Christ in Islamic Tradition

[This is taken from Claud Field's Mystics and Saints of Islam, originally published in 1910.]

The following brief article is an attempt to bring together some of the passages in Mohammedan writers in which Christ is accorded a higher place than in the Koran, and in which deeds and words of His are mentioned regarding which the Koran is quite silent. For though the Koran calls Him 'the Spirit of God' and 'a Word proceeding from Him,' at the same time it says 'What could hinder God if He chose to destroy the Messiah and His mother both together?'

In the traditional sayings of Mohammed collected by Al Bokhari, accepted by all Sunni Mohammedans, we have the following:—

1st. The sinlessness of Christ. The Prophet said, 'Satan touches every child at its birth and it cries out from the touch of Satan. This is the case with all, except Mary and her son.'

2nd. A famous utterance of Christ is attributed to God. The Prophet said, 'At the resurrection God shall say, "O ye sons of men, I was sick and ye visited Me not." They shall say, "Thou art the Lord of the worlds how should we visit Thee?" He will say, "A certain servant of Mine was sick; if you had visited him you would have found Me with him."' This tradition is noteworthy as it brings out the affinity between God and man which the Koran for the most part ignores.

3rd. Christ returning to judgment. The Prophet said, 'How will it be with you when God sends back the Son of Mary to rule and to judge (hakiman, muqsitan)?'

In the 'Awarifu-l-Mawarif of Shahabu-d-Din Suhrawardi the doctrine of the New Birth is definitely attributed to Christ: 'The death of nature and of will which they call "the second birth" even as Christ has written.'

Ghazzali in the Ihya-ul-ulum thus refers to St. Matt. xi. 17: 'Some one said, "I saw written in the Gospel, We have sung to you but ye have not been moved with emotion; we have piped unto you but ye have not danced."' He also quotes St. Matt. vi. 25, 'Jesus said, Consider the fowls, etc'

The historian Tabari mentions the institution of the Last Supper, Christ's washing His disciple's hands, requesting them to watch with Him, predicting Peter's denial, and quotes the text, 'The shepherd shall be smitten, and the sheep shall be scattered.'

In the Bostan of Sa'di the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee takes the following curious shape:—

In Jesus' time there lived a youth so black and dissolute,
That Satan from him shrank appalled in every attribute;
He in a sea of pleasures foul uninterrupted swam
And gluttonized on dainty vices, sipping many a dram.
Whoever met him on the highway turned as from a pest,
Or, pointing lifted finger at him, cracked some horrid jest.
I have been told that Jesus once was passing by the cave
Where dwelt a monk who asked Him in,—

When suddenly that slave of sin appeared across the way,
Far off he paused, fell down and sobbingly began to pray;
And like a storm or rain the tears pour gushing from his eyes.
'Alas, and woe is me for thirty squandered years,' he cries;
The pride-puffed monk self-righteous lifts his eyebrows with a sneer,
And haughtily exclaims, 'Vile wretch! in vain hast thou come here.
Art thou not plunged in sin, and tossed in lust's devouring sea?
What will thy filthy rags avail with Jesus and with me?

O God! the granting of a single wish is all I pray,
Grant me to stand far distant from this man at Judgement Day.
'From heaven's throne a revelation instantaneous broke,
And God's own thunder-words through the mouth of Jesus spoke:
'The two whom praying there I see, shall equally be heard;
They pray diverse,—I give to each according to his word.
That poor one thirty years has rolled in sin's most slimy steeps,
But now with stricken heart and streaming eyes for pardon weeps.

Upon the threshold of My grace he throws him in despair,
And faintly hoping pity pours his supplications there.
Therefore forgiven and freed from all the guilt in which he lies
My mercy chooses him a citizen of paradise;
This monk desires that he may not that sinner stand beside,
Therefore he goes to hell and so his wish is gratified.'
(Alger: Poetry of the Orient)

It is refreshing to find one of the classical Moslem writers so strongly denouncing self-righteousness. The poet Nizami in the following apologue seems to have caught no little of the spirit of the Gospel:—

One evening Jesus lingered in the market-place
Teaching the people parables of truth and grace,
When in the square remote a crowd was seen to rise
And stop with loathing gestures and abhorring cries.
The Master and His meek Disciples went to see
What cause for this commotion and disgust could be,
And found a poor dead dog beside the gutter laid;
Revolting sight! at which each face its hate betrayed.
One held his nose, one shut his eyes, one turned away,
And all amongst themselves began loud to say,
'Detested creature! he pollutes the earth and air!'
'His eyes are blear!' 'His ears are foul!' 'His ribs are bare!'
'In his torn hide there's not a decent shoe-string left!'
'No doubt the execrable cur was hung for theft!'
Then Jesus spake and dropped on him this saving wreath:
'Even pearls are dark before the whiteness of his teeth!'
(Alger: Poetry of the Orient.)

The entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem is referred to in the following passage from the Masnavi of Jalaluddin Rumi:—

Having left Jesus, thou cherishest an ass,
And art perforce excluded like an ass;
The portion of Jesus is knowledge and wisdom,
Not so the portion of an ass, O assinine one!
Thou pitiest thine ass when it complains;
So art thou ignorant, thine ass makes thee assinine,
Keep thy pity for Jesus, not for the ass,
Make not thy lust to vanquish thy reason.
(Whinfield's Translation).

Elsewhere in the Masnavi Jalaluddin Rumi says:—

Jesus, thy Spirit, is present with thee;
Ask help of Him, for He is a good Helper.

