Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus’ Ministry and Miracles in the Qur’an: Part 2A

A comprehensive Analysis of the Medinan Chapters (A)

Masud Masihiyyen

In the first part of our comparison we analyzed the Qur’an verses of the Meccan period that relate Jesus’ ministry and miracles in Israel (*). Undoubtedly, Muhammad’s migration to Medina became a turning point in his life and career. This migration, which was in the form of a temporary retirement from Mecca, the city of the Cube, made Muhammad the head of the first Islamic state founded in Medina, adding a mundane and political layer to his religious authority. During his stay in Medina, Muhammad found occasion to contact some Christians, gain more information about their doctrines, and respond to them in accordance with his new theology and ideology.

As a natural consequence, Muhammad’s teachings concerning Christians and their creed increased in quantity in the Medina period, but his false accusations targeting Christians and his inaccurate presentation of some of their doctrines due to either ignorance or acts of perversion prevented a similar improvement in quality. Still, in a few cases the teachings regarding the Christian tenets in the Qur’an seem to be heavily influenced by Christians and their peculiar theological formulations about Jesus despite Muhammad’s efforts to strip them of their genuine content by isolating them from their original meaning and significance.

If we follow the traditional chronological order of the Qur’an, the first chapter that refers to Jesus’ ministry in the post-migration period is Surah 2 and the last chapter is Surah 5. The comparative analysis of these references also reflects the evolution in Muhammad’s understanding and knowledge of the Christian doctrines as well as his bitter arguments with the adherents of those teachings.

Jesus’ Indefinite Signs in Surah 2:87 and 2:253

In Surah 2 the following verse talks of Jesus as a prophet succeeding the previous Israeli messengers coming after Moses and vaguely mentions some clear “signs” given to Him without presenting detailed information:

We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an apostle with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride? - Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay! (Surah 2:87 Yusuf Ali)

This verse was clearly devised as a result of Muhammad’s wish to criticize the Children of Israel for their disbelief in Jesus and identify them as a community slaying God’s messengers.1 The vague reference in the verse to Jesus’ various clear signs that accompanied Him during His prophetic ministry in Israel reminds us of the similar formulation in Surah 43:63, where Jesus is depicted as a messenger preaching to the Children of Israel and performing some indefinite signs. Apart from associating Jesus’ name and mission with the denunciation of the Children of Israel for their killing some unnamed messengers, Surah 2:87 differs from Surah 43:63 and the other Meccan chapters relating Jesus’ ministry and miracles in Israel mainly because of its teaching that Jesus was strengthened/supported with the Holy Spirit.

This new doctrine supposedly revealed to Muhammad about Jesus at a later period of the Qur’an was most likely adopted from Christians through hearsay. With the help of his Christian contacts or his mentor’s familiarity with the basic Christian theology, Muhammad repeated the teaching that Allah supported Jesus with the Holy Spirit, but failed to explain its meaning or even explicitly identify the Holy Spirit due to his inaccurate and incompetent borrowing.

In Christian theology and scripture the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Triune God and fundamentally associated with Jesus’ prophetic ministry in Israel. In the four canonical Gospels, Jesus initiates His public ministry and is revealed to Israel when the Holy Spirit descends on Him in the visible form of a dove during His baptism by John in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32-33). Further, the Evangelist Luke highlights the connection between the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ prophetic ministry when he recounts Jesus’ first visit to His hometown and His speech in the synagogue:

Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by all. Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:14-19)

This particular narrative reiterates the teaching that Jesus, as the Messiah, was anointed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit to work wondrous acts in Israel. In the Acts of the Apostles, another book written by Luke, Peter refers to this fundamental doctrine and underlines the link between the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ ministry while revealing Jesus’ name to the Gentiles:

Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all) – you know what happened throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John announced: with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:34-38)

The interesting point is that the author of the Qur’an was somehow familiar with this tenet and decided to adopt it without going into details. The result was the transfer of the Biblical doctrine that Jesus performed signs in the power of the Holy Spirit into the Islamic scripture:

Then will God say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. (Surah 5:110 Yusuf Ali)

It is saddening indeed to see that few verses of the Qur’an are in line with the Christian scripture and theology and that it is impossible to find in them the profound connections and consistencies of the doctrines taught in the Bible. Muhammad, as a lazy student who did not study his lesson well and had poor strategies of cheating, could not even understand the relation between Jesus’ designation as the Messiah and God’s anointing Him with the Holy Spirit. This is why he by no means affiliated the title al-Masih (the Messiah), which he attributed only to Jesus, with the verses thematically linking Jesus’ ministry to the power of the Holy Spirit in his book.2

What is worse and more tragic is that the traditional Islamic commentaries reveal an overall tendency to isolate the Qur’an verses vaguely mentioning the connection between the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ prophetic ministry from their original context in the New Testament theology and terminology through misinterpretation. Although there is no single Qur’an verse that explicitly identifies the Holy Spirit as an angel or specifically as the angel Gabriel (1, 2, 3), Muslim scholars race to claim that in Islamic terminology the phrase Holy Spirit is another name for Gabriel rather than the third person of the Triune God. For instance, in his commentary on Surah 2:87 Ibn Kathir presents the following explanation:

The proof that Jibril is the Ruh Al-Qudus is the statement of Ibn Mas`ud in explanation of this Ayah. This is also the view of Ibn `Abbas, Muhammad bin Ka`b, Isma`il bin Khalid, As-Suddi, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, `Atiyah Al-`Awfi and Qatadah. Additionally, Allah said, (Which the trustworthy Ruh (Jibril) has brought down. Upon your heart (O Muhammad ) that you may be (one) of the warners) (26:193-194). Al-Bukhari recorded `A'ishah saying that the Messenger of Allah erected a Minbar in the Masjid on which Hassan bin Thabit (the renowned poet) used to defend the Messenger of Allah (with his poems). The Messenger of Allah said, (O Allah! Aid Hassan with Ruh Al-Qudus, for he defended Your Prophet.) (Source)

Interestingly, Surah 26:193-194 does not necessarily talk about the Holy Spirit, but the Trustworthy Spirit (ar-Ruhu al-Aminu), which might refer to angel Gabriel. Still, the particular designation in this verse is open to interpretation, and it is not far-fetched to think that the author of Surah 26 had in mind the Holy Spirit of Christian theology rather than angel Gabriel when he replaced the word “holy” with “trustworthy”. Similarly, in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is sometimes called the Spirit of the Truth (John 14:16-17).

It is also noteworthy that throughout the Qur’an the phrase “Holy Spirit” appears four times in total (Surah 2:87, 2:253, 5:110, and 16:102), and in three of these four places it is explicitly associated with Jesus and His mission. Only in Surah 16:102, a Meccan chapter, is the Holy Spirit mentioned with regard to the divine source of the Qur’an. Further, the Arabic equivalent of the word “holy” in the phrase “Holy Spirit” is quddus, which is a rare word in the entire Qur’an. This fact may point out its casual transfer into Islam from Muhammad’s Christian contacts through hearsay and misunderstanding.

In any case the teaching in the Qur’an that Jesus was strengthened with the Holy Spirit – no matter how this statement is interpreted by Muslims – seems hovering and incoherent. Accordingly, none of the Quranic narratives relating Jesus’ ministry in Israel explains when and how Jesus received the support of the Holy Spirit. The account in Surah 3, which first narrates Jesus’ miraculous birth and then makes an abrupt chronological leap to His ministry in Israel, lacks a thematic connection with the verses referring to the Holy Spirit in the same context as Jesus’ mission. Despite the emphasis on the Jewish disbelief and hostility targeting Jesus in Surah 3, nothing is said about the support of the Holy Spirit. According to this narrative and Surah 61:14, the only aid or support for Jesus came not from the Holy Spirit or Gabriel, but from a few disciples that were later known as the apostles. All these examples of incoherence and deficiency illustrate Muhammad’s confusion in regard to the identity of the Holy Spirit and his incompetent/inaccurate adoption of some major Christian doctrines and terms.

