Responses to Islamic Awareness

Was 'Uzayr (Ezra) Called The Son Of God?

"Islamic Awareness" addresses a problematic statement in the Qur'an in this article, stating:

'Uzayr, who was exalted by a community of Jews, is identified as Ezra by Muslim commentators. The Qur'an says:

The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is the saying from their mouth; (In this) they are intimate; what the Unbelievers of the old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the truth. [Qur'an 9:30]

The Qur'an is clearly wrong in saying that the Jews believed that Ezra is the Son of God. I have read Jewish history and have also consulted several Rabbis concerning this question. The Jewish people DO NOT believe and have NEVER believed that Ezra is the Son of God. Dr. Saifullah first gives us a biography of Ezra and then attempts to save the Qur'an from its error.

Argument 1 : Heretics

Dr. Saifullah tells us:

The Islamic exegetes have mentioned that there existed a community of Jews in Yemen who considered Ezra as son of God. Hirschberg says in Encylopedia Judaica:

H Z Hirschberg proposed another assumption, based on the words of Ibn Hazm, namely, that the 'righteous who live in Yemen believed that 'Uzayr was indeed the son of Allah. According to other Muslim sources, there were some Yemenite Jews who had converted to Islam who believed that Ezra was the messiah. For Muhammad, Ezra, the apostle (!) of messiah, can be seen in the same light as the Christian saw Jesus, the messiah, the son of Allah.

It should be noted that Ibn Hazm lived during the late 9th and early 10th centuries in Cordoba, Spain. Therefore, his statements are pure conjecture, and are nothing more than an attempt to explain away this error in the Qur’an. Also, notice the words "proposed" and "assumption". There are no records from any Jewish community that believed Ezra was the Son of God!

The Encylopedia Judaica article cited by the “Islamic Awareness” team continues:

An allusion to the figure of Ezra as the apostle of the messiah is found in a tale which is widespread among the Jews of Yemen, according to which Ezra requested that they emigrate to Erez Israel, and because they did not, he cursed them. Yemenite Jews have therefore refrained from naming their children Ezra.

If the Yemenite Jews were/are so offended by Ezra's curse, that they refuse to name their sons Ezra, how could the Jews of Yemen have ever considered Ezra to be the Son of God?

Suppose, as in the case of the Qur'an's error that Mary was a member of the Trinity, there was a heretical sect of Jews who believed that Ezra was the Son of God. An all-knowing God would know that the vast majority of the Jews DO NOT believe this. Why is the majority opinion important in this case?

Notice that the Qur'an says "The Jews", and not "some Jews"! This wording indicates that this verse is talking about the mainstream majority of the Jewish community. Notice also that this passage says "The Christians" (referring to the majority of Christians) call Christ the Son of God in spite of the fact that there were heretical groups in Arabia who denied this belief.

The Hadith also makes a similar statement concerning the erroneous belief that the Jews believe that Ezra is the Son of God:

Then it will be said to the Jews, "What did you use to worship?' They will reply, 'We used to worship Ezra, the son of Allah.' It will be said to them, 'You are liars, for Allah has neither a wife nor a son. What do you want (now)?'

And, in another account:

Then the Jews will be called upon and it will be said to them, 'Who do you use to worship?' They will say, 'We used to worship Ezra, the son of Allah.' It will be said to them, 'You are liars, for Allah has never taken anyone as a wife or a son. What do you want now?'

Since God is perfect and cannot err, He did not produce this verse. So, the question is : how did Muhammad make this error? The first possibility is that Muhammad knew nothing of Jewish theology and beliefs and either thought this in his own mind or heard it from someone else who was equally uniformed. The second, and more likely explanation, is that Muhammad knew the facts (the Jews did not regard Ezra as the Son of God) but distorted the truth to fit his needs of the moment.

