Responses to Jamal Badawi's "Radio Al-Islam Channel RA 200"

Comparative Christology I : Methodology


In this segment, Dr. Badawi continues to present the Qur’an’s version of the life of Jesus. He also attempts to twist passages from the Bible in order to try to make the Bible’s account of the life of Jesus fit the Qur’an’s account. When I, as a Christian, want to learn about the life and teachings of Jesus, I turn to the New Testament which was written by those who followed Jesus - not someone who concocted stories centuries later based on apocryphal tales.

Host: How do you see the relevance of how Jesus is perceived?

Jamal Badawi: I think a comparison here could be quit helpful and useful providing that it is put in the right context and hopefully be appropriate Christology. It could be quit informative. If we were to discuss the comparative Christology or how Jesus is viewed in the Bible as compared to the Qur'an, or were to open any dialogue between the two communities, then I think the first thing to realize is that comparison by definition must examine the various similarities and differences. Now, I realize to talk about similarities is easier and definitely more pleasant than talking about the areas of differences. But I think that it will be worthwhile to examine both, then both communities will be aware of the views which are similar to theirs and that may be a grounds for the understanding of both sides. As far as the points of differences and understanding, obviously, that requires a great deal of openness and less dogmatism and approaching it openly and with an open heart. But we accept the challenge.

Host:What are the main areas of similarities between the Muslims and Christians in terms of their perception of Jesus?

Jamal Badawi: I would say that the most important area of similarity in terms of Jesus, there is substantial evidence to show that we have seen first of all the complete absence of a single word in the Qur'an which may be construed to be unfavorable or disrespectful to Jesus.

The Qur'an denies the divine nature of Jesus which He claimed and the Prophets who lived before Him predicted. To say nice things about Jesus, while at the same time ignoring His teachings, is not respectful. How does Dr. Badawi explain away the Old Testament prophecies concerning the life and crucifixion of Jesus?

But it is not only the negative part or the absence. We find that in numerous verses in the Qur'an that he is very highly honorable and I would dare to say that in some places it is even more honorable and respectful even than the New Testament itself. I think that I might have given the example before about the instance of Jesus when his mother went to him she was complaining that there was not enough wine at a wedding in John 2:4, he called his mother woman which we would not expect a prophet to speak like that to his mother. We do not find an analogy to that story in the Qur'an because booze, and Muslims believe that a prophet has nothing to do with booze, but if you compare it to the Qur'an for example, in Sura 19, it speaks of Jesus as someone who was extremely respectful and kind to his mother.

Let's have a look at this passage.

John 2:4-5 "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Did Jesus, a pious Jew, show disrespect to his mother Mary? No, he did not. To address someone as "Dear Woman" in those days was not a term of disrespect. When Jesus told Mary "My time has not yet come", it was a gentle rebuke for her interference. Mary realized what she had done and told the servants to "Do whatever he tells you." Jesus also called Mary woman in John 19:26, again with deep respect and love.

Note on John 2:4-5:

And Jesus said to her, «*Woman, [1]what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.» His mother said to the servants, «Whatever He says to you, do it.» (New American Standard Bible) [1] Lit what to Me and to you (a Hebrew idiom)

Jesus saith to her, `What -- to me and to thee, woman? not yet is mine hour come.' His mother saith to the ministrants, `Whatever he may say to you -- do.' (Young's Literal Translation)

When we look at the more literal translations of the Bible, we find that Jesus was not showing disrespect to Mary nor was He talking down to her. Jesus includes Mary and Himself on the same side of the issue [me and you]. In other words, the problem in this passage is the lack of wine at the wedding, while the other side [or solution] is Jesus and Mary. Jesus is asking, what has this to do with us (me and you)? After all, Jesus and Mary were guests at this wedding, therefore it was not their responsibility [according to custom and tradition] to ensure that there was sufficient food and wine - that was the responsibility of the hosts. When the NIV adds "dear" to the translation of this verse, it provides and accurate account of the meaning of this passage.

