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Islamic and Jewish Views of Jesus

Image via Pixabay

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Although Judaism, Christianity and Islam all assert that they teach pure monotheism, only Christianity proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God; and a third of a Divine trinity (a trifold unity. Christians also believe Jesus was a Divine Messiah (Greek Christ) predicted centuries before by several Jewish prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Jews say the Messiah is always human.

In the Qur’an, Jesus is referred to in ninety three verses in fifteen surahs; and mentioned by name twenty-five times as “son of Mary” or “Messiah Jesus, son of Mary”.

Islam agrees with Christianity that Jesus was born to a virgin, was sinless, performed miracles, and was superior to other prophets. Both Islam and Judaism teach that Jesus was not in any way Divine. Jews think Jesus was only a Rabbi. Islam teaches Jesus was no more than a prophet.

Islam, denies the central teaching and belief of Christianity by denying Jesus’ divinity, crucifixion, and resurrection. Judaism denies divinity. Both religions deny original sin.

Jews and Muslims are both in fundamental agreement that neither Jesus, nor any other human, should be worshiped as a God or as any part of the one and only God.

But doesn’t the Qur’an state: “The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call the Messiah a son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (thus) they only imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say (pagans who believed their many Gods had many divine or semi-divine children). Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! (Qur’an 9:30)

English: Baptism of Christ

Baptism of Christ via Wikipedia

Now there are a half dozen different places in the Qur’an where the Christian claim that Jesus is the son of God is refuted and denied. For example, “Jesus son of Mary, did you ever say to people ‘worship me and my mother as Gods beside Allah?’ and he will answer, ‘How could I say what I had no right to say?’” 5:116

Also, “Jesus in the sight of Allah is like Adam” 3:59. and “The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger of Allah…do not say :Trinity. Stop saying that.” 4:171 Jews agree 100% with these ayahs.

And general statements like “those who say, ‘Allah has begotten a son.’ have no knowledge about it, nor did their forefathers; this is a monstrous word that comes from their mouths. They utter nothing but a lie.” 18:4,5 and 5:72-75, and 19:30. Jews also agree 100% with this.

Indeed, the verse that follows 9:30 specifically applies to Jesus: They take their priests (Ahbar) and their monks to be their Lords in derogation of Allah, and (take as their Lord) the Messiah the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him). (Qur’an 9:31)

Then how shall we understand the Qur’an’s statement: ‘The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah”?

Al-Tabari and Abdallah ibn Ubayd state that only one Jew (Pinhas) viewed Uzayr as the son of God. Ibn Abbas and Qurtubi say only four Jews, whose names they record, believed Uzayr was a son of God. Ibn Hazm said that just a small group of Jews in Yemen worshipped ʿUzayr as a son of God in some remote period.

Since the Jews of Yemen, who have lived there since the third or fourth century, do have an old tradition not to name their children Ezra, perhaps there was such a small, short lived, heretical sect that later generations wanted to forget.

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, wit...

Child Jesus with the virgin Mary, with the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) and God the Father, with child john the Baptist and saint Elizabeth on the right via Wikipedia

But most Christians to this day, proudly proclaim that they do indeed worship Jesus, the Son of God. Jews however, have always vehemently denied that they worship any partner or other God except the one and only God. So how can we understand the difference between the two seemingly parallel statements in ayah 9:30?

There is a Hadith in Sunan Al-tirmidhi which says that the Jews worship their Rabbi’s. One of the companions said that this is not true. Then Muhammad said that they accept what their Rabbi’s say over the word of God; so in this way they worship them. This Hadith provides an important clue.

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians actually do venerate and pray to both Jesus and his mother Mary; but only a small party of Jews figuratively venerate their rabbis as Muhammad says because, “they accept what their Rabbi’s say, over the word of God, so in this way they worship them”.

This Hadith is correct. Orthodox Jews believe in both a written Torah and an oral (unwritten) Torah which has been handed down for over 3,200 years, ever since Sinai. They often observe Judaism according to the rabbinic interpretation of this oral Torah.

For example, the Torah states that the new Jewish year starts: “On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a day for you to blow ram horns”. (Numbers 29:1)

This one day holy day, was turned into a two day holy day some 17-18 centuries ago, when most Jews lived outside the Land of Israel and could not be sure exactly when the lunar new year calendar began. A similar issue exists for Muslims in determining the start of Ramadan, which is why in some years two different days mark the beginning of Ramadan in various parts of the world.

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622 via Wikipedia

Thus, different circumstances produce different rituals and legal systems, but basic theology can differ only in unessential details. As the sage of Konya, Jalal al-Din al-Rumi says, “Ritual prayer might differ in every religion, but belief never changes.” (Fihi Mafih 49)

The Qur’an also states 4:171 “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ (Messiah) Jesus the son of Mary was (only) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (He is far) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth.”

The Qur’an credits Messiah Jesus as being a Word of God. What does this mean? The Qur’an also states 43:61: “And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but you (should) follow Me: this is a Straight Way.”

Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, son of David; because the Messianic Age of international peace clearly has not yet come about. But Jesus could have been the Messiah, son of Aaron or Joseph (Yusuf) who according to rabbinic teachings will be killed by the anti-Messianic forces (Romans) before the coming of the son of David Messiah, and the final judgement and resurrection.

Bernardino Luini – Holy Family with the Infant St John via Wikipedia

The belief in two different messiahs, one a moral political leader from the house of David (Davidson) and the other, a religious reformer from the house of Aaron (Aronson), and a special “end of days” prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah (Matthew 16:14) is also found in inter-testament literature.

