Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Worship of Jesus in Light of Islamic Theology

Sam Shamoun

Muhammad is reported to have taught that invocation or supplication is the very essence of worship:

1342. Narrated An-Nu’man bin Bashir: The Prophet said, “Verily supplication is worship.” [Reported by al-Arba’a and At-Tirmidhi graded it Sahih (sound)].

Narrated Anas: (Allah’s Messenger said) “Supplication is the pith of worship.” [Reported by At-Tirmidhi with a full chain of narrators].

Narrated Abu Huraira: (Allah’s Messenger said) “Nothing is more honourable before Allah than supplication.” [At-Tirmidhi reported it with a full chain of narrators. Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim graded it Sahih (sound)]. (Bulugh Al-Maram: Attainment of the Objective according to Evidence of the Ordinances, Compiled by Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani with Brief Notes from the Book Subul-us-Salam, written by Muhammad bin Ismail As-Sanani [Dar-us-Salam Publications, Riyadh-Saudi Arabia, first edition 1996], 16. The Comprehensive Book, Chapter 6. Remembrance of Allah and supplications, pp. 540-541)

Since Islam allegedly teaches that all acts of worship must be directed to God alone this means that no one who is truly a Muslim will ever invoke anyone other than Allah.(1) And seeing that the Quran claims that Christ and his followers were all Muslims who called to the worship of Allah (cf. Q. 3:51; 5:72, 111), they would also have never supplicated any other person besides God. Moreover, if they didn’t believe that Jesus is God in the flesh then they would never dare to invoke him in their prayers since this would be idolatrous.

On the other hand, if Christ and his disciples did believe and proclaim that Jesus is God in the flesh then we wouldn’t be surprised to find prayers and invocations being offered to the risen Lord.

So what do the NT documents teach? Do they present Jesus and the Apostles as devout Muslims who directed all their religious devotion to God the Father? Or did Christ’s disciples offer praise and adoration along with supplications to their risen Lord and Savior? Let us turn to the Christian Scriptures to find out.

Unfortunately for the Muslims, the Holy Bible proclaims that the Lord Jesus actually told his disciples that they could address their invocations directly to him right after he returns to the Father in glory, assuring them that he would personally answer all their requests:  

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask ME anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:12-14

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was… for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We areBut now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” John 17:5, 8, 10-11, 13

This explains why the NT documents are filled with examples of people praying to the risen Lord.

For instance, the Apostle John reminded believers of their confidence in the fact that the Son of God hears and answers every invocation offered to him that is in line with his will:

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of THE SON OF GOD, so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence which we have before HIM, that, if we ask anything according to HIS will, HE hears us. And if we know that HE hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked FROM HIM.” 1 John 5:13-15

Another example would be the first Christian martyr Stephen, who made the following invocation just as he was about to die:

“They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59-60

Astonishingly, Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus in the same way that the OT saints would pray to Yahweh:

Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth.” Psalm 31:5

This blessed martyr even ascribed to Jesus the power to forgive sins which is a prerogative belonging to God alone, as both the Holy Bible and the Islamic sources affirm:

“And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone? Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”; or to say, “Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’” Mark 2:5-12

Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18-19 – cf. 1 Kings 8:39, 46-50; Psalm 130:3-4, 7-8; Isaiah 43:25; Daniel 9:9

Now contrast this with the following Islamic references:

And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring God to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins, – and who can forgive sins except God? – and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. S. 3:135 Y. Ali

1347. Narrated Shaddad bin Aus: Allah’s Messenger said, “The best manners of asking for forgiveness is to say: ‘O Allah, You are Rabb. There is no God but You. You have created me, and I am Your slave and hold to Your covenant and promises as I can. I seek refuge in You from the evil of what I have done. I acknowledge Your favour on me, and I acknowledge my sins. forgives [sic] me, BECAUSE NONE FORGIVES SINS EXCEPT YOU.” (Ibn Hagar, Bulugh Al-Maram, p. 542; capital and italic emphasis ours)

Paul was another true believer who, not only spoke to the risen Lord Jesus in prayer,

“‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on HIS NAME.’ It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony ABOUT ME. And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed IN YOU. And when the blood of YOUR witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Acts 22:16-21

But also supplicated him for help,

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘MY GRACE is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that THE POWER OF CHRIST may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

And thanked the Lord Jesus for saving and strengthening him:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:12-16

