Puneet Varma (Editor)

Jesus in Islam

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Native name
ישוע‎ Yēšūă‘



Jesus in Islam

c. 7-2 BC
Bethlehem, Judea, Roman Empire

c. 30-33 AD Gethsemane, Jerusalem

Yahya (John the Baptist)

Yahya (John the Baptist)

In Islam, Isa ibn Maryam (Arabic: عيسى بن مريم‎, ʿĪsā ibn Maryām, 'Jesus, son of Mary'‎), or Jesus, is understood to be the penultimate prophet and messenger of Allah (God) and al-Masih, the Arabic term for Messiah, the "Christ", sent to guide the Children of Israel (banī isrā'īl in Arabic) with a new revelation: al-Injīl (Arabic for "the Gospel"). Jesus is believed to be a prophet, who neither married nor had any children, and is reflected as a significant figure, being mentioned in the Quran in 93 ayaat (Arabic for verses) with various titles attached such as "Son of Mary", "Spirit of God", and the "Word of God" among other relational terms, directly and indirectly, over 180 times. In total, Jesus is mentioned 187 times in the Quran as such the most mentioned person with the name Isa mentioned 25 times, in titles mentioned 79 times, in 3rd person mentioned 48 times, in 1st person mentioned 35 times.


The Quran (central religious text of Islam) and most Hadith (testimonial reports) mention Jesus to have been born a "pure boy" (without sin) to Mary (Arabic: مريم‎, translit. Maryām‎) as the result of virginal conception, similar to the event of the Annunciation in Christianity. In Islamic theology, Jesus is believed to have performed many miracles, several being mentioned in the Quran such as speaking as an infant, healing various ailments like blindness, raising the dead to life, making birds out of clay and breathing life into them. Over the centuries Islamic writing has referenced other miracles like casting out demons, having borrowed from pre-Islamic sources, some heretical, and from canonical sources as legends were expanded. Like all prophets in Islamic thought, Jesus is also called a Muslim (i.e., one who submits to the will of God), as he preached that his followers should adopt the "straight path".

In Islam, Jesus is believed to have been the precursor to Muhammad, attributing the name Ahmad to someone who would follow Jesus. Islam traditionally teaches the rejection of divinity, that Jesus was not God incarnate, nor the Son of God and, according to some interpretations of the Quran, the Islamic view of Jesus' death and crucifixion is widely denied and not believed to have occurred. Despite the earliest Muslim traditions and exegesis quoting somewhat conflicting reports regarding death and length of death, the mainstream Muslim belief is that Jesus didn't suffer death but was instead raised alive to heaven.

Muslim tradition believes Jesus will return to earth near the Day of Judgment to restore justice and to defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal ("the false messiah", also known as the Antichrist).

Birth of Jesus

The account of Jesus begins with a prologue narrated several times in the Quran first describing the birth of his mother, Mary, and her service in the Jerusalem temple, while under the care of the prophet and priest Zechariah, who was to be the father of John the Baptist. The narrative has been recounted with variations and additions by Islamic historians over the centuries.

Ibn Ishaq (d. 761 or 767), an Arab historian and hagiographer, wrote the account entitled Kitab al-Mubtada (In the Beginning), reporting that Zechariah is Mary's guardian briefly, and after being incapable of maintaining her, he entrusts her to a carpenter named George. Secluded in a church, she is joined by a young man named Joseph, and they help one another fetching water and other tasks. Mary is later described as a widow, without mention of a previous husband. The account of the birth of Jesus follows the Qur'an's narrative, adding that the birth occurred in Bethlehem beside a palm tree with a manger.

At-Tabari (d. 923), a Persian scholar and historian, contributed to the Jesus birth narrative by mentioning envoys arriving from the king of Persia with gifts (similar to the Magi from the east) for the Messiah; the command to a man called Joseph (not specifically Mary's husband) to take her and the child to Egypt and later return to Nazareth.

The work The Meadows of Gold by Al-Masudi (d. 956), an Arab historian and geographer, reports Jesus being born at Bethlehem on Wednesday 24 December (a detail likely received from contemporary Christians) without mentioning the Qur'anic palm tree.

Ali ibn al-Athir (d. 1233), an Arab or Kurdish historian and biographer, reported in The Perfection of History (al-Kamil), a work which became a standard for later Muslims, that Joseph the carpenter had a more prominent role, but isn't mentioned as a relative or husband of Mary. Al-Athir writes about how Jesus as a young boy helped to detect a thief, and about bringing a boy back to life which Jesus was accused of having killed. He mentions a version of the birth narrative taking place in Egypt without mention of a manger under the palm tree, but adds that the first version of the birth in the land of Mary's people is more accurate. Al-Athir makes a point believing Mary's pregnancy to have lasted not nine or eight months, but only a single hour. His basis is that this understanding is closer to where the Qur'an says Mary 'conceived him and retired with him to a distant place' (19:22).


The virgin birth of Jesus is announced to Mary by the angel Gabriel while Mary is being raised in the Temple after having been pledged to God by her mother. Gabriel states she is honored over all women of all nations and has brought her glad tidings of a holy son.

A hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah, one of the earliest companions of Muhammad, quotes Muhammad:

"Hardly a single descendant of Adam is born without Satan touching him at the moment of his birth. A baby who is touched like that gives a cry. The only exceptions are Mary and her son" [cf. Q 3: 36].

The angel declares the son is to be named Jesus, the Messiah, proclaiming he will be called a great prophet, being the Spirit of God and Word of God, who will receive al-Injīl (Arabic for the Gospel). The angel tells Mary that Jesus will speak in infancy and, when mature, will be a companion to the most righteous. Mary, responding how she could conceive and have a child when no man had touched her, was told by the angel that God can decree what He wills, and it shall come to pass.