Our further analysis shows that Surah 2:253 is a slightly modified form of Surah 2:87:

Of those messengers, some of whom We have caused to excel others, and of whom there are some unto whom Allah spake, while some of them He exalted (above others) in degree; and We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty) and We supported him with the holy Spirit. (Surah 2:253 Pickthall)

In this verse Muhammad did not only repeat his vague reference to Jesus’ indefinite signs, but also his comparatively new teaching of the Medinan period that portrayed Jesus as a prophet who was strengthened with the Holy Spirit. What makes this verse different from Surah 2:87 is that it thematically binds Jesus’ clear signs and His getting the support of the Holy Spirit to the idea that Allah made some prophets excel others; that is, in Allah’s sight the prophets were not necessarily equal in rank. This is actually a teaching already introduced in the Meccan period of the Qur’an:

And thy Lord is Best Aware of all who are in the heavens and the earth. And we preferred some of the prophets above others, and unto David We gave the Psalms. (Surah 17:55 Pickthall)

Evidently, in the period prior to his migration Muhammad had given David as an example of his claim that Allah preferred some of the prophets above others by presenting the Psalms as evidence for David’s supposed superiority. While repeating this assertion in Surah 2, Muhammad replaced David with Jesus, but instead of replacing the book given to David (Psalms) with the one allegedly given to Jesus (Gospel), he implied that Jesus’ clear signs and God’s strengthening Him with the Holy Spirit indicated His being higher in rank than the other prophets. The root of this inconsistency was most likely Muhammad’s failure to state a good reason for the many miracles performed by Jesus and explain why Jesus was supported with the Holy Spirit.

It is not difficult to guess that during a religious dispute Muhammad’s Christian contacts first mentioned the several miracles wrought by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and Muhammad incorporated this piece of new information into the Qur’an in the form of Surah 2:87. Muhammad’s endorsement of these teachings was later interpreted by Christians as the sign of his submission to the tenet of Jesus’ divinity and the Triune God. In order to evade this problem, Muhammad simply made use of his previously invented doctrine about the superiority of some prophets and found the solution in ascribing what he said in Surah 2:87 to Allah’s arbitrary and inconsistent method of preferring some prophets above others.

Ibn Kathir’s comment on Surah 2:253 is worth quoting as it illustrates Muslim scholars’ abrupt addition of Muhammad’s name into the list of the messengers that Allah talked to, the purpose of which, of course, was to assert that Muhammad’s superiority was implied in this verse:

(Those Messengers! We preferred some of them to others; to some of them Allah spoke (directly)) meaning, Musa and Muhammad, and also Adam according to a Hadith recorded in Sahih Ibn Hibban from Abu Dharr. (Source)

Ibn Kathir seems to have forgotten that according to the Qur’an, Allah also talked directly to Jesus (Surah 3:55, Surah 5:114-115).3 However, he chose to ignore this fact since the insertion of Jesus’ name into the list of the messengers that Allah talked to would make Jesus superior in both ways.

The Revelation of Jesus’ Signs in Surah 3

While devising Surah 3, Muhammad found occasion to reveal the indefinite miracles ascribed to Jesus in Surah 43 and 2 with the help of some fresh information he received from his Christian contacts. Actually, he first recounted the story of Jesus’ nativity in a drastically different way than in Surah 19 and somehow felt obliged to include the story of Mary’s parents along with that of Mary’s miraculous birth in Surah 3:33-35. The reason underlying this discrepancy and Muhammad’s odd obligation was undoubtedly his plagiarism from the Gospel of James, another famous and non-canonical Gospel of nativity and infancy. He followed the general framework of the narrative in this apocryphal Gospel until Mary’s visitation by some angels for the annunciation of Jesus’ birth. Right at this point, Muhammad inserted into the angelic message the prediction that Jesus would be able to perform the miraculous act of speaking despite being an infant in the cradle:

He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous. (Surah 3:46 Pickthall)

Although the angelic annunciation in the Gospel of James did not include anything explicit or implicit about this particular miracle, its twisted version in the Qur’an claimed otherwise because Muhammad repeated in Surah 3 what he had done in Surah 19 – combining the narrative copied from an apocryphal Gospel with the teaching peculiar to the Arabic Gospel of Infancy that Jesus spoke from the cradle. In other words, this claim present in the introduction to the Arabic Gospel was incorporated into the story borrowed from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew in Surah 19 and into the account borrowed from the Gospel of James in Surah 3.

Nonetheless, Muhammad’s aim to bring the story of Jesus’ nativity in Surah 3 in line with its different version in Surah 19 through the insertion of the element drawn from the Arabic Gospel into both accounts did not help him much, for the narrative in Surah 19, unlike the one in Surah 3, implicitly affiliated Jesus’ miraculous speech in the cradle with the particular section in Pseudo-Matthew relating Mary’s interrogation by her folk in the Temple with the charges of fornication (chapter 12).4 In Surah 3, however, Muhammad did not narrate any of the events following Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus’ birth. This is why it was impossible for him to mention the miracle of infant Jesus’ speech in association with Mary’s accusation by her folk or claim that its primary function was the defense of Mary’s chastity. The inevitable consequence was the transfer of this particular miracle into the account of the angelic annunciation and prediction after its dissociation from the account of Mary’s return to Israel following Jesus’ birth in Surah 19. This change in the context of the miracle ironically made it thematically more similar to its original version in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy, which does not affiliate infant Jesus’ speech with the accusations targeting Mary’s chastity.

After answering Mary’s question about the means of her pregnancy (Surah 3:47), the angels predict that the child will be made a prophet and sent to the Children of Israel:

And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel, And will make him a messenger unto the Children of Israel, (saying): Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird, by Allah's leave. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead, by Allah's leave. And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you, if ye are to be believers. (Surah 3:48-49 Pickthall)5

Obviously, Mary’s question in verse 47 interrupts the angelic message and functions to distinguish the period of Jesus’ infancy, which includes the miracle of speech in the cradle, from the period of His public ministry in Israel. According to the order of the narrative in Surah 3, Jesus performs some signs and finds disbelief/rejection in Israel. He later seeks some helpers and meets the apostles. If we think all these incidents happened in Jesus’ infancy, we must conclude that Jesus wrought some miracles, chose His apostles and was later taken away from this world when He was a little child. Accordingly, the statement attributed by the angels to Allah “And will make him a messenger to the Children of Israel”, which comes after the angelic prediction of Jesus’ ability to speak in the cradle, indicates the transition from Jesus’ infancy to His public ministry in His maturity.

The separation of Jesus’ miracle of speech in the cradle (Surah 3:46) from His other signs (Surah 3:49) that He performed after He had been sent to the Children of Israel as a messenger (Surah 3:48) implies that Jesus did not start His prophetic ministry in His infancy. This implied teaching is not totally compatible with the account in Surah 19, which depicts Jesus as an infant delivering His first sermon from the cradle. Surah 3 does not give us the occasion and content of Jesus’ speech in the cradle unlike in Surah 19.6 Thus, in Surah 3 Jesus’ speech in the cradle is given as one of the abilities bestowed on Him by Allah with no specific reason or ties with His later ministry in Israel, and does not coincide with Jesus’ first prophetic declaration. This brings about another discrepancy between the account in Surah 19 and the one in Surah 3. In the former, the messenger visiting Mary does not make any predictions about Jesus’ miracles (Surah 19:19 and 21), but Jesus performs the miracle of speaking despite being an infant (Surah 19:29-30). In the latter, however, the angels visiting Mary predict that Jesus will speak in the cradle (Surah 3:46), but we never see Jesus perform this particular miracle. Consequently, we have the fulfillment of this miracle without the angelic prediction in Surah 19 whereas we have the angelic prediction of this miracle with no fulfillment in Surah 3. This discrepancy is most likely a result of Muhammad’s designing the story in Surah 3 through the combination of the Arabic Gospel of Infancy with the Gospel of James.

