Jesus (Peace be with him) through the Quran and Shi'ite Narrations

Overview

What is offered here is a fairly comprehensive selection of the Àyàt (signs) of Holly Quràn and narrations pertaining to Jesusu said to have been reported by the Shíí Imams, peace be with them. It is generally admitted that not everything reported in this literature is correct, and the science of hadith has been developed by Muslim scholars precisely for the purpose of sorting through the narrations and evaluating their strength. No attempt has been made in what follows to select only hadiths considered reliable. The narrations selected provide an overview of what various reporters of hadiths have claimed that the Imams have said about Jesusu. At the same time, we cannot claim that our selection exhausts all such narrations. Sometimes we have found several reports that differ only in some insignificant details, in which case we have generally selected the most complete form of the report. Also omitted are reports in which Jesus is mentioned only incidentally, although where such incidental mention seemed interesting to us, we have provided the excerpt from the hadith. The isnàd, or chains of transmission that accompany the reports, have been omitted from the English translations since they would only be of use to those who have fluency in Arabic.

It is rather disheartening to find that so much misunderstanding remains between Christians and Muslims in the world today. Hopefully the collection presented here will be seen by Christians as a gift from the Shíah to show the reverence they have for Jesusu. The vision of Jesusu to be found here is different from that of Christianity, and the difference is bound to lead some to respond negatively, “No. The Christ we know is not like that.” We are not concerned to argue here for the veracity of the vision of Christ presented. Of course Christians will deny what conflicts with their

beliefs. However, it is hoped that the reader will be able to bracket the question of what reports about Jesusu are best considered factual, because this question depends on the standards used for such evaluations, whether doctrinal, historical or otherwise. According to our faith, as Shíah, the overall picture of Christ presented below is true, although questions may be raised about particular narrations or details thereof. This is how we think of Christu. It is a different way of thinking about him from what is familiar to Christians. However, it is by no means disrespectful, and it offers a way to understand the more general religious vision of Islam, particularly Shíí Islam. It is up to our readers to chose to respond by focusing on differences and rejecting what is contrary to their beliefs, or to find how much we have in common and on this basis to search for what is of value in the Muslims view, even where it differs from what one is prepared to accept.

We expect that our readers will include English speaking Muslims, both Sunni and Shíí, as well as Christians. To them we offer this collection as an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with Islamic teachings about Jesus, and hope that it will inspire better relations between Muslims and Christians. Even as we stand fast in our own faith, we should be prepared to deepen our appreciation of the commitment of Christians to follow the teachings of one held in such high esteem in the Quràn and hadith.

In the glorious Quràn, in a passage describing the annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesusu is described as a Word from God: (O Mary! Verily Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word from Him; his name is the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, prominent in this world and in the Hereafter of those near [to God].) (3:44)

The context in which this àyah was revealed was one of interreligious encounter. It is said that the Christians of Najran sent a delegation to the Prophet of Islam1 at Mecca to question him about the teachings of Islam concerning Jesusu, and that God revealed the above and other àyàt of Sêrah Àl-i Imràn in response. The response is not merely a denial of Christian teachings, although the divinity of Christ is clearly rejected, but an affirmation of much believed by Christians, as well, even the designation of Christ as logos: (O People of the Book! Do not transgress in your religion, and do not say of Allah but the Truth. Verily, the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit from Him.) (4:171) So, in addition to being called the Word of God, Jesusu is also called the Spirit of God, and in some of the narrations reported in the Shíí tradition, this title is used.

Of course, the interpretation of the logos in Christian theology differs markedly from the interpretation of the kalimah by Muslim scholars. For the Christian, according to the Gospel of John, the Word was God and the Word became flesh. For the Muslim, on the other hand, the Word is creature, even while it is the creative principle, for it is in Gods utterance of the word “Be!” that creation takes place. To call Christ the Word of Allah is not to deify him, but to verify his status as prophet. Because of his high status as prophet, Jesusu becomes a complete manifestation of God, one who conveys the message of God, one who can speak on behalf of God, and thus, the Word of God. Jesusu becomes the Word of God not because of an incarnation whereby his flesh becomes divine, but because his spirit is refined to such an extent that it becomes a mirror whereby divinity comes to be known. The temple is holy not because of any inherent sanctity in the structure, but because it is the place of the worship of God.