The conception of Jesus as described by Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240), an Andalusian Scholar of Islam, Sufi mystic, poet and philosopher, in the Bezels of Wisdom:

From the water of Mary or from the breath of Gabriel,

In the form of a mortal fashioned of clay,

The Spirit came into existence in an essence

Purged of Nature's taint, which is called Sijjin (hell)

Because of this, his sojourn was prolonged,

Enduring, by decree, more than a thousand years.

A spirit from none other than God,

So that he might raise the dead and bring forth birds from clay.

Mary, overcome by the pains of childbirth, is provided a stream of water under her feet from which she could drink and a palm tree which she could shake so ripe dates would fall and be enjoyed. As Mary carried baby Jesus back to the temple, she was asked by the temple elders about the child. Having been commanded by Gabriel to a vow of silence, she points to the infant Jesus and the infant proclaims:

"...Peace be upon me, the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised up alive!"

Jesus speaking from the cradle is mentioned as one of six miracles in the Quran. The speaking infant narrative is also found in the Syriac Infancy Gospel, a pre-Islamic sixth century work.


The narrative of fleeing from Herod continues similarly to the narrative found in the canonical Gospels and non-canonical sources, with some Islamic narratives having Jesus and family staying in Egypt for 12 years. Many moral stories and miraculous events of Jesus' youth are mentioned in Qisas al-anbiya (Stories of the Prophets), books composed over the centuries about pre-Islamic prophets and heroes.

Al-Masudi reports Jesus as a boy studying the Jewish religion reading from the Psalms and finding "traced in characters of light":

"You are my son and my beloved; I have chosen you for myself"

with Jesus then claiming:

"today the word of God is fulfilled in the son of man".

In Egypt

During the stay in Egypt, several miracles were reported; Jesus at nine-months old explains Muslim creed fundamentals to a school-master; Jesus reveals thieves to a wealthy chief; fills empty jars of something to drink; reveals what parents were eating at home while playing with their children; provides food and wine for a tyrannical king; proves to this same king his power in raising a dead man from the dead; raises a child accidentally killed and; causes the garments from a single-colored vat to come out with various colors.


It is generally agreed that Jesus spoke Aramaic, the common language of Judea in the first century AD and the region at-large.

Most Islamic tradition conveys Jesus and his teaching conformed to the prophetic model: a human, as with previous prophets, sent by God to a certain people at a certain time, to present both a judgement upon humanity for worshipping idols and a challenge to turn to the one true God. Tradition believes Jesus' mission was to the people of Israel, his status as a prophet confirmed by numerous miracles.

The first and earliest view of Jesus in Islamic thought is that of a prophet; a human being chosen by God to present both a judgement upon humanity for worshipping idols and a challenge to turn to the one, true God, is foundational for all Muslims. From this basis reflected upon all previous prophets through the lens of Muslim identity, Jesus is no more than a messenger repeating the same message of the ages. Jesus is not traditionally perceived as divine, yet Muslim ideology is careful not to view Jesus as less than this, for in doing so would be sacrilegious and similar to rejecting a recognized Islamic prophet. The miracles of Jesus and the Qur'anic titles attributed to Jesus demonstrate the power of God rather than the divinity of Jesus—the same power behind the message of all prophets.

A second early image of Jesus is an end-time figure, arising mostly from the Hadith. Muslim tradition constructs a narrative similar to found in Christian theology, seeing Jesus awaiting the end of time when he will descend to the earth and fight the Antichrist, championing the cause of Islam, when after doing so he will point to the primacy of Muhammad and die a natural death.

A third and distinctive image is of Jesus representing an ascetic figure; a prophet of the heart. Although the Qur'an refers to the ‘gospel’ of Jesus, those specific teachings of his are not mentioned. The Sufi movement is where Jesus became revered, acknowledged as a spiritual teacher with a distinctive voice from other prophets, including Muhammad. Sufism is a tendency, within Islam, to explore the dimensions of union with God through many approaches including asceticism, poetry, philosophy, speculative suggestion and mystical methods. Although Sufism to the western mind may seem to share similar origins or elements of Neoplatonism, Gnosticism and Buddhism, the ideology is distinctly Islamic since they adhere to the words of the Qur'an and pursue imitation of Muhammad as the perfect man.


The Islamic concept of Jesus' preaching is believed to have originated in Kufa, Iraq, where the earliest writers of Muslim tradition and scholarship was formulated, whom the Kufan, are labeled after. The concepts of Jesus and his preaching ministry was adopted from the early ascetic Christians of Egypt who opposed official church bishopric appointments from Rome.

The earliest stories numbering about 85 are found in two major collections of ascetic literature entitled Kitab al-Zuhd wa'l Raqa'iq (The Book of the Asceticism and Tender Mercies) by Ibn al-Mubarak (d. 797), and Kitab al-Zuhd (The Book of Asceticism) by Ibn Hanbal (d. 855). These sayings fall into four basic groups consisting of a) eschatological sayings; b) quasi-Gospel sayings; c) ascetic sayings and stories; d) sayings echoing intra-Muslim polemics.

The first group of sayings expand Jesus' archetype as portrayed in the Quran. The second group of stories, although containing a Gospel core, are expanded with a "distinctly Islamic stamp". The third group, being the largest of the four, portrays Jesus as a patron saint of Muslim asceticism. The last group builds upon the Islamic archetype and Muslim-centric definition of Jesus and his attributes, furthering esoteric ideas regarding terms such as "Spirit of God" and "Word of God".


