"The contents and the arrangement of the Koran speak forcibly for its authenticity. All the fragments that could possibly be obtained have with artless simplicity been joined together. The patchwork bears no marks of a designing genius or a moulding hand. It testifies to the faith and reverence of the compilers, and proves that they dared no more than simply collect the sacred fragments and place them in juxtaposition. Hence the interminable repetitions; the palling reiteration of the same ideas, truths, and doctrines; hence, scriptural stories and Arab legends, told over and over again with little verbal variation; hence the pervading want of connection, and the startling chasms between adjacent passages." — Muir's Life of Mahomet, p. 557

IN attempting to give an account of the life of Jesus Christ in the very words of the Koran, there are three difficulties that meet us at the outset.

The first relates to the general piecemeal character of the Koran as a book. It has no chronological order nor logical sequence. Its verses were revealed at different times and in different places, and throw together in confusion, laws and legends, facts and fancies, prayers and imprecations. Very few Bible characters are mentioned in the earliest group of the Surahs, and although there are distinctively Christian features in some of the early revelations, Jesus Himself is not mentioned.[1]

A more serious difficulty is that the Koran statements about the Lord Jesus Christ are not free from contradiction, any more than some of its other teaching. Some passages speak of Him as a mere man and a prophet; others, as we have seen, give him such titles as are given to no other human being. Especially in relation to His death, the statements are contradictory, and cannot be reconciled without violence to the text.

A third difficulty relates to the chronological order of the Surahs. If it were our purpose to show the development of Mohammed's ideas in regard to Jesus Christ, it would be important to begin with the earliest mention of Jesus Christ in the Koran, and follow out this teaching to the final Surahs. But there is no agreement as regards the chronological order of the various chapters in the Koran.[2] Moslems themselves acknowledge that the present order of the Surahs is not at all chronological, and yet they admit the importance of ascertaining the time when and the place where each Surah was revealed.

As our purpose is not to trace the growth of this idea in the mind of Mohammed, but to collect all the passages on which the common opinion in regard to Jesus Christ, among Moslems, rests, we need not trouble about the chronology of the Surahs, but, grouping them as far as possible in the order of the Gospel history, give herewith a life of Jesus Christ in the words of the Koran only.

His Annunciation[3]

Surah 3:37-43. And when the angels said, "O Mary! verily, God has chosen thee and has purified thee, and has chosen thee above the women of the world. O Mary! be devout unto thy Lord, and adore and bow down with those who bow. That is (one) of the declarations of the unseen world which we reveal to thee, though thou wert not by them when they threw their lots which of them should take care of Mary, nor were ye by them when they did dispute." When the angel said, "O Mary! verily, God gives thee the glad tidings of a Word from Him; his name shall be the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, regarded in this world and the next and of those whose place is nigh to God. And he shall speak to people in his cradle, and when grown up, and shall be among the righteous." She said, "Lord! how can I have a son when man hath not yet touched me?" He said, "Thus God creates what He pleaseth. When He decrees a matter He only says 'BE,' and it is; and He will teach him the Book, and wisdom, and the law, and the gospel, and he shall be a prophet to the children of Israel."

Surah 19:16-21. And mention, in the Book, Mary; when she retired from her family into an eastern place; and she took a veil (to screen herself) from them; and we sent unto her our spirit; and he took for her the semblance of a well-made man. Said she, "Verily, I take refuge in the Merciful One from thee, if thou art pious." Said he, "I am only a messenger of thy Lord to bestow on thee a pure boy." Said she, "How can I have a boy when no man has touched me, and when I am no harlot?" He said, "Thus says thy Lord, It is easy for Me! And we will make him a sign unto man, and a mercy from us; for it is a decided matter.[4]

His Birth

Surah 19:22-34 So she conceived him, and she retired with him into a remote place. And the labour pains came upon her at the trunk of a palm tree, and she said, "O that I had died before this, and been forgotten out of mind!" and he called to her from beneath her, "Grieve not, for thy Lord has placed a stream beneath thy feet; and shake toward thee the trunk of the palm tree, and it will drop upon thee fresh dates fit to gather; so eat and drink and cheer thine eye; and if thou shouldst see any mortal say, ‘Verily, I have vowed to the Merciful One a fast, and I will not speak to-day with a human being.’"

Then she brought it to her people, carrying it; said they, "O Mary! thou hast done an extraordinary thing! O sister of Aaron! thy father was not a bad man, nor was thy mother a harlot!"

