Ecumenical & Interfaith, Muslim Ministry
Who is the Messiah in Islam?
March 27, 2018
4 comments 74783 views
Likely, you have read a phrase that goes like this, “Jesus is honored in Islam because it talks about his virgin birth, his miracles, and the fact that He is called the Messiah.” There is a semblance of truth in this statement, but one might want to ask the question, “What do Muslims think when they hear the word, ‘Messiah'?” We will look at a number of Islamic sources to answer that question.
The Messiah in the Qur’an
The word ‘masih’ is found 11 times in the Qur’an and often it is connected with the name ‘Isa' (or the Muslim Jesus), the son of Maryam, and the statement, ‘he was only a messenger.’ For example,
“… his name is al-Masīḥ, ʿĪsā, son of Maryam” (Q. 3:45) Al-Masīḥ,
...ʿĪsā, son of Maryam, was only a messenger of Allāh… (Q. 4:171).
If one reads the renditions of Muhammad Asad, an Austrian Jew who converted to Islam, and that of Yusuf Ali, a Muslim born in India, one might get the idea that they are even closer to a Christian reading of, for example, Q. 3:45. The Asad version reads,
“…shall become known as the Christ Jesus, son of Mary…”
while the Ali version reads
“… his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary…”
Based on these more ‘Christian’ readings, and overlooking the wider background of Islamic thought, Christian who have reached out to Muslims, try to use the idea of the Messiah or Christ to say that Christian doctrine can be found in the Qur’an. This has been done with the words ‘word of God’ and ‘spirit of God’ as well, but they will be treated another time.
Muslim thinking about the Messiah.
In 2001, Ibn Bāz, the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a religious decree or a fatwa as a response to the question, “Why is
Isa, the son of Maryam, called al-Masih?” His response encapsulates the ideas of a number of Muslim commentators before him. This is what he said,
‘Isa, the son of Maryam is called al-Masih because he did not touch any sick or disabled person except that they were cured by Allāh’s permission. Some of the Salaf also said that he was called al-Masih due to his contact with the earth and his frequent travelling therein for the propagation of the earth of the religion. According to these two sayings, al-Masih, meaning Maasih (one who touches).
It was also said that he is al-Masih because his feet were flat, with no hollow to the soles of his feet and it was said that he was touched with blessings, or that he was purified from sins and was therefore blessed; in these cases, Al-Masih would mean mamsuh (one who is touched), but the first [meaning] is the most apparent [obvious], and Allah knows best. In any case, there is no connection between this and belief or action, and the benefit of knowing it is minimal.
The last statement of the Mufti is important: “the benefit of knowing” about this person called Messiah for Muslims “is minimal.”
The source of Ibn Baz’s ideas:
Here is a list of a few Islamic commentators and what they say about the Islamic messiah in Q. 3:45.
These commentators also based some of their views on Islamic stories and sayings attributed to Jesus that circulated in the Middle East and beyond. One famous collector of these sayings was Ibn ‘Asakir and this is what he wrote:
Jesus son of Mary ate barley, walked on foot and did not ride donkeys. He did not live in a house, nor did he use lamps for light. He neither dressed in cotton, nor touched women, nor used perfume . . . He had no concern for lunch or dinner; and desired nothing of the world. He used to consort with the weak, the chronically sick and the poor . . . Of food, he ate little, saying: "even this is too much for one who has to die and answer for his deeds."
Basically, Ibn ‘Asakir is describing Jesus as a model ‘monk’ or holy man who has subdued all of his earthly passions. This kind of Messiah was a perfect example for Sufi Muslims.
Muslim sources tell us a few things about the Messiah in Islam. A few like Asad and Ali try to associate him with the Christ of the Bible in passages like Q. 3:45, but further reading in their versions of the Qur’an shows that this is anyone but long-expected Saviour of the world. Contrast this with Jesus’ birth announcement which read, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The commentators allude to the kingship and the anointing of this Messiah, but he is not King Jesus, anointed with power by the Holy Spirit to destroy the works of the devil (see I John 3:8). The storytellers tell of the humility of the Messiah, but they fail to see that he voluntarily laid down his lofty position as the Son of God enthroned in heaven and came to live on this earth (see Philippians 2). All of these Muslim commentators avoid the fact that this Messiah is the Son of God, and make him the son of Mary. Contrast this with Jesus’ own positive response to the question of the high priest, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61).
