Two of the most influential figures in the history of the world are undoubtedly Muhammad and Jesus. This year the Muslim commemoration of the birth of Muhammad (Mawlid or Milad) which follows the Islamic lunar calender happens to coincide with Christmas on the Gregorian calendar. The convergence of these events gives us pause to reflect on these great men of God and the message they brought.
Jesus is honored in the Islamic tradition as one of the great Prophets of God. He is also described as the Messiah, the Christ and with the honorific title of “Word of God”. Muslims revere him by referring to him as “Sayyidina Isa” (our Master Jesus) and the post-script “Alayhi-Salam” (upon whom be peace). Muslims also believe in the immaculate conception of Jesus and believe that he was raised up to heaven at the end of his worldly mission and will return Earth prior to the last day.
Miraculous birth of Jesus in the Qur’an
It may be surprising to many that one of the most beautiful and detailed stories of the birth of Christ and the miracles surrounding it are found within two chapters of the Qur’an. This includes a chapter named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, where the story begins. She is described as an honored woman. The Angel speaks to her saying “O Mary, indeed God has chosen you, purified you, and chosen you above the women of the worlds.’ She is then given the glad tidings of a miraculous baby who is to be conceived without a biological father.
The angel says, “O Mary, indeed God gives you the good news of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and in the Hereafter, and of those who are near to God.” The angel informs Mary that Jesus the Messiah will have special miracles, “He will speak to the people in the cradle, and in old age, and he will be of the righteous.” Mary hearing this shocking news is in disbelief. Startled Mary says “My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me?” The Angel, reaffirming God’s omnipotence, says “So (it will be,) for God creates what He wants.” (Quran 3:42-47 )
Hence the immaculate conception begins. The Quran says, “And she who guarded her chastity, so We breathed (a spirit) into her through Our angel, and We made her and her son (Jesus) a sign for the worlds.” (Quran 21:91) The story continues, “So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, ‘I wish I had died before this, and had been long forgotten. Then the newborn Jesus miraculously from the womb] called her from below her, saying, ‘Don’t be sad. Your Lord has provided a stream under you.’ Shake the trunk of the palm tree towards you, and it will drop on you fresh ripe dates. So eat and drink and be happy.” (Quran 19:16-26)
Finally after making it through the pains of childbearing and childbirth she brings the baby to her people. They were shocked at what she brought and assumed it was the result of an illicit relationship. The Quran says, “they said, ‘O Mary, indeed you have done a great evil.’ ‘O sister of Aaron, your father was not an evil man, and your mother was not a fornicator.’” Mary at a loss for words pointed to the child. They said, ‘How can we speak to a child in the cradle?’.” Just then in a miracle only mentioned in the Quran the newborn speaks from the cradle. Jesus says, “Indeed, I am a servant of God. He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and He has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I remain alive. And (has made) me kind to my mother, and did not make me arrogant or miserable. And peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I will die, and the day I will be raised alive.” (Quran 19:22-33)
In addition to speaking as a baby, the Qur’an also lists the many future miracles this Messenger of God will perform. Jesus says, “I heal the blind and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by the permission of God.” (Quran 3:50). In this beautiful and descriptive way the birth and message of Jesus are honored in the Qur’an.
Jesus gives Good News of Muhammad
Muslims believe that Jesus was one of God’s Messengers in a long line of Prophets beginning with Adam including Noah, Abraham, Moses and David and ending with the final Messenger Muhammad. Hence, the Qu’ran states that Jesus foretold the coming of Muhammad. It says,
“O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of God (sent) to you, confirming the Law (Torah) before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.” (Quran 61:6)
Scholars have sought to find references to such a prophecy within the New Testament. The most promising verses are in the gospel of John in which Jesus says, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever." (John 14:16)
The Greek word parakletos, has been translated as ‘Comforter.’ Parakletos more precisely means ‘one who pleads another’s cause, an intercessor.’ Muhammad is believed by Muslims to be the intercessor on the Day of Judgement between God and the sinners pleading for their forgiveness before the Lord. Some have thought the prophecy may refer to the holy Spirit, however, others argue that this is unlikely since Jesus refers to the comforter as a person elsewhere in the same gospel (John 16:3), furthermore the holy Spirit was present at the time of Jesus and this is a prophecy for the future. Jesus is quoted to have said, “for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” (John 16:7)
Karen Armstrong in her biography on Muhammad indicates that many early Christians interpreted this prophecy as referring to the Arabian Prophet. She writes,
Some Arab Christians in the Syriac Church had translated one passage of the Gospels in such a way to indicate that they were expecting Muhammad’s message. Jesus had said that after his death he would send his disciples a Comforter (the Paraclete) who would remind them of everything he had taught them and help them to understand it. In the Syriac lectionary, ‘Paraclete’ had been translated by the munuhhema, which after the event, seemed very close to ‘Muhammad’. Other Arab Christians had read perikylotos instead of Paraclete, which can be translated by the Arabic ‘Ahmad’. This was a common name in Arabia and like “Muhammad” it means the “the praised one.” (p. 73)
In doing so they echoed Jesus’ prophecy for the coming of Muhammad as recorded in the Qur’an. In Islam there is great respect for Jesus and the story of the birth of Jesus is recorded in Islam’s holiest book and has been recited by Muslims all over the world for hundreds of years. This year as Christians celebrate Christmas and many Muslims mark the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, the coming of Muhammad (Mawlid), perhaps it is a time for Muslims and Christians to reflect on their similarities and common heritage as we celebrate these great Men of God. (May the peace and blessings of God be upon them both).