In the Diwan-i-Shams-i-Tabriz, by the same author, we have the lines:—

I am that sweet-smiling Jesus,
And the world is alive through Me.

Elsewhere he says, 'The pure one is regenerated by the breath of Jesus.' It is a significant fact that Jalaluddin Rumi spent most of his life at Iconium, where very likely some apostolic traditions lingered.

One aspect of our Lord which has strongly impressed itself on the Mohammedan imagination is His homelessness. Once on entering a Pathan village the writer was met by a youth, who asked, 'Is this verse in the Injil: "The Son of Mary had nowhere to lay His head"?' In the Qissas-al-ambiya (Stories of the Prophets) this takes the following shape:—

One day Jesus saw a fox running through the wilderness. He said to him, 'O fox! whither art thou going?' The fox answered, 'I have come out for exercise; now I am returning to my own home.' Jesus said, 'Every one has built himself a house; but for Me there is no resting-place.' Some people who heard it, said, 'We are sorry for Thee and will build Thee a house.' He replied, 'I have no money.' They answered, 'We will pay all the expenses.' Then he said, 'Very well, I will choose the site.' He led them down to the edge of the sea and, pointing where the waves were dashing highest, said, 'Build Me a house there.' The people said, 'That is the sea, O Prophet! how can we build there?' 'Yea, and is not the world a sea,' He answered, 'on which no one can raise a building that abides?'

A similar echo of Christ's words is found in the famous inscription over a bridge at Fatehpur Sikri: 'Jesus (upon Whom be peace) said, "The world is a bridge; pass over it, but do not build upon it."

This keen sense of the transitoriness of everything earthly is a strongly-marked feature of the Oriental mind, and characterized all their saints and mystics. There is no wonder that this side of the gospel should make a special appeal to Orientals, and that the Fakir-missionary should seem to them to approximate most closely to his Master.

The following account of the trial of our Lord before the Sanhedrin and Pilate which occurs in the Dabistan of Mohsin Fani (a.d. 1647) approximates more nearly to the Gospel narrative than that which is ordinarily current among Mohammedan writers:—

When Jesus appeared, the high-priest said, 'We charge Thee upon Thy oath by the living God, say art Thou the Son of God?' The blessed and holy Lord Jesus replied to him, 'I am what thou hast said. Verily We say unto you, you shall see the Son of man seated at the right hand of God, and He shall descend in the clouds of heaven.' They said, 'Thou utterest a blasphemy, because, according to the creed of the Jews, God never descends in the clouds of heaven.'

Isaiah the prophet has announced the birth of Jesus in words the translation of which is as follows:—'A branch from the root of I'shai shall spring up, and from this branch shall come forth a flower in which the Spirit of God shall dwell. verily a virgin shall be pregnant and bring forth a Son.' I'shai is the name of the father of David.

"When they had apprehended Jesus, they spat upon His blessed face and smote Him. Isaiah had predicted it. 'I shall give up My body to the smiters, and My cheek to the diggers of wounds. I shall not turn My face from those who will use bad words and throw spittle upon Me.' When Pilatus, a judge of the Jews, scourged the Lord Jesus in such a manner that His body from head to foot became but one wound, so was it as Isaiah had predicted, 'He was wounded for our transgressions; I struck Him for His people.' When Pilatus saw that the Jews insisted upon the death and crucifixion of Jesus, he said, 'I take no part in the blood of this Man; I wash my hands clean of His blood.' The Jews answered, 'His blood be on us and on our children.' On that account the Jews are oppressed and curbed down in retribution of their iniquities. When they had placed the cross upon the shoulders of Jesus and led Him to die, a woman wiped with the border of her garment the face, full of blood, of the Lord Jesus. Verily she obtained three images of it and carried them home; the one of these images exists still in Spain, the other is in the town of Milan in Italy, and the third in the city of Rome.

The same author, Mohsin Fani, says:—

The Gospel has been translated from the tongue of Jesus into different languages, namely, into Arabic, Greek, Latin, which last is the language of the learned among the Firangis; and into Syriac, and this all learned men know.

Fragments of our Lord's teaching are found not only in religious but also in secular Mohammedan books; thus in the Kitab Jawidan of Ibn Muskawih we have the following:—

The hatefullest of learned men in the eyes of God is he who loves reputation and that room should be made for him in the assemblies of the great, and to be invited to feasts. Verily I say they have their reward in the world.

In the Kitab-al-Aghani, a history of Arabic poetry, it is related:—

Satan came to Jesus and said, 'Dost Thou not speak the truth?' 'Certainly,' answered Jesus. 'Well then,' said Satan, 'climb this mountain and cast Thyself down.' Jesus said, 'Woe to thee, for hath not God said, O Son of Man, tempt Me not by casting thyself into destruction, for I do that which I will.'

From the above instances taken from well-known Mohammedan writers it will be seen that the Christ of post-Koranic tradition is far more life-like than the Christ of the Koran. The latter is a mere lay-figure, bedecked with honorific titles indeed, such as the 'Spirit of God and a word proceeding from Him,' and working miracles, but displaying no character. In the post-Koranic writers, on the other hand, we have His sinlessness, His return to judgment, His humility, His unworldliness, His sufferings, His doctrine of the New Birth, topics upon which the Koran is entirely silent. An open-minded Moslem perusing the above passages in the original Persian and Arabic (and many might be added) would certainly gain a far higher conception of our Lord than from anything he would find in the Koran.





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