The differences between Islamic and Christian thinking about Jesusu are as important as they are subtle. Both accept the virgin birth, although it is ironic that a growing number of liberal Christians have come to have doubts about this miracle while Muslims remain steadfast! Among the other miracles attributed to Jesusu in the Glorious Quràn are the revival of the dead and the creation of a bird from clay, but all of the miracles performed by Jesusu are expressly by the permission of Allah. Just as in the miracle of his birth, Jesusu came into the world by a human mother and divine spirit, so too, his miracles are performed as human actions with divine permission. In this regard the error of the Christians is explained by the great Sêfí theoretician, Ibn al-Arabí, as follows:

This matter has led certain people to speak of incarnation and to say that, in reviving the dead, he is God. Therefore, since they conceal God, Who in reality revives the dead, in the human form of Jesus, He has said, (They are concealers [unbelievers] who say that God is the Messiah, son of Mary.) (5:72)

The point is that Muslims can find God in Jesusu without deifying him, and furthermore that deifying Jesusu is really an obstacle to their finding God in Jesusu, for deification is an obstacle to searching in Jesusu for anything beyond him.

One of the central questions of Christian theology is: “Who was Jesus Christ?” The formulation of answers to this question is called Christology. In this area of theology, Christians have debated the significance of the historical Jesus as opposed to the picture of Jesus presented in the traditions of the Christian Churches and the Biblical understanding of Jesus. The time has come for Muslims to begin work in this area, as well. Through the development of an Islamic Christology we can come to a better understanding of Islam as contrasted with Christianity, and Islam in consonance with Christianity, too. Indeed, the first steps in this direction are laid out for us in the Quràn itself, in the verses mentioned above and others.

Contemporary work toward an Islamic Christology is scarce. Christian authors have tended to stress the salvific function of Jesusu which seems to have no place in Islam, which leads to questions of religious pluralism when Christians ask one another whether Christu can be the savior of Muslims and others who are not Christians. Christians should be reminded that Muslims accept Jesusu as savior, along with all the other prophets, for the prophetic function is to save humanity from the scourge of sin by conveying the message of guidance revealed by God. The important difference between Islam and Christianity here is not over the issue of whether Jesusu saves, but how he saves. Islam denies that salvation is through redemption resulting from the crucifixion, and instead turns its attention to the instruction provided in the life of the prophetsu. Christian scholarship on Jesus as presented in Islam tends to ignore åadíth and focus on the Quràn. Often the research is polemical as authors attempt to support an interpretation of the Quràn that is more in keeping with Christian than Islamic doctrine. A general review and introduction to this work may be found in Neal Robinsons Christ in Islam and Christianity.

Muslims, on the other hand, have tended to produce their own polemical works showing how much of what is in the Bible is consistent with the Islamic view of Christu as prophet rather than as a person of the Trinity. Aåmad Deedats work along these lines has attracted much attention. More profound insights into the differences between Islam and other faiths, including Christianity, may be found in the writings of Frithjof Schuon, Shaykh Ísà Nêr al-Dín Aåmad, who presents the beginnings of a genuine Christology from a Sufi perspective in his Islam and the Perennial Philosophy. In his The Muslim Jesus : Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature, Tarif Khalidi has collected Islamic references to Jesus from the eighth to the 18th centuries, including mystical works, historical texts about prophets and saints and selections from the åadíth and Quràn. As Khalidi notes, these writings, form the largest body of texts relating to Jesus in any non-Christian literature.

These days there is much discussion of dialogue between different faith communities. Conferences have been held for this purpose in the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as in Africa, Europe and the United States. Perhaps one of the best ways Christians can find common ground for discussion with Muslims is to become familiar with the portrait of Jesusu presented in Islamic sources, the most important of which are the Quràn and aåàdíth, and for the latter, no matter what ones religious orientation, it must be admitted that the narrations handed down through the Household of the Prophet1 deserve careful attention. For those of us who have the honor of being counted among the Shíah, the importance of what has been related by the Ahl al-Bayt weighs especially heavily, as it should, according to the famous åadíth al-thaqalayn, in which the Prophet1, in the last year of his life, is reported to have said:

Verily, I am leaving with you two weighty things (thaqalayn): the Book of Allah and my kindred, my household, for indeed, the two of them will never separate until they return to me by the Pond [of Kauthar on the Last Day].

Perhaps some Christians will be dismissive of what is said of Jesusu in the Islamic narrations because the main debate about contemporary Christology among Christians is whether research about the historical Jesusu is relevant to religion, or whether knowledge of Jesusu requires attention to the role he plays in the Church and in theology. The Islamic narrations, coming centuries after the life of Christu (and in some cases more than a century after the life of Muåammad1) will likely be dismissed by liberal Christians in pursuit of a portrait of Jesusu based on the standards of historical research currently accepted in the West. The neo-orthodox Christian claims that the Savior is not to be found in history, but in the Church, so it will not be surprising if he displays no interest in what Islam has to say about Christu. However, the Christian may find that the Islamic perspective illuminates a middle ground between the historians emphasis on the natural and the ecclesiastical emphasis on the supernatural. The humanity of Jesusu is evident in the narrations of the Shíah, but it is a humanity transformed, a perfected humanity, and as such there is no denying its supernatural dimension.

