The Other Jesus
The Other Jesus
Newsweek, March 27, 2000
"Muslims recognize Jesus as a great prophet and revere him as Isa ibn Maryam--Jesus, the son of Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur'an. At a time when many Christians deny Jesus' birth to a virgin, Muslims find the story in the Qur'an and affirm that it is true. "It's a very strange situation, where Muslims are defending the miraculous birth of Jesus against Western deniers," says Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University. "Many Westerners also do not believe that Jesus ascended into heaven. Muslims do." Indeed, many Muslims see themselves as Christ's true followers.
What Muslims believe about Jesus comes from the Qur'an--not the New Testament, which they consider tainted by human error. They also draw upon their own oral traditions, called hadith, and on experts' commentaries. In these sources, Jesus is born of Mary under a palm tree by a direct act of God. From the cradle, the infant Jesus announces that he is God's prophet, though not God's son, since Allah is "above having a son" according to the Qur'an. Nonetheless, the Muslim Jesus enjoys unique spiritual prerogatives that other prophets, including Muhammad, lack. Only Jesus and his mother were born untouched by Satan. Even Muhammad had to be purified by angels before receiving prophethood. Again, in the Qur'an Muhammad is not presented as a miracle worker, but Jesus miraculously heals the blind, cures lepers and "brings forth the dead by [Allah's] leave." In this way Jesus manifests himself as the Messiah, or "the anointed one." Muslims are not supposed to pray to anyone but Allah. But in popular devotions many ask Jesus or Mary or John the Baptist for favors. (According to one recent estimate, visions of Jesus or Mary have occurred some 70 times in Muslim countries since 1985.)
There are, of course, important commonalities among these three religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). All three believe in one God who has revealed his will through sacred Scriptures. They all look to an endtimes when God's justice and power will triumph. And they all recognize the figure of Abraham as a father in faith. What is often overlooked, however, is another figure common to the three traditions: Jesus of Nazareth.
The Christ of the Gospels is certainly the best-known Jesus in the world. . . . But alongside this Jesus is another, the Jesus whom Muslims since Muhammad have regarded as a prophet and messenger of Allah. And after centuries of silence about Jesus, many Jews now find him a Jewish teacher and reformer they can accept on their own terms as "one of us.
Jesus has become a familiar, even beloved, figure to adherents of Asian religions as well. Among many contemporary Hindus, Jesus has come to be revered as a self-realized saint who reached the highest level of "God-consciousness." In recent years, Buddhists like the Dalai Lama have recognized in Jesus a figure of great compassion much like the Buddha. "I think as the world grows smaller, Jesus as a figure will grow larger," says Protestant theologian John Cobb, a veteran of interfaith dialogues.
Perhaps. Each of these traditions--Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism--is rich in its own right, and each has its own integrity. . . . it is important to recognize that non-Christian faiths have their own visions of the sacred and their own views of Jesus."
The Other Jesus, Newsweek, March 27, 2000
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