The relationship between the true Christians who follow Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) in Word and Spirit and Muslims has always been one of harmony and cordial living. Christians have been with us Muslims from the earliest days of Islam, and will be there for us till the Coming of Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) when we will all be united as one, God Willing.
The Qur’an refers to Christians in very endearing terms:
“Strongest among men in enmity to the believers will you find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say “We are Christians”. Because among them are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray: “Our Lord, we believe. Write us down among the witnesses. What cause can we have not to believe in God and the truth which has come to us, seeing that we long for our Lord to admit us to the company of the righteous?” And for this their prayer has God rewarded them with Gardens with rivers flowing underneath”– their eternal home” (The Holy Qur’an. Chapter of The Repast:82-85)
This genuine love for God was seen even in the days of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), like when the Negus, the ruler of Abysinnia (present day Ethiopia) heard the words of the Qur’an regarding Mary from a companion of the Prophet. He wept so hard that his beard was wet and the tears that poured down the cheeks of his bishops were so copious that their scrolls were soaked in it. In the Qur’an, God tells us Himself that He has put compassion and mercy into the hearts of Christians:
“Then We sent after them Our Messengers, and We sent Jesus, son of Mary, and gave him the Gospel. And We put in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But We did not command monasticism. Rather they invented it for themselves to please God with it” (The Holy Qur’an. Chapter of Iron:27)
The disciples of Jesus are called by God Al Hawariyyun ‘the Purified Ones’, which can also mean ‘the white ones’ as they were not only pure in heart, but were always seen dressed in white. They are also called God’s Helpers: “O ye who believe! Be ye helpers of God. As said Jesus, the Son of Mary, to the Disciples “Who will be my helpers to God?” Said the disciples: “We are God’s helpers!” (The Battle Array:14). The Arabic word used here for God’s helpers is Ansarullah and it is this word that gives us the Muslim term used for a Christian, which is Nasara meaning ‘helper’.
HOW THE EARLY CHRISTIANS HELPED ISLAM
The Prophet of Islam (Peace Be Upon Him) always had a soft spot for the Christians, many of whom were also Arabs. In fact it was a Christian priest named Bahira who first noticed the signs of prophethood in the young Muhammad and told his uncle Abu Talib: “Take your nephew back to his country and guard him carefully against the Jews, for by God, if they see him and know about him what I know, they will do him evil. A great future lies before this nephew of yours. So take him home quickly”. Bahira was a good Christian who did not like the idea of a Jewish Herod hunting down the young Arab boy who would follow in the footsteps of Jesus. His name which has come down to us is actually the Syriac word bhira meaning ‘reverend’.
And who can forget Addas, the young Christian boy from Nineveh who gave a plate of grapes to Muhammad after he was set upon by a mob in the walled city of Taif. Muhammad who had then commenced his mission had been met with hostility in his hometown of Mecca and as if that were not enough was now set upon by urchins in this beautiful town on the hills where he had fondly believed folk would listen to him. He was in such despair that he cried out to God: “O God to Thee I complain of my weakness, little resource and lowliness before men. O Most Merciful, Thou art the Lord of the weak and Thou art my Lord. To whom wilt Thou confide me? To one afar who will misuse me? Or to an enemy to whom Thou hast given power over me? If Thou art not angry with me, I care not. The Favour is more wide for me. I take refuge in the light of Thy countenance by which the darkness is illumined and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered”.
It was then that Addas appeared before the Prophet as if a ‘Sign’ that his prayers were answered.When he saw the Arab prophet blessing the meal in the “name of God’ before he ate, he was astonished. He was elated when the prophet told him that he, like the Prophet Jonah of his hometown Nineveh, was also a Prophet and therefore a brother of Jonah. Addas was so overcome with Joy that he kissed the Prophet’s hands. The Prophet was overjoyed at the kind reception he got from one of the People of the Book, giving him hope to continue his mission.
And which Muslim can ever forget that it was a Christian King, the Negus of Abyssinia in present-day Ethiopia who first gave refuge to the early Muslims fleeing the persecution of the Quraysh in Mecca. Eighty Muslims thus forsook their homes and emigrated to Abyssinia where the Negus gave them protection, in spite of the pleadings of the emissaries of the Meccan chiefs to send them away. Said he: “Nay, by God, they shall not be surrendered, a people that have sought my protection and made my country their abode and chosen me above all others! Give them up I will not”.