This entire Sura was "revealed" at Medina at a time when the Muslims had conquered much of Arabia and were preparing to attack neighboring lands. The Qur'an commentator Syed Maududi tells us that : "In this portion the Muslims have been urged to fight in the Way of Allah with the mushrik Arabs, the Jews and the Christians, who were duly warned of the consequences of their mischievous and inimical behavior. (Sura 9:13-37)"

Muhammad was condemning the Christians of "shirk" because they believed that Jesus is the Son of God. Apparently, Muhammad wanted to accuse the Jews of "shirk" so he threw the accusation, that the Jews believed that Ezra was the Son of God, in for good measure. In any event an all-knowing God would NEVER and could NEVER make such an error! Clearly, these are Muhammad's words which he uttered to serve his purposes.

Argument 2 : The Jews did not dispute Muhammad's claim

It is also interesting to note that when Mary was address as Sister of Aaron, the Christian from Najran wanted to clarify it. But when 'Uzayr was called the son of Allah, the Jews did not object at all!

First we note, that the entire discussion is based on Muslim sources only. These writers might just not have had the interest to report such protest. If writings by Jews from Medina had been preserved, our understanding of much of Muslim history might look very different. But even considering only the Muslim sources that are available, it is interesting that you ignore so much Islamic history! This Sura was "revealed" less that one year following the Battle of Hunain, after which most of Arabia came under Muhammad's rule. Only a few communities of the "old order" remained scattered over some far corners of the country. Most of the Arabian Jews, at this point in time, either fled, converted, or were dead. Therefore, they were in no position to dispute Muhammad's "revelation". In any event, this verse is in error and cannot be from an all-knowing God. Pointing to the existence of heretical groups, in this case as well as in the case of Mary being equal to God, strengthens the argument that the Qur'an is of human origins, and not from God. God NEVER makes a mistake and, as you say, God knows best.

How did Muhammad conclude that the Jews believed Ezra to be the Son of God?

It is not really possible for us to know for sure how Muhammad came up with the false conclusion that the Jews believed Ezra to be the Son of God. However, there are a few interesting possibilities.

One possibility is that Muhammad misinterpreted the apocryphal text of 4 Ezra [also know as 2 Esdras], chapter 2:42-48:

I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs.
And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly.
So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these?
He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms.
Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands?
So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord.
Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.

Another possible explanation is offered in the article Who is 'Uzair? :

We know that the Samaritans actually circulated a false statement that the Jews kept an image of a small man in the Holy of Holies and worshiped it. Is there any connection between this and the name 'Uzair which is a diminutive form? May the imputed image have developed into "little Ezra"?

Regardless of the source, Muhammad’s claim that the Jews regarded Ezra as the son of God is false.

Andrew Vargo

The above "Argument 2" was contained in an earlier edition of Saifullah's article at the time that AV formulated his response. Even though it is now removed, others might think similarly and there is no harm in keeping the answer. In fact, Saifullah and others have used this argument also in newsgroup discussions [*, *]. (JK)

Some remarks on translations

The authors have actually presented their readership with the intimately personal translation:

The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is the saying from their mouth; (In this) they are intimate; what the Unbelievers of the old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the truth. [Qur'an 9:30]

Though not the same, the above is clearly inspired by Yusuf Ali's rendering:

The Jews call 'Uzair a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. God's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!

Since these differences are in a part of this verse that is of no effect on our discussion, it shall suffice to have pointed them out. I expect they will correct this mistake quickly. This is just to indicate, I am reading their articles closely.

More seriously though, the Islamic Awareness team, M S M Saifullah and Mustafa Ahmed, decided to agree with Yusuf Ali in the first part of the verse by choosing one of several misleading translations of Sura 9:30 that seek to hide part of the embarrassing problem. In contrast to the above, the translation by Hilali & Khan, being the top choice on their own recommendation list, renders the relevant part of this verse:

And the Jews say: 'Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allâh,
and the Christians say: Messiah is the son of Allâh. ...

The parallelity of these two statements is important as the above link on (dishonest) translations explains. Since the issue has been dealt with on that page, there is no need to further dwell on this point here either.

Jochen Katz

Responses to Islamic Awareness
Answering Islam Home Page