The Muslim always seems to appear as a stranger to the Christian, but perhaps it is from the stranger that the Christian can best come to know his savior. The crucifix has hung in the Church for so long that it becomes difficult for the Christian to find significance there. The attraction of the quest for the historical Jesus is that it provides a fresh look at the subject, even if that quest is marred by naturalistic presumptions inimical to the religious outlook. By trying to see Jesusu as the Muslim sees him, the Christian may find his savior come to life, lifted up to God in his own inner life rather than crucified.

If we have given reason for Christians to study the narrations of the Shíah about Jesusu, the question of the value of such study for Muslims remains. Some might wonder why, when we have the Quràn and sunnah, we should be especially interested in Jesusu. To begin with, Jesusu, along with the prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peace be with them, and Muåammad1 has a special status in Islam as one of the greatest prophets, the êlê al-azm, the prophets who brought the divine law. What was revealed to the last of them is a confirmation of what was revealed to the others. The truth of the revelation is not to be found in its particularity but in its universality, and we come to understand this best when we understand the teachings of all the prophetsu. Is this not why so much attention is given to the previous prophets in the Quràn?

All of the prophetsu have brought a gospel of love, love of God and love of neighbor and love even for the meanest of His creatures. So, in the reports narrated below we find Jesusu giving some of his food to the creatures of the sea. At the same time, however, this love is not to be confused with a sentimentalism which would prevent the execution of the divine law. Jesusu found fault with the Pharisees not because of their regard for the exterior forms of religion, but because of their disregard for its interior forms, that is, because of their hypocrisy.

The Words of the Spirit of Allah reported in the selections that follow are primarily concerned with morals. These are Christian morals and at the same time Islamic morals. Today Christendom is in a state of moral upheaval. Peculiarly modern ideas of what is right and wrong have found their way into the theologians understandings of ethics. Significant areas of agreement are difficult to find. The simple morality taught by Jesusu and which continues to be emphasized in Islam resonates in the narrations of the Shíah. While excessive asceticism is forbidden, we are to turn, like Jesusu, away from the world to find refuge in God.

From the following narrations we not only become reacquainted with the moral teachings of Jesusu and with his character, but we also discover what the dear friends of Allah, the Household of the Prophet1 found it important to transmit about him, and thereby we get a glimpse into their moral teachings and characters, too.

Biåàr al-Anwàr is a collection of hadiths in Arabic written by Mawlà Muåammad Bàqir ibn Muåammad Taqí, known as Majlísí the Second, or simply Allàmah Majlísí (A.H. 1037_1110). He is one of the most prolific Shíí writers, and was Shaykh al-Islàm during the Safavid period. He authored thirteen books in Arabic and fifty-three in Farsi. His largest and most important work is Biåàr al-Anwàr al-Jàmiah li-Durar Akhbàr al-Aimmah al-Aìhàr. This is the most comprehensive of all collections of Shíí hadiths, and it includes almost all hadiths attributed to the Prophet1 through Shíí chains of transmission, almost all of the aåàdíth qudsí (narrations of the words of God revealed to the Prophet1 not included in the Quràn) and other narrations attributed to the Imamsu. One of the features of this work is that Allàmah Majlísí went to great pains to separate his own views from the transmission of the aåàdith. It took him thirty-six years to compile the work, from A.H. 1070 to A.H. 1106, with the cooperation of other scholars of the day and students. In the first volume, he identifies his sources, and later in the same volume he evaluates their reliability. His sources include close to four hundred titles, among which are sixteen works of Shaykh Æadêq, sixteen works of Shaykh Ìêsí, eighteen works of Shaykh Mufíd, twelve works of Sayyid Murtaèà, twelve works of Shaåíd Awwal, twenty-one works of Sayyid ibn Ìàwês, twenty-three works of Allàmah Åillí and twelve works of Shahíd Thàní. He also made use of ninety works by Sunní authors for correcting the words of the narrations or determining their meanings, and he mentions each of these sources by name in his introduction. There are three extant editions that have been published of Biåàr, one is a lithograph print in twenty-five volumes, known as the old edition. The second is that of Dar al-Kutub al-Islàmiyyah, Tehran, Bazàr Sulìàní, in one hundred ten volumes (no date), known as the new edition. In the Terhan edition, volumes 54, 55 and 56 contain a table of contents. The third edition is really just a reprint of the Tehran edition published by Muassasah al-Wafà of Beirut. In the Beirut edition, the contents have been moved to volumes 108, 109 and 110, and a volume 0 was added in which there is an introduction to the author and the authors of his sources. We have used the new edition published in Tehran.