As far as "booze" is concerned, Jesus and His followers did drink wine - as did most of the people of His day. The Jews celebrated many festivals with wine and our Jewish friends continue to celebrate holy days with Kosher wine. The Bible preaches against drunkenness, not wine itself. It is interesting that Islam considers wine bad on earth, calling it the "handiwork of Satan" (Sura 5:90), yet there are rivers of wine in paradise (Sura 47:15 and 83:22,25)!

I dare say that he shows no respect in the New Testament. Not only this, we find a great deal of positive praise bestowed on Jesus without mixing in anything about divinity, he was still a human by the creator, and called him Masih, or anointed or a pure child a mercy from Allah and honored in this life and among those who are close to Allah.

The Qur'an uses the term "Masih", or Messiah without clearly defining the meaning of this title. If other Prophets were close to God, why were they not called Masih? To illustrate the Qur'an's [or Muhammad's] confusion, Sura 4:171 tells us:

O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, ...

and Sura 5:75 says:

The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. ...

So, if Jesus was only a messenger who was no different than the many other messengers, why is He given the exclusive title of "Masih" in the Qur'an? All other messengers are "Masihs" according to the Qur'an's premise. Clearly, Muhammad borrowed this term from the Christians without completely understanding its meaning in both the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps he did this in an attempt to appeal to the Christian community in hope of converting some of them. To learn more about the meaning of the term "Masih", please read these articles.

The Qur'an called him a messenger and a prophet of Allah a title that is more than a mere moral teacher or preacher. The titles prophet and messenger are reserved in Islam for the purest of the pure among all human beings according to the Qur'anic profile of the prophets.

The Prophets were, with the exception of Jesus, all sinners. The Islamic doctrine of "Isma", which claims that all of the Prophets were without sin, is not founded upon the teachings of the Qur'an or the sayings of Muhammad. Why do Muslims so desperately want to believe that the prophets are sinless? Please keep in mind that Muslims believe that Muhammad is the final, and greatest, prophet sent by God. Also keep in mind that Muhammad did not perform any miracles and did not give a single prophecy that actually came true. Muslims also have difficulty in respect to the Qur'an's teachings concerning Jesus. According to the Qur'an, Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, and was sinless (Sura 19:19). No man, before or after Jesus, has ever been described in such a way! Perhaps out of the fear that Muhammad (who is supposed to be the final and greatest prophet) would appear grossly inadequate in comparison to Jesus, and other Prophets, Muslims formulated a creed (providing the Prophets an Isma) called the Fiqh Akbar II: "All of the Prophets are exempt from sins, both grave and light, from unbelief and sordid deeds. Yet stumbling and mistakes may happen on their part". (Wensinck, The Muslim Creed, p. 192).

The Qur'an speaks about his birth from a virgin, that he was the word of Allah, the spirit receiving from Allah, we explained earlier the meanings of those honorary titles. A common practice of Muslims is that when the name of any prophet is mentioned, we say peace be upon him. The same is used for all other great prophets, a formula that I do not know of any Jew or Christian, not to show respect for Muhammad, but for his own prophet. I have never heard a Jew for example peace be upon anyone when he mentions the name Moses.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace! We do not give peace to Jesus, He gives it to us.

I wonder, given this, what more terms or respect can be expected of Muslims? When Christians or Jews write about Islam, we show a small amount of the respect that the Qur'an shows to Jesus, than they speak about the prophet Muhammad, they need to speak in a more objective and sympathetic way as the Qur'an speaks about Jesus, it would be far better than what it is.

Dr. Badawi is committing the fallacy of equivocation. First, the Jesus of the Bible is very different than the Jesus of the Qur'an. The Jesus of the Bible is the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and for Dr. Badawi's sins. The Jesus of the Bible was predicted long ago by the Prophets of God. The Jesus of the Qur'an denies that He is the Son of God and that He died on the cross. As I said earlier, you cannot claim to honor Jesus, or any Prophet of god, while you ignore their lives and teachings.

