ISLAM is the only one of the great non-Christian religions which gives a place to Christ in its book, and yet it is also the only one of the non-Christian religions which denies His deity, His atonement, and His supreme place as Lord of all in its sacred literature. In none of the other sacred books of the East is Christ mentioned; the Koran alone gives Him a place, but does it by displacing Him. With regret it must be admitted that there is hardly an important fact concerning the life, person, and work of our Saviour which is not ignored, perverted, or denied by Islam.
Yet Moslems acknowledge Jesus Christ as a true prophet, and no less than three of the chapters of the Koran, namely, that of Amran's Family (Surah III), that of The Table (Surah V), and that of Mary (Surah XIX), are so named because of references to Jesus Christ and His work. The very fact that Jesus Christ has a place in the literature of Islam, and is acknowledged by all Moslems as one of their prophets, in itself challenges comparison between Him and Mohammed, and affords an opportunity for the Christian missionary to ask every sincere Moslem, "What think ye of the Christ?" This is still the question that decides the destiny of men and of nations. To help our Moslem brethren answer this question, however, we must know what Moslems believe in regard to Christ, and lead them up to higher truth by admitting all of the truth which they possess. Not our ignorance, but our accurate knowledge of the Moslem Christ, will enable us to show forth the glory and the beauty of the Christ revealed in the New Testament to those who ignorantly honour Him as a mere prophet.
Moreover, at a time when the study of other religions is so common, it must be of interest to all Christians to know what two hundred million Moslems think of their Lord and Saviour, and to compare His portrait taken from the Koran and later Moslem literature with that given in the Gospels.
This volume, as in the case of my earlier essay on The Moslem Doctrine of God, is based entirely on the Koran, the commentators, and orthodox tradition. The Koran text quoted is from Palmer's translation (Sacred Books of the East, vols. vi. and ix. Oxford, 1880), together with references to the three standard commentaries of Beidhawi, Zamakhshari, and Jellalain. For Moslem tradition in regard to Jesus Christ, the references will be found in the Bibliography, but I have specially used a standard work on the subject, and, in fact, the only popular work I know which gives a connected account of the life of Jesus Christ according to Moslem sources, namely, Kitab Kusus al Anbiah (also called Al ‘Ara’is), by Abu Ishak Ahmad bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim Eth-Thalabi, a doctor of theology of the Shafi school, who died 427 A.H. (A.D. 1036). Eth-Thalabi, the author of the work mentioned, is thus described in Ibn Khallikan's Dictionary of Biography (vol. i. p. 22): "He was the first of his age in the science of interpretation, and wrote the great commentary which is superior to many others. He also wrote the book called Kusus-al-Anbiah and other books. It is related that Abu Kasim el Kashiri said, ‘I saw the Lord Most Mighty in a dream, and He was talking with me, and I was talking with Him. And the Lord said, "The man of good character has approached"; and I looked and, behold, Eth-Thalabi was approaching.’" His work is found in MS. in several of the libraries of Europe, and was printed at Cairo, 1293, 1306, 1308, 1310, 1325 A.H., and at Bombay, 1306 A.H. I have used the latest Cairo edition.
I have also compared the account of Jesus Christ given in Bible de l'Islam by E. Lamairesse, a French translation of Mirkhond's Rauzat-as-Safa (Paris, 1894) and the Arabic text found in Akhbar ad Duwal wa Athar al Awwal by the historian Abu 'l ‘Abbas al Qaramani, who was born in A.D. 1532 and died 1611. Neither adds much to the fuller biography of Eth-Thalabi. Except for C. F. Gerock's Versuch einer Darstellunq der Christologie des Koran (Gotha, 1839), and a more recent French work, Jésus-Christ d'après Mahomét par Edouard Sayous (Paris, 1880), both limited to the Koran and not giving the traditional accounts, I do not know of any treatise on the subject in the languages of the West; nor have I been able to trace anywhere in Moslem literature a monograph on Jesus Christ as the last of the prophets before Mohammed's advent.