Muhammad’s version of the plagiarized story in Surah 3 is not harmonious with what is stated in the New Testament concerning not the time, but the means of Jesus’ revelation to Israel. The canonical Gospels unanimously relate Jesus’ baptism by John as the remarkable event that initiated his ministry as the Messiah through the descent of the Holy Spirit on Him. According to Surah 3, however, Jesus is sent on a mission to the Children of Israel after He is taught by God the Torah and the Gospel and endowed with Wisdom. He performs His clear signs in His maturity rather than in Infancy, which implies that His public ministry did not begin in the period of His infancy. While devising the narrative in Surah 3, Muhammad seems to have forgotten about his statements in Surah 2:87 and 2:253, for the angels foretelling Jesus’ prophetic mission and delivering a new piece of information on the type of His miracles do not say anything about the Holy Spirit or Jesus’ receiving His aid/support for His ministry.

The angelic prediction addressing Mary gives a list of the signs that Jesus the Prophet will perform in Israel:

  • Creating birds from clay
  • Healing people who are born blind
  • Healing the lepers
  • Raising the dead
  • Announcing to people what they eat and what they store in their houses

Five specific signs are counted, but the story does not allow us to get detailed information on these miracles since it attaches them to the angelic prediction of a claim Jesus will later make rather than providing a separate account for each. Thus, instead of narratives dedicated to the detailed explanation of the signs Jesus performed in His ministry, we have an insufficient summary begetting many questions and making the wonders devoid of context by turning them into some obscure acts on Jesus’ to-do list. Why did this happen? Why did Muhammad or the author of Surah 3 fail to give detailed information on Jesus’ signs through a historical narrative? Why does Jesus appear in Surah 3 as a prophet giving a lecture to the Children of Israel and a summary of His present or future7 signs?

The answer to all these questions lies in the fact that in Surah 3 Muhammad combined what he had copied from the Gospel of James with what he heard from some Christians disputing with him about Jesus. Unlike the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which Muhammad plagiarized from while devising Surah 19 in the Meccan period, the Gospel of James relates none of the miracles that are ascribed by the other non-canonical Gospels to the period of Jesus’ infancy. Muhammad’s Christian contacts, however, found an occasion to tell him about Jesus’ various miracles they had read about in the sources other than the Gospel of James. It was again Muhammad’s choice and duty to reconcile these two distinct sources of information, and he did this by first attributing the information he heard from his Christian contacts to Jesus and then linking Jesus’ supposed speech to the angelic prediction that had been borrowed from the Gospel of James.

Islamic sources other than the Qur’an surprisingly support this theory and testify to the fact that the information concerning Jesus’ miracles in Surah 3 was introduced after Muhammad’s religious dispute with a local Christian delegation from South Arabia. Actually, the sirah literature asserts that the narrative about Jesus and Christians in Surah 3 was revealed in response to the teachings of the Christian representatives visiting Muhammad in Medina and having a religious debate with him about Jesus’ identity. In his extensive article entitled “Muhammad the Borrower Still! Part 1”, which substantiates Muhammad’s plagiarism from Christian sources, Sam Shamoun quotes the following section from Tabari:

These are the claims of the Christians. They have argued in support of the claim that Jesus is God from the fact that he used to raise the dead, cure diseases and foretell unknown things. He also used to fashion out of clay the shape of a bird, then breathed into it, and it became a bird (Q. 3:49 and 5:110). … Christians have likewise argued that Jesus is the son of God in that they say that he had no known father. He also spoke in the cradle (Q. 3:46, 5:110 and 19:29), a thing which none of the children of Adam had done before him. They have contended that Jesus is ‘the third of three’ on the basis of God’s saying ‘We did,’ ‘We commanded,’ ‘We created’ and ‘We have decreed.’ They thus argue that had God been only one, He would have said, ‘I did,’ ‘I commanded,’ ‘I decreed’ and ‘I have created.’ This refers, therefore, to God, Jesus and Mary. It is concerning all these claims that Qur’anic verses were sent down. Thus, God informed His Prophet of their claims” (Tabari, VI, pp. 152-153) (Source)

According to Tabari, some Christians met Muhammad and told him about some of Jesus’ outstanding miracles in order to support their claims concerning Jesus’ divinity, that is, His being the Son of God. This report answers the question why Jesus’ miracles are given in Surah 3 in the form of a reported summary in addition to displaying how the particular information and interpretation Muhammad received from the Christians of Arabia brought about discrepancies between the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy and the Qur’an.

The Source of the Five Signs Attributed to Jesus in Surah 3:48-49

Creating birds from clay: We find this particular miracle ascribed to Jesus in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy chapter 46 and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas chapter 2 in the first Greek form, chapter 3 in the second Greek form, and chapter 4 in the Latin form.

Healing who is born blind: The origin of this teaching in the Qur’an is most likely the narrative recorded in the canonical Gospel of John 9:1-34.

Healing the lepers: Like the healing miracle above, the origin of this teaching in the Qur’an is various canonical narratives that depict Jesus as a person showing mercy to lepers and healing them – for instance, Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 17:11-18. This was also one of the miracles commonly employed in the non-canonical Christian literature. (It must be noted that in Tabari’s report, the Christian delegation visiting Muhammad appears to talk of Jesus’ healing miracles without giving specific information on the different types of such signs unlike Surah 3:48-49. However, this difference may have arisen from the possibility that the report omitted some details or even that Muhammad decided to divide Jesus’ general healing miracles into subcategories with the help of some additional information he obtained from different sources.)

Raising the dead: This is another major miracle attributed to Jesus in both the canonical and apocryphal Gospels. In the canonical accounts, Jesus is seen bringing three people back to life: Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56), the son of the widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-17), and Lazarus (John 11:38-45).

Announcing to people what they eat and what they store in their houses: This particular miracle functions to exemplify Jesus’ ability to declare the unseen, which is again a teaching claimed by the Christians in the story reported by Tabari. Nonetheless, the weird association drawn in Surah 3:48-49 between Jesus’ miraculous ability to declare the unseen and his announcing particularly what people eat and store might be a result of Muhammad’s confusion and misunderstanding.

Of the five miracles listed above, the first and last need closer scrutiny, but before this it is crucial to analyze what is speculated in the Islamic commentary with regard to the peculiarity of the miracles attributed by the author of the Qur’an to Jesus alone.