Most Islamic traditions, save for a few, categorically deny that Jesus physically died, either on a cross or another manner. The contention is found within the Islamic traditions themselves, with the earliest Hadith reports quoting the companions of Muhammad stating Jesus having died, while the majority of subsequent Hadith and Tafsir have elaborated an argument in favor of the denial through exegesis and apologetics, becoming the popular (orthodox) view.

Professor and scholar Mahmoud M. Ayoub sums up what the Quran states despite interpretative arguments:

"The Quran, as we have already argued, does not deny the death of Christ. Rather, it challenges human beings who in their folly have deluded themselves into believing that they would vanquish the divine Word, Jesus Christ the Messenger of God. The death of Jesus is asserted several times and in various contexts." (3:55; 5:117; 19:33.)

Discussing the interpretation of those scholars who deny the crucifixion, the Encyclopaedia of Islam writes:

The denial, furthermore, is in perfect agreement with the logic of the Quran. The Biblical stories reproduced in it (e.g., Job, Moses, Joseph, etc.) and the episodes relating to the history of the beginning of Islam demonstrate that it is "God's practice" (sunnat Allah) to make faith triumph finally over the forces of evil and adversity. "So truly with hardship comes ease", (XCIV, 5, 6). For Jesus to die on the cross would have meant the triumph of his executioners; but the Quran asserts that they undoubtedly failed: "Assuredly God will defend those who believe"; (XXII, 49). He confounds the plots of the enemies of Christ (III, 54).

Some disagreement and discord can be seen beginning with Ibn Ishaq's (d. 761 CE/130 AH) report of a brief accounting of events leading up to the crucifixion, firstly stating that Jesus was replaced by someone named Sergius, while secondly reporting an account of Jesus' tomb being located at Medina and thirdly citing the places in the Qur'an (3:55; 4:158) that God took Jesus up to himself.

An early interpretation of verse 3:55 (specifically "I will cause you to die and raise you to myself"), Al-Tabari (d. 923 CE/310 AH) records an interpretation attributed to Ibn 'Abbas, who used the literal "I will cause you to die" (mumayyitu-ka) in place of the metaphorical mutawaffi-ka "Jesus died", while Wahb ibn Munabbih, an early Jewish convert, is reported to have said "God caused Jesus, son of Mary, to die for three hours during the day, then took him up to himself." Tabari further transmits from Ibn Ishaq: "God caused Jesus to die for seven hours", while at another place reported that a person called Sergius was crucified in place of Jesus. Ibn-al-Athir forwarded the report that it was Judas, the betrayer, while also mentioning the possibility it was a man named Natlianus.

Al-Masudi (d. 956 CE/343 AH) reported the death of Christ under Tiberius.

Ibn Kathir (d. 1373 CE/760 AH) follows traditions which suggest that a crucifixion did occur, but not with Jesus. After the event, Ibn Kathir reports the people were divided into three groups following three different narratives; The Jacobites believing ‘God remained with us as long as He willed and then He ascended to Heaven;’ The Nestorians believing ‘The son of God was with us as long as he willed until God raised him to heaven;’ and the Muslims believing; ‘The servant and messenger of God, Jesus, remained with us as long as God willed until God raised him to Himself.’

Another report from Ibn Kathir quotes Ishaq Ibn Bishr, on authority of Idris, on authority of Wahb ibn Munabbih, that "God caused him to die for three days, then resurrected him, then raised him."

Qur'anic commentators seem to have concluded the denial of the crucifixion of Jesus by following material interpreted in Tafsir that relied upon extra-biblical Judeo-Christian sources, venturing away from the message conveyed in the Qur'an, with the earliest textual evidence having originated from a non-Muslim source; a misreading of the Christian writings of John of Damascus regarding the literal understandings of Docetism (exegetical doctrine describing spiritual and physical realities of Jesus as understood by men in logical terms) as opposed to their figurative explanations. John of Damascus highlighted the Qur'an's assertion that the Jews did not crucify Jesus being very different from saying that Jesus was not crucified, explaining that it is the varied Quranic exegetes in Tafsir, and not the Qur'an itself, that denies the crucifixion, further stating that the message in the 4:157 verse simply affirms the historicity of the event.

Ja’far ibn Mansur al-Yaman (d. 347 AH/958 CE), Abu Hatim Ahmad ibn Hamdan al-Razi (d. 322 AH/935 CE), Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani (d. 358 AH/971 CE), Mu'ayyad fi'l-Din al-Shirazi (d. 470 AH/1078 CE ) and the group Ikhwan al-Safa also affirm the historicity of the Crucifixion, reporting Jesus was crucified and not substituted by another man as maintained by many other popular Qur'anic commentators and Tafsir.

In reference to the Quranic quote "We have surely killed Jesus the Christ, son of Mary, the apostle of God", Muslim scholar Mahmoud Ayoub asserts this boast not as the repeating of a historical lie or the perpetuating of a false report, but an example of human arrogance and folly with an attitude of contempt towards God and His messenger(s). Ayoub furthers what modern scholars of Islam interpret regarding the historical death of Jesus, the man, as man's inability to kill off God's Word and the Spirit of God, which the Quran testifies were embodied in Jesus Christ. Ayoub continues highlighting the denial of the killing of Jesus as God denying men such power to vanquish and destroy the divine Word. The words, "they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him" speaks to the profound events of ephemeral human history, exposing mankind's heart and conscience towards God's will. The claim of humanity to have this power against God is illusory. "They did not slay him...but it seemed so to them" speaks to the imaginations of mankind, not the denial of the actual event of Jesus dying physically on the cross.

Possible substitutionist origins

It is unclear exactly where the substitutionist interpretation originated, but some scholars consider the theory originating among certain heretical Gnostic groups of the second century.

