Our pull-out series for 2021 is taken from Understanding Islam from a Christian Perspective , by Rosemary Sookhdeo, Barnabas Fund’s International Director of Finance.
The following excerpts from her popular and informative book give invaluable insights into areas where the religion of Islam, which was established 600 years after Christ, has borrowed from Christianity and explains the key theological differences between the two religions.
The Muslim Jesus (part 2)
The eternal nature of the Son of God
The Nicene Creed uses the term “begotten” not “made” to clarify Jesus’ origin. This means that He was not created as the angels were. Here we have the eternal nature of the Sonship of Christ. He was the Son of God before time began. “No-one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known,” writes John (John 1:18). Jesus himself prays in His High Priestly prayer, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Also in 1 John 4:9 we read: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” In John 1:1,14, the terms “Logos” or “Word” and “only Son” are applied to the same person.
Isa was not crucified or raised from the dead
Only one verse in the Quran explicitly addresses Isa’s crucifixion, and even that verse is ambiguous as to whether Isa suffered death by crucifixion or not. According to sura 4:157-158, “That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’ – But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow. For of a surety they killed him not – Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is exalted in Power, Wise.”
The traditional Muslim interpretation of this verse is that the Jews tried to kill Isa but were unable to do so. Quranic translator Yusuf Ali explains in a footnote: “The Quranic teaching is that Christ was not crucified nor killed by the Jews, notwithstanding certain apparent circumstances which produced that illusion in the minds of some of his enemies71”. Muhammad would not have understood the meaning of the crucifixion: that Jesus died on the cross to provide salvation so that a person’s sins might be forgiven, reconciling us to God and giving us the assurance of eternal life.
A hadith says that God substituted someone else in Isa’s place who appeared to be Isa. A detail of the story recounts Isa hiding in a niche in a wall and one of his companions being killed in his place.”72 Instead of being crucified, they claim, Isa was eventually taken up to heaven. It is not clear whom they believe God substituted, but there are many theories, such as Judas, one of the disciples, Simon of Cyrene, a criminal, etc. The so-called “Gospel of Barnabas” (see appendix), which is an Islamic apologetic document, claims that Judas Iscariot was crucified in place of Jesus. The Ahmadiyya movement believes that Isa survived the crucifixion, migrated to India and eventually died a natural death.
It is possible that the ancient Christian heresy of Docetism has influenced Islam. The Docetics believed that Jesus only “seemed” to be physical and to suffer in His body. His suffering was only an illusion. Such tendencies find echoes in some of the apocryphal gospels. According to the second century Gospel of Peter, on the cross Jesus “was silent, since he felt no pain”, and at the end “the Lord cried out, saying, ‘My power, my power, you have left me’. And when he spoke he was taken up”. The Biblical Gospels however emphatically affirm that Jesus “gave up his spirit” and died.
The Acts of John, dating from about the middle of the second century, claims that Jesus appeared to John in a cave during the crucifixion and said, “John, unto the multitude below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds, and gall and vinegar is given me to drink. But unto thee I speak”. And later it says, “Nothing, therefore of the things which they will say of me have I suffered … I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; hanged, and I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not”. The ambiguity as to whether Jesus was slain on the cross and died in these heretical and sectarian writings bears a close resemblance to the Quranic ambiguity regarding the crucifixion and death of Jesus, even though the Quran states explicitly only that the Jews did not kill Jesus.
Muslims view the crucifixion as a defeat. If they believed Isa was crucified it would mean that he established no earthly kingdom and achieved no success; he would have no followers and no legacy. Muslims also see crucifixion – to be nailed to the cross – as worthy only of a criminal, a disgrace which could never have happened to an honoured prophet.
In part 1 of chapter nine, to be found in the pull-out section of Barnabas Aid, March/April 2021, we saw that Muslims deny the deity of Isa (as Jesus is called in Islam) and therefore do not accept him as the Son of God.
Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God
As Christians we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and we should not be fearful in proclaiming it to any religion that is out to destroy this crucial point of our faith. Jesus is the very cornerstone and centre of our faith. It is in Him that we put our trust.
Interestingly, Jesus never speaks of Himself as the Son of God in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Other people call him the “Son of God” but Jesus prefers to refer to himself as the “Son of Man”, drawing this title from Daniel 7:13, where it specifically refers to a divine figure coming down from heaven. In John’s Gospel, Jesus does refer to Himself as the Son of God (e.g. John 5:25), and Paul’s letters also refer to Jesus as the “Son of God”.
Jesus was a personal manifestation of the Godhead
His two titles, “Son of God” and the “Word”, ensure that we understand Him as a personal manifestation of the Godhead, equal with the Father. He is an accurate expression of God’s glory and person. Our Lord is not merely a likeness of the Father but of “one substance with the Father”. He and the Father are one. He is described as the Word, the pre-existent Christ, in a unique relationship with the Father.
John 1:14 reads, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, full of grace and truth.”
Isa ascended into heaven
Even though the Quran denies Isa to be the Son of God, it does concede that Isa ascended into heaven. “Allah raised him up unto himself” (sura 4:158). In the context of this verse, it apparently makes this claim to support its own view of Isa escaping his crucifixion. In another verse from the Quran, “Behold! Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return unto me’” (sura 3:55). Here, God raises Isa to heaven, but only after first causing him to die.