The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), when he emerged victorious against the Pagans and Jews, reciprocated the kindheartedness of the Christians who had been so kind to him and his followers in their most difficult days. Once, when a delegation of Christians from Najran near Yemen visited the Prophet in Medina, he warmly welcomed them and even let them pray in his mosque. He even entered into a covenant with them, guaranteeing their religious freedom:
“The people of Najran and their dependents shall remain under the protection of God, and Muhammad the Prophet, the Messenger of God. Their persons, their religion, their lands, their possessions and their churches shall remain safe. This treaty holds good for all people of Najran, whether present or not. No bishop shall be removed from his bishopric, no monk from his monasticism and no devotee from his devotions” (Tabaqat al Kubra, Ibn Sa’d).
JESUS AND MOTHER MARY IN THE QUR’AN
Muslims believe in Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) not only as a great prophet and messenger of God, but also in his conception without a human father, by a Word of God which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him. We believe in his many miracles, which he did by the leave of God; in his ascension to heaven and in his Second Coming to usher in a New Era of Peace and Justice.Jesus is referred to by name in the Qur’an as much as 25 times, as Isa Ibn Maryam (Jesus son of Mary) while Prophet Muhammad is mentioned as such only five times. To start the story with Jesus does not do justice to the importance of this great prophet. So let’s start with the story of his mother Mary. Mary occupies a very special place in Islamic scripture. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an and appears as such 34 times.
There is even an entire chapter of the Qur’an named after her, Surah Maryam or The Chapter of Mary. She is regarded as the pinnacle of womanhood, for we read of the angels addressing her: “O Mary, indeed God has chosen you and purified you – chosen you above the women of all nations” (Family Imraan:42). Prophet Muhammad also clearly declared: “The best of the world’s women is Mary” (Fathul Bari).
There are many chapters in the Qur’an besides the Chapter of Mary that speak of Christ, his mother and his disciples and followers. Surah Ali Imran or ‘Chapter of the Family of Imran’ takes its name from Anne, Mary’s mother being a ‘woman of Imran’, in a double sense, as she was both the wife of one Imran as well as a descendant of the priestly house of Imran. Surah Al Maidah or ‘Chapter of the Repast’ takes its name from an incident connected with the mission of Christ when his disciples inquired of him whether his Lord could send down a table set (with viands) from heaven. Surah Al Kahf ‘The Chapter of the Cave’ takes its name from the Ashaabul Kahf ‘The Companions of the Cave’, God-fearing Christian youth of Ephesus who went into a cave during the persecutions of a Roman emperor like Nero, only to emerge over three hundred years later when Christianity had become the state religion.
Indeed, Mary’s story in the Qur’an begins even before she was born:
The birth of Mary:
Behold! A woman of Imraan (Anne, who was a descendant of the priestly house of Imraan and also the wife of one Imraan) said: “O my Lord! I dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service; so accept this of me, for Thou hearest and knowest all things”.
When she was delivered she said: “O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!”. – And God knew best what she brought forth – “And no wise is the male like the female.I have named her Mary and I commend her and her offspring to Thy Protection from the Evil One, the Rejected”
(Family Imraan: 33-36)
The childhood of Mary:
Right graciously did her Lord accept her. He made her grow in purity and beauty. To the care of Zachariah was she assigned. Every time he entered her chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence comes this to you?”. She said: “From God, for God provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure”
(Family Imraan: 37)
Mary the Blessed:
Behold! The angels said: “O Mary ! God has chosen you and purified you – chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary! Worship your Lord devoutedly. Prostrate yourself and bow down with those who bow down”. This is a part of the news of the unseen, which We reveal to you (O Muhammad). You were not with them when they cast lots with their pens to (decide) which of them should take care of Mary
Mary the Devout:
And God gives as an example for those who believe, the wife of pharaoh, when she said: “My Lord, build for me a home near you in paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds, and save me from the wrongdoing people”. And (the example of) Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so we blew (the spirit of Jesus) into her through Our angel (Gabriel). And she believed in the words of her Lord, and His scriptures,and she was of the devout ones
Good News of Jesus’s birth:
Behold! The angels said: “O Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Christ Jesus. The Son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the hereafter and of those nearest to God. He shall speak to the people in childhood and maturity. And he shall be of the righteous”. She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?”. He said: “Even so. God creates what He wills; when He has decreed a plan, He but says to it ‘Be’ and it is! And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and (appoint him) a Messenger to the Children of Israel (with this Message): “I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s Leave. And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I give life to the dead, by God’s leave; and I declare to you what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe’ (I have come to you) to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God and obey me. It is God who is my Lord and your Lord”
(Family Imraan 45-51)
Immaculate conception of Jesus:
Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: “I seek refuge from you to the Most Gracious; (come not near) if you fear God. He said: “Nay, I am only a Messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son”. She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste”. He said: “So (it will be). Thy Lord says: ‘That is easy for Me, and (We Wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from us’. It is a matter decreed”. So she conceived him and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She cried: “Ah, would that I had died before this! Would that I have passed into oblivion!”. But a voice cried to her “Grieve not! For your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm tree; it will let fall fresh dates upon you. So eat and drink and cool you eye. And if you see any man say: ‘I have vowed a fast to the Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into talk with no man’ At length, she brought the babe to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: “O Mary! Truly an amazing thing have you brought. O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother an unchaste woman!”. But she pointed to the babe, They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?”. He (the babe) said: “I am indeed a Servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a Prophet. And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He has made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day I shall be raised up to life!”
The Mission of Jesus:
Christ Jesus the Son of Mary was a Messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him
We sent Jesus the Son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel. Therein was guidance and light
The Messiah said: “O Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord. Whoever sets up partners with God, then God has forbidden him Paradise, and the Fire will be his home”
And remember Jesus, the Son of Mary said: “O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of God sent to you confirming the Law (which came) before me and giving glad tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmed”’ But when he came to them with clear signs,
they said “’This is evident sorcery”
(The Battle array:6)
Miracles of Jesus:
God will say: “O Jesus the Son of Mary! Recount My Favour to you and your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the Holy spirit, so that you spoke to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold, I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! You make out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My Leave, and you breath into it, and it becomes a bird by My Leave, and you heal those born blind, and the lepers by My Leave, and behold! You bring forth the dead by My Leave. And behold! I restrained the Children of Israel from you when you showed them the clear signs. And the unbelievers among them said: “This is nothing but evident magic”. And behold! I inspired the disciples to have faith in Me and Mine Messenger. They said: “We have faith, and you bear witness that we bow down to God as those who surrender. Behold! The Disciples said: “O Jesus the Son of Mary! Can your Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?”. Said Jesus: “Fear God, if you have faith”. They said: “we only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that you have indeed told us the truth, and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle”. Said Jesus the Son of Mary: “O God our Lord! Send us from heaven a Table set (with viands), that there may be for us – the first and the last of us – a solemn festival and a Sign from Thee; and provide for our sustenance, for Thou art the Best sustainer”. God said: “I will send it down unto you; but if any of you after that resists faith, I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on anyone among all the peoples”
Disciples of Jesus:
O ye who believe, champion God’s (religion), like when Jesus, son of Mary said to the disciples: “Who will champion God’s religion with me?”. The disciples said: “We are the champions of God’s (religion)”. Then a group of the Children of Israel believed and a group disbelieved. So we supported those who believed against their enemy and they became victorious
(The Battle Array:14)
Then We sent after them Our Messengers, and We sent Jesus, son of Mary, and gave him the Gospel. And We put in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But We did not command monasticism. Rather they invented it for themselves to please God with it
Ascension of Jesus:
Behold! God said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of resurrection; Then shall ye all return unto Me”
They (Jews) said in boast: “We killed Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Messenger of God”. But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them when another was given his likeness (and they crucified him). And those who differ are full of doubts with no knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not – Nay, God raised him up unto Himself, and God is Exalted in Power, Wise. And there is none of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) but must believe in him before his death; And on the Day of Judgement, he will be a witness against them
MORE COMMONALITIES BETWEEN MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS
Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) called God Alaha in his native Aramaic speech while we Muslims call God by the related word in Arabic. Allah which means the same thing ‘The God’. Even our greeting is the same, for did not Jesus, standing in the midst of a gathering, say unto them: Peace Be Unto You (Luke 24:36). This very likely took the Aramaic form shlama lokhum ‘Peace Be Upon You’. This is exactly what we Muslims do when we greet somebody. We say Assalam Alaikum which means the same thing ‘Peace Be Upon You”.
Finally, all we can say is that we Muslims are closer to Jesus than even some of his followers. Jesus was circumcised, and so are we, and not only the males, but also the females among us, a practice also accepted in the Eastern Christian Churches. Jesus fasted, and so do we, as much as for a month. Jesus prayed, falling on his face before the Almighty, and so do we, humbling ourselves before the Almighty. Jesus was bearded and so are a good many devout Muslim men. He dressed modestly in long robes much like most Arab Muslim men. Even in nativity plays in Christian lands today, you will see Mary and her friends dressed in typical Arab fashion with Mary with her hood or headscarf and the men around her in typical Arab robes and headdresses.
Thus in a sense we Muslims are more ‘Christian’, in the sense of being followers of Christ, than those in the West are. Indeed we’re more like the ‘Jesus freaks’ people in the West today look down upon!