And she pointed to him, and they said, "How are we to speak with one who is in the cradle a child?" He said, "Verily, I am a servant of God; He has brought me the Book, and He has made me a prophet and He has made me blessed wherever I be; and He has required of me prayer and almsgiving as long as I live, and piety towards my mother, and has not made me a miserable tyrant; and peace upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up alive."

Surah 23: 52. And we made the son of Mary and his mother a sign; and we lodged them both in a high place, furnished with security and a spring.

His Miracles

Surah 3:43-45. And He will teach him the Book, and wisdom, and the law, and the gospel, and he shall be a prophet to the people of Israel (saying) that I have come to you with a sign from God, namely, that I will create for you out of clay as though it were the form of a bird, and I will blow thereon, and it shall become a bird by God's permission; and I will heal the blind from birth, and lepers; and I will bring the dead to life by God's permission; and I will tell you what you eat and what you store up in your houses. Verily, in that is a sign for you if ye be believers. And I will confirm what is before you of the law, and will surely make lawful for you some of that which was prohibited from you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and follow me, for God is my Lord, and your Lord, so worship Him: this is the right path.

And when Jesus perceived their unbelief, He said, "Who are my helpers for God?" Said the apostles, "We are God's helpers." We believe in God, so bear witness that we are resigned. Lord, we have believed in what Thou hast revealed, and we have followed the apostle, so write us down with those which bear witness."[5]

Surah 5:112-115. When the apostles said, "O Jesus, son of Mary! is thy Lord able to send down to us a table from heaven?" He said, "Fear God, if ye be believers"; and they said, "We desire to eat therefrom that our hearts may be at rest, and that we may know that what thou hast told us is the truth, and that we may be thereby amongst the witnesses." Said Jesus, the son of Mary, "O God, our Lord! send down to us a table from heaven to be to us as a festival — to the first of us and to the last, and a sign from Thee, — and grant us provision, for Thou art the best of providers."

God said, "Verily, I am about to send it down to you; but whoso disbelieves amongst you after that, verily I will torment him with the torment which I have not tormented any one with in all the worlds."[6]

His Mission and Message

Surah 57:26-27. And we sent Noah and Abraham; and placed in their seed prophecy and the Book; and some of them are guided, though many of them are workers of abomination!

Then we followed up their footsteps with our apostles; and we followed them up with Jesus the son of Mary; and we gave him the gospel; and we placed in the hearts of those that followed him kindness and compassion. But monkery, they invented it; we only prescribed to them the craving after the goodwill of God, and they observed it not with due observance. But we gave to those who believed amongst them their hire; though many amongst them were workers of abomination!

Surah 2:254. These apostles have we preferred one of them above another. Of them is one of whom God spake; and we have raised some of them degrees; and we have given Jesus the son of Mary manifest signs, and strengthened him by the Holy Spirit. And, did God please, those who come after them would not have fought after there came to them manifest signs. But they did disagree, and of them are some who believe, and of them some who misbelieve, but, did God please, they would not have fought, for God does what He will.

Surah 5:50-51. And we followed up the footsteps of these (prophets) with Jesus the son of Mary, confirming that which was before him and the law, and we brought him the gospel, wherein is guidance and light, verifying what was before it of the law, and a guidance and an admonition unto those who fear.

Then let the people of the gospel judge by that which is revealed therein, for whoso will not judge by what God has revealed, these be the evil-doers.

Surah 2:81. We gave Moses the Book and we followed him up with other apostles, and we gave Jesus the son of Mary manifest signs and aided him with the Holy Spirit. Do ye then, every time an apostle comes to you with what your souls love not, proudly scorn him, and charge a part with lying and slay a part?

Surah 6:85. And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias, all righteous ones.

Surah 61:6. And when Jesus the son of Mary said, "O children of Israel! verily, I am the apostle of God to you, verifying the law that was before me, and giving you glad tidings of an apostle who shall come after me, whose name shall be Ahmed."

Surah 4:157. And there shall not be one of the people of the Book but shall believe in him before his death; and on the day of judgment he shall be a witness against them.

Surah 3:44 "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and follow me, for God is my Lord, and your Lord, so worship Him — this is the right path."

His Death

[The assertion of His death and the denial of His crucifixion are here placed in parallel columns to show a discrepancy in statement which has been the despair even of Moslem commentators.]

Surah 3:47-50. But they (the Jews) were crafty, and God was crafty, for God is the best of crafty ones!