According to the Muslim commentator al-Tabari, Isa did not die but ascended body and soul to heaven while someone else died in his place. Tabari reports a story from tradition recounting a day when Isa was together with seventeen disciples and the Jews came to the house where they were gathered. The Jews were intent on killing him but Isa’s image was implanted on all his disciples. The Jews were bewildered and demanded, “Show us which one is Isa or we will kill all of you”. Isa asked his disciples, “Which one of you will win paradise for his soul today?” The faithful disciple who responded to Isa’s appeal retained the image of Isa, while the rest were restored to their original appearance. This faithful disciple was crucified by the Jews, while God took Isa to heaven. 73
Isa will come again
One day Isa will come again (sura 43:61): “A Sign for the coming of the Hour of Judgement: therefore have no doubt about the Hour but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.” In Islam the coming again of Isa will be one of the main signs of the last days. He is presented as an eschatological figure who has an important role to play in the end times.
Muslims believe that Isa will descend to earth to the Isa minaret of the large Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. This was originally the Christian Cathedral in Damascus, which was demolished and rebuilt as a mosque by a Muslim caliph in 709-715. Isa will come as a Muslim warrior to destroy Christianity and Judaism and will establish Islam as the only religion in the world. He will fight all its enemies (including the Antichrist al-Dajjal).
A hadith says, “Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: There is no prophet between me and him, that is Isa (peace be upon him). He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognise him: a man of medium height, reddish fair, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops were falling down from his head though it will not be wet. He will fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizya. Allah will perish all religions except Islam. He will destroy the Antichrist and will live on earth for forty years and then he will die. The Muslims will pray over him.” 74
To “break the cross” means to destroy Christianity. Pigs are associated with Christians, as both Muslims and Jews consider them unclean, and the killing of the pigs also refers to the destruction of Christianity. Under Islamic law the humiliating poll-tax (jizya) is paid by subjugated Christians and Jews to protect them from jihad. The abolition of the poll-tax signifies the revival of jihad against Christians and Jews, who will face the choice of converting to Islam or being killed.
Jesus as the Son of God threatens Islamic theology
Jesus as the Son of God challenges the very basis of Allah and Islamic theology. The deity of Christ challenges the primary tenet of Islam, the absolute unity of Allah. If God has a Son, Islam would be in error, and that is why Muslims consider that the idea of Isa as the Son of God has to be adamantly denied.
Every Friday, Muslims recite sura 112 during the service at the mosque: “Say, He is Allah the One and Only, Allah the Eternal, Absolute, He begetteth not, nor is He begotten and there is none like unto Him.”
This is a polemic against the Christian confession that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Constantly repeated, it is a denial of Jesus as the Son of God and of the Trinity. The Muslim call to prayer (“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of God”) goes forth over the rooftops five times a day from the minaret and is a polemic against both the Sonship and deity of Christ and the Christian faith.
71 A. Yusuf ‘Ali, The Holy Qur’an. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1975, p. 236, fn. 663.
72 Parrinder, Geoffrey, Jesus in the Qur’an. London: Sheldon Press, 1965, p. 109.
73 Gabriel Said Reynolds, ‘The Muslim Jesus: Dead or Alive?’, Bulletin of SOAS, Volume 72, No 2, 2009, p. 241.
74 Sunan Abu Dawood, 2025, at http://www.alim.org/library/hadith/SAD/2025.
The so-called “Gospel of Barnabas”
A Christian discussing matters of faith with a Muslim may find their friend alluding to the “Gospel of Barnabas”. This document is believed by many Muslims to contain the ultimate truth about the life and teaching of Jesus. Some even hold that it is the true and original Injil, for which Christians later substituted the New Testament.
The book professes to be a gospel written by the Apostle Barnabas. The author also claims that he, Barnabas, was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, for which there is no support in the real Gospels. Furthermore, his denunciation of the Apostle Paul’s teachings discounts the close and supportive relationship which existed between Paul and Barnabas according to the New Testament. The book denies that Jesus is the Son of God and portrays Him as a forerunner (like John the Baptist) who proclaimed the future coming of Muhammad. It also denies the crucifixion. In addition, it even contradicts the Quran by declaring that Muhammad will be the Messiah, whereas the Gospels and Quran agree that this title belongs to Jesus alone. Such evidence, along with geographical and historical errors, shows that the Barnabas of the New Testament is not the author of this book. Various references in the “Gospel of Barnabas” point to its having been written in the Middle Ages, not earlier than the fourteenth century, i.e. well over a thousand years after Christ and 700 years after Muhammad. The book contains most of the stories found in the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament, but with many things artfully turned in favour of Islam. A general study of its contents and authorship shows that it is a clumsy attempt to forge a life of Jesus consonant with the profile of him in the Quran and Islamic tradition.
An English translation of the “Gospel of Barnabas” by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg was reprinted in Pakistan in the 1970s and circulated in large numbers.
For further reading see John Gilchrist, Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas. Brighton: F.F.M. Publications, 1992, also available at https://answering-islam.org/Gilchrist/barnabas.html
This appendix is an extract from Patrick Sookhdeo, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Islam. Fearn: Christian Focus Publications and Pewsey: Isaac Publishing, 2005, pp. 87-88.