The person of Jesus Christ has a very central role in both Christianity and in Islam. Houlden (2005:404) writes that in Islam Jesus is a servant (‘abd) of God, a prophet (nabi), a sign (aya), an example (mathal), a witness (shahid), and a mercy (rahma) to all humanity. Jesus is eminent (wajih) and even brought near to God (min al-muqarrabin) and seen as one of the upright (min al-salihin) and he is blessed (Mubarak). The title “Al Masih” (Messiah) is used of Him in an honorific sense. Christianity can affirm all of the titles that are mentioned in the Quran and even more so the titles of Christ evident in the Christian scriptures. Samples (2017:41) mention a few of these titles, Jesus is Creator (Joh. 1:3); Sustainer (1 Cor. 8:6); Universal leader (Rev. 1:5); forgiver of Sins (Mark. 2:5-7); object of prayer (Joh. 14:14; object of worship (Heb. 1:6); recipient of Doxologies (Rom. 9:5); object of saving faith (Joh. 14:1; and the image of God (Col. 1:15). Jesus surely is central to both faiths and in this section, we will see that the central person of Jesus Christ affects the way we understand God in both Christianity and Islam.
Yahweh as revealed by Jesus Christ
The author of Hebrews (1:3) mentions that Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Thomas Schreiner (2015:56-57) says that the Son reflects God’s glory and represents the nature and character of the one true God. Christ is the definition of God and Christianity finds the true picture of their God in the expressed person of Jesus Christ. Baillie (1968:66) makes it emphatic when he writes that Christianity gives us a ‘Christlike God’. Jesus exhausts the very definition of God through the revelation of His being. Jesus answers Philip after he asked if Jesus could show them the Father, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Joh. 14:9). The first distinction between the revelation of God in the Quran and the Bible is that God is intimately known through Jesus Christ. John (17:3) says; “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There is no knowledge of God where there is no true revelation of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:17, Col. 2:2). The essential character of the God revealed in the bible is love and love seeks to be known (Joh.3:16, 1 Joh. 4:7-9, 16). MacArthur (1996:27) writes that the Christian God is not an unknown, impersonal force but He is a personal being with the full attributes of personality, volition, feeling, and intellect. God in Christianity is known through Jesus Christ and we are assured that He is qualitatively love which is essential to our understanding of His being (1 Joh. 4:7).
Bavinck (2003:41) remarks that if God does not reveal Himself to His creatures, essentially knowledge of Him is utterly unattainable. It is important to know that even though God is unique and incomprehensible there are communicable attributes like love, holiness, mercy, justice, goodness, and grace that is essentially qualitative of Him. He acts therefore consistent with His comprehensive attributes and the Christian can know their God because He is constant in His revealed nature (Bavinck 2003:203). Faith is therefore truly possible for the Christian conception of God because we can surely account for God’s consistent self-revelation as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ (Joh. 1:1-3, 14, and 18). Sire (1977:49) affirms that the Christian conception of God can be both knowable and unknowable without any form of contradiction because God is wholly transcendent but in Christ wholly immanent. He has nothing comparable to Him in this world, but He is also Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). The God of Scripture is revealed as transcendent but also personal, he is known by His Son. Islam cannot provide a cogent perspective of God because they do not have a true conception of the person of Jesus Christ. In the next section, we will see that Allah is essentially not identified with his attributes but seemingly above them. He is beyond reason, realm, and revelation.
Allah as revealed by Jesus Christ
The very identity of Christianity hinges on our understanding that
“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor.5:19).
Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, we can clearly assume the character and identity of God. Jesus is identified within the Quran to be virgin-born (Surah Al-Imran 3.45-47); sinless (Surah Ali’ Imran 3.36); the Messiah (Surah Maryam 4.157; 171) and the Word from Allah (Surah Al’ Imran 3.39, 45; Surah al-Nisa 4.171). Jesus emphatically denies to be the Son of God because Allah is a Father to no one (Surah al-Ikhlas 112:1-4; Surah Maryam 19:34-35). The Quran mentions the titles of Christ but fails to establish any parallel to the reason for these titles. The author of the Quran also seems to misunderstand the implication of these titles and have confused the application for these ideas. There is no succinct reason gives as in the Christian Scriptures as for the details of these ideas. We can fairly assume from our reading of the Quran that Jesus (Isa) is not the Jesus of the Christian Scriptures.