Tafsir on Jesus’ Miracles:

The traditional Islamic commentary presented by Ibn Kathir on Surah 3:48-49 is obviously a product of Muslim scholars’ struggle to invent a reasonable pretext for Jesus’ various miracles stated in Surah 3 as well as for the absence of identical or similar signs from Muhammad’s ministry:

Many scholars stated that Allah sent every Prophet with a miracle suitable to his time. For instance, in the time of Musa, magic was the trade of the time, and magicians held a high position. So Allah sent Musa with a miracle that captured the eyes and bewildered every magician. When the magicians realized that Musa's miracle came from the Almighty, Most Great, they embraced Islam and became pious believers. As for `Isa, he was sent during a time when medicine and knowledge in physics were advancing. `Isa brought them the types of miracles that could not be performed, except by one sent by Allah. How can any physician bring life to clay, cure blindness and leprosy and bring back to life those entrapped in the grave? Muhammad was sent during the time of eloquent people and proficient poets. He brought them a Book from Allah; if mankind and the Jinn tried to imitate ten chapters, or even one chapter of it, they will utterly fail in this task, even if they tried to do it by collective cooperation. This is because the Qur'an is the Word of Allah and is nothing like that of the creatures. (Source)

This assertion, which is attributed to some unidentified scholars, is not only erroneous and problematic in many respects, but also alien to the author of the Qur’an, having arisen from the Islamic zeal to make Muhammad even with Moses and Jesus despite his inferiority to them in regard to the performance of wonders. In the first place, it does not escape our notice that this commentary is based on the fallacy of false parallelism. It is not at all reasonable to compare Moses and Jesus’ visible signs (something concrete) with the revelation that Muhammad supposedly received from God (a mere abstraction). Further, the Qur’an itself describes Moses and Jesus as messengers who did not only work miracles, but also received a divine revelation from God. Thus, if we consider Moses and Jesus’ reception of the divine message a miracle,8 we cannot deny that both Moses and Jesus, unlike Muhammad, also had books, and in addition worked miracles authenticating their message. Thus, the question why Muhammad had no miracles still stands. Moreover, the Qur’an states that the Torah is just as inimitable and miraculous as the Quran, see this article.

Second, the Islamic contention that every prophet was sent with particular miracles suiting his time gets problematic when applied to the miracles of some other messengers than Moses and Jesus. For instance, in the Qur’an we read that Solomon could miraculously understand the language of the ants and speak with birds (Surah 27:17-23). How did this particular miracle suit Solomon’s time? Again, the Qur’an associates a miraculous she-camel with a non-biblical messenger named Salih (Surah 7:73). If this is a sign that can be attributed to Salih, how is it related to the major trade in the time of Salih’s ministry?

Third, the parallelism drawn between Moses’ miracles and the popularity of magic in Egypt at the time of the Exodus bafflingly gives us the impression that Allah’s aim in giving those specific signs to Moses was to prove he was the best of magicians in the country! It is true that Pharaoh confronted Moses’ signs with the help of his magicians, but this was only because Pharaoh considered Moses a magician challenging him with his power rather than because Moses made this claim for himself. In other words, the reason for Moses’ going to Pharaoh and showing some great signs was not his wish to reveal his talents in magic or defy the magicians in Pharaoh’s palace, but to convince Pharaoh that he had to let the Israelites leave Egypt because God commands him to do so. Besides, the Qur’an endorses the Biblical teaching that Moses used his staff to open a dry path in the sea for the Israelites to pass through (Surah 20:77). Was Moses’ parting the sea in two after his departure from Egypt with the Children of Israel also related to magic’s being a major trade at that time?

Fourth, binding all of Jesus’ reckoned miracles in the Qur’an to the supposition that people were advancing in medicine and physics in Israel during Jesus’ ministry does not make much sense. Of the five miracles counted in Surah 3:48-49, only two are about healing (curing the lepers and those born blind) no matter how Ibn Kathir attempted to affiliate the peculiar act of creating birds from clay with the expertise of a physician through the stretch of his imagination. What about the miracle of telling people what they eat and what they store? The traditional commentary Ibn Kathir relies on seems to have forgotten or ignored this particular sign as well as Jesus’ ability to speak despite being an infant in the cradle. Above all, Ibn Kathir and the scholars who invented this allegation cannot prove that Jesus’ healing miracles indicated the advancements in the field of medicine and physics in Israel at the time of His ministry, for, unlike in Moses’ case, the Qur’an does not paint Jesus as a person who was mocked and challenged by professional physicians or claim that there was ever such a matter of competition. Interestingly, Surah 5:110 teaches that some disbelievers from the Children of Israel who witnessed Jesus’ miracles called Him a magician, which was the same designation assigned by Pharaoh to Moses.

Finally, most probably due to some Qur’an verses (Surah 13:7, Surah 29:51, Surah 6:109) the inventors of the traditional Islamic commentary quoted by Ibn Kathir admit that the only miracle given to Muhammad was the Qur’an and naturally refer to the power and fame of poetry in Muhammad’s period while striving to answer why this was the peculiar sign chosen for Muhammad’s prophetic ministry. However, this connection makes us question whether the supposed revelation of the Islamic scripture stemmed from God’s wish to challenge all the poets of Arabia and introduce Muhammad as the best authority on poetry. In sharp contrast to what the Islamic Tafsir implies on the connection between Muhammad’s alleged miracle and poetry, the Qur’an makes it clear that it was actually pagans who considered Muhammad a poet and likened his book to the poems of the day with the objective of denial and mockery (Surah 21:5, Surah 36:69, Surah 52:30, Surah 69:41).9

Jesus’ Miracle of Creating Birds from Clay

According to the order in the angelic prediction, Jesus reckoned His ability to create a bird from clay as the first of His miracles on His to-do list:

I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird, by Allah's leave. (Surah 3:49 Pickthall)

Unlike the two healing miracles ascribed to Jesus in the same verse, this particular sign cannot be found recorded in any of the canonical Gospels. This is not surprising when we recall that most of the teachings about Mary and Jesus in the Qur’an came from some apocryphal sources rather than the writings in the New Testament. Even the miracle of infant Jesus’ speech, which was attached to the account of Mary’s accusation by her folk in Surah 19 and to the angelic prediction in Surah 3, was borrowed from the Arabic Gospel of the Savior’s Infancy after Muhammad’s crucial textual perversion. The origin of the basic claim that Jesus could miraculously give life to some clay shaped as birds is found in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas with slight variations. To compare and contrast:

Again, on another day, the Lord Jesus was with the boys at a stream of water, and they had again made little fish-ponds. And the Lord Jesus had made twelve sparrows, and had arranged them round His fish-pond, three on each side. And it was the Sabbath day. Wherefore a Jew, the son of Hanan, coming up, and seeing them thus engaged, said in anger and great indignation: Do you make figures of clay on the Sabbath day? And he ran quickly, and destroyed their fish-ponds. But when the Lord Jesus clapped His hands over the sparrows which He had made, they flew away chirping. (Arabic Gospel of Infancy chapter 46)

This child Jesus, when five years old, was playing in the ford of a mountain stream; and He collected the flowing waters into pools, and made them clear immediately, and by a word alone He made them obey Him. And having made some soft clay, He fashioned out of it twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when He did these things. And there were also many other children playing with Him. And a certain Jew, seeing what Jesus was doing, playing on the Sabbath, went off immediately, and said to his father Joseph: Behold, your son is at the stream, and has taken clay, and made of it twelve birds, and has profaned the Sabbath. And Joseph, coming to the place and seeing, cried out to Him, saying: Why do you do on the Sabbath what it is not lawful to do? And Jesus clapped His hands, and cried out to the sparrows, and said to them: Off you go! And the sparrows flew, and went off crying. And the Jews seeing this were amazed, and went away and reported to their chief men what they had seen Jesus doing. (Infancy Gospel of Thomas – First Greek form chapter 2)

Both these non-canonical accounts teach that while playing at a stream of water in His childhood period, Jesus shaped from clay/mud twelve sparrows on a Sabbath, and the sparrows were animated when He clapped His hands and ordered them to fly away. Although this story does not occur in the canonical Gospels and contradicts them by depicting Jesus as a person working miracles before His manifestation to Israel in His thirties through His baptism by John, it is not possible to deny the major thematic connections it has with some accounts and teachings in the canonical Gospels. Mud was one of the materials frequently used by Jesus in the miracles of healing. In particular, while opening the eyes of the blind, Jesus made use of mud. According to the narrative in John 9, when Jesus wanted to heal a man born blind, he put some mud on his eyes and sent him to a pool. According to the narrative in John 5, Jesus healed a paralytic lying next to a pool in the Temple area.

