THE PERSON AND CHARACTER OF JESUS CHRIST
THE chapters that preceded have clearly shown that Christ has a place in Islam as one of the greater Prophets, and that the Koran gives precious glimpses of the Messiah's greatness, but yet falls short of unveiling his glorious perfection and Divine majesty. Mohammed leads his followers to the portal, but he fails to open the door. A perusal of the Koran and of the traditions on the part of any sincere Moslem who tries to interpret Jesus Christ, may indeed kindle the flame of curiosity, but will ever leave his heart-longing unsatisfied. Yet no Moslem who reads his book can escape forming some opinion of Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, and therefore of giving a verdict on His person and character.
This chapter is intended to show what the conclusion is in the mind of the average Moslem from the accounts already given in regard to the person and character of Jesus Christ. It sums up all the data found in Chapters I-IV, in the completed idea of the man Jesus Christ as He stands before the Moslem mind and heart. The chapters that precede are largely historical: in this we attempt dogmatic treatment. And yet it is impossible to approach the subject and use Christian terminology, because Islam eliminates all the Christian ideas back of this terminology, by its denials and contradictions.
The doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ is central, determinative, and supreme in Christian theology. In dealing with the person of Jesus Christ the Church throughout the centuries has taught that He was very God and very Man, and to His person there have always been ascribed, according to the teaching of the Bible, the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. His eternal existence as the Son of God, His wonderful humiliation as the Son of man, and His exaltation in glory, are the commonplaces of theology and the comfort of all believers.
Yet no Moslem can study the person and character of Jesus Christ according to these categories. For him they do not exist. In considering the person of Jesus Christ from a Moslem standpoint, we must first, therefore, take up the subject negatively.
I. The Moslem idea of Christ, as of God, consists not only in what is asserted of Him, but also, and more emphatically, in what is denied. As James Freeman Clarke remarks: "The error in every theory is usually found in its denials, that is, its limitations. What it sees is substantial and real; what it does not see is a mark only of its limited vision." The Koran denies the Deity and the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ. He is a creature like Adam. "Verily, Jesus is as Adam in the sight of God. He created him of dust; He then said to him, BE, and he was" (Surah 3:52). Those who assert that Jesus Christ is more than human are infidels. "The Christians say that the Messiah is the Son of God. God fight them! how they lie!" (Surah 9:30). Not only is Jesus Christ a mere creature, but He is not essential to God nor to God's plans in the world. "Who can obtain anything from God if He chose to destroy the Messiah, the son of Mary, and His mother and all who are on the earth together?" (Surah 5:19). To Moslems a consideration of the person of Jesus Christ begins by the assertion that He was only a man among men. "Jesus is no more than a servant whom we favoured, and proposed as an instance of divine power to the children of Israel, and, if we pleased, we could from yourself bring forth angels to succeed you on earth (Surah 43:59).
Nothing so arouses the hostility of the Moslem mind as the statement that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Mohammedan ideas and misconceptions of the Trinity are more fully treated elsewhere, but two passages from the Koran will make clear how important this denial of the Trinity is as regards their doctrine of the person of Jesus. "They say the Merciful has taken to Himself a sonye have brought a monstrous thing! The heavens well-nigh burst asunder thereat, and the earth is riven and the mountains fall down broken, that they attribute to the Merciful a son! But it becomes not the Merciful to take to Himself a son" (Surah 19:91-93). "Praise belongs to God, who has not taken to Himself a son and has not had a partner in His kingdom, nor had a patron against such abasement" (Surah 17:112).
Whatever the Koran and tradition may state, as we have already seen and shall see afterwards, concerning Jesus Christ, His dignity, His sinlessness, or His power to work miracles, Moslems do not distinguish His person in any way as to His nature from the other prophets who came before Him. The pre-existence of Christ is everywhere denied, while Moslem tradition is full of stories about the Light of Mohammed, created before all things and existing before all worlds. It seems incredible that Islam, while imputing to Mohammed that which he never asserted of himself, namely, pre-existence should deny this in connection with Jesus Christ.
