the search will begin with the births
of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Qur’an Surah 19:2-5
“(This is) a mention of the mercy of thy Lord of his servant Zechariah.
Behold! He cried to his Lord in secret. Praying: O my Lord! Infirm
indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head doth glisten with gray. My
wife is barren, so give me an heir as from thyself.”
“In the time of Herod King of Judea there was a Priest named Zechariah and
his wife Elizabeth. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, but
they had no Children, because Elisabeth was barren and they were well in
Qur’an Surah 3: 39-41; Surah 19:7.
“While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angel called unto
him: Allah doth give thee glad tidings of Yahya (John) to confirm the
truth of a Word from Allahâ. (His prayer was answered): O Zachariah!
We give thee good news of a son: his name shall be Yahya (John): on none
by that name have we conferred distinction before.”
“He was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood to go
into the temple and burn incense. And the an angel of the Lord appeared to
him standing at.. the alter of incense. ‘Do not be afraid, Zachariah;
your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and
you are to give him the name John.’”
Qur’an 19:8; 10-11
“He said: ‘O My Lord how shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I
have grown quite decrepit from old age.’ The angel said, ‘thy Lord says ‘It is easy for me…’ (Zachariah) said: ‘O my Lord! Give me a sign.’ The angel said, ‘Thy sign shall be that thou salt
speak to no man for three nights although thou art not dumb.’ So Zachariah came out to his people from his chamber: he told them by signs to celebrate Allah’s praises.”
Luke 1: 18,19; 22
“Zechariah asked the Angel, ‘How can I be sure to this? I am a old man
and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel
and now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this
happens.’ When he came out, he could not speak to them for he kept
making signs to them but remained unable to speak.”
Qur’an Surah 3:42
“Behold! The angel said: O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee
And purified thee and chosen thee above the women of all nations.”
“The angel went to her and said, Greetings, you who are highly favored!
The Lord is with you.”
Qur’an Surah 3:45
“ ‘Behold!’ The Angel said: ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee
Glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name
Will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor
In this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to
“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor
with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to
give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of
the Most High.’”
Qur’an Surah 3:47
“She said: ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son
When no man hath touched me?’ He said: ‘Even so;
Allah createth what He willeth: when He hath decreed
A matter, He but saith to it, ‘Be’ And it is!’”
“’How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of
the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be
called the Son of God. For nothing is impossible with God.’”
The Gospel of Luke is the only book of the four gospels that bear
similarities with the Qur’an in its telling of the births of John and
Jesus. The births of these (so called) historical Prophets are problematic because
all that is known are spiritualistic accounts, nothing factual, recorded in the New
Testament, as you can see the same accounts are also recorded spiritualisticly in the
Qur’an, as it tells of the same Biblical events in the same Lukean
The Biblical Jesus was a man that was strongly identified as a
revealed expression of God’s presence on earth. He was a man, as
Whitherington says it, “who saw visions and received revelations in the
spirit and who experience the spirit’s power and used it to heal the sick and
cast out demons.” The miracles of Jesus are well known and believed
among Muslims. His healing of the sick and raising of the dead are well
recorded in the Gospels, but these same accounts are also recorded in the
Qur’an. The Qur’an recounts these events in Jesus’ life and ministry, this
time without a parallel biblical context. These accounts are in a poetic
narrative from a first-person perspective, a God perspective. Though a
context narrative is missing the events are consistent with the life
and ministry of the Biblical Jesus.
Qur’an Surah 5:110a
Then will Allah say: O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favor to thee
and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit so
that thou did speak to the people in childhood and in old age.
Luke 2:42, 46,47
When he was Twelve years old, they went up to the feast. After being missing for three
days, they [Mary and Joseph] found him [Jesus] in the temple courts,
sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. Everyone who
heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Qur’an Surah 5:110b
Behold! I taught thee the book and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel
Luke 2: 40
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the
grace of God was upon him.
Qur’an Surah 5:110c
And behold! Thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird,
By My leave.
And thou breathiest into it and it becometh a bird
By My leave.
Infancy Gospel 15:2,6
Who when they were at play, he (Jesus) made clay into several shapes. He
had also made the figures of birds and sparrows, which when he commanded
to fly, did fly.
Qura’n Surah 5:110d
And thou healest those born blind, and the lepers,
By My leave.
And behold! Thou bringest forth the dead
By My leave
As he approached the gate of the town a dead man was being carried out,
the only son of a widowed mother. The Lord was moved with pity upon
seeing her and said to her, Do not cry. Then he stepped forward and
touched the coffin; Young man, I bid you get up. The dead man sat up
and began to speak.
