By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
Jesus appears differently in Christianity and in Islam. Yet between the two, Jesus is a point of connectivity: His teachings and his life story are important in both the Bible and the Qur’an.
For me, as a Muslim, the teachings of Jesus remind me of the central importance of vulnerability. Jesus was born into a marginalized community during the rule of the powerful, patriarchal Roman Empire. He had no father to protect him. And it wasn’t just the agents of the Roman Empire who opposed Jesus’s works. His own community was often against him. So Jesus faced many forces that wanted to silence him.
Against all these forces, we’re told, young Jesus had only his mother Mary to defend him.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, underlined the link between himself and Jesus: “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary, peace and blessings upon him. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”
According to the Qur’an, all the prophets faced rejection and opposition. But Jesus, who is known as one of the resolute prophets, had a particularly hard time. He was stuck between the corrupt leaders of his own community and the corrupt rulers of the Roman Empire. Within his own community, he suffered from the harsh, legalistic, and material way faith was misapplied.
A vulnerable voice for the oppressed
Jesus, like the other prophets, spoke out against oppression.
When Jesus was born, local leaders by and large didn’t support members of their own oppressed community. Instead, the leaders of his faith were obsessed with power, material goods, and making deals with the Roman Empire. This sort of deal-making repeats throughout history. It’s not unlike the leaders of many of today’s marginalized nations, who make deals with world powers at the expense of their own people.
When Jesus arrived, he came as a representation of steadfast vulnerable humility, and of peace. Young Jesus lived a very modest life. Still, whenever he tried to preach, there was always someone plotting to distort what he said, or calling him out as an enemy of the Roman Empire.
Some who speak out about oppression are just manipulating the vulnerable. They validate the fears of the oppressed, and then turn things to their own end. But Jesus himself was one of the vulnerable. Far from benefiting himself, he helped guide the oppressed to God. He stood up to the misapplication of faith that benefited only the rich, spoke out against materialism, and was a model of humility. He reached out to the condemned in society and connected with them.
Jesus in the Qur’an
Like Christians, Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, upon him be peace, and in his miracles. Jesus’ life and mission are mentioned in eleven chapters of the Qur’an. A few of the chapters are: Maryam (Mary the Mother of Jesus); Imran (Noble Family of Jesus), and Ma’ida (the Last Supper). Jesus, upon him be peace, is glorified in the Qur’an and is referred to as “the Messiah,” “a Word of God,” and “a Sign of God.”
Muslims regard Jesus as one of the mightiest messengers of God. He and his supporter, John the Baptist, and John’s father, Zachariah, are two other prophets of God. They are of an unbroken noble lineage that goes back to the father of monotheism, Abraham. Peace and blessings upon them all.
We’re told that Jesus’s maternal grandmother Hanna was barren. She prayed for a child to devote to God’s service, and God answered that prayer by giving her Mary. The Qur’an calls Mary “the most honored woman among all nations.”
When Mary, upon her be peace, was just a teenager, Archangel Gabriel came to her and said: “‘O Mary! God 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 God.’ “
Being a virgin, Mary could not understand this news.
Gabriel comforted her by explaining that, when God wishes to create anything, He says, “Be,” and it is. Muslims find similarities between Jesus’ birth and that of Adam, peace and blessings upon them. Both were created without father or mother. Both births were a miracle.
Like every woman, Mary, upon her be peace, suffered during childbirth. But Mary’s suffering was compounded by fears about how she would explain her pregnancy to her noble family. Muslims believe that Jesus performed his first miracle in the cradle by speaking up to defend his beloved mother.
Muslims do not believe in original sin or that Jesus’ death died to atone for our sins. Rather, Muslims believe Jesus’ mission was to repair the misapplication of faith and abuse of the Divine Law. Religion had become harsh and legalistic, and Jesus came to weave those teachings with humility and spirituality.
A religion for the poor
When Jesus was born, many laws were applied exclusively to punish the poor. It was, in some ways, not unlike today: If you were poor and broke the law, the powerful came down on you in the harshest manner possible. If you were wealthy, then you could escape punishment.
Yet the Laws of God were never meant to help the powerful dominate the weak. Instead, they were meant to protect the weak from the exploitation of the strong: During Jesus’s time, the laws of God had become divorced from the spirit of God’s love. The Laws became an end in themselves, when they were supposed to be a means to nurture hearts and aid humanity in their worship of God.
Jesus’s message was a powerful agent of change. Still, he realized that not all people could be reached with words. In the Qur’an, Jesus says: “God has given me the power to give life to the dead, sight to the blind, sound to the deaf; but He did not give me the power to heal the fool of his foolishness.”
Muslims believe that, after plots were made to kill Jesus, he was not crucified. Instead, he was raised to the Heavens. Muslims await the second coming of Jesus, when he will come back again as a just ruler, like Moses and Muhammad, peace and blessings upon them.
Although there are differences between the Muslim and Christian views of Jesus, the Qur’an repeatedly guides Muslims not to dispute with other monotheists over matters of doctrine. Instead, Jesus should be a point of connectivity between the billions in the world who follow Christianity and Islam.
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
If you like this piece, share it on social media.
© Copyright Fedwa Wazwaz, All rights reserved.