When God said, "O Jesus! I will make thee die and take thee up again to me, and will clear thee of those who misbelieve, and will make those who follow thee above those who misbelieve, at the day of judgment, then to me is your return. I will decide between you concerning that wherein ye disagree. And as for those who misbelieve, I will punish them with grievous punishment in this world and the next, and they shall have none to help them." But as for those who believe and do what is right, He will pay them their reward, for God loves not the unjust.[7]

Surah 19:34. "And peace upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up alive."[8]

Surah 4:155-156. And for their misbelief, and for their saying about Mary a mighty calumny, and for their saying, "Verily, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God." ... But they did not kill him, and they did not crucify him, but a similitude was made for them. And verily, those who differ about him are in doubt concerning him; they have no knowledge concerning him, but only follow an opinion. They did not kill him, for sure! nay, God raised him unto Himself.

His Character as an Apostle and Prophet
(Denial of His Deity)

Surah 4:169. O ye people of the Book! do not exceed in your religion, nor say against God aught save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, is but the apostle of God and His Word, which He cast into Mary, and a spirit from Him; believe then in God and His apostles, and say not "Three." Have done! it were better for you. God is only one God, celebrated be His praise that He should beget a Son! His is what is in the heavens and what is in the earth; and God sufficeth for a guardian.

Surah 5:116-117. And when God said, "O Jesus, son of Mary! is it thou who didst say to men, take me and my mother for two gods, beside God?" He said, "I celebrate Thy praise! what ails me that I should say what I have no right to? If I had said it, Thou wouldst have known it; Thou knowest what is in my soul, but I do not know what is in Thy soul; verily, Thou are one who knoweth the unseen. I never told them save what Thou didst bid me, — ‘Worship God, my Lord and your Lord,’ and I was a witness against them as long as I was amongst them; but when Thou didst take me away to Thyself Thou wert the watcher over them, for Thou art witness over all."

Surah 5:76-79. They misbelieve who say, "Verily, God is the Messiah the son of Mary;" but the Messiah said, "O children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord;" verily, he who associates aught with God, God hath forbidden him Paradise, and his resort is the Fire, and the unjust shall have none to help him.

They misbelieve who say, "Verily, God is the third of three;" for there is no God but one, and if they do not desist from what they say, there shall touch those who misbelieve amongst them grievous woe.

Will they not turn again towards God and ask pardon of Him? for God is forgiving and merciful.

The Messiah the son of Mary is only a prophet: prophets before him have passed away; and his mother was a confessor; they both used to eat food. — See how we explain to them the signs, yet see how they turn aside!

His Character as an Apostle and Prophet[9]

Surah 19:35-36. That is, Jesus the son of Mary, — by the word of truth whereon ye do dispute!

God could not take to Himself any son! celebrated be His praise! when He decrees a matter He only says to it, "BE," and it is; and verily, God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him; this is the right way. And the parties have disagreed amongst themselves.

Surah 3:51-52. That is what we recite to thee of the signs and of the wise reminder. Verily, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him from earth, then He said to him, "BE," and he was.

Surah 9:30. The Jews say Ezra is the son of God; and the Christians say that the Messiah is the son of God; that is what they say with their mouths, imitating the sayings of those who misbelieved before. — God fight them! how the lie!

Surah 5:19. They misbelieve who say, "Verily, God is the Messiah the son of Mary;" say, "Who has any hold on God, if he wished to destroy the Messiah the son of Mary, and his mother, and those who are on earth altogether?"

Surah 47:57-64. And when the son of Mary was set forth as a parable, behold thy people turned away from him and said, "Are our gods better, or is he?" They did not set it forth to thee save for wrangling. Nay, but they are a contentious people.

He is but a servant whom we have been gracious to, and we have made him an example for the children of Israel. And if we please we can make of you angels in the earth to succeed you. And, verily, he is a sign of the Hour. Doubt not then concerning it, but follow this right way; and let not the devil turn you away; verily, he is to you an open foe!

And when Jesus came with manifest signs, he said, "I am come to you with wisdom, and I will explain to you something of that whereon ye did dispute, then fear God, obey me; verily, God, He is my Lord and your Lord, serve Him then; this is the right way."

Surah 3:72-73. And, verily, amongst them is a sect who twist their tongues concerning the Book, that ye may reckon it to be from the Book, but it is not from the Book They say, "It is from God," but it is not from God, and they tell a lie against God, the while they know.

It is not right for a man that God should give him a Book and judgment and prophecy, and that then he should say to men, "Be ye servants of mine rather than of God;" but be ye rather masters of teaching the Book and of what ye learn.