The author of the Quran further complicates matters by saying the Jesus is not God in the flesh (Surah Al-Nisa 4.172, Al-Ma’idah 5.73, and Surah Al- Tawbah 9.30) and God is not a triune God (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5.73). The problem is as Letham (2004:446) recognizes; only a Triune God can ultimately be love because love is an essential quality of the persons in union and communion. A solitary ‘One’ cannot love as an expressed part inherently of itself neither can it be qualitatively a person. Trinitarian theology hinges on the idea that God is completely love in Himself as a result of the three ‘persons’ sharing the one ‘being’ completely in an undivided loving communion. The Jesus of the Quran adds no revelation to Allah accept for the vocational calling to submit only to him (Surah Al-Zukhruf 43.63). Traditional Islam does not provide any means for Allah to have any knowable essence. Allah can impose on Himself a specific attribute but stands clearly distinct from it (Surah Al-An’am 6.12).
Shehadi (1964:37) comments that the end of the knowledge of the Muslim when looking at the God of the Quran stares an inability to know Him. Akhtar (1990:180-181) makes the point even more emphatic in that the revelation of the Quran, unlike the Gospel, does not comment or reveal anything about the essence of Allah. When the Muslim asserts that Allah is all-wise or all-loving, these descriptions are attributed to him without any bearing on the actual revelation of his person or ontology. Allah is therefore named and known from his will or effects, but not identified with them. Gilchrist (2003:55) sums it up by saying in conclusion we are left with a somewhat static concept of Allah. We cannot really predict what he will do, who he is, or predict how he will react because he is not bound by any knowable character or distinctiveness. The Quran does indeed provide itself with numerous problems because we read that Allah ‘’leads astray’ (Surah Al-Ra’d 13.27) as well as ‘guides’ those on the right path (Surah Ibrahim14.4). Allah can, therefore, act contradictory to His own revealed attributes because He is not bound by them.
When we look at the central perceptions of both Christian and Islamic theology, there seems to be a clear difference in perspective concerning the way Christian and Muslim articulate their faith. Christians view the full revelation of Jesus Christ as the foundational means to understand and know God. Muslims are not concerned with ‘knowing’ God but rather their submission to him. From a Christian perspective, we can see there is clear problems with a deity that is just known through his volition and pure will. Ultimately, we are not assured who the God of Islam is or even determine what he will do, as he is not what he does. The central purpose of the Christian Scriptures is to lead people to know their God, the central purpose of the Islamic text if for Muslims to submit to their God. In the Islamic conception, Jesus is therefore just an example of submission wherein the Christian conception he is the very definition of god and example of true Worship.
The main objective of this article was to establish if the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ in both the Christian and Islamic conception brings us to a broader understanding of who God is. I have depicted two perspectives that are central to this discussion. In the first section, we can see that the Christian viewpoint affirms that Jesus was more than just a good man, but He was a God-man. Even though we recognize that Jesus is sent by Yahweh, He revealed Himself completely as the identity of Yahweh. Jesus does not just do the will of the Father He acts as God and even takes the seat of Yahweh.
In the second section, I have shown that the Islamic conception of Christ shows over a period of time he was turned into a demi-god. Muslim scholars also deny any association with the One God as revealed in the Quran. I also showed that these scholars think that Jesus was the Son of God that was physically generated through a consort. They also claim that Jesus was a much-esteemed example but He was not God.
In the third section, I showed that the Biblical data clearly reveals Jesus to be both the culmination of the Messianic expectation and even more to be Divine. Christ clearly associates Himself with the divine Son of Man depicted in the Old Testament and relates that He is Yahweh. There is also a clear understanding that Jesus bared the titles God and the Word of God and He emphatically revealed the Father because He was of the same substance as the Father.
In the fourth section, I showed that the Christian conception of God cannot be detached from the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the full expression of God and only in Him, can we really know God and determine His character. God is tangible in Christ and even though He is beyond our comprehension, He is still engaged amongst His people. The Christian God is essentially love and love seeks to be known and to know. Jesus is the expression of that love in His acts and person. The Allah of the Quran is neither conceived nor present amongst his people. The person of Jesus Christ has no real bearing on how Allah is to be known. The only thing Jesus can add to our understanding of Allah in the Quran is to bring us unto submission to Him.
I believe that our perception of Christ will ultimately determine our conception of God and therefore it is of ultimate importance to make sure that Jesus Christ is depicted in such a manner that brings clarity to who He really is. As John noticed; “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (17:3).” May we endeavor to never forget this!
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