Lerivik finds the Qur'an and Hadith to have been clearly influenced by the non-canonical ('heretical') Christianity that prevailed in the Arab peninsula and further in Abyssinia.

Substitution interpretation

Muslim commentators have been unable to convincingly disprove the crucifixion. Rather, the problem has been compounded by adding the conclusion of their substitutionist theories. The problem has been one of understanding.

"If the substitutionist interpretation (Christ replaced on the cross) is taken as a valid reading of the Qur'anic text, the question arises of whether this idea is represented in Christian sources. According to Irenaeus' Adversus Haereses, the Egyptian Gnostic Christian Basilides (2nd century) held the view that Christ (the divine nous, intelligence) was not crucified, but was replaced by Simon of Cyrene. However, both Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus denied that Basilides held this view. But the substitutionist idea in general form is quite clearly expressed in the Gnostic Nag Hammadi documents Apocalypse of Peter and The Second Treatise of the Great Seth."

While most western scholars, Jews, and Christians believe Jesus died, orthodox Muslim theology teaches he ascended to Heaven without being put on the cross and God transformed another person, Simon of Cyrene, to appear exactly like Jesus who was crucified instead of Jesus (cf. Irenaeus' description of the heresy of Basilides, Book I, ch. XXIV, 4.).


Modern Islamic scholars like Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i interpret the ascension of Jesus as spiritual, not physical. This interpretation is in accord with Muʿtazila and Shia metaphorical explanations regarding anthropomorphic references to God in the Qur'an. Although not popular with traditional Sunni interpretations of the depiction of crucifixion, there has been much speculation and discussion in the effort of logically reconciling this topic.

Islamic reformer Muhammad Rashid Rida agrees with contemporary commentators interpreting the physical killing of Christ's apostleship as a metaphorical interpretation.

In ascetic Shia writings, Jesus is depicted having "ascended to heaven wearing a woolen shirt, spun and sewed by Mary, his mother. As he reached the heavenly regions, he was addressed, “O Jesus, cast away from you the adornment of the world."

Second coming

According to Islamic tradition which describes this graphically, Jesus' descent will be in the midst of wars fought by al-Mahdi (lit. "the rightly guided one"), known in Islamic eschatology as the redeemer of Islam, against al-Masīh ad-Dajjāl (the Antichrist "false messiah") and his followers. Jesus will descend at the point of a white arcade, east of Damascus, dressed in yellow robes—his head anointed. He will say prayer behind al-Mahdi then join him in his war against the Dajjal. Jesus, considered as a Muslim, will abide by the Islamic teachings. Eventually, Jesus will slay the Antichrist, and then everyone who is one of the People of the Book (ahl al-kitāb, referring to Jews and Christians) will believe in him. Thus, there will be one community, that of Islam.

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 43: Kitab-ul-`Ilm (Book of Knowledge), Hâdith Number 656:

Allah's Apostle said, "The Hour will not be established until the son of Mary (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you as a just ruler, he will break the cross, kill the pigs, and abolish the Jizya tax. Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it (as charitable gifts)."

After the death of al-Mahdi, Jesus will assume leadership. This is a time associated in Islamic narrative with universal peace and justice. Islamic texts also allude to the appearance of Ya'juj and Ma'juj (known also as Gog and Magog), ancient tribes which will disperse and cause disturbance on earth. God, in response to Jesus' prayers, will kill them by sending a type of worm in the napes of their necks. Jesus' rule is said to be around forty years, after which he will die. Muslims will then perform the funeral prayer for him and then bury him in the city of Medina in a grave left vacant beside Muhammad, Abu Bakr, and Umar (companions of Muhammad and the first and second Sunni caliphs (Rashidun) respectively.

Development of Jesus in Islam

The Qur’an does not convey the specific teachings of Jesus. What has developed over the years was authored by later followers of Islam. What is found in the Qur’an's about Jesus is that his teaching conformed to the prophetic model: a human sent by God to present both a judgement upon humanity for worshipping idols and a challenge to turn to the one true God. In the case of Jesus, Muslims believe that his mission was to the people of Israel and that his status as a prophet was confirmed by numerous miracles. The Qur’an's description of specific events at the end of Jesus’ life have continued to be controversial between Christians and Muslims, while the classical commentaries have been interpreted differently to accommodate new information.

Jesus in Hadith

The Hadith are reported sayings of Muhammad and people around him. The Hadith containing Jesus legend have been influenced by the non-canonical ('heretical') Christianity that prevailed in the Arab peninsula and further in Abyssinia. The Hadith developed a canonical status in the third Muslim century as a source of authority for the Muslim community. The Muslim perception of Jesus emerging from the Hadith is of a miraculous, sinless, and eschatological figure, pointing people, again according to the Muslim's perspective of prophethood, to the Muslim faith.

Hadith have played a very important part shaping Jesus' image among common Muslims, having become further developed when incorporating Hadiths and Tafsirs weaved into great amounts of legendary writings and reports. With the Muslim reshaping, the void of Jesus is surprising. What is instead written about is the ascetic magician, helped by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is seen as a book to be preached and is only referred to in passing without mentioning actual teachings. Strikingly, the fictitious sayings and supposed teachings of Jesus are given preeminence in Hadith-collections, in Shia Islam, and in Sufi representations of Jesus.

Here are some Hadith mentioning Jesus:

Hardly a single descendant of Adam is born without Satan touching him at the moment of his birth. A baby who is touched like that gives a cry. The only exceptions are Mary and her son [cf. Q 3: 36].

- 4.199, Abu Hurairah (d. 681).

Among men I am the closest to Jesus Son of Mary in this world and the next. The prophets are brothers; although they have different mothers, their religion is one.

- 4.203, Abū Hurayra.