The bitter attacks of Islam on Christianity in the Moslem press of Egypt and of India nearly always find their centre in the Deity and the atoning work of Jesus Christ. To Christians Jesus Christ is God and man; He is Prophet, Priest, and King. To Moslems He is only human, and while they admit that He is a Prophet, His kingship and His priesthood are neither understood nor admitted. Islam is a religion without a priesthood, without a clear idea of the Atonement, and therefore this central thought in the work of Jesus Christ is absent from the Moslem mind.
Dr. Sayous calls attention to the absence of this idea from Mohammed's own mind in this striking way:
"En un mot, Mahomet n'a pas vu le peche, et il n'a pas besoin de redemption. Il a même rendu ses disciples de tous les siècles presque incurablement rebelles a cette idee. C'est pour cela que le monde de l'Islam est sans comparaison celui dans lequel la foi chretienne a recrute le moins de proselytes. La doctrine du peche et de la grâce est comme un mur, a la rencontre duquel le musulman curieux de christianisme se detourne en levant les epaules et revient sur ses pas."
We are not surprised, therefore, that the Cross is still a stumbling-block to most of Mohammed's followers, as it was to Mohammed himself.
Recent Moslem literature of every sect and every school of thought is as positive in its rejection of these distinctively Christian doctrines as is the Koran and orthodox tradition. A missionary in Egypt writes that the bitter antagonism of learned Moslems to the Deity and the Cross of Christ is again coming to the front. As a rule, Moslems refrain from reviling the Christ. He is reverenced among them as a Prophet, "but," says Mr. J. Gordon Logan, "a recent writer, who signed himself 'A Moslem,' set aside the teaching of the Koran, and proceeded to prove from what he called 'history' the true character of Christ and His mother, using the most blasphemous language and casting the vilest accusations on the Son of God.". Another Moslem distributed broadcast throughout Cairo a poem of which the following is a free translation. It was headed, "A Wonderful Question for the People of the Cross."
"You who worship Jesus, I have a question for you, and can you answer it?
If Jesus was Almighty God, with power to strike terror into all men,
Why do you believe that the Jews could make him endure the agony of the Cross?
And why do you believe that God died, and was buried in the dust,
And sought from his creatures a draught of water, that he might quench his fiery thirst?
And that they gave him instead myrrh and vinegar, a nauseous mixture,
So that he threw it on the ground because he could not take it?
And that he died a miserable death in an agony of thirst?
And that they put on his head a crown of thorns,
So frightful that it could turn raven locks to whiteness?
And that the blood flowed down his cheeks, and stained his face like henna?
And that he rode on a donkey's colt to save himself from the toil of the journey?
You say too that Perez, son of Tamar, was his ancestor;
One who was born of incest, and the Lord will not receive a bastard into His assembly.
And after that will you count him God, and not be in grievous error?
Nay, he is only one of the creatures of God, as he said of himself plainly in the Book.
And if he was God as you suppose, why did he pray to be delivered from the torment?
And who restored his Spirit when it left his body?
And who kept the world in its state until he came back from the dead?
Was there a second Lord watching its affairs?
Or did he suffer it to go to destruction?
And was he crucified for some evil he had done?
Or why did he merit the punishment?
And did the Jews do well when they crucified him, in order that you might be saved?
Or did they do evil that you might be delivered?
An extraordinary thing!
And if you say that they did well, I ask you, why
Do you count them enemies?
And if you say they did wrong, as they crucified God,
And this is fearful sin,
I say, why was it wrong, if without it you could not be saved from the judgment?
And was he himself pleased with the crucifixion, or angry? Tell me truly.
And if you say he was pleased with it in order that he might atone for the fault of the repentant,
I say that Adam sinned and repented by the grace of God, and God forgave him (i.e. without atonement).