Qur’an Surah 5:110e
And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee
The Clear Signs,
They got up, drove him (Jesus) out of the town, and took him to the brow
of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the
cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Qur’an Surah 5:110f
And the unbelievers among them said: This is nothing but evident magic.
But some of them said, by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving
The Qur’anic text of these events are like bullet points of the life of
Jesus as seen in the above examples. As a curious note once again the
Qur’an pulls greatly from the Gospel of Luke for its image of Jesus.
In a well-known forged passage in Josephus’ work the Jewish Antiquities,
written probably in the early 90s CE, Josephus was said to say the following about
Jesus: At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man a doer of
startling things, a teacher of people who received the truth with
pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many
Greeks. The book, The Muslim Jesus, speaks of Jesus as a wise man,
teacher and worker of signs. This collection of Islamic sayings and
teaching of Jesus, was not found as a complete corpus in any one
Islamic source. Rather, it was scattered in works of ethics and popular
devotionals and histories of prophets and saints. The Muslim Jesus is a
collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. In appearance it brings to
mind the format of the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of ‘what Jesus
said.’ There is no particular subject order, much of the narrative is
missing but the major elements that identify the teachings of the
biblical Jesus are preserved. These writings were written during the
years of 748 CE to 1791 CE. Much of the Sayings in this collecting
borrow heavily from the Synoptic Gospels with only slight variation.
Some of the Sayings can be traced back to Christian monks and apocrypha,
though most have their origins from Sufi mysticism.
The Muslim Jesus: Saying #4
Jesus said, (1) If it is a day of fasting for one of you, let him anoint
his head and beard and wipe his lips so that people will not know that he
is fasting. (2) If he gives with the right hand let him hide this from
the left hand. (3) If he prays, let him pull down the door curtain, for
God apportions praise as He apportions livelihood.
Matthew 6:17-18; 6:3,6
(1)when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it
will not be obvious to men that you are fasting. (2) But when you give
to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is
doing. (3) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray
to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done
in secret, will reward you.
The Muslim Jesus: Saying #7#
Jesus said to his disciples, (1) Do not take wages from those whom you
teach, except such wages as you gave me. (2) Salt of the earth do not
become corrupt. Everything when if becomes corrupt can be treated with
salt, but if salt is corrupted it has no remedy. (3) Know that you
possess two traits of ignorance: laughter without [cause for] wonder, and
morning nap without wakefulness.
Matthew 10:9,10; 5:13
(1) These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions. Do not
take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts: take no bag for
the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for worker is worth
his keep. (2) You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its
saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for
anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
The Muslim Jesus: Saying #34
Satan said to Jesus when he placed him in Jerusalem, you claim to raise
the dead. If you can truly do so ask God to turn this mountain to
bread. Jesus said, Do all people live for bread? Satan said, If
you are what you claim to be, jump from this place, for the angels will
receive you. Jesus said, God ordered me not to put myself to the test,
for I do not know whether He will save me or not.
The tempter came to him and said, If you are the Son of God, tell these
stones to become bread. Jesus answered, It is written: Man does not
live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of
God. The devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the
highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God, he
said, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his
angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that
you will not strike your foot against a stone. Jesus answered him, It
is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
The Muslim Jesus: Saying #201
Jesus said, The scholars of evil are like rocks, which has fallen into
the mouth of a river: it neither drinks the water nor allows the water to
pass to the crops. The scholars of evil are also like the channels of a
sewer: their exterior is white plaster and their interior is foul; or
like tombs which are grand on the outside full of dead bones inside.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut
the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor
will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the
law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which
look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s
bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear
to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and
The Muslim Jesus: Saying #211
It is written in the Gospels, He who prays for those who treat him badly
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate
you. Pray for those that mistreat you.
The Muslim Jesus: Saying #294
Jesus said, What does it profit a man if he sell his soul for all that
is in the world, and then leaves all that he sold it for as an
inheritance to someone else while he himself has ruined his soul?
Blessed is he who saves his soul, preferring it to all that is in the
What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits
his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
In these sayings Jesus shows himself as a holy man, and God’s Sophia (Wisdom).
The Muslim Jesus is in agreement with the Biblical Jesus when it
refers to him as the Word of God and a Spirit of God made flesh.
He is, according to Whitherington, a bearer or conveyer of the divine
presence on earth [this] would not have been true of Prophets in early
The Biblical Jesus was also an apocalyptic preacher convinced of his
place in eschatological (end-time) events. Apocalyptic predictions were popular before,
during and after the time of Jesus and even more so in the 21st Century.