The question may well be raised concerning the sources of Mohammed's information. How and from whom did he learn of Jesus Christ? Whatever may have been the condition of Christianity in Arabia, there is no doubt that he came in contact with it all through his life. One of the chief stories he must have heard from his boyhood days was that of the Christian invasion from the south and the defeat of Abraha's troops. Later in life he went to Syria, met the monks, and also passed through the territory of the Christian tribes in north Arabia. After he professed to be a prophet, his favourite concubine was Miriam, a Coptic Christian, the mother of his darling son Ibrahim. In addition to all this, Moslems themselves admit that there were Christians and Jews who assisted Mohammed and instructed him. A recent study by P. L. Cheikho, entitled Quelques Legendes Islamiques Apocryphes (Beirut, 1910), enumerates some of the sources to which Mohammed was indebted for his knowledge of Christianity. First in order, he states, were his contemporaries Waraka bin Naufel, Zobeir bin ‘Amru, Zaid, and Kaab. The author also speaks of a book called Kitab bin Munabah, of which a dozen pages were recently found in a collection of papyri. According to Sprenger, the man who his countrymen said assisted Mohammed in writing the Koran, was a foreigner; for Mohammed himself said (Surah 16:105), "It is only some mortal who teaches him. The tongue of him they lean towards is barbarous, and this is plain Arabic." Sprenger says that the man referred to was "Addas, a monk of Nineveh, who was settled at Mecca." The commentators inform us further that Mohammed used to listen to Jaber and Yassar, two sword manufacturers at Mecca, when they read the Scriptures; and Ibn Ishak says that he had intercourse with Ar-Rahman, a Christian of Yamama. Koelle goes even further than Sprenger in indicating the sources of Mohammed's information. He says: "Not want of opportunity, but want of sympathy and compatibility kept him aloof from the religion of Christ. His first wife introduced him to her Christian cousin; one of his later wives had embraced Christianity in Abyssinia, and the most favoured of his concubines was a Christian damsel from the Copts of Egypt. He was acquainted with ascetic monks, and had dealings with learned bishops of the Orthodox Church. In those days the reading of the Holy Scriptures in the public services was already authoritatively enjoined and universally practised; if he wished thoroughly to acquaint himself with them, he could easily have done so. But, having no adequate conception of the nature of sin and man's fallen estate, he also lacked the faculty of truly appreciating the remedy for it which was offered in the Gospel."
A recent critical study on Mohammed's sources for his knowledge of Christianity and the Christ, confirms the conclusions reached by Sprenger and others. The author makes Harnack his starting-point, who shows in his History of Dogma that there was a close and striking resemblance between the teaching of Jewish-Christian gnosticism and that of Mohammed. He questions, however, whether Mohammed came in direct contact with any one of these sects. History tells us that Judaism found an early entrance into Arabia, and we know that there were various sects of Christianity represented, but we know of the preponderance of none. As we have to do with a non-literary people, we cannot assume much dogmatic knowledge. Neusch believes that none of Mohammed's teachers were prominent enough or definite enough in their knowledge of Christianity to warrant us in declaring that he was dependent on them alone for his sources. If Mohammed could read, it was probably late in life that he learned the art, too late to affect his views which had already been announced. His conclusion is that although Harnack's opinion is in general correct, we must not, as is so often done, simply declare that Mohammed was dependent on the Jewish-Christian sects of his day. We must remember that much of the present dogma of Islam is much later than the days of the prophet. As regards Moslem traditions which give us fuller information than the Koran itself, Goldziher has shown that these were largely contributed by Christian renegades.
There are, of course, many references to Jesus in later Moslem literature, and the present-day philosophical disintegration of Islam not only as regards its dogma, but its ethical teaching, has compelled Moslems anew to consider the fact of the Christ. These reform movements and re-adjustments of Moslem teaching to modern conditions, as voiced by the progressive press and the new Islam on the one hand, or the sects that sprang from Islam, the Babis, the Beha’is, and the followers of the late Mirza Quadian, on the other, have, however, scarcely touched the fringe of public opinion among the masses. This book tells of Jesus Christ as known (if known at all) by the vast majority of Moslems, whether learned or illiterate.
SAMUEL M. ZWEMER.
1 Wright's Early Christianity in Arabia (London, 1855).
2 Sprenger's Life of Mohammed (Allahabad, 1851).
3 Cf. W. St. Clair Tisdall, The Original Sources of the Qur'an (London, 1905), pp. 136-179.
4 S. W. Koelle, Mohammed and Mohammedanism, p. 471.
5 V. Neusch, "Muhammad's Quellen für sein Kenntnis des Christentums," in Zeitschrift für Missionskunde und Religionswissenschaft, 1910, Heft 4, p. 113.
6 Muhammedanische Studien, vol. ii p. 268.
NOTE. The Cufic inscription on the cover-design is from an old manuscript, and reads: "In the name of God the Merciful and Compassionate." May Moslems soon learn of His mercy as revealed in the Christ.
The Moslem Christ
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