Far-right parties in the West often portray Islam as at war with Christianity. What gets lost in the white noise is a key fact: Jesus is an important figure for Muslims, too.
The Quran explicitly makes mention of Jesus, one of 26 prophets named in the Muslim holy book. A Quranic passage referring to the creation of a representational object is a statement attributed to Jesus.
It goes as follows: “Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; I shall create for you from clay in the form of a bird; I shall blow into it and it will become a bird, by God’s leave.”
Prophet Mohammad, too, is said to have been very respectful of Jesus and his mother Mary. When he entered the Kaaba, at the time it was a pre-Islamic pagan shrine in Mecca, the Prophet is said to have destroyed all the images of gods but allowed a painting of the Virgin and infant Jesus to remain.
There are varying accounts of how he protected that painting. Some say he covered it with his hands; others that he directed it to be left intact. The painting was lost when a fire destroyed the building in 683, barely half-a-century after it had been saved by Prophet Mohammad.
The story offers not just a wholesome but a holistic perspective of the Muslim faith’s approach to the icons of other religions and it challenges the politically mischievous assertion that there is an inherent incompatibility between Islam and Christianity.
** Jesus, Mary and the angel Gabriel are all in the Quran. Jesus is called “Isa” in Arabic and Mary is “Maryam.”
** Muslims believe that Isa is a prophet of God but not flesh of his flesh or the son of God as Christians do.
** Maryam is the only female figure to have a Quranic chapter named after her.
** Muslims say “peace be upon him” when they refer to Jesus, just as they do with Mohammad and other prophets.
** The Christmas story is told in the Quran with a sense of wonder at the miracle wrought by God. It goes as follows:
“And remember Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her family to an eastern place. And she veiled herself from them. Then We [God] sent unto her Our Spirit [the angel Gabriel], and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said, ‘I seek refuge from thee in the Compassionate [i.e., God], if you are reverent’’ He said, ‘I am but a messenger of thy Lord, to bestow upon thee a pure boy.’
“She said, ‘How shall I have a boy when no man has touched me, nor have I been unchaste?’ He said, ‘Thus shall it be. Thy Lord says, “It is easy for Me.” And [it is thus] that We might make him a sign unto mankind, and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed.
“So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a place far off. And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, ‘Would that I had died before this and was a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!’ So he called out to her from below her, ‘Grieve not! Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath thee. And shake towards thyself the trunk of the date palm; fresh, ripe dates shall fall upon thee. So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou seest any human being, say, ‘Verily I have vowed a fast unto the Compassionate, so I shall not speak this day to any man’.’
“Then she came with him [the infant Jesus] unto her people, carrying him. They said, ‘O Mary! Thou hast brought an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not an evil man, nor was thy mother unchaste.’ Then she pointed to him [Jesus]. They said, ‘How shall we speak to one who is yet a child in the cradle?’
“He [Jesus] said, ‘Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and [has made me] dutiful towards my mother. And He has not made me domineering, wretched. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive!’”