Jesus said to his people, ‘Do not talk much without the mention of God, lest your hearts grow hard; for the hard heart is far from God, but you do not know. Do not examine the sins of people as though you were lords, but examine them, rather, as though you were servants. Men are of two kinds: the sick and the healthy. Be merciful to the sick and give thanks to God for health.’

- No. 3 Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak (d. 797).

Gabriel met Jesus and said to him, ‘Peace be upon you, Spirit of God.’ ‘And upon you peace, Spirit of God,’ said Jesus. Then Jesus asked, ‘O Gabriel, when will the Hour come?’ Gabriel's wings fluttered and he replied, ‘The questioned knows no more about this than the questioner. It has grown heavy in the heavens and the earth; it will only come upon you suddenly.’ Or else he said, ‘Only God will reveal it when it is time.’

- No. 5 ‘Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak.

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Just as kings have left wisdom to you, so you should leave the world to them.’

- No. 8 ‘Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak.

Jesus said, ‘There are four [qualities] which are not found in one person without causing wonder: silence, which is the beginning of worship; humility before God; an ascetic attitude toward the world; and poverty.’

- No. 13 ‘Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak.

Jesus said, ‘Strive for the sake of God and not for the sake of your bellies. Look at the birds coming and going! They neither reap nor plough, and God provides for them. If you say, ‘Our bellies are larger than the bellies of birds,’ then look at these cattle, wild or tame, as they come and go, neither reaping nor ploughing, and God provides for them too. Beware the excesses of the world, for the excesses of the world are an abomination in God's eyes.’

- No. 15 ‘Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak.

The day that Jesus was raised to heaven, he left behind nothing but a woolen garment, a slingshot, and two sandals.

- No. 77 Hannad ibn al-Sariyy (d. 857).

Jesus in Sufism

Early Sufis adopted the sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and an ascetic dimension. The submission and sacrifice Jesus exemplified shows the Muslim is to be set apart from worldly compromises. In poetry and mysticism, Jesus was celebrated as a prophet close to the heart of God achieving an uncommon degree of self-denial.

Although the writings developed over the centuries embellished Jesus’ miracles, the lessons of Jesus can be seen as metaphors of the inner life. These rich and diverse presentations of Jesus in Sufi traditions are the largest body of Jesus-texts in any non-Christian tradition.

"A key issue arises for Muslims with the Sufi picture of Jesus: how universally should the ascetic/esoteric approach be applied? For many Muslim poets and scholars the answer is clear: every Muslim is invited to the path of asceticism and inner realization embodied by Jesus. However, whilst all Muslims revere Jesus, most have reservations about the application of his way of life to society. For Muslims the highest pinnacle of human achievement is, after all, Muhammad. Muhammad is revered in part because he promoted the right blend of justice and mercy. In other words, Muslims need both a path that addresses individual spirituality as well as a path that will address the complex issues of community life, law, justice, etc. Jesus is viewed by many Muslims as having lived out only one side of this equation. As a figure of the heart or individual conscience, Jesus is viewed by some to be a limited figure. In more critical Muslim perspectives the Sermon on the Mount is admired but seen as impractical for human society. Perhaps the greatest division amongst Muslims has to do with the relevance of ascetic and esoteric beliefs in the context of strengthening an Islamic society."

The miraculous birth and life of Jesus becomes a metaphor for Rumi of the spiritual rebirth that is possible within each human soul. This rebirth is not achieved without effort; one needs to practice silence, poverty, and fasting—themes that were prominent in Jesus’ life according to Islamic traditions.


The Ahmadiyya Movement considers Jesus was a prophet and a mortal man, who was crucified and remained on the cross for six hours, until darkness fell. Jesus was taken down from the cross alive and unconscious. He was treated for three days and nights by saint physician Necdemus in a cave like tomb (especially built for Joseph of Aramathea). Thereafter, Jesus recuperated from his wounds, met his trusted disciples on the Mount of Olives, and left Judea towards the sea of Galilee on his way to Damascus. After his dramatic escape from crucifixion, Jesus traveled to the eastern lands in search of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Finally, he died a natural death in Kashmir, India, as opposed to having been raised up alive to Heaven. Thus, Ahmadis do not believe in his physical return to earth in the End Days. Prophecies about his second coming are taken metaphorically to express the coming of a person in the likeness of Jesus. Ahmadis believe this has been fulfilled with the advent of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the movement.


Miracles were attributed to Jesus as signs of his prophethood and his authority. Six miracles are specifically mentioned in the Quran, with these six initial miracle narratives being elaborated on over the centuries through Hadith and poetry.

Table of food from heaven

In the fifth chapter of the Quran, God narrates how the disciples of Jesus requested him to ask God to send down a table laden with food, and for it to be a special day of commemoration for them in the future.

"When the disciples said: O Jesus, son of Mary! Is your Lord able to send down for us a table spread with food from heaven? He said: Observe your duty to God, if ye are true believers. They said: We desire to eat of it and our hearts be at rest, and that We may know that you have spoken truth to us, and that We may be witnesses thereof. Jesus, son of Mary, said: 'O God, our Lord, send down for us a table laden with food out of heaven, that shall be for us a recurring festival, the first and last of us, and a miracle from You. And provide us our sustenance, for You are the best of providers!"

Al-Qurtubi has narrated that the majority of the scholars (without specifying which scholars) believe that the table was actually sent down. He has supported this view saying, "The correct view is that the table did descend."

When the disciples requested such a table, Jesus stood up and weeping to his Lord, prayed, "O Allah, our Lord! Send to us a table from heaven, that it could be for us, the first and last of us, a solemn festival and a sign from You and provide us sustenance, as You are the best sustainer." Allah accepted his supplication and replied, "I shall send it to you."