Muhammad desperately wanted people to believe that he was a Prophet in the tradition of the Hebrew Prophets of God. Therefore, Muhammad had to "level the playing field', and he did this by reducing the Prophets to one dimensional characters and ignoring their teachings. Second, the fact that you claim to respect Jesus does not oblige me, or any other Christian, to respect Muhammad. Incidentally, I have heard some "Moonies" and Hari Krishnas use the same argument! We need to objectively examine the lives and teachings of both Jesus and Muhammad to reach an honest opinion. After carefully studying the Qur'an, the Ahadith, and the biographies of Muhammad, I do not believe that he was a Prophet from God nor do I believe that he was a righteous man. He told his followers to lie and murder according to Muslim traditions compiled by Bukhari. Can you honestly tell me that Jesus would ever command such a thing?

Jesus is sinless, according to the Qur'an, and Muhammad is not. For example, Sura 48:2 says:

"That Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favor unto thee, and may guide thee on a right path."

Clearly, not only did Muhammad sin in the past, God knew that he would sin in the future! Muhammad not only sinned, he usually did not repent of his sins. In fact, he always, conveniently, claimed to have received a "revelation" to get him out of any problem in which he found himself! Why would God allow one of his Prophets to have lower moral standards than the masses that he is supposed to inspire and teach?

For example, one day, Muhammad lusted after Zainab, the wife of his adopted son Zaid, and wanted to marry her. Instead of repenting of this ghastly thought and asking God to forgive him, Muhammad claimed that he received a revelation from God approving of the union:

Sura 33:37 tells us:

"Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: "Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah." But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled."

Muhammad was also not held to the same standards as everyone else. According to Muhammad, Allah had commanded that a man could marry up to four women at any one time:

Muhammad revealed to his followers:

"Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four" (Sura 4:3).

However, four women were simply not enough for Muhammad, did he fight the temptation? No, he believed that he needed special permission from God to marry more and he (claimed that) that God gave it to him:

O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou has paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the captives of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated with thee; and any believing woman who gives herself to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her - this only for thee, and not for the believers [at large]; we know what we have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess - in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful" (Sura 33:50).

Host: How about the differences?

Jamal Badawi : Well, there are some differences when we talk about comparative Christology. Some relate to the scope of the message of Jesus, was he sent exclusively and explicitly for the Israelites or for the whole world as the prophet Muhammad was? Secondly is the understanding and interpretation of what happened and the events, or what was believed to be the crucifixion, and the notion of the ascension, differences relating to the second coming of Jesus, that is in what capacity is he coming to earth. The differences that might relate to if he came to shed his blood as the only begotten Son of God so that God will forgive mankind and save him, or did he come to guide humanity like all other Israelite prophets before him and like the last prophet after him to lead them to the right path of the creator. You can enumerate these and other differences but perhaps the central difference between Muslim and Christian thinking pertains to the divinity of Jesus, was he a human being, or a human being, or both as some people claim? And before I answer that question, I think that I should make a distinction here about divine. A Muslim has no problem that Jesus was holy or Muhammad was holy, that all prophets in fact are holy prophets, but I don't think that holy means divine, because that it is Godhood is where the Muslim says, this is the line. So he is holy but the problem is divinity, that he was in some form or another divine, Son of God - the way it was interpreted more commonly.

Host What methodology would you suggest for somebody when he goes out to analyze these areas of difference?