The texts above given are the total contents of the Koran as far as they relate to the life of Jesus Christ, and have formed the basis for the traditional account of His life, among Moslems. A study of the Koran commentaries on the texts given will show how later tradition has taken the outlines of Mohammed's revelation and made the picture more real, more full, but also more fantastic. Whatever was unintelligible or contradictory in the words of Mohammed's revelation could only be interpreted and made clear by means of tradition, and this applied not only to the legislative portions of the Koran, but also in its historical material. Tradition in Islam, we must remember, occupies a totally different position to what we understand by tradition in the Christian Church.[10] Orthodox tradition consists of the record of what Mohammed did or enjoined, or that which he allowed, as well as the authoritative sayings and doings of the companions of the prophet. There is not a single Moslem sect that looks to the Koran as the only rule of faith and practice, or as the only reliable source of historical information on the earlier prophets. Therefore we must necessarily go to tradition for the fuller portrait of Jesus Christ. According to Goldziher, tradition is the normative principle in Islam. "Before the end of the first century," he says, "they had already laid down the canon: The Sunna (tradition) is the judge over the Koran, and not the Koran the judge of the Sunna,"[11] and he goes on to show that the authority of tradition increased century after century.

There is no doubt that much of the traditional account of the life of Jesus Christ came from the lips of Mohammed but was not recorded in the Koran. Other portions of it were accredited to him, although they were the invention or contribution of Christian renegades who became Moslems.[12] Students of Islam are in disagreement regarding the reliability of tradition in general and the authenticity of many traditions in particular. While Dozy expresses astonishment that so much of Moslem tradition is authentic and reliable,[13] Goldziher, on the other hand, thinks the greater part was manufactured by those who came after Mohammed, for private ends in Church and State.[14] Moulavi Cheragh Ali says, "The name of Mohammed was abused to support all manner of lies and absurdities, or to satisfy the passion, caprice, or arbitrary will of the despots, leaving out of consideration the creation of any standards of test. I am seldom inclined to quote traditions, having little or no belief in their genuineness, as they generally are unauthenticated, unsupported, and one-sided."[15]

When one reads the standard commentaries on the above passages of the Koran, or the net result of their investigations based on tradition, as given in our following two chapters, it seems impossible to determine in how far we have a portrait of Christ as given by Mohammed himself, or a portrait of Christ by those who followed him. Muir's conclusion is unbiassed, and may well lead us from this chapter into the next.

"That the Collectors of Tradition rendered an important service to Islam, and even to history, cannot be doubted. The vast flood of tradition, poured forth from every quarter of the Moslem empire, and daily gathering volume from innumerable tributaries, was composed of the most heterogeneous elements; without the labours of the traditionists it must soon have formed a chaotic sea, in which truth and error, fact and fable, would have mingled together in undistinguishable confusion. It is a legitimate inference from the foregoing sketch, that Tradition, in the second century, embraced a large element of truth. That even respectably derived traditions often contained much that was exaggerated and fabulous, is an equally fair conclusion. It is proved by the testimony of the Collectors themselves that thousands and tens of thousands were current in their times, which possessed not even a shadow of authority. The mass may be likened to the image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, formed by the unnatural union of gold, or silver, of the baser metals, and of clay; and here the more valuable parts were fast commingling hopelessly with the bad."[16]


1 Cf. Smith, H. P., The Bible and Islam, pp. 86-87; Rodwell's Koran, p. 4.

2 I had occasion recently to investigate the chronological place of one of the Surahs, and the more authorities consulted the less certainty appeared. In Hughes' Dictionary of Islam three distinct lists are given — that of Jalal ed Din, of Rodwell, and of Muir. Nöldeke's History of the Koran afforded a fourth list. All of them are authorities on the subject, each professing to have arrived at his results by internal evidence and criticism of the accepted text, with the help of authoritative tradition. After reading of their painstaking efforts, and persuaded by the logical reasons for many of Nöldeke's deductions in his elaborate treatment of the subject, I was curious to know in how far there was agreement between the authorities mentioned. The following was the result :—

By actual count there were sixty-five among a hundred and fourteen possible instances where two agreed. There were only five instances where three agreed on the order of certain chapters. There were forty-five instances where all disagreed, and there was not a single instance where all were agreed as to the place of a Surah in chronological order. The greatest agreement was between Nöldeke and Rodwell, but even they differed on the chronological place of fifty-two of the hundred and fourteen chapters. Where Muir followed the Arabic commentator, Nöldeke rejected his order altogether, and where the latter approached the traditional order, Rodwell and Muir agreed to disagree with both. There was the widest divergence in nearly every case. The first Surah according to Muir is the 103rd, while Nöldeke makes it the 97th. The Surah of The Pen is considered by Jalal ed Din the second in order, and by the others the seventeenth, fifty-second, and eighteenth respectively.