A Dead Sea scroll states that the Qum’ran community must live according to the original discipline “until there shall come a prophet (Elijah) and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” (Manuel of Discipline 9:11). There is also a rabbinic belief in a messianic figure from the northern tribes; a son of Joseph, Mary’s husband, who is killed by Roman enemies.

Rabbi Maller’s website is: www.rabbimaller.com. An ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California, Rabbi Maller has published over 100 articles about Islamic and Jewish connections on Islamic and Jewish web sites. His newest book is ‘Judaism and Islam: Synergistic Monotheisms.’ He is also the author of a book on Jewish mysticism.

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Is Islam Anti-Judaism?

The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan (il...

The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan – illustration by Gustave Doré via Wikipedia

By Rabbi Allen S Maller

The Koran is the only book of revelation that includes within itself a theory of prophethood which includes other religions. There have always been (since the days of Adam) people inspired by Allah who urged their society to avoid destruction by turning away from its corrupt and unjust ways and  turning to the One God who created all humans. The Koran mentions 25 prophets by name (most of them known to non-Muslims too) and Muslims believe there were one hundred twenty four thousand others, whose names are now unknown.

Of the 25 mentioned by name in the Koran only five revealed books of sacred scripture, and only Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad revealed books of sacred scripture that are the bases for three religions that still flourish today.

According to the Koran, every nation in the world receives at least one prophet who speaks to it in its own language. However, one nation, the Children of Israel, has received a great many prophets. The Koran doesn’t explicitly tell us why so many prophets arose within the Children of Israel but a careful reading of the Koran reveals the answer.

This was what I learned from a profound and enlightening essay by Irfan Ahmad Kahn in a book entitled Jewish-Muslim Encounters edited by Charles Selengut (Paragon House 2001). The book is a collection of 11 papers given at a conference in Cordoba, Spain sponsored by the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace.

Almost all prophets, according to Kahn, are like Hud who was sent to Ad or Salih who was sent to Thamud to warn them of their impending destruction due to their corrupt and immoral ways and to call them to repentance. However, the prophets of the Children of Israel are somewhat different. First, Abraham is the only prophet we know of, whose two sons, Isma’il and Ishaq, are also prophets. Indeed, Abraham’s grandson Ya’qub and great grandson Yusuf are also prophets. Thus starting with Abraham Allah established a family dynasty of prophets.

English: English translation of hebrew version...

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North – Wikipedia

With Joseph and his brothers (the tribes) the extended family became the 12 tribes of Israel or as they are usually called the Children of Israel/Ya’qub. The Children of Israel were blessed with many prophets inviting them to stay firm in their faith to God; this is expressed in various places in the Qur’an “When death approached Ya’qub, he said to his sons, ‘Who will (you) worship after I am gone?’ They answered, ‘We will worship your God, the God of our forefathers, Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, the One God. Unto Him we will surrender ourselves.’” (2:132)

Second, when Moses/Musa is sent by Allah he comes not primarily to warn or rebuke the Children of Israel (his own people) but he is sent “to Pharaoh” ( 20:24, 51:38, 73:15 and 79:17), “to Pharaoh and his chiefs” (al-mala) (7:103, 10:75, 11:97, 23:46, and 43:46) “to Pharaoh and his people” (27:12). Musa is sent to Pharaoh to warn him of the destruction that will fall on Egypt if he doesn’t stop setting himself up as a God and doesn’t let the Children of Israel go free. Musa comes to rebuke Pharaoh and to rescue the Children of Israel.

Only when the Jewish nation is free from Egyptian bondage do they receive the Torah from God, by the hand of Moses without any mediation of an angel. This very enlightening essay by Irfan Ahmad Kahn stimulated me as a Reform Rabbi to realize that the evidence from the Qur’an shows that Islam praises the unique place of the Children of Israel among other nations as opposed to the accusations of some who blame the Qur’an as being antagonistic toward Jews.

From Abraham’s descendants comes a religious community based not just on belief but also on family and tribal ties. Converts to Judaism, who usually marry into the Jewish community, are like adopted children. This is why Judaism, although it welcomes converts from any people, has never engaged in a determined large scale missionary enterprise.

The principle that God makes a covenant with a whole people and not just with the faithful believers helps me understand a powerful verse in the Koran. At Sinai, when Allah gives the Jewish People the Torah, He makes a covenant with the Children of Israel. Allah raises the mountain above the whole people saying, “Hold firmly to what We have given you (the Torah) and remember what is in it.” (2:63) The whole nation’s fate stands under the shadow of mount Sinai, and this explains the miracle of all Israel agreeing to the covenant. This may be the reason why Musa is the only prophet whose book comes not from an angel but directly from Allah.

Isaiah via Wikipedia

Isaiah via Wikipedia

Individuals who hear a prophet may choose to believe or disbelieve, but when God Himself makes ‘an offer that you can’t refuse’, everyone is in for all generations to come, and then has to struggle with living up to the deal. The many prophets that address the Children of Israel are teachers and guides more than rebukers because the covenant between God and the Umma of  b’nai Israel is for all generations.

Thus the covenant is not just for the community of the faithful; but for the whole community of Israel, which includes some whose hearts are like rocks that spring forth streams, while others only yield water when split, and others sink for fear of Allah.(2:74) It is this last segment of the Children of Israel that Prophet Muhammad refers to when he rebukes the Children of Israel.

The Koran correctly understood doesn’t attack all of Israel. Every community, including the Muslim umma contains groups of faithful believers and a party who disbelieve. All the prophets of Israel opposed the same kind of religious hypocrites in their day, as Prophet Muhammad did in his day.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: www.rabbimaller.com

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