Jamal Badawi: There are some that I would suggest and others that I would not suggest, what happens when this comparative Christology between Muslims and Christians comes up. One approach is to simply avoid the discussion altogether and say that you people have that belief and we have this belief, let's not discuss about it. This might reflect a lack of a motive to learn or as far as the reason goes, only God knows, I don't want to understand anything that will cause any confusion to me, some people might say that they do not want to explore, just the fear of the unknown, fear of examining their beliefs. This is one approach. There are cases where Muslims and Christians discuss Jesus but their discussion becomes no more than each side quoting from his holy book. The Christians read from the New Testament and the Muslims from the Qur'an. That discussion could be quit informative in terms of acquainting one side or the other with what the other believes about Jesus. But, on the other hand, it does not fully satisfy a Christian who is seeking the truth, to understand or come up with more clarity on this important topic. Because you could say in one sense that when the Christian says that I am quoting to you from the New Testament, the Muslim might say that I do not recognize the authority because you are quoting the opinions of the followers of Jesus and that is not fully authoritative. The Muslim quotes from the Qur'an and the Christian will say that the book has no authority for me. It could be informative but it doesn't lead to any clear dialogue. What I might suggest is to approach it on a much different ways. Let's leave aside the issues of my scripture and your scripture, let us try to scrutinize both holy books, the Bible and the Qur'an to find out which of them or both if that is true is the work of Allah or is it the work of humans and interpretation which could be right or wrong. This might call for the analysis of the authority and authenticity of both scriptures. Authority by seeking both internal and external evidence and claims to determine that this is the word of God, to see if there is any corroborating external evidence of that scripture to see if it is free from error, and contradictions, and inconsistencies. That also calls for an examination of authenticity.

I agree that we should analyze the Bible and the Qur'an in order to discern the truth. The problem with most Muslim apologists, including Dr. Badawi, is that they begin with the a priori assumption that the Qur'an is the truth and that anything which disagrees with the Qur'an must, by definition, be false. By using this rationale, Muslims are caught in a circular argument: they have already assumed in their premise what they are going to state in their conclusion. By doing this, Muslim apologists end where they began and have proven absolutely nothing.

To be completely honest in our analysis, we must judge the Bible and the Qur'an by the same standards and criteria without making any a priori assumptions. Many people who are now Christians [including me], once doubted the Bible, but later came to believe that it is the Word of God after they critically analyzed the message and prophecies written in the Bible. Historically, Christians have examined their scriptures and beliefs much more than have Muslims - who largely place an "embargo" on any historical or philosophical analysis of the Qur'an.

But even if there is a claim of authority that it is God's revelation one has to make sure whether it was written down in the lifetime of its prophet, whether its original language, was it preserved ever since - is there any evidence that shows that the words we have today were the ones uttered in their times whether it was Jesus or Muhammad. This also could be quit productive but it requires a great deal of impartiality and honesty on both sides. To take both sacred writings and determine what authority and authenticity remain.

Problem 1: Was the Qur'an written in Muhammad's lifetime? The answer from the Ahadith is no.

Problem 2: The Qur'an that we have today has changed throughout history and is different than the Qur'an compiled by Uthman. For more information on this subject, I recommend that you read A `Perfect' Qur'an OR "So it was made to appear to them"?.

Problem 3: Does the perfect preservation of a text prove that it is the truth? This is a clear case of a fallacy of irrelevance. For example, the writings of L. Ron Hubbard are perfectly preserved, does that make "Scientology" the true faith?

Another possible approach that could be productive also would be to study the consequences of the deification of Jesus to examine the beliefs that are based on either assumption and to see if these beliefs are consistent, do they make any sense did they provide any substantive explanation about the nature of God, because you can't fully comprehend the nature of God. Reasonable proof of the validity of those beliefs of the content based on either Christian or Muslim assumptions. Another way is to encourage both sides to really examine their own holy books leaving aside questions of authority and authenticity or if it can't be fully resolved, to determine if there is any clear scriptural evidence to claim that Jesus is divine or not divine to arrive at some explanation or understanding.

Make sure that these beliefs are "consistent" with what criteria? The Qur'an's or the Bible's?