There is another connection between the miracles recorded in John 5 and 9 and the story related in the two Gospels of Infancy: these signs incurred hostility and reaction since Jesus performed them on a Sabbath. It is not difficult to see that the child who reproves Jesus for making figures of clay on the Sabbath in the apocryphal story foreshadows the Jewish leaders who would oppose and criticize Him for working miracles on the Sabbath during His prophetic ministry in His thirties, for the emphasis on the child’s Jewish identity in the Arabic Gospel and his particular identification as “the son of a Jewish scribe” in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (First Greek Form chapter 3) are by no means a coincidence.10

The transfer of these basic themes and elements in the canonical accounts to Jesus’ childhood most likely became the origin of this apocryphal miracle as well as the other miracles peculiar to Infancy Gospels, in which Jesus was portrayed as manifesting His power and authority through the games He played with the other children. This form of manifestation was a natural consequence of the fact that Jesus’ apocryphal miracles were generally derived from the adaptation of His canonical acts to His childhood: the period in which he spent most of His time playing.11

The teaching in Surah 3 that Jesus gave life to some birds He had shaped from clay remarks Muhammad’s familiarity with this particular miracle occurring in two apocryphal Gospels of Infancy, but the differences between the original accounts and its current form in the Qur’an point at an indirect plagiarism. To compare and contrast:

In the Apocryphal Gospels of Infancy

Miracle: Creating birds from clay/mud.

Perpetrator of the Miracle: Child Jesus

Type of the birds created through the miracle: Sparrows

Number of the sparrows: 12

Place of the miracle: A stream of water

Time of the miracle: A Sabbath

Occasion of the miracle: Child Jesus’ play time.

Purpose of the Miracle: To show that Jesus gave life and continued the work of creation on a Sabbath.

The visible act of creation: The birds flew away after Jesus’ clapping His hands and ordering them to go.

Connection between Jesus’ childhood and the era of His ministry in His thirties: The event, reactions to it, and the characters involved all foreshadow the hostility that Jesus will later get from the Children of Israel for working miracles on Sabbaths.

In the Qur’an

Miracle: Creating a bird from clay

Perpetrator of the miracle: Grown-up Jesus

Type of the birds created through the miracle: Not identified.

Number of the birds created: A single bird if we do not take into account the possibility that Jesus performed this miracle more than once on different occasions.12

Place of the miracle: Not identified.

Time of the miracle: Not identified.

Occasion of the miracle: Not identified.

Purpose of the Miracle: To show that Jesus was a messenger of Allah. (Nothing different than the purpose of the other signs!)

The visible act of creation: One figure of clay became animated after Jesus breathed into them.

Connection between Jesus’ childhood and the era of His ministry in His thirties: None since Jesus performs this miracle not in His infancy.

This comparison leads us to the conclusion that Muhammad knew almost nothing about the way this miracle appeared in the apocryphal Gospels. As he did not follow the narratives in their original sources, he naturally failed to provide detailed information on them. The lack of detailed information corresponds to the omissions in the Quranic parallel of the apocryphal miracle and constitutes one sign of Muhammad’s indirect adoption from the mentioned non-canonical Gospels, the second sign being the two major differences between the original stories and their counterpart in Surah 3. Although it is clearly stated in the apocryphal accounts that the birds made of mud were animated when Jesus clapped His hands over them and this incident happened in Jesus’ childhood (one of the sources even gives Jesus’ exact age at the time), it is claimed in Surah 3 that the figures of clay became real birds after Jesus breathed into them and this did not happen when Jesus was a child.

Both of these discrepancies are a natural result of Muhammad’s hearing about this miracle from his Christian contacts and thus getting second-hand information. If we return to the Islamic tradition concerning the reason for the supposed revelation of Surah 3, we see that the Christian delegation visiting and challenging Muhammad in Medina gave him the following information on Jesus’ miracle related to the animation of birds:

He also used to fashion out of clay the shape of a bird, then breathed into it, and it became a bird. (Tabari, VI, pp. 152-153, as quoted in Sam Shamoun’s article)13

Now it becomes crystal-clear why Muhammad’s version of this miracle in the Qur’an has no detailed information and why it differs from the original version of the story with regard to Jesus’ act preceding the animation of the birds. Muhammad relied on the oral information he got from his Christian visitors, and this peculiar information was not free from their personal interpretation of the incident in the apocryphal Gospels. The question why Muhammad’s Christian contacts did not follow the original narrative while informing him of this particular miracle opens the door to a few speculations. A possibility is that they drew it from their vague recollection rather than from a written source. Another and stronger possibility is that they knew the birds were animated at Jesus’ clapping His hands, but a reference to this particular act would look awkward and almost meaningless when nothing was said about the occasion of this miracle. In other words, they were aware that the original version of the story depicted Jesus as making the birds fly specifically by clapping His hands over them because clapping is what people do when they want to scare the birds away if there is a threat targeting them (for instance, a cat approaching them for hunt). Jesus did the same in the apocryphal story when a Jewish boy ran to destroy His birds of mud.

Besides, bearing in mind the possibility that Muhammad’s Christian visitors could read the original story from the Arabic Gospel of Infancy, we can conclude that the following section in the same Gospel was considered the basis of the narrative in chapter 46:

Now, when the Lord Jesus had completed seven years from His birth, on a certain day He was occupied with boys of His own age. For they were playing among clay, from which they were making images of asses, oxen, birds, and other animals; and each one boasting of his skill, was praising his own work. Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys: The images that I have made I will order to walk. The boys asked Him whether then he were the son of the Creator; and the Lord Jesus bade them walk. And they immediately began to leap; and then, when He had given them leave, they again stood still. And He had made figures of birds and sparrows, which flew when He told them to fly, and stood still when He told them to stand, and ate and drank when He handed them food and drink. After the boys had gone away and told this to their parents, their fathers said to them: My sons, take care not to keep company with him again, for he is a wizard: flee from him, therefore, and avoid him, and do not play with him again after this. (Arabic Gospel of Infancy chapter 36)

Obviously, the particular story of Jesus’ making twelve sparrows of mud and making them fly by clapping His hands over them when a Jewish boy raced to destroy them (chapter 46) was an extension of this basic narrative, which portrayed Jesus as an unusual child that gave life to various animal figures made of clay and thus proved to be the Son of the Creator. If Muhammad’s Christian visitors that had a theological debate with him about Jesus’ identity were aware of both the 36th and 46th chapters in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy, they deemed it necessary to combine these two related stories and introduce them as the sign of Jesus’ creating ability. Consequently, the essential teaching given in the apocryphal Gospel that Jesus imitated His Father by making figures of clay and then giving them life was interpreted in the light of the story of creation in Genesis 2:7:

The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (NET Bible)

This parallelism drawn by the Christians visiting Muhammad in Medina was precisely transferred into the Qur’an in the form of Surah 3:48-49, which also explains why in the Quranic equivalent of the apocryphal miracle Jesus’ creative act of clapping His hands was replaced with that of His breathing into the bird figures.

As for the discrepancy stemming from the Quranic claim that this miracle was not wrought in Jesus’ childhood, we can but blame only Muhammad rather than the people from whom he obtained his knowledge about Jesus’ ministry and miracles, for Muhammad’s Christian visitors did not aim to misinform him about the time of this particular miracle. As evident in the Islamic report quoted by Tabari, the Christian delegation in Medina did not necessarily refer to Jesus’ wonders in a chronological order while giving a list and did not deem it crucial to distinguish some of these signs from others in terms of the period of their occurrence. They explicitly referred to the period of Jesus’ infancy only when they mentioned the miracle of Jesus’ speech in the cradle, which was totally natural because what made this ordinary act of speaking a miracle was the time of its performance. Sadly enough, Muhammad could not see an explicit reference to the time of the miracles reckoned by the Christians except for the speech from the cradle and mistakenly concluded that the rest of the signs therefore did not belong to the period of Jesus’ infancy or childhood. The result of this erroneous conclusion was the transfer of a miracle originally belonging to Jesus’ childhood to His future ministry with the question why and how the bird figures made of clay could be associated with a grown-up man.