A red table between two clouds, one above and one beneath it descended. Whilst the people were staring in wonder upon it, Jesus was praying to his Lord, "O Allah! Make it a source of mercy and not a trial, You are my Lord to whom I ask for a miracle, so You give." The table landed in front of Jesus, who prostrated immediately and so did the disciples with him.

Whilst engaged in prostration, a wonderful aroma assailed their nostrils, from the food, such an aroma they had never experienced before. Jesus then asked, "Who, from amongst you, is the most ardent worshipper of Allah, the most courageous, the nearest to his Lord and the most reliant upon the sustainer? He is the one who should remove the cover off the table, so that we may eat from it and take the name of our Lord upon it and praise Him upon it." The disciples replied, "You, Jesus, are the most befitting and deserving of this act." Thus Jesus performed ablution, prayed Salah and offered supplication, then sat by the table and removed the cover.

They were all surprised to find that the table was laden with varied provisions as follows: a huge fried fish, without bones, was placed in the center and different types of vegetables were set around it. Salt and vinegar flanked its head and five different kinds of bread were placed at its tail. Upon one bread were placed five pomegranates, dates were upon another, olives upon a third, cheese upon a fourth and eggs graced the last. Saint Peter, the leader of the disciples, asked, "Is this food that of paradise or the food of this world?" Jesus’ reply was, "This is food specially created for you, it is neither from paradise or this world. Allah said to it, "BE," and so it was."

The people asked for yet another sign in addition to the table, so Jesus ordered the fish to become alive which it did. The disciples told Jesus to eat from the food first, but Jesus refused saying, "Those who asked for it should eat from it." But the disciples feared to partake of the food, so Jesus called to the poor and said to them, "Eat from the provision of your lord, upon the invitation of your prophet and praise Allah upon it." The poor people fell upon the food and the disciples joined in, after which Jesus had to fix turns for the people, as they would all gather upon the table and cause congestion. The people ate from the table for 40 days.

Speaking from the cradle

One of the miracles mentioned in the Quran is that Jesus, while still in the cradle, spoke out to protect his mother Mary from any accusations people may have placed on her due to having a child without a father. When she was approached about this strange incident after her childbirth, Mary merely pointed to Jesus, and he miraculously spoke, just as God had promised her upon annunciation.

"He shall speak to people while still in the cradle, and in manhood, and he shall be from the righteous."

When Jesus spoke from the cradle, He said to the people:

"I am indeed a slave of God. He has given me the Book and made me a Prophet, and He has made me blessed wherever I may be. And He has enjoined upon me prayers, and to pay the alms, as long as I live and He has made me kind to my mother, and He has not made me insolent, unblessed. And may peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and on the day I shall be raised to life."

This miracle is not found in the Bible, but it is found in the non-canonical Syriac Infancy Gospel. "He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when he was lying in his cradle, said to Mary, his mother: "I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world."

Creating birds from clay

God mentions a miracle given to none other in the Quran but Jesus, one which is quite parallel to how God himself created Adam. This miracle was one which none can argue its greatness. God mentions in the Quran that Jesus says:

"I create for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with God's permission."

This miracle is not found in the New Testament, but it is found in the non-canonical Infancy Gospel of Thomas; "When this boy, Jesus, was five years old, he was playing at the ford of a rushing stream. He then made soft clay and shaped it into twelve sparrows; Jesus simply clapped his hands and shouted to the sparrows: "Be off, fly away, and remember me, you who are now alive!" And the sparrows took off and flew away noisily."

Healing the blind and the leper

Similar to the New Testament, The Quran also mentions Jesus to have healed the blind and the lepers.

"I also heal the blind and the leper."

Power over death

"...and I bring to life the dead, by the permission of God."

This, like the creation of a bird, was a miracle of incomparable nature, one that should have caused the Jews to believe in the prophethood of Jesus without any doubt. Islam agrees with Christianity that Jesus brought people back from the dead. The first three accounts are mentioned in both Islam and the Bible, save the last, which is only mentioned in Islam.


Jesus has the miracle of prescience, or foreknowledge, of what was hidden or unknown by others. One example is Jesus would answer any and every question anyone asked him. Another example is Jesus knew what people had just eaten, as well as what they stored up in their houses.

"I inform you too of what things you eat, and what you store up in your houses. Surely in that is a sign for you, if you are believers."

Tabari relates on the authority of Ibn Ishaq that when Jesus was about nine or ten years old, his mother Mary would send him to a Jewish religious school. But whenever the teacher tried to teach him anything, he found that Jesus already knew it. The teacher exclaimed, "Do you not marvel at the son of this widow? Every time I teach him anything, I find that he knows it far better than I do!" Tabari further relates on the authority of Ismail al-Suddi that "when Jesus was in his youth, his mother committed him [to the priests] to study the Torah. While Jesus played with the youths of his village, he used to tell them what their parents were doing." Sa'id ibn Jubayr, according to Tabari, is said to have reported that Jesus would say to one of his fellow playmates in the religious school, "Your parents have kept such and such food for you, would you give me some of it?" Jesus would usually tell his fellow pupils in the religious school what their parents ate and what they have kept for them when they return home. He used to say to one boy, "Go home, for your parents have kept for you such and such food and they are now eating such and such food."

As parents became annoyed by this, they forbade their children to play with Jesus, saying, "Do not play with that magician." As a result, Jesus had no friends to play with and became lonely. Finally, the parents gathered all the children in a house away from Jesus. When Jesus came looking for them, the parents told Jesus that the children were not there. Jesus asked, "Then who is in this house?" The parents replied, "Swine!" (referring to Jesus). Jesus then said, "OK. Let there be swine in this house!" When the parents opened the door to the room where the children were, they found all their children had turned to swine, just as Jesus said.