Host: I am going to ask you to elaborate on the very last one because it seems to be the most interesting of all three.

Jamal Badawi: It will because it may perhaps take a little research like the question of authority and authenticity what I meant by that, to be more explicit, is for example, our Christian brethren say that Jesus was divine, that he was God incarnate, God who made himself man and emptied himself of divine attributes. And the Muslim upholds again that Jesus was a prophet and messenger of Allah and that he was not divine. That leaves us with two approaches or two ways, either that the Muslim claim is not founded on the Qur'an that there is no basis for the Muslims saying that Jesus is not divine that indeed the Qur'an says that Jesus is divine - were are not aware of that so we cannot say that he was not divine.

A third possibility is that the Qur'an is wrong. Personally, I place infinitely greater trust in the accounts of the followers of Jesus, as recorded in the Bible, than I do in the teachings of a man who lived centuries after Jesus. Our Muslim friends will immediately object to what I have just written and claim that every word in the Qur'an comes from God. The problem with this thesis is that an All Knowing God could not make the mistakes that appear in the Qur'an. For example, God would never incorrectly call Mary the sister of Aaron. Also, the fact that there are earlier stories about Jesus such as the Arab Infancy Gospel, which a very similar to the Qur'an, leads me to question the authenticity of the Qur'an and its "revelations".

The second possibility to examine is the exact reverse of that, that what a Christian claims, the divinity of Jesus in fact lacks in the scriptures, in fact it negates that Jesus was divine and there is no coherent phrase that say that Jesus was God, or the Son of God. That is what I meant as the examination of both sides of their assumptions and I think that will be quit useful provided of course that if somebody is suggesting to the other side that this or that passage, it must be examined in the framework of how it is used in that particular scripture in the context.

Many Muslim apologists have attempted to show this by borrowing arguments from the Jehovah's Witnesses. The technique which both Muslims and the Witnesses use is to quote Bible passages out of context.

Host: Let's begin with the Qur'an first. Is there any passage that Christian scholars use to show Muslims that Jesus is divine?

Jamal Badawi: There is a lot of literature about that, I don't think that I can do it justice, and we can explain more as we go along, sometimes it is said that when Allah speaks, he uses the plural we and they say that this is proof from the Qur'an itself that when God says we that means persons in Godhood. They also say that in the Qur'an it mentions the virgin birth and Jesus had a human mother that it is a miracle. They also say that Jesus was clear, sinless, or holy, and all human beings are sinful, he is different from them - he is divine. They say that in the Qur'an there is no command for Jesus to seek forgiveness from Allah we are told that several prophets were told to seek forgiveness which means again that he is sinless and is not asked to seek forgiveness. In the Qur'an they refer to him as Messiah and Messiah died for the sins of humanity, he is the Messiah. They say the Qur'an acknowledges that Jesus is a Word from God this is consistent with what the Gospel of John says that the Word of God became flesh because the Word of God is divine. They like to say that the Qur'an calls Jesus the spirit from Allah and that is what we mean when we speak of the holy spirit in the triune Godhead. They say that the Qur'an simply negates the physical sonship of Jesus to God, the deity of Mary, but there is nothing in the Qur'an which rejects the way that Christians understand the Trinity.

Host: Now that you have mentioned these things concerning the opinions of the Christian scholars, maybe I will ask respond to them.

Jamal Badawi: Of course, in regards to Allah using the term we this is simply that language, you do not say I the king, you say we the king. Human kings can do that, the king of kings Allah can sue we. Plurality does not mean plurality of persons in Godhood.

It is interesting to note that there is no plural of respect in Biblical Hebrew. This exists in the Qur'an but this is irrelevant for the Hebrew Scriptures and for the New Testament as well.

The question of virgin birth has nothing to do with divinity we indicated before that Adam was created without a father or mother, not from a woman, that does not mean that he was divine, without the normal methods, Adam was born and so was Jesus, it was a miracle of Allah.