The description of the Messiah by Ibn ‘Asakir and others strongly focuses on his appearance, and what he did, but much less so on who he was. One Muslim author, Tarif Khalidi, in his book the Muslim Jesus, gives us a clue to why that is so. He notes that,
”it may be that since the physical appearance and daily habits of Muhammad were so well known and so minutely recorded, the Muslim transmitters might have felt inclined to do the same for earlier prophets [like the Muslim Jesus] so that Muhammad’s portrait could be seen to be in line with those of his predecessors.”
Why is this important for Christians to know?
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Hi, unknown. Its great that you have been doing some research. I would say your conclusion is incorrect. To answer why it is incorrect, I would implore you to go and research the origins of the new testament books. Look through the differing versions of the Bible : Wycliffe Bible translated in 1380 and compare with King James version of 1604. Read John 1:1 in those versions and see the big difference. 1. Ascertain the origins of the new testament books. 2. See how Bible versions were engineered to channel peoples thinking. Already KJV of 1604 added capital letters to Son and Spirit to make you think there is a difference. If you can honestly get to the bottom of the origins and credibility of the New Testament books, you will arrive at a correct answer.
Great that you've been doing some research too. To help you with the research it would be good to know that the King James Version, KJV, Wycliffe Bible... are all translations of the scripture. of course, translations are not going to be the same. Just like translations of the Qur'an (or commentaries if you believe it is untranslatable) vary in how they translate different Ayahs. Looking at the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts will make your arguments more persuasive. But beware, if you are willing to subject other religious traditions to historical criticism you must also be willing to subject your own tradition to the same historical criticism. Are you willing?
May God bless your research,
What does Messiah mean?
Messiah comes from the Hebrew word mashiach and means “anointed one” or “chosen one.” The Greek equivalent is the word Christos or, in English, Christ. The name “Jesus Christ” is the same as “Jesus the Messiah.” In biblical times, anointing someone with oil was a sign that God was consecrating or setting apart that person for a particular role. Thus, an “anointed one” was someone with a special, God-ordained purpose.
In the Old Testament, people were anointed for the positions of prophet, priest, and king. God told Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him as Israel’s prophet (1 Kings 19:16). Aaron was anointed as the first high priest of Israel (Leviticus 8:12). Samuel anointed both Saul and David as kings of Israel (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13). All of these men held “anointed” positions. But the Old Testament predicted a coming Deliverer, chosen by God to redeem Israel (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1–3). This Deliverer the Jews called the Messiah.
Jesus of Nazareth was and is the prophesied Messiah (Luke 4:17–21; John 4:25–26). Throughout the New Testament, we see proof that Jesus is the Chosen One: “These [miracles] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We also hear testimonies that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). The ultimate evidence that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the Anointed One, is His resurrection from the dead. Acts 10:39–43 is an eyewitness testimony to His resurrection and the fact that “he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”
Jesus fulfills the role of Prophet, Priest, and King, which is further evidence to His being the Messiah. He is a prophet, because He embodied and preached the Word of God (see John 1:1–18; 14:24; and Luke 24:19); a priest, because His death atones for our sins and reconciles us to the Father (see Hebrews 2:17; 4:14); and a king, because after His resurrection God gave all authority to Him (see John 18:36; Ephesians 1:20–23; and Revelation 19:16).
The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to redeem Israel by overthrowing the rule of the Romans and establishing an earthly kingdom (see Acts 1:6). It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection that His disciples finally began to understand what the prophecies in the Old Testament really meant the Messiah would do (see Luke 24:25–27). The Messiah was “anointed” first to deliver His people spiritually; that is, to redeem them from sin (John 8:31–36). He accomplished this salvation through His death and resurrection (John 12:32; John 3:16). Later, Jesus the Messiah will deliver His people from their physical enemies, when He sets up His Kingdom on the earth (see Isaiah 9:1–7).
Very helpful line of questioning.
Conversationally how would you answer common statements by our friends that 'your Allah and our Allah are one' or 'I believe in Jesus (and Adam, Noah, Abraham....)?
Until recently I've been saying great you believe in him, have you read his words, then opening up the NT, or Torah and calling them the Injil and the Tawreet. I've stopped, but not sure how to proceed. should I emphasise the antithesis?
you mentioned shaky foundations for building and that is my concern, are we starting conversations on a shaky foundation when we agree to talk about what we have 'in common' like the Injil, or like the prophet Ibrahim... or as you say like the Al Masih.
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