“I cannot be a Muslim if I do not love Jesus and his mother, virgin Mary,” says Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque which suffered an islamophobic terrorist attack in June 2017. For Islam, Jesus is a very important and beloved prophet who is often mentioned in the Qur’an.
Isa (name in the quranic Arabic for Jesus) is “the Envoy” in various passages of the sacred book of Islam. Muslims consider that he came to confirm the “wisdom” previously announced in the Torah (of the Jews) and other sacred scriptures.
“There is a religious connection: the birth of our prophet Jesus, who in the Qur’an is named in many ways and is venerated as Messiah or proclaimer of the Gospel,” says Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD).
Three basic elements are similar between Muslim and Christian beliefs:
Jesus as “the Envoy”
“As a Muslim I believe that Jesus son of Mary is one of the mightiest five prophets of God who ever walked the face of the earth, the beautiful five people who suffered most in the way of God to guide humanity and they had a huge impact on the world,” Kozbar highlights to Salam Plan through e-mail.
He refers to the five prophets of Islam, of whom four figures coincide with the Christian tradition: Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus. The last prophet – and the most prominent one for Muslims – is the only one that does not coincide: Muhammad. For Kozbar, the five are “colleagues who graduated from the same school, the school of God.”
“Envoy” is the meaning with which the Qur’an repeatedly refers to Isa, whom it considers “strengthened by the Holy Spirit.” Presented as God’s “Envoy” to spread his message as soon as in the second Surah (chapters in which the Qur’an is divided), in Sura 61 Jesus is quoted as saying that he is the announcer of a messenger who would come after him: the main prophet of Islam, Muhammad.
“The Qur’an regards (Jesus) as one of the great prophets and messengers,” says Azim Nanji in his Dictionary of Islam (Penguin Reference Library) as well. “Jesus is a highly venerated figure, especially among Sufi Muslims, who see him as a model of the true devotee consumed by his love for God,” he explains.
“Although the Christmas festivity does not occupy a place in the historical calendar of the Muslim liturgy, in the West a large number of Muslims share and participate in different events with Christians,” Michaël Privot, director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) based in Brussels, says. Why? “Numerous Muslims realize that it is interesting to remember Jesus, who is a very important prophet of Islam,” he explains.
“In any case [Christmas] is a time when families come together, be it to celebrate the holiday with their Christian relatives or not. Many communities organize family gatherings at Christmas time or invite to large events,” says Mazyek from Germany.
The importance of Mary
The first time that Jesus is mentioned in the Qur’an is precisely as “son of Mary” (Sura 2, 87). As to whether his mother was a virgin or not, the Qur’an refers to it like this:
“When the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]. He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous. She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah [God]; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is,” (Surah 3, 45-47).
For some Muslims this passage does not imply Mary’s virginity. Julio Cortés explains in his Spanish edition of the sacred text of the Muslims that “Islam, in the past, has seen in the Qur’an a recognition of the virginal conception of Jesus. Some modernists deny that the Qur’an recognizes it.”
Kozbar, from Finsbury Mosque, does speak of the “virgin Mary” and emphasizes that the Qur’an devotes “a whole chapter” to her naming it after her as well, “though there is no chapter named after the mother or the wife or the daughter of Prophet Muhammad”. Privot, on the other hand, says that “Maria, Mariam [her name in Arabic] is considered a prophet who received a revelation.”
Jesus as a miracle-doer
Several verses of the Qur’an are dedicated to talking about the miracles that Jesus performed according to the Muslim … and Christian faith. Like healing the blind man and the leper or “resuscitate the dead” with God’s “permission” (Surah 5, 110).
The difference about Jesus between the Christian and the Muslim faith lies in the divine nature as a son of God for the first and the human nature for the second, although in Islam it is a very dear and important figure that Muslims believe will return to earth to announce the final judgment.
Jordan Denari Duffner, a young Catholic theologian from the United States, recalls an anecdote about her in her book Finding Jesus among Muslims – How loving Islam makes me a better catholic (Liturgical Press). Once when she took a taxi in Amman (Jordan) to get to the Church of Sainst Peter and Paul, the driver asked her what the “central difference” between Christianity and Islam is. She answered: “Christians believe Jesus is God and Muslims don’t”.
He didn’t deny it but “immediately jumped to qualify it”, she remembers. He said: “Take a piece of your hair. One piece. The strand is so thin, you can barely grasp it. This strand of hair is what divides us”.
For Privot, “Jesus and his mother constitute meditation links for the coexistence of Christians and Muslims. The Christmas party is a good occasion to discuss with all fraternity.”
* Article published for the first time on December 25, 2017 and completed on December 24, 2018.