Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 19, 2001
Jesus and the Koran
Holy book of Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Muslims love and respect Jesus but they don't see him as divine. To them, he is just a messenger and a prophet, not God.
That's because the Koran, the holy book of Islam, "flatly denies" Christianity's fundamental belief in the Incarnation, where God becomes human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, says Dr. John Kaltner, an author and professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.
"For a Muslim the idea of associating God to a human being is not something that should be celebrated but it's an offence that should be castigated," he said. "It's the worse possible sin to associate something (human) with God."
Kaltner, the holder of a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Institute in Rome and a doctorate in Hebrew Bible from Drew University, spoke on Understanding the Bible in Light of the Koran at the University of Alberta March 9.
Some 200 people attended the lecture, sponsored by St. Joseph's University College to mark the institution's 75th anniversary.
"Certain sections of the Koran almost have the effect of a punch in the stomach for Christians," said Kaltner, noting that some passages of the Koran also challenge the Christian belief in the Trinity and even show Jesus actually repudiating the idea.
"Having said all of that, please keep in mind that Muslims have a deep, deep respect and appreciation and a deep love for the person of Jesus," Kaltner said.
"Christians should not forget that in fact Jesus is central to Islam. It's just that his role and his nature is understood very differently." In the Koran, Jesus declares, while still a baby, "I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the book and has made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I may be and has commanded me to observe prayer and almsgiving for as long as I live.
"(He has made me) obedient to my mother and has not made me proud or miserable. Peace upon me the day I was born, the day I will die, and the day I will be raised to life."
"Jesus is a newborn here and his first words put him clearly in a subordinate relationship to God," noted Kaltner.
"He is a prophet and a messenger but he is not God. In fact, Jesus acknowledges that Allah is behind all the things that he is. Jesus consistently does this, always pointing away from himself, pointing to Allah."
But even then he is not as great a prophet as Mohammed, who was the ultimate prophet of God, the Chosen One.
At the centre of Islam is the doctrine of one, eternal God - Allah in Arabic. The basic expression of this idea is the declaration: "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is the apostle of God."
Christianity differs on the nature of God by declaring a Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Koran says humanity was made by God and given a special place in creation. "(But) man fell from unity when his will was warped," it says, and spread disharmony across the earth until Mohammed began setting things right through the revelations he received from God.
The Koran refutes the Trinity clearly in several places and Qur'an 5:72-73 makes clear that "belief in the divinity of Jesus leads one to hell," noted Kaltner.
"They disbelieve who say 'Allah is the third one of three.' There is no God but the one God. If they do not desist from what they say, a painful punishment will come upon those of them who disbelieve."
But in the following verses the Koran says that "even if you commit the worse possible sin - associating something with Allah - you can be forgiven because Allah is the forgiving one and the merciful one," explained Kaltner.
"But that's a small consolation for a Christian, for whom Jesus is a member of the Trinity."
The Koran draws much of its historical context from Judaism and Christianity. For example, it reveres Abraham as the first prophet, tells the story of Joseph the prophet, son of Jacob, and records its own version of the life of Jesus.
Like the New Testament, the Koran holds that Jesus was virginally conceived, noted Kaltner. He is referred to as Son of Mary at least 33 times and is called the messiah 11 times, although the book never defines what the term means.
Islam began on the Arabian peninsula in the early seventh century when Mohammed, a young trader, underwent a profound religious conversion, which included meditations in the desert.
What resulted was a faith that requires of its followers submission to God's will as revealed in the Koran. Islam preaches, among other things, charity, chastity and submission to God. The greatest sins are pride and associating things with Allah.
According to Islam, Muslims, Jews and Christians are related in a line of revelation as the "people of the books" - the Torah, New Testament and Koran. Muslims see the Koran as the final revelation.
According to Kaltner, a negative view of other religions is revealed on Qur'an 3:85, which says, "Whoever seeks another religion than Islam, it will not be accepted from him. He will be among the lost ones at the end of time."
A positive view is revealed in Qur'an 5:68: "Oh people of the book, you have nothing until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and what has been revealed to you from your Lord."
The Muslim universe includes an evil force familiar to Christian theology - Satan, the fallen angel who constantly tries to lure humans into falling with him.
But a Muslim who has fallen always has the opportunity to repent and put himself right with God. "Despair not of the mercy of Allah, for Allah forgives all sins," the Koran says.
Kaltner said it's unlikely Christians and Muslims will ever be able to agree on Jesus. "I think the best that can be hoped for is some form of useful willingness to agree to disagree in a spirit of tolerance and respect for the other person," he said.
"But it's important for Christians to know the basis for the Muslims' ideas about Jesus and the only way you can get that is through looking at these texts, studying these texts and through dialogue and conversation with Muslims."
Things that Kaltner thinks show potential for conversation include the reference to Jesus' miracles in the Koran and the fact Jesus always points the way to God.
"Within the right context I think Muslims and Christians can attempt to meet on half ground and begin to discuss differences and yet commonalties that are found in the texts.
"It's time to move, I think from sibling rivalry to sibling reunion. I think there is a point in human history where people try to set aside their differences and begin to learn from each other."
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