Tabari cites the Qur'an in support of this story:

"Those of the children of Israel who have rejected faith were cursed by the tongue of David and Jesus, son of Mary, this because of their rebellion and the acts of transgression which they had committed."

Other attributed miracles

Similar to the New Testament, Al-Tabari (d. 923) reports a story of Jesus's encounter with a certain King in the region. The identity of the King is not mentioned while legend suggests Philip the Tetrarch. The corresponding Bible reference is "the royal official's son." With regard to the reason which led Jesus to seek the support of the disciples in Islamic theology, al-Tabari relates the tale on the authority of As-Suddi.

Another legendary miraculous story has to do with a Jewish man and loafs of bread. A lesson on greed and truth-telling is weaved into the narration.

Received scripture

Muslims believe that God revealed to Jesus a new scripture, al-Injīl (the Gospel), while also declaring the truth of the previous revelations: al-Tawrat (the Torah) and al-Zabur (the Psalms). The Quran speaks favorably of al-Injīl, which it describes as a scripture that fills the hearts of its followers with meekness and piety. The Quran says that the original biblical message has been distorted or corrupted (tahrif) over time. In chapter 3, verse 3, and chapter 5, verses 46-47, of the Quran, the revelation of al-Injil is mentioned:

It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book — confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).

And in their footsteps, We sent Isa the son of Maryam, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.
Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel.


The Quran states that Jesus was aided by a group of disciples who believed in His message. While not naming the disciples, the Quran does give a few instances of Jesus preaching the message to them. According to Christianity, the names of the twelve disciples were Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Jude, Simon and Judas.

The Quran mentions in chapter 3, verses 52-53, that the disciples submitted to the faith of Islam:

When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to (the work of) Allah?" Said the disciples: "We are Allah's helpers: We believe in Allah, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims.
Our Lord! we believe in what Thou hast revealed, and we follow the Messenger; then write us down among those who bear witness."

The longest narrative involving Jesus' disciples is when they request a laden table to be sent from Heaven, for further proof that Jesus is preaching the true message:

Behold! the disciples, said: "O Jesus the son of Mary! can thy Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?" Said Jesus: "Fear Allah, if ye have faith."
They said: "We only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that thou hast indeed told us the truth; and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle."
Said Jesus, the son of Mary: "O Allah our Lord! Send us from heaven a table set (with viands), that there may be for us—for the first and the last of us—a solemn festival and a sign from thee; and provide for our sustenance, for thou art the best Sustainer (of our needs)."
Allah said: "I will send it down unto you: But if any of you after that resisteth faith, I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on any one among all the peoples."

In Islamic thought

Jesus is described by various means in the Quran. The most common reference to Jesus occurs in the form of "Ibn Maryam" (son of Mary), sometimes preceded with another title. Jesus is also recognized as a prophet (nabī) and messenger (rasūl) of God. The terms wadjih ("worthy of esteem in this world and the next"), mubārak ("blessed", or "a source of benefit for others"), `abd-Allāh (servant of God) are all used in the Quran in reference to Jesus.

Another title frequently mentioned is al-Masīḥ, which translates to "the Messiah". This does not correspond to the Christian concepts of Messiah, being closer to those of Judaism. Islam traditionally regards all prophets, including Jesus, to be mortal and without any share in divinity. Muslim exegetes explain the use of the word masīh in the Quran as referring to Jesus' status as the one anointed by means of blessings and honors; or as the one who helped cure the sick, by anointing the eyes of the blind, for example. Quranic verses also employ the term "kalimat Allah" (meaning the "word of God") as a descriptive term for Jesus, which is interpreted as a reference to the creating Word of God, uttered at the moment of Jesus' conception; or as recognition of Jesus' status as a messenger of God, speaking on God's behalf.

Isa is also called the Spirit of Allah (Ruh-Allah). Some Muslim scholars hold the view that "Ruh (Spirit)" refers to Sayyidna Jibra’il, but some say that it refers to Sayyidna; ‘Isa himself. Allah Ta‘ala had placed before Sayyidah Maryam the likeness of the son to be born to her. But the former version is more appropriate, and confirmed by the following statement: "Ruh-Ullah (Spirit of God) is a special title given by Prophet Muhammad (S. A.) to Jesus (A. A.)."


Islamic texts regard Jesus as a human being and a righteous messenger of God. Islam rejects the idea of him being God or the begotten Son of God. According to Islamic scriptures, the belief that Jesus is God or Son of God is shirk, or the association of partners with God, and thereby a rejection of God's divine oneness (tawhid) and the sole unpardonable sin. All other sins may be forgiven through true repentance: shirk speaks of associating partners with God after having received divine guidance, as it is said in the Quran and Hadith that when one submits to God (i.e. embraces Islam), their "accounts" (of sins and righteous deeds used to determine the standing of a person on the Last Day) are numbered from that moment. A verse from the Quran reads:

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."

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is traditionally rejected by most adherents to Islam. Such notions of the divinity of Jesus, Muslims state, is believed to be the result of human interpolations of God's revelation. Islam traditionally views Jesus as a human like all other prophets before him, who preached that salvation came through submission to God's will and worshiping God alone. Thus, Jesus is considered in Islam to have been a Muslim by the definition of the term (i.e., one who submits to God's will), as were all other prophets in Islam.