Tuåaf al-Uqêl fí Mà Jàa min al-Åikam wa al-Mawàiî an Àl al-Rasêl by Abê Muåammad Åasan ibn Alí ibn Åusayn ibn Shubah Åarràní Åalabí is one of the most well known collections of Shíí narrations. The author was a contemporary of Shaykh Æadêq and died in A.H. 381. Shaykh Mufíd reports narrations from him, and he, in turn, reports traditions from Shaykh Abê Alí Muåammad ibn Hammàm, who died in A.H. 336. The book contains narrations from the Prophet1 followed by narrations of the first eleven Imamsu in order. After this, there are four more parts to the book: (1) the whispered counsel (munàjàt) of God to Mosesu; (2) the whispered counsel of God to Jesusu; (3) the advice of the Messiahu in the gospel and other places; and (4) advice of Mufaèèal ibn Umar, one of the companions of Imam Æàdiqu to the Shíah. In the introduction to this work, Ibn Shubah writes:

I did not mention the chains of transmission in order to reduce the volume of the book and keep it short. Most of the narrations in this book are ones I have heard. Most of them pertain to manners and wisdom which testify to their own validity and the correctness of their attribution.

Scholars in this field consider the work to be reliable and refer to it in support of their opinions about hadiths and fiqh. The book was first published in A.H. 1303 in Iran, and later in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran. The edition we have used is that of Qom: Muassasah al-Nashr al-Islàmí, A.H. 1416.

The narrations we have translated from Tuåaf al-Uqêl are given without mention of a chain of transmission, although there is an indication in this work that they are reported by Imam Mêsà ibn Jafar al-Kàîimu. Part of the narration may also be found in al-Kàfí, Vol. 2, p. 319, attributed to Imam Æadiqu.

Al-Kàfí is one of the four most authoritative sources of Shíí narrations. It was written by Muåammad ibn Yaqêb ibn Isåàq al-Kulayní al-Ràzí (d. A.H. 328) and contains six thousand narrations divided into thirty-four sections. It took twenty years to write during the minor occultation of the twelfth Imamu. It has been published in eight volumes in Tehran by Dàr al-Kutub al-Islàmiyyah. We have used the 1362/1983 edition. The whispered counsel of God to Jesusu translated below from al-Kàfí, Vol. 8, 131_141, may also be found in Tuåaf al-Uqêl, p. 496, without mention of the name of the Imam from whom it was narrated, and in Al-Amàlí of Shaykh Æadêq it is narrated from Imam Æàdiqu.

Another of the “four books” of Shíí narrations containing reports about Jesusu is Tahdhíb al-Aåkàm by Shaykh al-Ìàifah Abê Jafar Muåammad ibn al-Åasan ibn Alí al-Ìêsí (b. A.H. 385, d. A.H. 460). There are said to have been four hundred small books of Shíí narrations extant during the authors lifetime, known as Uæêl al-Arbaah Miah, and the author claims to have compiled this collection from these. This book is a commentary on Al-Muqniah of Shaykh Mufíd, a work of jurisprudence containing references to hadiths. The edition of the Tahdhíb al-Aåkàm we have used is that of Tehran: Dàr al-Kutub al-Islàmiyyah, no date.

Mustadrak al-Wasàil wa Mustanbaì al-Masàil by Hàjj Mírzà Åusayn Nêrí al-Ìabarsí ibn Muåammad Taqí (A.H. 1254_1320) contains more than twenty-three thousand narrations and has been published in Qom by Muassasah Àl al-Baytu li Iåyà al-Turàth, first edition published in A.H. 1408. This is considered one of the four most important collections of Shíí hadiths of the modern period, that is, after the eleventh/seventeenth century, the others being Al-Wàfí by Fayè Kàshàní, Biåàr al-Anwàr by Allàmah Majlísí and Wasàil al-Shíah by Shaykh Åurr al-Àmilí. It was written in order to complete the narrations not included in the Wasàil al-Shíah.

Muåammad Legenhausen

The Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, Qom

Rajab 1426/August 2005

 
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