3 The following index of the leading passages in the Koran that relate to Jesus Christ, as they occur in Beidhawi's Commentary (Cairo edition, 2 vols.), will prove useful to those who have found difficulty in locating them, as Beidhawi's Commentary does not number the verses :—

The Annunciation : Surah 3:37-43, vol. i. p. 206, 207; Birth : Surah 19:22-24, vol. ii. p. 34; Surah 23:52, vol. ii. pp. 121, 122; Miracles : Surah 3:43-46, vol. i., pp. 207, 208; Surah 5:112-115, vol. i. pp. 365-367; Mission : Surah 2:81, vol. i. p. 96; Surah 2:254, vol. i. p. 173; Surah 3:44, vol. i. p. 207; Surah 4:157, vol. i. p. 316; Surah 4:50-51, vol. i. p. 340; Surah 6:85, vol. i. p. 389; Surah 17:26, 27, vol. i. p. 695; Surah 61:6, vol. ii. p. 517; Crucifixion : Surah 3:47-50, vol. i. p. 209; Surah 4:155, 156, vol. i. p. 315; Divinity and Sonship denied : Surah 3:51, 52, vol. i. p. 210; Surah 3:72, 73, vol. i. pp. 215, 216; Surah 5:19, vol. i. p. 330; Surah 9:36, vol 1. p. 498; Surah 19:35, 36, vol. ii. p. 36; Surah 43:57-65, vol. i. pp. 411, 412; The Trinity : Surah 4:169, vol. i. pp. 318, 319; Surah 5:76-79, vol. i. pp. 351-352; Surah 5:116, 117, pp. 367, 368.

4 Jelal-ud-Din comments on these passages as follows: "Inflavimus eam de spiritu nostro, cum inflavit in aperturam tunicae ejus (Mariae) ad collum, effciente Deo, ut flatus ejus perveniret ad vulvam ejus et ex eo conciperet Jesum." Beidhawi (vol. ii. p. 33) agrees with this, and states that Gabriel took the form of a beautiful young man "ut excitaret Mariae cupidinem et ita," etc. It is the opinion of Gerock that Mohammed's idea of the conception of Jesus Christ by the Virgin Mary was wholly sensual, and that Gabriel was his natural father. Cf. Christologie des Koran, pp. 36-40. His argument is based on the Koran text itself.

5 These verses are the only reference in the Koran to the miracles of Jesus Christ. How meagre compared with any of the Gospels! And yet later tradition has built up on these verses or added to them a whole mass of legendary wonders, many of them puerile in the extreme.

6 The reference is undoubtedly to the institution of the Lord's Supper. The later explanations, as we shall see, are wide of the mark. Cf. 1 Cor. xi. 27 and 29-34.

7 Beidhawi says on this passage (vol. i. p. 209), after various attempts to escape the ordinary meaning of the words: "It is said God caused him to die for seven hours and then raised him to heaven."

8 Beidhawi makes no comment on this clear declaration of the death of Christ. Moslems say it refers to his death after his second coming.

9 For a summary of the teaching of these passages see Chapter V.

10 Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, art. "Tradition."

11 Goldziher, Mohammedanische Studien, vol. ii. p. 19.

12 Ibid., vol. ii. pp. 382-399.

13 Essai sur l'Histoire de l'Islamisme, p. 12.

14 Vol. ii. p. 5, Goldziher.

15 Quoted from Political and Social Reform in the Ottoman Empire, etc. (Bombay, 1883), pp. 19 and 147, in Hughes' Dictionary of Islam. The most voluminous authority quoted in Moslem Tradition is Abu Huraira, known by this surname, "the Father of the little Cat," on account of his fondness for cats. He joined the followers of Mohammed in A.H. 629, and lived with him. More traditions are attributed to him than to any other source. He was renowned for his infallible memory, and yet Moslems themselves raise suspicion in regard to his trustworthiness. Sprenger calls him "the extreme of pious humbug," but we must take into account the fact that most of the sayings which tradition attributes to him were foisted on him probably at a much later date. — Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 94, art. "Abu Huraira."

16 Muir, The Life of Mahomet, vol. i. p. xlii.

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