You therefore lie about your Lord: for the matter is plain as the Book put it;
For he fled from his cross, and wept much for himself,
And prayed to the God of heaven:
And said, 'I beseech thee, save me from this trial,'
And cried, 'Eli, Eli, why do you leave me this day to the torment?'
'And if it is possible, O my Creator, to save me,
Save me, O best of Fathers.'
And this is a proof that he was only a servant of the Lord without doubt.
And this is a proof that you lie about him,
And say what is false.
And if you say that the cross was forced on him in spite of himself :
Then this Almighty God is not Almighty, for he hung on the
Cross, cursed on every side as it is written.
Do not blame me for thus putting the matter.
Answer my questions.
And do not fail, because silence in this is a disgrace to you.
I have given you advice, and desire only that it may profit you.
For myself, I will die a firm believer in the religion of Mohammed, the noblest of men,
As I do not wish to see the horrors of the day of Judgment."
Not on a par with this sort of popular antagonism to the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ as held by Christians, and yet equally decisive are the statements of Seyyid Ameer Ali of Calcutta, the latest and most able apologist for Islam: "So far as the divinity of Christ is concerned, one can almost see the legend growing. But assuming that Jesus made use of the expressions attributed to him, do they prove that he claimed to be 'the only-begotten of the Father?' With all his dreams and aspirations, his mind was absolutely exempt from those pretensions which have been fixed on him by his over-zealous followers. That Jesus ever maintained he was the Son of God, in the sense in which it has been construed by Christian divines and apologists, we totally deny."
Here we should notice a boastful assertion common among Mohammedans when arguing with Christians that they honour the Lord Jesus Christ more than Christians do. After their deliberate and systematic lowering of His dignity and depreciation of all His claims and work as given in the Gospel, such statements seem strange, but most workers among Mohammedans have been surprised and shocked to see how great is the misconception and ignorance implied in such an assertion. In the Life of Bishop French we read: "Another was only come to dispute and entangle us in our talk, a learned Mullah, full of captious quibbles and subtle disputations. He said he was sure he loved Christ more than I did, for he did not believe such bad things as I did, that He was crucified, dead and buried, for he believed, and all Mohammedans believed, He never died at all."
II. So far we have considered the Moslem idea of the person and character of our Saviour negatively. We pass on to consider what Moslems admit and believe as regards the dignity of person and the purity of character found in Jesus Christ. One cannot help feeling that the Moslem who has carefully studied the Koran will come to the conclusion, independently of all the commentators, that Christ is superior to Mohammed; and it is a joy to all missionaries to know that occasionally one finds persons who come to this conclusion, and in consequence turn to the Gospels, led to them by the Koran. The Rev. T. Bomford of Peshawar tells of such an instance: a man from Mecca writing to the Bible Society Depôt in Lahore, and asking for a New Testament to learn more of the Christ mentioned in the Koran; Dr. Pennell of Bannu mentioned other cases of a similar nature. There is no better way of preaching Christ to Moslems than by beginning with the testimony of the Koran to Jesus.
First of all, Moslems admit the dignity of Christ as prophet and apostle, with names given to Him which are applied to no other prophet and to no other apostle, as we have seen in Chapter I. Every sincere Moslem admits the force of this argument for the unique character and personality of Jesus Christ, although a man among men.
Nevertheless, the average Moslem does not see the force of this argument until his attention is called to it specially, because, even although these titles are applied to Jesus Christ, he himself is ranked with the other apostles and prophets in such a way as to give Him no special dignity of position. Moslems are fond of quoting the text, "We make no distinction between them" (i.e. between the prophets)Surah 2:130, 2:285, and 3:78: "Say, We believe in God and what He has sent down to us, and what has come down to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob; and what came down to Moses and to Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them." And it is remarkable that the name of Jesus is mixed up with the other prophets in the only complete list given in the Koran (Surah 6:84): "Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Zechariah, John, Jesus, Elias, Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah, Lot." To the average Moslem the Koran and tradition yield no chronological conception of the order of prophetic history, and one would not infer from the Koran necessarily that Jesus was the last of the prophets before Mohammed or the greatest.
