Copyright 1996 by M. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Jesus The Light And The Fragrance Of God

by M. Anderson

Part 2: The Christ Of History

    Chapter 5: His Character And Powers

In Part One we looked at Jesus the Christ who will appear in the future. In this Part we look at Jesus the Christ who appeared as a historical figure. We look at him through the pages of the Qur'an, some of its commentaries and some Sufi writings.

The Virgin Birth of Jesus

The Qur'an clearly teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. It describes the occurrence thus:

... the angels said, 'Mary, God gives thee good tidings of a Word from Him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary. High honoured shall he be in this world and the next, near stationed to God....
'Lord!' said Mary, 'How shall I have a son, seeing no mortal has touched me?'
'Even so,' God said, 'God creates what He will. When He decrees a thing He does but say to it "Be" and it is.' [1]

We can see from this passage that Mary had not been touched by a man and that the birth of Jesus was the result of God's decree. The unique entrance of Jesus into history was not a mere accident of nature, but an intended miracle, for, as the Qur'an states:

God knows what every female bears, and the wombs shrinking and swelling; everything with Him has its measure.[2]

God's knowledge of and purpose in the details of his creation are further emphasised by the following words:

We created not the heavens and the earth, and whatsoever between them is, as playing. [3]

God does not do things frivolously, but everything He does is done by His divine wisdom and for a definite purpose. So, while God has decreed that every human being should be born as a result of the joining together of a man and woman, He also decreed that Jesus be born of Mary, who was not touched by a man. This is accepted by Muslim scholars without dispute. The uniqueness of such an entrance was well expressed in the following statement by Shabestari:

Indubitably no man is born fatherless; only one, Jesus, exists in the world. [4]

The Perfection Of The Christ

Jesus, the sinless one

One of the unique characteristics of Jesus is that he was sinless. While other people or even prophets have at one time or another erred in thought and in deed, only Jesus remained pure.

Throughout the Qur'an there is ample evidence that Abraham, Moses, David and Mohammad all sinned. Abraham found himself in need of forgiveness even though he was in such a close relationship with God that the Qur'an speaks of him disputing with God on one occasion, as the following verse states:

He was disputing with Us concerning the people of Lot. [5]

In spite of such friendship with God, Abraham still expressed a need for forgiveness when he said of God:

Who created me, and Himself guides me, ... who makes me to die, then gives me life, and who I am eager shall forgive me my offence on the day of judgement ... [6]

Moses, whom God favoured by speaking to him directly [7], also found himself in need of forgiveness after he had struck and killed an Egyptian, saying:

This is of Satan's doing ... My Lord, I have wronged myself. Forgive me! [8]

David likewise 'sought forgiveness of his Lord, and fell down, bowing, and he repented'. [9] Thus all three, Abraham, Moses and David, knew they needed God's forgiveness.

Mohammad too found his sins, before prophethood, too heavy to bear. This is attested to by the Qur'an:

Did We not expand thy breast for thee and lift from thee thy burden, the burden that weighed down thy back? [10]

The burden that weighed down Mohammad's back was not a physical one, but spiritual. The word (Wezr) which is translated 'burden' in the above verse is a special word that means sins in the language of the Qur'an. For example Q.16:25 states 'that they may bear their loads (awzar, plural of wezr) complete on the day of resurrection (see also Q.6:31, 6:164, 17:15, 20:100, 35:18). While the Qur'an states previous sins in the life of Mohammad as a fact, it also speaks of 'latter' sins:

Surely We have given thee a manifest victory, that God may forgive thee thy former and thy latter sins. [11]

This is also confirmed by the Hadith that says Mohammad used to 'ask forgiveness and turn to Allah in repentance more than seventy times a day' [12] Bukhari recorded the following prayer by Mohammad:

O Allah! forgive my mistakes and my ignorance and my exceeding the limits (boundaries) of righteousness in my deeds; and forgive whatever you know better than I. O Allah! forgive the wrong I have done jokingly or seriously, and forgive my accidental and intentional errors, all that is present in me. [13]

Indeed he continued to ask for forgiveness until the last breath. [14]

The sinfulness of all human beings is further attested by the Hadith that says:

Satan circulates in the human mind as blood circulates in it. [15]

One person, to whom neither the Qur'an nor the Hadith ascribe sin, is Jesus. He never sinned. He never made a mistake. He never exceeded God's boundaries wilfully or in ignorance, intentionally or accidentally, jokingly or seriously. Jesus is described in the Qur'an 19:19 as being 'a boy most pure (zakeyia)' [16], even before birth. Baidawi explains that 'a boy most pure' means 'pure from sins'. In the whole of the Qur'an no one except Jesus is described as being 'most pure' [17].