Jesus predictions put him in the same company as Isaiah and Daniel
as a Prophet of God’s final judgment on
the nations. Islam inherited this eschatology (end-time theology) and
apocalypticism (revelation: revealing of future events) theology from
Christianity and Judaism. Jesus preaching as an end-of-the-world
prophet in the Synoptic Gospels raises the issue of whether Jesus meant
the end of the world, or simply the end of his world as it was. Islamic
apocalypticism raises the same questions. Is this final conflict a
localized event or a global exchange? It is definitely clear that Jesus
is a major player in the end time prophecy. Both Christians and
Muslims believe that ultimately not just the world order as known in Jesus and Mohammad's day
will change, but the world itself and all its inhabitants would be radically
changed when God chose to bring human history to a close. In the
gospels Jesus quotes Daniel when he refers to the abomination that
causes desolation, Christian tradition calls this character the Anti-
Christ. Islam also has an eschatological Jesus (end-time Jesus) similar
to the Jesus of the Gospels. The final conflict will be between Jesus
and the Dajjal (Anti-Christ).
Then it [the question about the Hour] was referred to Jesus, who
said, No-one knows about its timing except God.
Matthew 24:3; 24:36
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciple came to him
privately. Tell us, they said, when will this happen and what will be
the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? No one knows about
that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only
Ibn Majah Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 64
"O Messenger of Allah, when will the Hour be?' He (Muhammad pbuh) said: 'The one who is being asked about it does not know more than the one who is asking.
Matthew 24:3; 24:36
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciple came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”…“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Ibn Majah Vol. 5, Book 36, Hadith 4077
“…What my Lord told me was that the Dajjal (Anti-Christ) will appear, and when he sees me he will begin to melt like salt in water. God will destroy him when he sees me…”
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand…”
Ibn Majah Vol. 5, Book 36, Hadith 4081
…My Lord has told me that when that happens, the Hour will be very close, like a pregnant woman whose time is due, but her family do not know exactly when she will deliver.”
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
Sahih Muslim 2937 a Book 41, Hadith 7015
Allah would send Jesus, son of Mary, and he will descend at the white minaret in the eastern side of Damascus wearing two garments lightly dyed with saffron and placing his hands on the wings of two Angels.
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
In conclusion, the person of Jesus is a matter of interpretation. In
Christian belief he is the Son of God and Savior of the world. For both
Muslims and Christians Jesus is a teacher, preacher, healer, wonder-
worker, prophet and Christ. In my search for the historical Jesus in
Islam I have shown clear parallels of the Jesus of both faiths. Though
Islam paints a portrait of Jesus in its own image, the Jesus before them
is the same Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and the historical records as
seen in the writings of Josephus. I hope this essay has served as a tool
to enlighten Christians and Muslims about the man named Jesus.
The Holy Quran. (Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, Saudi Arabia: Holy Qurâ€™an
King Fahd, Printing Complex 1989).
2Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic
Literature. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: First Harvard University Press,
3 The Holy Bible: The New International Version. (Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973)
4 Whitherington III, Ben, the Jesus Quest: the third search for the Jew
of Nazarath. New expanded edition. InterVarsity Press P. O. box 1400,
Downers Grove, Illinois. 1997, 93
5 Holy Qurâ€™an. 323.
6 The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. (Hudson
Street, New York, NY: A Meridian Book, 1926), 34.
7 This is not historical, but this shows how the Qurâ€™an borrowed from
other text that was once concerned scripture
8 Witherington, 162.
9 Khalidi, 3
10 Ibid. 53.
11 Matt. 6:17,18. New International Version.
12 Khalidi, 55.
13 #3 is unique to the Muslim Gospel, it does not compare with any
sayings of the Biblical Jesus.
14 Khalidi, 72.
15 Khalidi, 165.
16 Khalidi, 170.
17 Khalidi, 213.
18 Whitherington, 162.
19 Ibid. 97.
21 At-ur-Rahim, 271. (a b, c)
22 At-ur-Rahim, 273.
â€˜Ataâ€™ur-Rahim, Muhammad and Thomas, Ahmad, Jesus Prophet of Islam.
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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973.
Khalidi, Tarif, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic
Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University
Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. A Meridian
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY: A Meridian Book, 1926.
Qurâ€™an. King Fahd Holy Qurâ€™an Printing Complex, P. O. Box 3561
Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, Saudi Arabia: Fahd Holy Qurâ€™an Printing, 1989.
Whitherington III, Ben, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of
InterVarsity Press P. O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity