Jesus Christ in the Traditions of Islam - Christ in the Approved Traditions

II. Christ in the Approved Traditions

1. The Distorted Picture

The distorted picture of Christ and Christianity in the Qur'an can also be found in the traditions. Some of these accounts, which feature interesting dialogues between Muhammad and indigenous Christians, are of special importance, for they show us who the Prophet's sources were and what their theology was like. Thus, one can trust Ali b. Abi Talib, Muhammad's son-in-law and the fourth Caliph, when he made the following claim in reference to the Christian tribe, Banu Taghlib: "The Taghlib clan are no Christians. Drinking wine is all they have appropriated from Christianity" (8).

Rabi' comments on one verse in the Qur'an: "There is no god but [Allah], the All-mighty, the All-wise" (9):

The Christians came to Muhammad and argued with him about Jesus, son of Mary. They asked him who his father was and uttered many lies and slanderous things about Allah - he is the only god; he has neither wife nor child. Muhammad said to them: "Do you not know that our lord is living and that he will not die? Jesus, however, was exposed to mortality." They said, "Yes." He asked them, "Was there a reason for Jesus being different?" They said, "No." He said, "Do you not know that nothing is hidden from Allah, whether on earth or in heaven?" They said, "Yes." He said to them, "Did Jesus know more than Allah taught him?" They said, "No." He said: "Our Lord fashioned Jesus as he pleased, in his mother's womb. Do you not know that our Lord neither eats nor drinks nor eliminates anything unclean?" They answered, "Yes." He said: "Do you not know that Jesus' mother was pregnant with him and bore him as every mother does her child; that he was nourished like every child, and that he ate, drank, and relieved himself of impurities?" They said, "Yes." He said, "How can what you claim be true?" (10)

Ibn Abbas relates from Umar that the Prophet of Allah said:

Do not praise me as much as the Christians glorify Jesus, son of Mary. I am only a servant. Therefore, call me a slave and a Messenger of Allah (11).

In The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq we read the following disputation between Muhammad and a Christian delegation:

A deputation from the Christians of Najran came to the Apostle. There were sixty riders, fourteen of them from their nobles of whom three were in control of affairs, namely (a) al-Aqib, the leader of the people, a man of affairs, and their chief adviser whose opinion governed their policy, Abdul Masih by name; (b) al-Sayyid, their administrator who saw to the transport and general arrangements, whose name was al-Ayham; and (c) their Bishop, scholar, and religious leader who controlled their schools, Abu Haritha b. Alqama, one of Banu Bakr b. Wa'il... When they came to Medina they came into the Apostle's mosque as he prayed the afternoon prayer, clad in Yamani garments, cloaks, and mantles, with the elegance of men of Banu al-Harith b. Ka'b. The Prophet's companions who saw them that day said that they never saw their like in any deputation that came afterwards. Abdul-Masih al-Aqib, al-Ayham al-Sayyid, and Abu Haritha b. Alqama... spoke to the Apostle. They were Christians according to the Byzantine rite, though they differed among themselves in some points, saying he is God; and he is the Son of God; and he is the same person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity. They argue that he is God because he used to raise the dead, and heal the sick, and declare the unseen; and make clay birds and then breathe into them so that they flew away; and all this was by the command of God Almighty: "We will make him a sign to men." They argue that he is the third of three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded, We have created and We have decreed, and they say, If he were one he would have said I have done, I have created, and soon, but he is he and Jesus and Mary... When the two divines spoke to him the Apostle said to them, "Submit yourselves." They said, "We have submitted." He said: "You have not submitted, so submit." They said, "Nay, but we submitted before you." He said: "You lie. Your assertion that Allah has a son, your worship of the cross, and your eating pork hold you back from submission." They said, "But who is his father, Muhammad?" The Apostle was silent and did not answer them. So Allah sent down concerning their words and their incoherence the beginning of the sura, The Family of Imran, up to more than eighty verses, and he said: "Alif Lam Mim" (12).

There is a series of traditions that provides addition-al information about what Jesus will do at His Second Coming as Messiah. These traditions, which are contested by Hadith scholars, allow Jesus to act in a manner that agrees with their view, and in a way that supports the eschatological demands of Islam.

Abu Huraira claims the Messenger of Allah said: "I swear by him who holds my soul in His hand, that the son of Mary will come down to you as a just judge. He will break all crosses, kill all swine, abolish taxes, and distribute the wealth so bountifully that a single prostration during the ritual prayer will be seen as a blessed one, as the whole world and what it contains" (13).

Abdullah b. Amr reports that the Prophet of Allah said: "Jesus, son of Mary, will come down to earth, marry, and father children. He will live 45 years and then die, so as to be buried next to me in my grave. Then we - Jesus and I - will resurrect between Abu Bakr and Umar" (14).

A rather small part of the approved traditions, called The Book of Interpretation, deals with the interpretation of Qur'anic verses. The traditions of this category are very important in the area of the Hadith and of Qur'anic exegesis, because scholars of both fields regard them as the surest way to understanding the Qur'an. This is valid also for the following Hadith:

Adi b. Hatam said that the Prophet explains the last part of the Fatiha (the prologue in the Qur'an) thus: "Those who fall under your wrath are the Jews, and those who go astray are the Christians" (15).

But the belief that Jesus is the word of Allah and a spirit from him is, in some traditions, called a requirement for admission into Paradise:

Ubade b. Samit comments that the Prophet said, "Whoever attests that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is his slave and ambassador, that Jesus is his slave, prophet, and word which he placed in Mary - and that he is a spirit from him - and whoever confesses that heaven and hell exist, him will Allah allow to enter Paradise according to his deeds" (16).

One tradition claims that Jesus will one day be so thrilled about what Muhammad's congregation (Ummah) achieved through war, that he will refuse to be a prayer leader for them, for there will be no more difference between him and them. That is "Allah's reward for this congregation"! (17)

Similarly, Jabir says that the Prophet of Allah said:

A part of my congregation (Ummah) will fight unceasingly until the Day of Judgement. Eventually, the son of Mary will come, and they will call upon him to be their leader, saying, "Come, be a prayer leader for us in prayer." But he will reply: "No, you are all prayer leaders for one another; that is the reward of Allah for this congregation" (18).

2. The Antichrist and Christ's Return

The Antichrist will make his appearance at the cessation of religion and the expiration of knowledge; he will travel throughout the earth for forty nights. During this trip, many a day will be like a year, another like a month, and some like a Friday; his remaining days are like these your days. He will have a donkey upon which to ride. Between the ears of the donkey will be a distance of forty ziras (a zira being 0.68 of a metre). He will say to the people, "I am your lord!"

The Prophet said: "He is one-eyed, but your Lord is not; between his eyes will be written, `Unbeliever,' which every believer (Muslim) can read, whether literate or not. He will come to every spring of water, besides Mecca and Medina whose entry Allah has forbidden him and at whose gates the angels stand watch. He will make mountains from bread and the people will be distressed, except those who follow him. During his stay on the earth, there will be two rivers... I know about them more than he - he will name one Paradise and the other, Hell. Whomever he grants entrance into Paradise, that person will be in Hell; whomever he grants entrance into Hell, that person will be in Paradise. Demons who speak to the people will be called forth with him, and it will be a great temptation. He will order the heavens, and it will rain in accordance with what the people see. Likewise, he will kill a soul and revive it, according to what the people perceive. Thereupon he will speak: `O people! Can anyone but the Lord bring forth something such as this?' Then the people will flee to Djabalu'd-dukhan (`The Mountain of Smoke') by Damascus. He will lay siege to them, and the siege will afflict them with increasing intensity. Thereafter the Messiah - Allah bless him and grant him salvation - will come. His arrival will take place at daybreak. He will say to the (afflicted) people, `O people, what hinders you from facing this wretched liar?' They will abandon their positions and, see there, they will stand before Jesus. The ritual prayer will be performed. One will say to Jesus, `O spirit of Allah, come forward! (that is, be our prayer leader)' But he will reply: `Your imam should step forward and lead you in prayer.' After they have performed the morning prayer together, they will line up against him (the Antichrist). When `the liar' sees him, he will dissolve like salt in water, and he will kill him. Even the trees and stones will call to him (the Messiah): `O spirit of Allah, there is a Jew (who hides himself from you)!' He will not leave one of them alive who followed him (the Antichrist)" (19).

Among the vague reports concerning the events of pre-Islamic times, one finds some that describe the destiny of Christians:

Ibnu Mas'ud says, the Messenger of Allah said to him: "O Ibnu Mas'ud!" "Here I am, Messenger of Allah!" he replied. He said to him: "Do you know that the sons of Israel have divided themselves into 72 sects? From them, only three sects after Christ are left among the kings and potentates. They encouraged the people to believe in the religion of God and in Christ, son of Mary. For this reason they were fought by the rulers. Some were killed and some were left; for this reason, they could be saved. Later, another group arose which possessed no power to fight. Among kings and potentates, they themselves encouraged belief in the religion of God and in Jesus, son of Mary. But they were killed - sawed with saws and burned with fire. Nevertheless, they endured and were saved. Later, another group arose which possessed neither the power to fight nor the ability to behave properly. They took refuge in the mountains, prayed to God, and devoted themselves to live as monks" (20).

Abdullah reports that the Messenger of Allah said: "As the sons of Israel committed all sorts of sins, their scholars forbid them that. But they did not stop sinning. Later, the scribes began to sin along with them. Then Allah cursed them in the names of David and Jesus, son of Mary" (21).

Muhammad often boasted that he occupies a position next to Jesus, son of Mary:

Abu Huraira reports that the Companions said to Muhammad, "O Prophet, tell us about yourself!" The Prophet said: "I spread the message of my father, Abraham, and the Good News (the Gospel) of Jesus. When my mother was pregnant with me, she believed that a light came forth from her, illuminating the castles of Bosra and Damascus" (22).

In addition to that, there are several traditions in the Hadith collections that have been dealt with carefully by theologians in order to reject every possible impression that Jesus has a higher position in Islam than Muhammad. Such traditions, which must be resisted, are weak and without substance in contrast to others that describe Jesus as an almost divine person:

Abu Huraira narrates that the Messenger of Allah said: "A higher position than the other prophets was granted me in six respects. Purity of speech and eloquence were given me; I triumphed by terror over the enemies; the right to plunder was granted me; the whole earth was left for me like a mosque and a pure place of worship; I was sent to all people, and the prophets were confirmed through me as a seal (that is, I am the final prophet)" (23).

One of the important traditions, which contradicts the Qur'an and also the Islamic teachings on God, portrays Jesus with a characteristic that no one else had ever had:

Abu Huraira says: "Satan touches every child which is born, and when he has done so, the child raises its voice and screams. This is what happened with all children except Jesus, son of Mary (according to another tradition, `Mary and Jesus'). Read the word of Allah: `I will protect her and her offspring from every cursed satan'" (24).

The contradictory verdict of the Qur'an, concerning the people of the Book, is also reflected in the traditions. Thus, the statements of Muhammad cursing Christians are found next to other verses that declare them almost holy, placing them on a level higher than Muslims. In order to present this bewildering picture, the following three are mentioned, without commentary:

Bukhari and Muslim declare that the Messenger of Allah, during the illness that caused his death, said, "The curse of Allah remain upon the Jews and Christians who have made the graves of their prophets into places of worship" (25).

Iyad b. Hammad narrates that the Prophet said, "Allah glanced upon the inhabitants of the earth and hated them - also upon the Arabs and other strangers, except a remnant of the people of the Book." This remnant, according to the observation of Ibn Taimiya, are said be those who persevered in the true way until the coming of Muhammad and those who perished shortly before (26).

Anas narrates: "When the negus (king of Ethiopia) died, Muhammad said to his Companions, `Ask Allah to forgive your brother.' Then someone said, `Are you ordering us to ask forgiveness for this simpleton who died in Ethiopia?' Then it was revealed to him: `And some are of the People of the Book who believe in God, and what has been sent down unto you, and what has been sent down unto them, men humble to God, not selling the signs of God for a small price'" (Sura Al Imran 3:199) (27).

The problem regarding the most honourable of all the prophets has, on account of the somewhat contradictory traditions, become unsolvable. Therefore, the following tradition has a special meaning for us:

Anas relates that the Prophet said: "On the Day of Judgement, the believers will be locked up. They will be troubled about this and say, `Let us look to Allah for intercession.' Then they will come to Adam and say to him: `Adam, you are the father of all people. Allah created you with his own hand, placed you in Paradise, has ordered the angels to honour you, and has taught you the names of all things. Be a prayer leader for us by Allah, so that it will be more bearable for us in this place!' But he will say, `I am not authorised to do that.' And he will tell of his sin - that he once asked Allah a foolish question. He will say to them, `Go to Abraham, the friend of Allah.' So they will go to Abraham. He also will say, `I am not authorised to do this.' He will tell them of three lies that he had uttered. `Go,' he will say to them, `to Moses, the servant to whom Allah gave the Torah. Allah spoke to him personally and nourished him through his trustworthy speech.' So they will come to Moses. But he will tell them, `For this I am not authorised.' He will tell of his sin - that he had murdered someone. `Go to Jesus,' he will say to them, `the Servant, Spirit, and Word of Allah.' So they will come to him. Jesus will tell them: `I am not authorised to do this. Go to Muhammad, because Allah forgave him all his sins - the former and latter ones.' So they will eventually come to me. I will ask Allah for permission, and it will be granted me. When I see Allah, I will throw myself to the floor. He will let me lie there as long as he so desires. Then he will say to me: `Muhammad, stand up, speak; then you will be heard. Bring forth your intercession, and it will be accepted...'" (28).

What is noticeable in this tradition, which is found with its different varieties in many Hadith collections - and what the Hadith collectors probably did not pay attention to - is the alleged answer of Jesus. In contrast to Adam, Abraham, Moses, and even Muhammad, one notices easily that Muhammad or the discoverer of the tradition did not succeed in ascribing one sin to Jesus. That Muhammad, a sinner, should be the only intercessor for the believers before Allah is not consistent with this fact.