The Hadith also speaks of Jesus as being sinless. Bukhari, for example, relates the following Hadith:

When any human being is born [lit. all the children of Adam as they are born], Satan touches [lit. thrusts] him at both sides of the body with his two fingers, except Jesus, the son of Mary, whom Satan tried to touch but failed. [18]

The meaning of Satan's 'touches or thrusts', Baidawi explains, is 'to try to entice every newborn so that the child can be influenced by him'. [19] Satan, the arch-enemy of God, thus fights an unfair battle. He seeks to entice people from the very first moments of their life, and only one person overcame him in this first round. This person was Jesus. Suyuti quotes Ibn 'Abbas, who says:

Amongst those who were born, only Jesus, son of Mary, was untouched by Satan and not overpowered by him. [20]

Why was Jesus singled out for this matchless distinction? Some say that it was because he was anointed:

He was called the Christ because he was anointed with that which made him pure from sins, or because he was anointed by the wing of the angel Gabriel and was protected from the touch of Satan, or Christ meaning the righteous. [21]

Others see this distinction as an intrinsic property of the spirit of Jesus. Razi says:

His [Jesus'] spirit was holy, high, heavenly; shining intensely with Divine lights, and of great proximity to the spirits of the angels. [22]

Thus Jesus was like the angels who did not need to ask for forgiveness for themselves. He was sinless.

Jesus' title of 'Spirit of God' also signifies purity. Some scholars say that he was called the `Spirit of God' because:

It is the custom of men that if they describe something that is extremely pure and clean, they call it spirit. [23]

The measure of how pure in fact Jesus was is this: God, the Most High, Himself called Jesus the 'Spirit from God'. While every other human being has been enticed away from obedience to God and fear of Him at some point in their life, Jesus remained perfectly pure, untouched by Satan.

The fear of God is the yardstick by which a person's standing in the sight of God is measured, as the following Qur'anic verse states:

Surely the most noble among you in the sight of God is the most God-fearing of you. [24]

It is the fear of God rather than worldly signs of beauty, wealth and power that gives a person true status before God. It is also what determines the status of the prophets and angels. The angels are superior to the prophets because they are:

... those that bear the Throne, and those round about it proclaim the praise of their Lord, and believe in Him, and they ask forgiveness for those who believe. (Q. 23:79).

Razi comments:

Many scholars reasoned from these verses [25] that the angels are superior to humans. They said that the angels have no need to ask for forgiveness for themselves, for if they were in need of forgiveness, they would have begun by asking for forgiveness for themselves, according to the words of the prophet: 'Begin by yourself'. Also, God said to Mohammad: '... ask forgiveness for thy sin, and for the believers, men and women' (Q. 47:19). So He commanded Mohammad to ask forgiveness first for himself and then to ask for others afterwards ... And since God did not mention that the angels did not ask for forgiveness for themselves, we can conclude that they have no need for forgiveness. The prophets were in need of forgiveness and that is evident from God's word to Mohammad. If that is established then it becomes clear that the angels are superior to humans. [26]

In the absence of their need for forgiveness it appears that the angels are more perfect in their obedience and fear of God, and thus more noble and of higher rank than human beings. Unlike human beings, they do not need forgiveness, for they are sinless. Jesus is compared to the angels and is therefore likewise pure.

Jesus, The Blessed One

As well as being sinless, Jesus was also said to be blessed. He was not only perfect in a passive way, but he was also perfect in an active way. The Qur'an states that Jesus said:

Blessed He has made me wherever I may be. [27]

According to this verse, Jesus was blessed unconditionally and continuously. If he had disobeyed God by thought, word or deed at any time, then he could not say 'Blessed He has made me wherever I may be'.

The word 'blessed', explains Baidawi, means 'possessing much profit for others'. In other words, Jesus lived not for himself, but he lived for others. The exact meaning of 'profit for others' is explained by Razi, who says of Jesus:

By him God brought people to life out of deception, just as man lives by the spirit. [28]

Jesus was not content only to be free from sin, but he also actively sought to set people free from the deception of Satan, the arch-enemy of God. So vital was his endeavour that Razi likens him to the life the spirit gives to the body. Baidawi similarly describes Jesus' endeavours when he says that Jesus 'used to raise dead bodies and dead hearts to life'. [29]

Jesus did not live only to guard his personal holiness and thus to enjoy the full life that is in harmony with the will of God. He also lived to impart this life to others. Thus Jesus' perfection was not merely passive, that is, without sin; it was also active, that is, a source of blessings.