In fact, the first Christians were characterized by their practicing of calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, a practice which started among Jewish believers in Jerusalem:

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did TO YOUR SAINTS AT JERUSALEM; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on YOUR NAME.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument OF MINE, to bear MY NAME before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for MY NAME’S SAKE.’ So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, THE LORD JESUS, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, HAS SENT ME so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who IN JERUSALEM destroyed those who CALLED ON THIS NAME, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” Acts 9:10-17, 21

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” 1 Corinthians 1:2

To say that this is astonishing would be a wild understatement, especially when we keep in mind the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures proclaim that true believers are those who call upon the name of Yahweh God:

“Exalt the Lord our God And worship at His footstool; Holy is He. Moses and Aaron were among His priests, And Samuel was among those who called on His name; They called upon the Lord and He answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; They kept His testimonies And the statute that He gave them.” Psalm 99:5-7

“I love the Lord, because He hears My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live. The cords of death encompassed me And the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I beseech You, save my life!’… I shall lift up the cup of salvation And call upon the name of the Lord… To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, And call upon the name of the Lord.” Psalm 116:1-4, 13, 17 – cf. 145:18; Genesis 4:26; 12:8; 21:33; Deuteronomy 4:7; Jeremiah 29:13; Joel 2:32

The first believers would also call out to the Lord Jesus beseeching him to come again:

“If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him. Marana tha that is, Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” 1 Corinthians 16:22-23 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Revelation 22:20-21

Marana tha (Lord, come!) is an Aramaic expression, indicating that the practice of invoking the risen Lord to return started among the Aramaic speaking Jews and was then passed on to Greek speaking believers.

These specific texts further demonstrate that Christ’s disciples would petition the Lord Jesus to bestow his spiritual blessings upon all the faithful. Here are a few more examples:

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” Galatians 6:18

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Philippians 4:23

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:28

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” 2 Thessalonians 3:18

The first Christians would even do this by invoking the risen Lord along with God the Father:

“Grace to you and peace FROM God our Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:3

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.” Galatians 1:3-5

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:1-2

“Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” Ephesians 6:23-24

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:1-2

“Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians IN God our Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God the Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2

“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father AND Christ Jesus our Lord.” 1 Timothy 1:2

“To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father AND Christ Jesus our Lord.” 2 Timothy 1:2

“Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father AND FROM Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” 2 John 1:3

These supplications to God the Father and the Lord Jesus reveal the early Church’s belief in the essential coequality of the Father and the Son. It highlights the fact that the first Christians believed that the risen Lord was(is) omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, since these are the qualities which he must possess in order to be able to lavish his love, peace, blessing and grace upon all believers everywhere.

With the foregoing in perspective, it is quite evident that Jesus’ followers worshiped Christ as their risen Lord, and made their petitions and requests known to him through prayer. This proves that neither Christ nor his disciples were Muslims since the practice of calling upon and invoking the name of the risen Lord by the first Christian communities expressly violates Islam’s denial that Jesus is God in the flesh, and therefore unworthy of such worship.

So much for the Muslim claim that Jesus and his disciples were Muslims who preached the same Islamic message that Muhammad did.

Unless noted otherwise, all scriptural quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).



(1) Ironically, despite his claim that invocation is worship Muhammad actually allowed, and even taught, his followers to invoke him directly along with Allah so as to make sure that they get what they ask for:

3578. ‘Uthman bin Hunaif narrated that a blind man came to the Prophet and said to him: “Supplicate to Allah to heal me.” He said: “If you wish, I will supplicate for you, and if you wish, you can be patient, for that is better for you.” He said: “Then supplicate to him.” He said: “So he ordered him to perform Wudu’ and to make his Wudu’ complete, and to supplicate with this supplication: ‘O Allah, I ask You and turn towards You by Your Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Mercy. Indeed, I have turned to my Lord, BY MEANS OF YOU, concerning this need of mine, so that it can be resolved, So Allah so accept HIS INTERCESSION for me (Allahumma Inni As’aluka WA MUHAMMADIN Nabi-Ir-Rahmati Tawajjahtu Bika Ila Rabbi Fi Hajati Hadhihi Lituqda Li, Allahumma Fashaffi‘hu Fiya).’” (SAHIH) 