In the second place, Mohammedans teach the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. And although this sinlessness, according to present teaching, does not put Jesus Christ in a class by Himself, as all the prophets are sinless in the Moslem sense of that word, yet the Koran, while mentioning the sins of Adam, David, Solomon, and other prophets, leaves no doubt as regards the purity of the character of Jesus. Mohammed himself, of course, is also considered by all Moslems as the paragon of excellence and purity, and as one who has never sinned. In regard to Jesus Christ, however, the statements of orthodox tradition are very remarkable. The prophet said, we are told, "There is no one of the sons of Adam except Mary and her son but is touched by the devil at the time of his birth, and the child makes a loud noise from the touch." Here we have the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception not only of the Virgin Mary but of Jesus.
We are also told, "When Mary was standing under the palm tree, the angels defended her, and when Satan tried to get at her from above, they flocked above her. Then he tried to get at her from beneath, and behold, the feet of the angels protected her. And when he tried to get in between them, they prevented him. So Satan went back and said, There is nothing ever born which was defended against me so successfully as this birth."
One of the commentators, Er-Razi, says that Jesus was given the title Messiah "because He was kept clear from the taint of sin." There is a remarkable tradition related by Anas, which seems by implication to prove that while Mohammed admitted his own sinfulness, he could not charge Jesus with sin. It reads as follows:
"In the Day of Resurrection Muslims will not be able to move, and they will be greatly distressed, and will say, 'Would to God that we had asked Him to create some one to intercede for us, that we might be taken from this place, and be delivered from tribulation and sorrow.' Then these men will go to Adam and will say, 'Thou art the father of all men, God created thee with His hand, and made thee a dweller in Paradise, and ordered His angels to prostrate themselves before thee, and taught thee the names of all things. Ask grace for us, we pray thee!' And Adam will say, 'I am not of that degree of eminence you suppose, for I committed a sin in eating of the grain which was forbidden. Go to Noah, the Prophet, he was the first who was sent by God to the unbelievers on the face of the earth.' Then they will go to Noah and ask for intercession, and he will say, 'I am not of that degree which ye suppose.' And he will remember the sin which he committed in asking for the deliverance of his son (Hud), not knowing whether it was a right request or not; and he will say, 'Go to Abraham, who is the Friend of God.' Then they will go to Abraham, and he will say, 'I am not of that degree which ye suppose.' And he will remember the three occasions on which he told lies in the world; and he will say, 'Go to Moses, who is the servant to whom God gave His law, and whom He allowed to converse with Him.' And they will go to Moses, and Moses will say, 'I am not of that degree which ye suppose.' And He will remember the sin which be committed in slaying a man, and he will say, 'Go to Jesus, He is the servant of God, the Apostle of God, the Spirit of God, and the Word of God.' Then they will go to Jesus, and He will say, 'Go to Muhammad who is a servant, whose sins God has forgiven both first and last.' Then the Muslims will come to me, and I will then ask permission to go into God's presence and intercede for them."
There is also this curious version of the temptation of Jesus which may indicate His victory over the devil, but is not very conclusive: Taus of Yemen, one of the early followers of Mohammed, used to say, "There is nothing which a man says but is counted against him, even his moaning in illness." He said, "Jesus having met Iblis, the latter said to him, 'Do you not know that nothing will betide you but what is destined for you?' Jesus replied, 'Yes.' Iblis then said, 'Ascend to the summit of this mountain and throw yourself down: see whether you will live or not.' Jesus replied, 'Do you not know that God has said, "My servant cannot test me, for I do what I please?" Verily, a servant does not try his Lord, but God tries His servant.'" Taus said, "Iblis therefore became his enemy."