In the whole of the Qur'an no person is described as 'blessed' except Jesus. It is true that the Qur'an itself is described as a blessed book. [30] The word is also used of the first holy house in Mecca which was built by the angels before the creation of Adam, [31] Lilat al-Qadr (the night during which the Qur'an was revealed). [32] And the olive tree, the light of which is likened to the light of God. [33] Thus Jesus is placed alongside the Qur'an, the first holy house built in Mecca, Lilat al-Qadr and the blessed olive tree. He is, however, the only person described in the Qur'an as blessed.

Jesus is therefore both sinless and blessed. Satan was not able to touch Jesus, who remained perfect all of his life. Furthermore, Jesus' destruction of the works of the Devil was so complete that he was described as the life-giving spirit that imparts life to those who were dead because of the deceptions of Satan. The perfection of Jesus is both passive and active. In this respect his character is matchless.

The Man Of The Clear Signs

If the sinlessness and blessedness of Jesus makes him unique among the prophets, the clear signs that God invested in him makes him absolutely unique.

His ability to know the unseen

The knowledge of the unseen is a divine quality. As stated in the Qur'an:

With Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them but He. [34]

Mohammad himself declared in the Qur'an that he does not possess the knowledge of the unseen when he said:

Had I knowledge of the unseen I would have acquired much good, and evil would not have touched me. [35]

And again,

I do not say to you, 'I possess the treasuries of God'; and I know not the unseen. [36]

Therefore, according to the Qur'an, the knowledge of the unseen is denied to all people.God alone has the power to grant this knowledge to whom He chooses. 'God chooses out of His Messengers to whom He will' [37] to reveal it.

God, the Qur'an informs us, chose to reveal the unseen to Jesus. He willed that Jesus should be the person chosen out of all His Messengers, to whom even the small details of people's lives would be revealed, including 'what things [they] eat, and what [they] treasure up in [their] houses'. [38]

Those who have commented on the above verse mention many stories about Jesus' knowledge of the unseen. This power that belonged only to God was granted to Jesus from among all the other prophets. This is another characteristic which adds to the uniqueness of the Christ.

His ability to perform miracles

Jesus' mission on Earth was to restore people to God. As pointed out earlier, he was given the unique power to free people from Satan's deception. He also was given the power to heal people from their bodily ailments as a proof that he was sent by God.

Jesus' power to destroy the works of Satan was further demonstrated when he healed people from their sicknesses. His spiritual healing was evidenced by the physical healing - that is, his words were matched by his deeds.

The Qur'an says that the miracles performed by Jesus were "the clear signs" of God's power. These clear signs were not granted to all the prophets. The Qur'an states:

And those Messengers, some We have preferred above others, ... And we gave Jesus Son of Mary the clear signs. [39]

Commenting on this verse, Baidawi writes:

God made Jesus' miracles the evidence of his preferment [above other prophets] because they are clear signs and great miracles. Together those miracles were not performed by anyone else. [40]

These special miracles showed not only God's preference for Jesus over the other prophets but also the measure of that preference. God gave some prophets the ability to perform some miracles, but the share of the great miracles granted to Jesus surpassed the share allowed to the other prophets. Thus we can see that by performing the physical miracles, Jesus was set apart. This also proved his power to perform miracles in the spiritual realm. His unsurpassed ability to perform both physical and spiritual miracles points to his uniqueness.

His ability to create

While Jesus' power to perform miracles was definitely unsurpassed, a measure of this power was also given to some other prophets. His power to create, however, was granted only to him. According to the Qur'an that power was not possessed by any other prophet at all.

The Qur'an challenges the unbelievers by saying:

O men, a similitude is struck; so give your ear to it. Surely those upon whom you call, apart from God, shall never create a fly, though they band together to do it; and if a fly should rob them of aught, they would never rescue it from him. Feeble indeed alike are the seeker and the sought. [41]

However, according to the Qur'an, Jesus was the only person who was singled out by God to create a living thing out of clay. The Qur'an ascribes the following words to Jesus:

... I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I will create for you out of clay as the likeness of a bird; then I will breath into it, and it will be a bird, by the leave of God. [42]

Thus the Qur'an makes clear that Jesus had the power to create out of clay, which some suggest is the same as the turning of Moses staff into a snake. However, a careful reading of the Qur'anic text proves that this is not the case. In the Qur'an God asked Moses:

'What is that, Moses, thou hast in thy right hand?'
'Why, it is my staff,' said Moses. ...
Said He, 'Cast it down, Moses!' and he cast it down, and behold it was a serpent sliding. [43]

When he saw the quivering snake which had been transformed from the staff, Moses turned and ran away in fear. But God called him saying: 'Moses fear not' [44]

In the above incident, God performed the miracle to convince Moses of His power. When Moses threw down the staff he did not expect it to turn into a snake; when it did so, he ran away in fear. Clearly God, not Moses, initiated the transformation.