Muhammad: Confessor of Jesus’ Divinity or the Arian preacher?

As it can be clearly seen in the traditional report quoted by Tabari, the Christian delegation paying a visit to Muhammad in Medina regarded all the miracles they attributed to Jesus as hard evidence for His divinity. In particular, Jesus’ giving life to some animal figures made of clay was linked in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy (chapter 36) to His being the Son of the Creator. More, after relating all of Jesus’ miracles performed in His childhood period, the author of this apocryphal Gospel identified Him as God in human flesh:

This is He whom we adore with supplications, who has given us being and life, and who has brought us from our mothers' wombs14; who for our sakes assumed a human body, and redeemed us, that He might embrace us in eternal compassion, and show to us His mercy according to His liberality, and beneficence, and generosity, and benevolence. To Him is glory, and beneficence, and power, and dominion from this time forth for evermore. (Chapter 55)

Bafflingly, Muhammad endorsed the idea that Jesus had the ability to create when he borrowed from the Christian delegation of Najran the story of Jesus’ giving life to some birds made of clay. In the first place, the uniqueness of this miracle attributed to Jesus must be emphasized before some Muslim objections about the meaning and purpose of this particular miracle can be analyzed and rebutted. Thanks to my correspondence with Muslim posters at religious forums, I am familiar with the Islamic argument that Jesus’ creating birds from clay was not different from Moses’ miraculously turning his staff into a snake. Some Muslim apologists even take this allegation one step further by considering Jesus’ sign inferior to that of Moses’ because of their mistaken conclusion that “Jesus only restored life, but never actually created one from scratch. Moses, however, did create a live snake from a wooden stick”(*).15

These arguments are actually based on a false analogy since there was no one-to-one relation between Moses’ stick and a snake unlike the one in the apocryphal story between the figures of sparrows and the live sparrows flying away. Moses’ stick was not essentially a snake, but appeared to be so only at certain times. More, the assertion that Moses’ miracle was superior to Jesus’ because Jesus could not create life from scratch is totally ridiculous and is equal to Muslim apologists’ shooting themselves in the foot since the Qur’an also depicts Allah as restoring life rather than creating from scratch when it narrates the story of Adam’s creation:

Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay; Then He made his seed from a draught of despised fluid; Then He fashioned him and breathed into him of His Spirit; and appointed for you hearing and sight and hearts. Small thanks give ye! (Surah 32.7-9 Pickthall)

According to this verse, in the process of creation Allah first fashioned man from clay and then breathed into him of His Spirit. Since Allah is said to have made use of clay while creating man, do we have to conclude that he could not create life from scratch? Is Allah therefore inferior to Moses? Is this what the Muslim apologist really wants us to believe and declare? More to the point, the comparative reading of Surah 3:48-49 and Surah 32:9 illustrates the parallelism drawn by the author of the Qur’an between Jesus’ and Allah’s creative act: Jesus turns out to have imitated Allah by creating something living from clay.

At this point, Muslims generally ask us to read Surah 3:48-49 and focus on the phrase “by Allah’s leave”. Their suggestion is that we take this phrase into account while interpreting this verse, for its occurrence aims to refuse the Christian claims regarding Christ’s divinity. Certainly, the attachment of the phrase “by Allah's leave” to Jesus’ utterance in Surah 3 was the only solution Muhammad could come up with when challenged by the Christians of Najran and heard from them about Jesus’ various miracles. He mistakenly thought that the emphasis on Allah’s permission for the performance of these signs would mean Jesus’ dependence on Allah, which would naturally undermine his visitors’ claims for Jesus’ omnipotence and equality with God.

More, it is not difficult to guess that Muhammad would direct Christians to his principle of Allah’s arbitrary decisions if they asked him the question why only Jesus was granted permission to do these mighty acts. However, he most likely did not take into consideration the theological implications of the Quranic teaching that Allah allowed Jesus to partake of an essentially divine attribute by letting Him imitate the act of creation. When we see Jesus in the Qur’an repeat what Allah did at the beginning of the creation, we can but conclude that Allah arbitrarily wanted to make Jesus equal to himself and thus fell into “shirk”, which means in the Islamic terminology “making associates or partners with God”.

Muhammad’s contention in Surah 3:48-49 that Jesus could create birds “by Allah’s leave” illustrates his wish to distinguish Jesus from the one true God by presenting Him as a holy and mighty figure that appeared and acted like God, but was not consubstantial with God. This kind of a theological formulation reminds us of the Arian heresy, which was spread by Arius, the heresiarch that brought the universal Church to the brink of division in the fourth century and was condemned during the first ecumenical council in 325 A.D. Having focused on some verses in the New Testament that naturally distinguish Jesus the Son from God the Father, Arius began to teach that Jesus only appeared Godlike, but was not equal to and consubstantial with God. Arius’ heresy was essentially derived from the presumption that Jesus, as the Son of the Father, was inferior to Him, and Arius’ followers mostly referred to the following verse in the New Testament to prove the validity of their doctrine:

So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)

Jesus’ statement in the above verse, which is used even today by the proponents of Unitarianism and the remnants of the Arian heresy, strongly attests to the Son’s dependence on the Father. This dependence is misinterpreted by those who deny Jesus’ divinity as hard evidence for His supposed inferiority to God. However, Jesus did not stress His dependence on His Father to repudiate divinity, but to show people that it was actually the Father who endorsed the Son’s claims for divinity and wanted people to honor the Son in the same way as they honor the Father (John 5:23). Besides, Jesus introduced His dependence on the Father as a sign of His equality when He depicted Himself only as imitating the Father, which is what a son is expected to do.(In so doing, Jesus also aimed to stifle the erroneous doctrine that the Son was a distinct and independent God from the Father.) This is why while responding to the critique of the Jewish religious authorities for His healing people on Sabbaths, Jesus said He was imitating His Father the God, who kept working:

Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him. So he told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18)

Thus, even the Son’s dependence on the Father does not mean His inferiority or the negation of His divinity. Nevertheless, people who walk in Arius’ footsteps and are bothered by the doctrine of Christ’s divinity, ignore this fact and fallaciously think that referring to Jesus’ dependence on God will suffice to prove their claims. Unsurprisingly, Muhammad became one of such people when he refused to believe in Jesus’ divinity and decided to defy this basic doctrine of Christianity by binding Jesus’ creative act to Allah’s permission and authority.16 Consequently, it is possible to consider Muhammad a major preacher of the Arian heresy in the 7th century Arabia in whose scripture Jesus appears as a messenger that could imitate Allah in creation.

Muhammad’s Ignorance and Desperation

Muhammad’s being a desperate person who had little knowledge of the Christian scriptures and tenets despite the supposed revelation he got from the almighty and omniscient God of the universe can clearly be seen even in the traditional report quoted by Tabari. The source of Surah 3:48-49 was obviously what the Christian delegation from Najran told Muhammad about Jesus’ miracles. Failing to evaluate these claims, he hastened to borrow them without the least shred of doubt about their origin. Upon receiving this information, unlike the Muslims of our day, he did not even attempt to take refuge in the allegation that the Christian scriptures were textually corrupted and were therefore not reliable. Likewise, he did not have the courage to deny or ignore any of these miracles while transferring them to the Qur’an. Instead, he could only add the phrase “by Allah’s leave” into the original story that he adopted from his Christian contacts. Consequently, he landed himself in hot waters when he confirmed the miracle of Jesus’ creating birds from clay, without which it would be easier for him to negate Jesus’ divinity. To our surprise, his Allah did not inform him of the fact that the canonical Christian scripture contained neither the miracle of Jesus’ speech from the cradle nor that of Jesus’ creating birds from clay. In short, Muhammad “miraculously” fell into ignorance and desperation “by Allah’s leave”.