Problem 1: If Adam was the first man, then how else could he have been created? Obviously, being the first man, he had no mother or father. Think about it!

Problem 2: The Qur'an tells us that Jesus is a prophet like all of the other Prophets. Why was Jesus born of a virgin? All of the other Prophets were born of fathers and mothers, why was Jesus born in such a unique way?

Problem 3: What is the significance of the virgin birth in the Qur'an? According to the Christian Biblical view, Jesus was the only sinless man upon whom the sins of humanity were placed as He suffered and died on the cross. This act of love was foretold by God's Prophets and fit perfectly into the Old Testament theme of the forgiveness of sins through a blood sacrifice. However, when we read the Qur'an, it appears that God completely forgot about His revelations to the Prophets and forgot about the theme of blood sacrifice which He emphasized for thousands of years. It appears, once again, that Muhammad was borrowing ideas from Christians in order to make his religion appear authentic and to appeal to Christians to convert.

The question of describing Jesus and holy or sinless, the Muslims believe that all prophets are as such, but not in the absolute sense since absolute perfection belongs to God, but prophets are sinless, the purest of the pure and the exact term..... which is a derivative of the same root which was used in the Qur'an for the description of John the Baptist - and no one would say that John the Baptist, because he is sinless, is divine no Muslim or Christian would say that.

No Christian ever said that John the Baptist was sinless! By the way, Muhammad said:

"No child is born, but that, Satan touches it when it is born whereupon its starts crying loudly because of being touched by Satan, except Mary and her son" (al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 54).

So, was John the Baptist born sinless?

On the question of seeking forgiveness of Allah, that Jesus is never told in the Qur'an but the same we find applies to other prophets like John the Baptist, there is no verse in the Qur'an which tells John the Baptist to seek forgiveness, that does not make him divine. On the other hand, the Qur'an teaches, when we say to the prophets to seek forgiveness, it teaching his followers so he will say look, the prophet has been told to seek forgiveness even though he has nothing, we should be more humble and seek forgiveness.

The fact that there is no passage in the Qur'an which explicitly tells John the Baptist to seek forgiveness does not prove that he was sinless. It is interesting that Muhammad [who is considered by Muslims to be the last and greatest Prophet] was told to seek forgiveness.

"That Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favor unto thee, and may guide thee on a right path." Sura 48:2

The fact that he is called Messiah in the Qur'an is not the same term as one who carried the sins of the world and the Qur'an does not imply divinity. And if the question is raised as to shy only Jesus was called Messiah, the answer is very simple, some prophets were given a special title, not all prophets, but it is more famous for them. Abraham was called the friend of Allah it does not mean that the others were the enemies of Allah, they were also the friends of Allah. Moses was called the one to whom Allah spoke, it doesn't mean that he did not speak to any of the other prophets. The title could also be applicable if we take the terms Messiah, as one who is appointed.

Then does "Masih" mean in the Qur'an? If the Qur'an does not define this term, why does it use the term?

The other point about Jesus being mentioned in the Qur'an as Word, the Qur'an uses the Word to refer to the command of Allah, be when Allah wished to create something, it has nothing to do with what John says in his Gospel, or about the Greek philosophy about the Logos. The idea of Jesus being a spirit from Allah has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit but we said that the Qur'an says in Suras 32:9 15:29 that all human beings have something of the spirit of Allah in them. And finally to say that the Qur'an only rejected heretical ideas such as tritheism or believing in the physical sonship of Jesus is not correct and we indicated before that there is evidence like in Sura 4:170 5:76, negating also trinity, it translates trinity.

In conclusion, I do not look to the Qur'an for information concerning Jesus. I turn to the words of the Prophets, recorded in the Old Testament, and to the words of Jesus and His followers, in the New Testament.

Andrew Vargo

Responses to Jamal Badawi's "Radio Al-Islam Channel RA 200"
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