[He said]: This Hadith is Hasan SAHIH Gharib, we do not know of it except through this route, as a narration of Abu Ja‘far, and he is someone other than Al-Khatmi, [and Uthman bin Hunaif is the brother of Sahl bin Hunaif] (English Translation of Jami‘ At-Tirmidhi: Compiled by Imam Hafiz Abu ‘Eisa Mohammad Ibn ‘Eisa At-Tirmidhi, translated by Abu Khaliyl (USA), ahadith edited and referenced by Hafiz Tahir Zubair ‘Ali Za’i [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, First Edition: November 2007], Volume 6, From Hadith No. 3291 to 3956, Various Narrations On The Chapters Of Supplications, Chapter 118, p. 283; capital and underline emphasis ours)

And here is a slightly different version of this same report: 

1385. It was narrated from ‘Uthman bin Hunaif that a blind man came to the Prophet and said to him: “Pray to Allah to heal me.” He said: “If you wish to store your reward for the Hereafter, that is better, or if you wish, I will supplicate for you.” He said: “Supplicate.” He said: “So he told him to perform ablution and do it well, and to pray two Rak’ah, and to say this supplication: “Allahumma inni as’aluka wa atawajjahu ilaika BI-MUHAMMADIN NABIYYIR-RAHMA.YA MUHAMMADU inni qad tawajjahtu bika ila rabbi fi hajati hadhihi Lituqda. Allahumma fashaffi‘hu fiya (O Allah, I ask of You and I turn my face towards You BY VIRTUE OF THE INTERCESSION OF MUHAMMAD THE PROPHET OF MERCY. O MUHAMMAD, I have turned to my Lord BY VIRTUE OF YOUR INTERCESSION concerning this need of mine, so that it may be met. O Allah, accept HIS INTERCESSION concerning me)”. (SAHIH) (English Translation of Sunan Ibn Majah: Compiled by Imam Muhammad Bin Yazeed Ibn Majah Al-Qazwini, Ahadith edited and referenced by Hafiz Abu Tahir Zubair 'Ali Za'i, translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Canada), final review by Abu Khaliyl (USA) [Darussalam Publications and Distributors, First Edition: June 2007], Volume 2,  From Hadith no. 803 to 1782, 5. The Chapters Of Establishing The Prayer And The Sunnah Regarding Them, Chapter 189. What Was Narrated Concerning Prayer At Times Of Need, pp. 329-330; capital and underline emphasis ours)

This poses a serious problem since the Quran and ahadith testify that Muhammad was nothing more than an imperfect, fallible mortal who was in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation:

“"Or you have a house of adornable materials (like silver and pure gold, etc.), or you ascend up into the sky, and even then we will put no faith in your ascension until you bring down for us a Book that we would read." Say (O Muhammad): "Glorified (and Exalted) be my Lord (Allah) above all that evil they (polytheists) associate with Him! Am I anything but a man, sent as a Messenger?"” S. 17:93 Hilali-Khan

Say: I am only a mortal like you. My Lord inspireth in me that your God is only One God. And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord. S. 18:110 Pickthall

Verily, you (O Muhammad) will die and verily, they (too) will die. Then, on the Day of Resurrection, you will be disputing before your Lord. S. 39:30-31 Hilali-Khan

Say (O Muhammad):"I am not a new thing among the Messengers (of Allah) (i.e. I am not the first Messenger) nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner." S. 46:9 Hilali-Khan

1354. Narrated Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari: The Prophet used to supplicate: “O Allah, forgive me my sin, my ignorance, my extravagance in my affairs, and what You know better than I do. O Allah, forgive me my serious and my frivolous sins, my unintentional and my intentional sins, FOR I AM GUILTY OF ALL THAT. O Allah, forgive me my former and my latter sins, what I have kept secret and what I have done openly, and what You know better than I do. You are the Advancer, You are the Delayer, and You are the Omnipotent.” [Agreed Upon]. (Ibn Hajar, Bulugh Al-Maram, p. 545; capital and underline emphasis ours)

As such, Muhammad was guilty of causing his followers to commit idolatry by taking him as an object of worship, which is the unforgiveable sin of shirk (cf. Q. 2:22; 4:48, 116; 6:83-88; 39:65). Muhammad, therefore, stands condemned for allowing others to associate him, an imperfect creature, with his own deity in his exclusive worship.

For more on this issue please consult our series of articles concerning the deification of Muhammad.