Jesus’ Announcing What People Eat and Store

Jesus’ ability to tell people what they eat and what they store in their houses is presented as a miraculous act in the Qur’an. Of the five miracles attributed to Jesus in Surah 3:49, this is the most baffling and mysterious one due to its awkward formulation. We cannot stop wondering what is miraculous about Jesus’ telling people about their food, He Himself being an Israelite and eating of the same things. Actually, many people living in Israel would be able to make correct guesses as to what the Israelites ate and stored up. Jesus’ declaration would be something supernatural and considered a miracle only if He was not familiar with what type of food first century Israelites consumed or if His audience ate something totally alien to Jewish culture – for instance, sushi – for the sake of testing His prophetic claims. Another possibility is that the Israelites hid their food from Jesus and asked Him to know what they had just eaten and put in their houses as a part of a trial. Sale’s translation of Jesus’ particular statement in Surah 3:49 supports this theory. To compare and contrast it with two other translations:

And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you, if ye are to be believers. (Pickthall)

I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe. (Yusuf Ali)

And I will prophesy unto you what ye eat, and what ye lay up for store in your houses. Verily herein will be a sign unto you, if ye believe. (Sale)

In his traditional Islamic commentary Ibn Kathir elaborates on this vague Qur’an verse through the addition of some words that convey occasion and meaning to the miracle:

(And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses) means, I tell you about what one of you has just eaten and what he is keeping in his house for tomorrow. (Source)

This explanation is basically in line with what the Christian delegation visiting Muhammad in Medina claimed while highlighting Jesus’ miracles: Jesus could foretell the unknown things or declare the unseen. Although Tabari’s report regarding that incident does not state what specific example the Christian delegation gave to prove Jesus’ ability to declare the unseen, Surah 3:49 associates this miraculous act with Jesus’ foreknowledge of what the Children of Israel ate and stored up. As it is impossible to get the details of the Christian visitors’ conversation with Muhammad, we cannot know for sure whether this peculiar miracle in the Qur’an was what those Christians had in mind while referring to Jesus’ power and authority to declare the unseen.

What is more interesting is that the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy do not contain this Quranic miracle either. We do not see in those sources Child Jesus prophesy what certain people from His folk eat and store in their houses. This fact gives birth to the possibility that Muhammad invented this particular miracle through his misunderstandings and faulty conclusions.

In the Arabic Gospel of Infancy Jesus’ miraculous power to declare the unseen is alluded to in a narrative relating a miracle performed by Jesus on the occasion of His playing hide-and-seek with some boys (chapter 40). The women who witness this wonder worship Jesus as their Lord and exclaim His omniscience (“Lord, you know all things, and nothing is hid from you”). Still, neither this particular account nor any other story in the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy associate Jesus’ knowledge of all things and His revealing the unseen specifically with what the Children of Israel ate and stored. This makes the origin of the miracle in Surah 3:49 mysterious and the solution of this riddle can be attained through mere guesswork thanks to the obscurities in both the Qur’an and the report quoted by Tabari.

First, it must be remembered that Jesus is seen to be an all-knowing figure in the canonical Gospels too. In particular, John the Evangelist made explicit references to Jesus’ ability to know the unseen and everything (2:25, 21:17). Further, in the canonical accounts Jesus does not perform miracles only to heal people, but also to feed them: He multiplies bread and fish to provide food for large crowds listening to Him. For example, in the Gospel of Mark two different incidents of miraculous multiplication of food are narrated (6:35-44 and 8:1-10). In John 6:1-14 Jesus’ multiplying five barley loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people is reckoned as one of the major signs He wrought in His prophetic ministry to reveal His glory. This was actually such a great sign that the people seeing it believed Jesus to be the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:15.

There seems to be an interesting connection between 2 Kings 4:42-44, where Elisha is said to have made a miracle to feed one hundred people, and John 6:1-14. In the first account God predicts through Elisha that people will eat and be fully satisfied, leaving some of the food over. In the second account, Jesus first takes on the role of Elisha's attendant by asking Philip a rhetorical question that expresses the impossibility of the incident. However, as John the Evangelist explains, Jesus does this only to test Philip since He knows what He will do and that the people will eat and leave the food over through His miracle. In short, Jesus’ implicit prediction comes true when five thousand people are fed and the disciples fill twelve baskets with what is left over. The Christian delegation visiting Muhammad may have referred to this particular miracle to convince Muhammad that Jesus, as the all-knowing God, knew that His miracle would multiply the loaves of bread and feed the people. However, Muhammad’s misunderstandings and faulty conclusion probably prevented the accurate transfer of this teaching into the Qur’an as he replaced the intended claim of the Christians that “Jesus could predict people would eat and leave the food over” with his personal interpretation that “Jesus could predict/prophesy what people eat and what they store in their houses”.

A related scenario is that Muhammad mistakenly ascribed Elijah’s miracle narrated in 1 Kings 17:7-16 to Jesus through assimilation as the former was analogous to the latter. What makes this theory more plausible is the parallelism between the miracle attributed to Elijah in the Hebrew Bible and the miracle attributed to Jesus in the Qur’an with regard to the concept of not only eating, but also storing the food.

Muhammad’s Faulty Analogy between Adam and Jesus in Surah 3:59

The narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Surah 3 comes to an end in verse 55, which implicitly denies Jesus’ crucifixion and explicitly affiliates His return to heaven and its time with His adversaries’ disbelief and schemes. After two verses promising reward to believers and punishment to disbelievers (vv. 56-57), verse 58 reminds Muhammad of the alleged divine source of this narrative. In verse 59 the author of Surah 3 makes an abrupt return to the critique of the basic Christian doctrine regarding Jesus’ identity:

Lo! the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, then He said unto him: Be! and he is. (Surah 3:59 Pickthall)

This analogy drawn between Adam and Jesus obviously aims to refute the Christian tenet identifying Jesus as the Son of God with regard to the uniqueness of His miraculous birth. First, the contention that Jesus cannot be the Son of God because He was similar to Adam in terms of His creation without a father is based on a false analogy since Adam was not born of a woman unlike Jesus.17 In Adam’s case there was a direct act of creation that did not necessitate gestation in sharp contrast to the miraculous pregnancy in Jesus’ case. What then drove Muhammad to this false parallelism?

Second, Muhammad’s argument in view is formed in response to the claim that Jesus is the Son of God because of His miraculous birth without a father’s agency. However, Christian scripture and tradition do not support this kind of an interpretation. In Christianity Jesus’ identification as the Son of God is not the result, but cause of His birth from a virgin. Thus, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God precedes the virgin birth and actually makes it necessary. Otherwise, Jesus would have become the Son of God only after and through Mary’s miraculous pregnancy. It is true that in Luke’s Gospel the title Son of God is ascribed to Jesus by the angel announcing to Mary in close association with the miraculous nature of her pregnancy since the way Jesus was conceived was presented as a sign of His divine identity:

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

Evidently, Jesus would not become the Son of God through His birth from a virgin, but the means of His incarnation, in the same way as His manifestation to Israel in His thirties, would endorse His identification as the Son of God. In both incidents (birth and baptism) the descent of the Holy Spirit indicated Jesus’ uniqueness and was followed by His identification as the Son of God.

Muhammad was not aware of these Biblical teachings and parallelisms and mistakenly concluded that Jesus’ designation, particularly in the Infancy Gospels, as the Son of God was dependent on His birth from a virgin. Muhammad’s Christian visitors might have contributed to this confusion and misunderstanding. Let’s quote once more from Tabari’s report:

They argue that he is son of God in that they say he had no known father; and he spoke in the cradle and this is something that no child of Adam has ever done.

