Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1996
Price: UK £
9.99; US $ 14.95
In the string
of scriptures, the Qur’ān is the last one, the Final Testament. By the same
token, Islam represents the last and final version of the Abrahamic religious
tradition. From this perspective, the Qur’ān not only provides the final
statement of the religious doctrines and norms of Judaism and Christianity, but
also modifies their notions regarding sacred personalities: the Prophets. Jesus
Christ (sws) is one of the those personalities who has been grossly
misunderstood not only by his ‘opponents’, the Jews, but also by his professed
followers, the Christians.
regards Jesus (sws) as one who had announced his prophethood miraculously, for
he did so while he was in the cradle (Qur’ān 19:30). Similarly, it declares his
mother, Maryam, a chosen one, who was exalted over the whole of womanhood
(3:24). The Qur’ān makes it clear that in spite of being endowed with miracles,
Jesus (sws) was virtually like others as regards his being a human was
concerned: he was created by God and was, therefore, God’s servant (‘abd) as
were all other Prophets. The Qur’ān also tells us that Jesus’ birth took place
in an extraordinary manner. In that respect his birth was like Adam’s in so far
as the latter too had no father. Adams’ birth took place by dint’ of just one
word of God – ‘kun’ (be) (the Qur’ān 3:59). Jesus’ birth, therefore, challenged
people’s understanding. As a result a large number of people questioned the
virginity of his mother, and declined for that reason to acknowledge him as a
legitimate child. This made it impossible for them to accept him as a prophet.
In time, Jesus’ followers retorted by declaring him to be a son of God, a belief
that does not seem to be supported by the Gospels.
In his deeply
researched work, Jesus in the Qur’ān, Geoffrey Parrinder attempts to present the
Qur’ānic view of Jesus (sws). He deals with almost every dogmatic and
biographical aspect of Jesus’ life and makes an earnest effort to understand the
Qur’ānic standpoint. The author does not raise any questions about the textual
authority of the Qur’ān as he mentions in his introduction (p.10). To the
author, the present work is an exclusively theoretical study of the Qur’ānic
view of Jesus (sws) and undoubtedly he succeeds in vindicating the claim.
Further, in dealing with every issue, the author makes very informative and
valuable comparisons between the Qur’ānic statements and those of the Gospels.
Thus, this study lies in the domain of comparative religion.
There are some
aspects of this subject, however, which are debatable, even among Muslim
academics. The death of Jesus (sws) is one of them. The Qur’ān does not state
categorically that Jesus (sws) did not die a natural death.
In fact, some verses of the Qur’ān seem to suggest his natural demise (3:55,
5:17, 19:15). Parrinder observes that ‘there is no futurity in the grammar of
the Qur’ān to suggest a post-millennial death. The plain meaning seems to be his
physical death at the end of his present human life on earth’. (p. 105). Here
Parrinder is referring to the Qur’ānic verses 19:33-34. But at another place the
Qur’ān apparently provides grounds for some ambiguity about the matter since
there Jesus’ crucifixion by the Jews has been denied. The Qur’ān,
notwithstanding the claim of the Jews, says ‘though they did not kill him and
did not crucify him, but he was counterfeited for them… though they did not
certainly kill him. Nay, God raised him to Himself’ (4:157-158). Both the Jews
and the Christians believe that Jesus (sws) was killed by the Jews. The Qur’ān,
however, explicitly denies this assertion. Then, what is it that happened? The
Qur’ān tells us that Jesus (sws) was saved from the hands of his tormentors and
God raised him to Himself. This leads one to ask: What does the Qur’ān mean by
‘God raised him to Himself?’ (4:158). According to most interpreters of the
Qur’ān, Jesus (sws) was raised to the heaven alive. They adduce a number of
arguments in support of this, but does the Qur’ān also expressly support this
another verse which is often quoted to support the idea that Jesus (sws) was
raised to the heavens alive. It reads: ‘And there is none among the people of
the Book but will surely believe in him before his death’ (4:159). According to
some commentators, the pronoun ‘him’ here stands for Jesus (sws). They believe
that Jesus (sws) is alive and will return to the earth before the end of this
world. Hence, after Jesus (sws) returns to the world, as this verse says, all
the people of the Book (including the Jews), will believe in him. However,
according to a contemporary tafsīr, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, by a Pakistani scholar,
Amīn Ahsān Islāhī (d. 1997), this verse does not refer to Jesus (sws) but to the
Qur’ān and the Prophet Muhammad (sws). He contends that the word, ‘him’ in the
verse alludes to the Qur’ān, and the word ‘his’ to the Prophet Muhammad (sws).
interpretation were to be accepted, then this verse does not confirm Jesus’
second coming. The ambiguity that seems to prevail here (4:159) does make sense.
These verses actually deny the Jewish claim that they killed Jesus (sws). Since
the Qur’ān asserts the universal principle that God and his Messengers (rusul)
must prevail over their opponents (58:21), it would be a contradiction in terms
to believe that Jesus (sws) was crucified by Jews. It may be remembered that
according to Islāhī, while this principle does not apply to anbiyā’ (Prophets)
who belong to a category different from the rusul (Messnegers). Every rasūl, as
we know, is a nabī but every nabī is not necessarily a rasūl. Since Jesus (sws)
was a rasūl, it would have been against the sunnat Allāh (God’s way) to allow
one of His rusul to be defeated or killed by his opponents.
In this context, it does not seem proper to discuss Jesus’ advent at this point.
By the same token, one would expect that the strange and unusual incident, which
is said to have taken place should have been stated explicitly. Parrinder
discusses different interpretations of this Qur’ānic verse and seems to have a
point in his conclusion that ‘the cumulative effect of the Qur’ānic verse is
strongly in favor of a real death’. (p. 221).
One of the most
significant debates in this book is about the alleged biological relationship
between God and Jesus (sws), as believed by the Christians. Parrinder tries to
give a non-biological interpretation of a expression ‘Son of God’, and he seems
to be right in saying that the Christian belief in Christ as the ‘son’ of God
leads to the idea of the Trinity, which is of course a non-Biblical doctrine. In
his opinion, ‘to say God is Christ is a statement not found anywhere in the New
Testament or in the Christian creeds’ (p. 133). Significantly, with regard to
the debates on the Trinity the author points out that the early Christians used
the expression ‘Son of God’ to denote close relationship to God (p. 139). This
view seems to be in harmony with the Islamic doctrine on the matter because,
according to a tradition, the last Prophet Muhammad (sws) called all creatures
to be the children of God (‘ayāl Allah).
Quite obviously, this expression does not signify any biological relationship
between God and His creates; it simply signifies God’s compassion and care for
Qur’ānic view of Injīl, the author observes that the
Qur’ān does not attribute the corruption of Injīl to
the Christians. In this view, this is a polemical statement that was made by
Muslims sometime after the revelation of the Qur’ān.
Parrinder mentions Abu Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (d. after 442/1050) as one of the early
exponents of this viewpoint. It is correct in the sense that the Qur’ān
does not say this categorically, but it blames the Christians to have distorted
God’s message. As evidence it quotes their belief in Christ as ‘Son of God’
It is certainly
the need of the hour to build bridges between the different branches of the
Abrahamic religious tradition. In this context, the present work is a serious
and thought-provoking study which should contribute to that purpose. The author
has made a sustained effort to establish the Qur’ānic
teachings about Jesus (sws). In conclusion, he rightly says the following about
Islam: ‘Its prophetic witness to the unity of God, and in general to the
humanity of Jesus (sws) and his mother, was a needful corrective which the
church largely ignored’ (p. 171).