In the third place, Jesus Christ is the great Miracle-Worker, especially as the healer of the sick. It is the common opinion among Moslems that the science of medicine had reached a high degree of perfection in the days of Jesus Christ, and that God glorified His apostle by making it possible for Him to heal the sick through miraculous power. We have seen in the story of the miracles of Jesus how this conception is elaborated. Jesus Christ as the Great Physician is a familiar picture to Moslems.
The following beautiful account of Jesus healing the sick occurs in the Masnavi, and may well compare with our evening hymn,
"At evening, ere the sun was set,
The sick, O Lord, around Thee lay":
"The house of Isa was the banquet of men of heart,
Ho! afflicted one, quit not this door!
From all sides the people ever thronged,
Many blind and lame, and halt and afflicted,
To the door of the house of Isa at dawn,
That with his breath he might heal their ailments.
As soon as he had finished his orisons,
That holy one would come forth at the third hour;
He viewed those impotent folk, troop by troop,
Sitting at his door in hope and expectation;
He spoke to them, saying, 'O stricken ones!
The desires of all of you have been granted by God;
Arise, walk without pain or affliction,
Acknowledge the mercy and beneficence of God!'
Then all, as camels whose feet are shackled,
When you loose their feet in the road,
Straightway rush in joy and delight to the halting-place,
So did they run upon their feet at his command."
Lastly, Christ is alive and in heaven, where He is able to intercede for His people. Zamakhshari in his Commentary on the Koran text, "illustrious in this world and the next" (Surah 3:46) says, "This signifies the office of prophet and supremacy over men in this world, and in the next world the office of Intercessor and loftiness of rank in Paradise." Moslems disagree as to where Jesus Christ now is. The Sunni divines agree that He saw no corruption, but they differ as to the exact state of celestial bliss in which He now resides in His human body. Some say He is in the second heaven; some say He is in the third; some say the fourth. A learned doctor of the Shiah Sect assured me that the Shiah belief is that He is in the highest, or the seventh heaven.
Gathering up these ideas of the character of Jesus and His person, and yet remembering what they deny in regard to our Saviour, it is evident that to Moslems the Founder of the Christian religion, although miraculously born, with power to work miracles, and the last and greatest of all the prophets until Mohammed, who also had the special honour of being taken up into heaven, is nevertheless a mere man, sent of God, and one of the objects of His mission (and this is always the climax of Moslem teaching) was that Jesus came to announce the coming of Mohammed. This idea has taken a permanent and prominent place in all later Moslem teaching concerning the person of Jesus, and is often the first argument on Moslem lips. Every Moslem, even boys who are well read in their religion, can glibly quote Surah 61:6: "And remember when Jesus the son of Mary said, 'O children of Israel! of a truth I am God's Apostle to you to confirm the law which was given before me, and to announce an apostle that shall come after me, whose name shall be Ahmed.'" By this token from the lips of Mohammed himself and alleged to be a revelation from God, the prophet of Arabia not only succeeds but supplants the Prophet of Nazareth.
Moslems have always been eager to find further proof of the coming of Mohammed in the Old and New Testament Scriptures in addition to their misinterpretation of John 16:7: The Paraclete. They therefore not only quote the words of the Koran, but refer to Deuteronomy 33:2, Isaiah 21:6; the parable in Matthew 20, John 4:21, and 1 John 4:1-3.
The passage in Deuteronomy states that Jehovah came from Sinai, and rose from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran. Sinai is a Jewish mountain; Seir, they say, is a mountain in Galilee where Christ died, but Paran is a mountain near Mecca, and signifies the Mohammedan religion.
As for Isaiah's prophecy, in which he sees a troop coming of horsemen and of men riding asses, and of those who ride camels, to which the prophet should hearken diligently, their interpretation is that the horses refer to Moses' dispensation, the asses to that on which Christ rode, and the camels to Mohammed.