The same miracle was also performed in front of Pharaoh when God 'revealed to Moses, 'Cast thy staff'. And lo, it forthwith swallowed up their lying invention.' [45]

In this incident Moses did no more than he had done in the previous incident, for it was God who told him to cast the staff down, and he merely obeyed. The initiative was God's, not Moses'. Indeed that was characteristic of how God worked miracles through Moses, as can be seen in numerous other incidents. For example when the children of Israel were thirsty, it was God who told Moses to strike the rock, [46] and when they went out of Egypt, before crossing the sea, it was God who told him to strike the sea with his staff '... and it clave, and each part was as a mighty mount.' [47] In every one of these incidents, God was the initiator. Moses was not the one who controlled the time and the manner in which the miracle was performed - it was God.

When Jesus performed acts of creation, however, God allowed him the initiative of performing the miracles and of imparting life. The Qur'anic text describes the activities of Jesus in the following terms:

I will create for you out of clay ... I will breath into it, and it will be a bird, by the leave of God. I will also heal the blind and the leper, and bring to life the dead, by the leave of God. [48]

Jesus was not told by God to raise a man from the dead or to heal a blind person as Moses was. Instead, God distinguished Jesus by giving him the initiative. Moses did not breath into the staff to turn it into a living snake, but Jesus breathed into the clay and thus created a living thing from it.

Ibn 'Arabi, the great Sufi writer, in answer to the question, 'By what has God distinguished every messenger?', said that:

God distinguished Adam by the knowledge of the Divine Names, and distinguished Moses by speaking (to him) and by the Torah, and distinguished the Prophet of God [Mohammad] by what he mentioned of himself that 'he was given the profundity of speech'. God distinguished Jesus by being spirit, and added the blowing (of breath) into what he created out of clay to him [that is, to Jesus], and God did not add the power of life-giving by blowing to anyone else except Jesus, apart from the Most High Himself. [49]

Creation of living things is not even remotely attributed to any other prophet, but belongs solely to the Almighty God and was given only to Jesus.

His ability to raise the dead

The Qur'an states clearly that Jesus raised people from the dead:

I will ... bring to life the dead, by the leave of God. ... Surely in that is a sign for you if you are believers. [50]

The Hadith also supports this fact by mentioning the names of those raised from the dead by Jesus even after their bodies had decomposed. The commentators agree that the power to raise the dead is one of God's omnipotent powers; it belongs to Him alone. The Qur'an thus states:

He says, who shall quicken the bones when they are decayed? Say: `He shall quicken them, who originated them the first time.' [51]

Since God is the originator or creator of life, He alone can make the dead live again. Suyuti in his commentary relates two accounts of the power of Isa to raise the dead, with specific emphasis on the voice of Isa. In the first case, Isa raises Sam, the son of Noah:

The children of Israel came to Isa asking Him saying: 'Sam the son of Noah is buried here; not very far. Call God to raise him.' Isa then called him with a shout, and Sam came out of the grave but with grey hair. The people exclaimed: 'He died when he was a young man, what is this white hair?' Sam replied: 'When I heard the voice of Isa, I thought it the 'single cry', (or the single shout).' [52]

In the second case Isa raises His brother:

... when Isa was shown the grave He called him out with a shout, his brother came out with grey hair ... Isa asked him: 'What happened to you?' He replied: 'I heard your voice and I thought it to be the "single shout".' [53]

From these two stories we can see that the voice of Isa was understood to be the shout that would raise the dead in the last day. The people who were raised understood it thus, to the extent that their hair turned grey. The reference here is to the Qur'an, 73:17:

'If therefore you disbelieve, how will you guard yourselves against a day that shall make the children grey-headed?'

And the Qur'an, 38:15 states:

'These are only waiting for a single cry (or a single shout), to which there is no delay.'

