It is an interesting journey for the Christian to see how Jesus is dealt with in the Qu’ran. In this book report, the major dealings of Jesus in the Islamic Holy Book are identified and discussed.
One day Jesus turned to his disciples and asked a question that although answered correctly at the time, has resonated down through the corridors of history and is now firmly at the forefront of tensions between world religions. This question is THE question. How we answer in this life, determines how we live and what religion we belong to. How we answered in this life determines where and how we spend the next life. How dogmatically we hold on to the answer given by the disciples determines the model we use to view, interact and dialogue interfaith. The question is the subject of Professor Geoffrey Parrinder’s Book:- Jesus in the Qur’an. The question is found in Mark 8:27:- Who do men say that I am?
The purpose of this paper is to provide a critical analysis of the content of Parrinder’s book. The objective is to interact with the Jesus of the Qur’an and come to a conclusion as to whether he is the Jesus of the bible. Strategically, I will be identifying the Model that Parrinder views Islam through, assessing whether that prejudices the content of the book and then draw a conclusion at the end of the paper.
Jesus in the Qur’an is on the surface, a fascinating read. To understand how Islam deals with the question of who Jesus is, certainly increases a “Person of the Book’s” ability to dialogue with those of the Islamic faith. Jesus is mentioned in fifteen of the 114 Suras and in 93 of the some 6000 Qur’anic verses. Paul Knitter in Theologies of World Religions, proposes a number of models that Christians can use to view world religions. I land somewhere between the Replacement Model and the Fulfilment Model and as such, reading about Jesus in the Qur’an strengthened my understanding of the outworking of the Fulfilment Model. Whilst I appreciated deepening my knowledge of Jesus in the Qur’an, I couldn’t help but feel I was being sold on a concept of Allah and Jehovah being the same God. Parrinder, who was a Methodist Minister, Missionary to Africa (where he taught Bishop Desmond Tutu), and in the later part of his life, taught at King’s College London, subscribes to Knitter’s Mutuality Model of World Religions (that’s my conclusion not his). In the introduction he claims the Muslim and Christian God are the same God. (13). He also claims that some of the best commentators of Islam have been Christians who approach Islam as a kindred religion. (10) He expresses his Islamic faith in the conclusion when he says that some concepts in Christianity must be re-examined in view of the undoubted revelation of God in Muhammad and in the Qur’an. (173)
When you look at what the Qur’an says about Jesus in the positive, in isolation you could almost come to the conclusion that Jesus is seen in the same light by both Muslims and Christians. From this perspective, interfaith dialogue then is simple. A brief summary of how Jesus is dealt with is :-
He is called Messiah 11 times (although Parrinder explains this is not the same as the way Christian’s refer to Christ as Messiah.)
He was protected from Satan from birth
He was blessed by his special birth
There is a general consensus that his birth was a Virgin Birth (although Parrinder doesn’t actually subscribe to this traditional Islamic theology.)
There is a reference to Jesus, his birth, death and being raised up alive. (Parrinder does explain this away by attributing this to mean the resurrection of all people at the end of the world).
But it’s what the Qur’an says about Jesus in the negative that reaffirms to me that the Islamic faith does not in anyway see Jesus as Saviour of the world. For example in relation to the death of Jesus, the Qur’an says that they did not kill him and did not crucify him but he was counterfeited for them. 4, 154-157/155-150. Professor Mareque teaching on Islam pointed out that Muslims see Jesus not as God but pointing to God. Interestingly, Parrinder tables a number of traditional Muslim beliefs surrounding the death of Jesus on the cross. These are additional to the Muslim belief identified in the Class Lecture that Jesus was taken up bodily into heaven. Firstly, Parrinder says that Jesus escaped by hiding in a niche in a wall or secondly, Judas was actually crucified in place of Jesus. If I put my conservative Total Replacement Model hat on for a moment, then there is great irony in the traditional Muslim teaching that Judas died as a substitution for Christ. He became a messianic figure for Jesus. Ironic indeed!
Curiously the Qu’ran deals at times with the grace of Allah, but does not see Jesus as the manifestation of this grace like the Christian see Christ as the manifestation of God’s grace. I see the grace of Allah more in line with the grace of the Hindu god Brahman. Both Allah and Braham simply choose to be gracious toward mankind. This contrasts to the grace of Jehovah whose holiness demanded punishment for our sin, but His grace provided a substitution – which of course was Jesus.
Parrinder throughout his book, constantly pushes Islam and Christianity together. He sees Christ as a significant connection point between the two religions, but in doing this he prejudicially reports on historical facts. An example of this is the overview of the history of the relationship between the two religions: Parrinder reports on Christianity’s bad side – the Crusades etc but fails to mention the spread of Islam by military conquest – ie the conquest of Mecca and others – that were taught in the lectures. This blatantly biased reporting detracts from Parrinders book because it reinforces that there seems to be a secondary agenda to the book. I also noted that the book was written pre 911.
Parrinder made the observation that there is a fair feeling in Islam, particularly early Islam, that Christianity is filled with divisions and sects. He quotes an Arab historian that says Where Ten Christians meet they will form 11 different opinions. (171). Whilst sadly I don’t disagree with the comment, I found this hard to reconcile in light of John Esposito’s observation in Islam the Straight Path. “Islam today exhibits a rich and at times bewildering, array of interpretations. Indeed some observers maintain that there is not one but many Islams.” (Esposito 2011 P250). For a religion that prides itself on being “The Straight Path” being birth out of the apparent confusion and corruption of Christianity, I find modern Islam an interesting juxtaposition.
As I read Jesus in the Qur’an, I wondered whether Muslims and Christians view the concept of religion completely different and therefore this leads to a different treatment of Jesus. For me, Esposito articulated my musings well, when he made this statement: “Christianity has an emphasis on orthodoxy or correct doctrine or belief whereas Islam insists more on orthopraxy or correct action.” (Esposito 2011 P85). Ultimately though the Qur’an does make it clear that Jesus is not the son of God, did not die for our sins and is not the way of Salvation and for a faith built on orthodoxy – this will always be a significant point of difference. Ultimately this point of difference should not stop interfaith dialogue. Jesus asked Who do men say that I am? Peter Pilt says in contrast to the Qur’an: Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God.
Parrinder, Geoffrey Jesus in the Qur’an. Oneworld Publications Oxford:England 1996
Esposito, John. Islam The Straight Path. Oxford University Press. Oxford:England 2011