The parable in the twentieth chapter of Matthew's Gospel of the labourers in the vineyard is cleverly applied to the threefold dispensation: the morning, Judaism; the noonday labourers, the apostles of Christ; and those to whom he came in the evening, the Moslems. This interpretation is based on a most interesting statement attributed to Mohammed in the traditions.
"Your likeness, O Moslems, in comparison to the Jews and Christians, is like that of a man who hired labourers. He said, 'Who will work for me a whole day for a shekel?' These are the Jews, for they have laboured a long time for a small wage. Then said the man, 'Who will work from noon until night for a shekel?' These are the Christians. Then he said, 'Who will work from afternoon prayer time until sunset?' Such labourers are ye, and remember that for you there is a double wage, because ye have acknowledged the prophet of Truth, and in him all the other prophets." The tradition goes on to show how the Jews and Christians complained, in the terms of the parable, and how God said, "I will give those whom I love what I will."
According to John 4:21, the true worshippers of God are those that "neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem" worship Him; namely, the Mohammedans.
The most daring use of Scripture, however, as a prophecy of the coming of Mohammed, is the Moslem interpretation of the last passage mentioned. "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God. Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." Mohammed is the true Spirit of God because he taught that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh; namely, He came as man and man only, not as God.
After this fashion the Koran and its interpreters unite to obscure the glory of the person and character of Jesus Christ, by obtruding ever and anon Mohammed as the last of the prophets and the one to whom even Jesus Christ bears witness. And what Moslems have done as regards the person of Jesus Christ, they have not hesitated to do in regard to His teaching, as we shall see in the next chapter.
1 Fairbairn, A. M., The Place of Christ in Modern Theology. London, 1894, passim.
2 Quoted in The Moslem Doctrine of God, p. 77.
3 Cf. the refutation, in most bitter terms, of the doctrine of the Trinity in Carletti's translation of Idhar-ul-Hak, vol. i. pp. 388-417.
4 The Moslem Doctrine of God, chapter vi.
5 See Insan al Ayoon, by Burhan ud Din al Halibi, and the evidence collected by Klle, Mohammed and Mohammedanism, pp. 246-252.
6 Carletti's Idhar-ul-Hak, "Refutation de la Trinité par les paroles de Jesus Christ", vol. i. pp. 396-417.
7 Sayous, Edouard, Jesus Christ daprés Mahomét, p. 64.
8 J. Gordon Logan, Leaflet, Islam defies your King! Egypt General Mission.
9 "El Khalasat el Burhanieh fi Sahet Dianet el Islamieh," by Mahmood bin Seyyid Ali (Cairo, 1319), contains it in full, with comments.
10 Quoted in Islam defies your King!
11 Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam, pp. 121-122.
12 Life of Bishop French, vol. ii. p. 119.
13 Cf. Christ in Islam: The Testimony of the Quran to Christ, by Rev. Wm. Goldsack. Christian Literature Society, Madras.
14 Mishkat, Bk. I. chap. iii.
15 Qarmani, vol. 1. p. 70.
16 Mishkat, Book XXIII. Chapter 12.
17 Ad-Damiri's Hayat Al-Hayawan, p. 227.
18 Masnavi-i-Manavi of Jalal-ud-Din, Whinfield's translation, p. 116.
19 Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, p. 235.
20 See following chapter.
21 Mishkat, vol. ii. p. 814. Captain Mathew's translation.
22 For other passages of Scripture used by Moslems to establish the fact that Jesus and His apostles foretold the coming of Mohammed, see Carletti's translation of Idhar-ul-Hak, vol. ii. pp. 190-250. He quotes the following passages with comment:
Matt. 13:31, 32.
Cf. Tisdall's Mohammedan Objections to Christianity, Rice's Crusaders of the Twentieth Century, and Gerock's Christologie des Koran, pp. 110-112.
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