Ibn 'Araby, in Fusus Al-Hikam, said of the raising of the dead by Jesus:

It was said of him, when he raised the dead, that it was him and it was not him [that is, that the raising was due to the power of God] and the spectators were amazed at a human person who raises the dead, whereas it is a Divine property to raise the dead by utterance ... the spectator remains confused since he sees the Divine action carried out by one in human form [that is Jesus]. [54]

Qashani, commenting on Ibn 'Araby's words, said:

The confusion resulted ... as people saw a human being without a shadow of a doubt, and yet out of him proceeds a Divine property; that is the raising of the dead, by utterance and invoking God's blessing. For he [Jesus] used to say [to the dead person], 'Rise! Come alive by God's permission or by God's Name, or by God,' and [the dead person] would rise and answer him back, saying, 'Here I am, at your service'. [55]

In the Hadith quoted by Suyuti, Jesus raised Sam and his brother only by an utterance, not by prayer. He called them from the realm of the dead back to life, as you call someone from one room to come into another.

Jesus had authority over death. The Qur'an does not mention that any other prophet has raised people from the dead, with or without God's leave.

1. The Qur'an, 3:45-47. Arthur J. Arberry (trans), The Koran, World's Classics.
2. The Qur'an, 13: 8.
3. The Qur'an, 21:16.
4. Javad Nurbakhash, Jesus in the Eyes of the Sufis, Khaniqahi-Nimatullahi Publications, London, 1983, p. 19.
5. The Qur'an, 11:74.
6. The Qur'an, 26:78-82.
7. The Qur'an, 4:163.
8. The Qur'an 28:16.
9. The Qur'an, 38:24.
10. The Qur'an, 94:1-3.
11. The Qur'an, 48:2. See also Q. 40:55, 4:106, 47:19. The Qur'an recorded some of these sins. See Q. 9:43 and Q. 80:1.
12. Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. VIII, Hadith No. 319. The following is a sample of how Mohammad used to ask for forgiveness: O Allah! wash away my sins with the water of snow and hail, and cleanse my heart from all the sins as a white garment is cleansed from the filth, and let there be a long distance between me and my sins, as You made East and West far from each other. Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. VIII, Hadith No. 379.
13. Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. VIII, Hadith No. 408.
14. Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. V, Hadith No. 715: 'O Allah! Forgive me, and bestow Your mercy on me.'
15. Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. IV, Hadith No. 501.
16. The Qur'an 19:18.
17. "Zakeyia" also appears in Q. 18:74 to describe a little boy, but in a different context. It has been translated into English by Arthur J. Arberry as 'innocent', and Galalan interprets it as 'pure from murdering another soul'.
18. Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. IV, Hadith No. 506.
19. Baidawi, commenting on Q. 3:36.
20. Suyuti, commenting on Q. 3:36.
21. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 3:45
22. Razi commenting on Q. 4:157.
23. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 4:171.
24. The Qur'an. 49:13.
25. The Qur'an, 40:7-9: 'Those who bear the Throne, and those round about it proclaim the praise of their Lord, and believe in Him, and they ask forgiveness for those who believe ...'
26. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 23:7.
27. The Qur'an, 19:31.
28. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 3:39.
29. Baidawi, commenting on Q. 4:170.
30. The Qur'an, 6:92, 155.
31. The Qur'an, 3:96.
32. The Qur'an, 44:3.
33. The Qur'an, 24:35.
34. The Qur'an, 6:59.
35. The Qur'an, 7:188.
36. The Qur'an, 6:50. (See also Q. 11:31.)
37. The Qur'an, 3:179.
38. The Qur'an, 3:49.
39. The Qur'an, 2:252, 253.
40. Baidawi, commenting on Q. 2:253.
41. The Qur'an, 22: 73.
42. The Qur'an, 3:49. (See also Q. 5:110.)
43. The Qur'an, 20:17-20.
44. The Qur'an, 27:10.
45. The Qur'an, 7:117.
46. The Qur'an, 2:60.
47. The Qur'an, 26:63.
48. The Qur'an, 26: 63.
49. At-Tirimizi, Kitab Khatm al-Awliya, (Othman I. Yahya, editor), Imperial Catholique, Beirut, 1965, p. 169 (quoted from al- Fotuhat al-Makkiah, 2:51,52).
50. The Qur'an, 3:48, 49; see also Q. 5:110.
51. The Qur'an, 36:78, 79.
52. Suyuti, Commenting on Q. 3:48, 49.
53. Suyuti, Commenting on Q. 3:48, 49.
54. Qashani, quoting Ibn 'Arabi while commenting on Fusus al-Hikam, p. 176.
55. Qashani, commenting on Fusus al-Hikam, P. 176.

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