An alternative, more esoteric, interpretation is expounded by Messianic Muslims in the Sufi and Isma'ili traditions so as to unite Islam, Christianity and Judaism into a single religious continuum. Other Messianic Muslims hold a similar theological view regarding Jesus, without attempting to unite the religions. Making use of the New Testament's distinguishing between Jesus, Son of Man (being the physical human Jesus), and Christ, Son of God (being the Holy Spirit of God residing in the body of Jesus), the Holy Spirit, being immortal and immaterial, is not subject to crucifixion — for it can never die, nor can it be touched by the earthly nails of the crucifixion, for it is a being of pure spirit. Thus, while the spirit of Christ avoided crucifixion by ascending unto God, the body that was Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, thereby bringing the Old Testament to final fulfillment. Thus Quranic passages on the death of Jesus affirm that while the Pharisees intended to destroy the Son of God completely, they, in fact, succeeded only in killing the Son of Man, being his nasut (material being). Meanwhile, the Son of God, being his lahut (spiritual being) remained alive and undying — because it is the Holy Spirit.

Precursor to Muhammad

The tree shown right depicts lineage. Muslims believe that Jesus was a precursor to Muhammad, and that he announced the latter's coming. They base this on a verse of the Quran wherein Jesus speaks of a messenger to appear after him named Ahmad. Islam associates Ahmad with Muhammad, both words deriving from the h-m-d triconsonantal root which refers to praiseworthiness. Muslims also assert that evidence of Jesus' pronouncement is present in the New Testament, citing the mention of the Paraclete whose coming is foretold in the Gospel of John.

Muslim theology states Jesus had predicted another Prophet after him according to this message in the Qur'an which mentions:

And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of God (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad." But when he came to them with clear signs, they said, "this is evident sorcery!"

(Ahmad is an Arabic name from the same triconsonantal root Ḥ-M-D = [ح - م - د].)

Muslim commentators claim that the original Greek word used was periklutos, meaning famed, illustrious, or praiseworthy—rendered in Arabic as Ahmad; and that this was replaced by Christians with parakletos. Islamic scholars debate whether this traditional understanding is supported by the text of the Quran. Responding to Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad, the Sirat Rasul Allah, Islamic scholar Alfred Guillaume wrote:

Coming back to the term "Ahmad", Muslims have suggested that Ahmad is the translation of periklutos, celebrated or the Praised One, which is a corruption of parakletos, the Paraclete of John XIV, XV and XVI.

Ascetic literature

Jesus is widely venerated in Muslim ascetic and mystic literature, such as in Muslim mystic Al-Ghazzali's Ihya `ulum ad-Din ("The revival of the religious sciences"). These works lay stress upon Jesus' poverty, his preoccupation with worship, his detachment from worldly life and his miracles. Such depictions also include advice and sermons which are attributed to him. Later Sufic commentaries adapted material from Christian gospels which were consistent with their ascetic portrayal. Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi described Jesus as "the seal of universal holiness" due to the quality of his faith and "because he holds in his hands the keys of living breath and because he is at present in a state of deprivation and journeying".

The Gospel of Barnabas, which is generally agreed to correspond with the one found in the two known manuscripts and is reported to be contained in Morisco manuscript BNM MS 9653 in Madrid, claims that Jesus predicted the advent of Muhammad. This was written about 1634 by Ibrahim al-Taybili in Tunisia. While describing how the Bible predicts Muhammad, he speaks of the "Gospel of Saint Barnabas where one can find the light" ("y así mismo en Evangelio de San Bernabé, donde se hallará la luz"). The first published account of the Gospel was in 1717, when a brief reference to the Spanish text is found in De religione Mohamedica by Adriaan Reland; and then in 1718, a much more detailed description of the Italian text by the Irish deist John Toland.

In the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus mentioned Muhammad by name, as in the following quote:

Jesus answered: "The name of the Messiah is admirable, for God himself gave him the name when he had created his soul, and placed it in a celestial splendor. God said: "Wait Muhammad; for thy sake I will to create paradise, the world, and a great multitude of creatures, whereof I make thee a present, insomuch that whoso bless thee shall be blessed, and whoso shall curse thee shall be accursed. When I shall send thee into the world I shall send thee as my messenger of salvation, and thy word shall be true, insomuch that heaven and earth shall fail, but thy faith shall never fail. Muhammad is his blessed name." Then the crowd lifted up their voices, saying: "O God, send us thy messenger: O Admirable One, come quickly for the salvation of the world!"

Common ground with Christianity

Isa is the son of a virgin named Maryam ("Mary" in English), who is a role model for faithful women. Isa is a prophet filled with the Holy Spirit (surat 2 Al-Baqarah, 87) and the messiah in both religions (but the Christians add that besides having a human nature, he would be God too — which the Quran clearly denies). Isa is the "word of truth" (surat 19 Maryam, 34). Isa, through God's power and will, cures the blind and the leper, raises the dead to life and knows what you eat and what you store in your houses (surat 3 'Ali `Imran, 49). And Isa will come back at the end of times to help destroy the Masih ad-Dajjal or false messiah (Hadith 46.31).


Based upon several Hadith narrations of Muhammad, Jesus can be physically described thus (with any differences in Jesus’ physical description being due to Muhammad describing him when seeing him at different occasions, such as during his ascension to Heaven, or when describing Jesus during Jesus' second coming):

  • A well-built man of medium/moderate/average height and stature with a broad chest.
  • Straight, lank, slightly curly, long hair that fell between his shoulders.
  • A moderate, fair complexion of red or finest brown.
  • "I was shown the Prophets in front of me, and Moosaa resembles the men of the tribe of Shanu’ah, and I saw ‘Eesaa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), may Allaah exalt his mention, and the person who resembles him most is 'Urwa ibn Mas'ud al-Thaqafi, and I saw Ibraaheem and the person who resembles him most is your companion (referring to himself) and I saw Jibreel (the angel Gabriel), and the person who resembles him most is Dihyah."


    Jesus in Islam Wikipedia

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