According to this story, Muhammad’s Christian contacts referred to Jesus’ miracle of speaking in the cradle and emphasized His birth from a virgin without the agency of a father to prove that it was totally right and accurate to call Jesus “the Son of God”. Although we cannot know for sure, it is probable that the Christian delegation of Najran established a connection between Jesus’ speech in the cradle and His designation as the Son of God solely because in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy this miraculous speech was integral to the doctrine of Jesus’ divine identity as the Son, which is manifested by the content of the first miraculous utterance: “I am Jesus, the Son of God…” (chapter 1). As we discussed in the article “Surah Mariam: The Curse of the Apocrypha”, Muhammad distorted this speech by simply replacing the phrase “Son of God” with “slave of God” while plagiarizing from the Arabic Gospel of the Savior’s Infancy in the Meccan period. It is also noteworthy that in Surah 19 Jesus’ miraculous speech from the cradle is awkwardly disrupted by two verses:

Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a young boy? He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet, And hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive, And (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. And lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path. (Surah 19:29-36 Pickthall)

The interposed statements (Surah 19:34-35) are amazingly similar to Surah 3:59-60 in that in both cases

  • Jesus’ supposed creation through Allah’s decree (BE!) is related.
  • Jesus’ supposed creation through Allah’s command is emphatically bound to the repudiation of Jesus’ identification as the Son of God.
  • These teachings are claimed to be the divine truth that believers can get and do not doubt about (in Surah 19:34 Christians are implied to doubt the alleged truth whilst in Surah 3:60 Muhammad is asked not to be of the doubters).

In the light of this comparison it becomes clear that Muhammad linked Surah 3:59-60 to Surah 19:34-35 on the basis of the parallelism his Christian visitors constructed between Jesus’ speaking in the cradle and His being the Son of God. However, while trying to reject the supposed Christian argument once more in Surah 3, Muhammad additionally made a reference to Adam and his creation from dust in an attempt to explain why it was impossible to call Jesus the Son of God despite His having no father. The answer to the question what drove Muhammad to challenge his visitors’ argument with the help of a false analogy between Adam and Jesus can again be found in Tabari’s report:

They argue that he is son of God in that they say he had no known father; and he spoke in the cradle and this is something that no child of Adam has ever done.

While having a religious dispute with Muhammad and trying to convince him that Jesus is truly the Son of God, the Christian delegation from Najran obviously compared Jesus to all other humans and singled Him out from among the children of Adam as the only person that had no father and could speak in the cradle. Muhammad focused on the name Adam and modified the contrast between Adam’s children and Jesus to the similarity between Adam and Jesus with regard to having no human father. Finally, he combined Adam’s creation from dust with his former idea that Jesus had been created through God’s command “Be!” (an idea unsurprisingly attached to the account of infant Jesus’ speech in Surah 19). In short, even Muhammad’s false and incomplete parallelism between Adam and Jesus was derived from the distortion of his Christian visitors’ arguments, which also explains why Muhammad had not referred to Adam’s creation in the same context as that of Jesus’ prior to Surah 3 although he had been contending that Jesus’ birth without a father would not make Him the Son of God.

Continue with the final part of the discussion of the Madinan chapters.



1 The designation of the Children of Israel as the murderers of God’s messengers and prophets is unsurprisingly peculiar to the chapters of the post-migration period and constitute a major theme and sign of Muhammad’s anti-Jewish sentiments and his stigmatizing propaganda (1, 2).

2 The Qur’an fails to answer the question why Jesus was considered the only Messiah, and this failure naturally gives birth to speculations in the Islamic tradition. Oddly enough, Muhammad attached the phrase “the Messiah” to Jesus’ name in the post-migration period of the Qur’an and for the first time in the narrative of the angelic visit and annunciation to Mary in Surah 3:45. The misplacement of the phrase “al Masih” in the angelic annunciation that predicts the personal name of Mary’s son shows that Muhammad was not concerned with the theological implications of this title, but regarded it as an alternative personal name of Jesus rather than a title given to Him by His followers. This was most likely due to Muhammad’s familiarity with the Arabic Christians who called Jesus “Yesua’l Masih”.

3 In addition, the Qur’an claims that Allah will have a conversation with Jesus on the Day of Judgment, S. 5:110, 116-118.

4 How Muhammad’s combination of two independent apocryphal Gospels resulted in the mistaken ascription of a peculiar phrase occurring in Pseudo-Matthew about Mary’s chastity to infant Jesus’ monotheistic speech in Surah 19 is analyzed thoroughly in my article entitled “Unraveling a Knot of the Qur’an”.

5 Interestingly, in some English translations of the Qur’an (see Abdel Haleem and Aisha Bewley’s translations(*) Jesus’ speech to the Children of Israel has the future tense marker, which makes the structure in Surah 3:46 and 3:48-49 doubly predictive. According to these peculiar renderings of the verses, the angels predict that Jesus will later predict the performance of His miracles. More, nearly the same terse summarizing list of miracles is restated as having happened in Jesus’ ministry in Surah 5, embedded into Allah’s dialogue with Jesus on the Day of Judgment; see the discussion in the second part of this article. In short, the Medinan chapters of the Qur’an refer to Jesus’ signs as future events (Surah 3) and past events (Surah 5), but never show them in process. However, this theory depends on the attachment of the future tense marker to Jesus’ speech in Surah 3. The interchangeable use of the present tense with future tense in the Qur’an and the ambiguous nature of the Arabic language in this regard do not allow us to verify or deny this peculiar interpretation, leaving the issue unsolved and open to discussion.

6 In the Meccan chapter infant Jesus speaks upon His mother’s accusation by her folk with the charges of an illegitimate affair and identifies Himself as a prophet of Allah that was given a divine revelation. Surah 19:29-30

7 See our previous footnote on the existence of different English translations and the ambiguity of the Qur’an on the time of Jesus’ performance of His miracles.

8 If we admit this claim, we must conclude that Muhammad actively participated by Allah’s leave in the alleged revelation of the Qur’an instead of being its passive receiver. This conclusion, however, would make the Qur’an a book that did not exist prior to Muhammad. In short, designating the revelation of the Qur’an as a miracle performed by Muhammad would go against the foundational understanding of the origin and nature of the Islamic scripture.

9 In other words, the pagans did not see the alleged superior and inimitable poetic quality, but saw the Qur’an as being in a similar category as their own poetry. If the poetic quality was supposed to be the proof for its divine origin, it failed; it did not convince them. On the contrary, it became a reason for their mockery.

10 The number of the sparrows Jesus created and sent away in this story was probably meant to signify Jesus’ being the Lord of Israel, or at a deeper level, His sending “the twelve” to the Gentiles.

11 Accordingly, most of the stories in Infancy Gospels are linked to some future events in Jesus’ ministry – one of the boys Jesus heals is identified as Apostle Bartholomew in the Arabic Gospel chapter 30 and Jesus reveals some theological implications about His identity while playing with His peers – children adore Jesus as their King in the Arabic Gospel chapter 41).

12 Though the number is not emphasized in the text, S. 3:49 and again 5:110 use twice the singular “the form or a bird” and “a bird”. Although it is not clear whether the author of the Qur’an thought that this miracle was performed by Jesus only once or perhaps several times, the text seems to indicate that in each instance Jesus formed only one bird and then made it alive.

13 In the Qur’an this miracle is only mentioned as a one-time event. (Jesus is predicted to say “I will do that” or “I do that”, but in Tabari’s report it becomes something Jesus supposedly did repeatedly, (“he also USED to fashion …”) A repeated action, but each time only “a bird” (i.e. one bird) is created. This difference is most likely associated with the fact that in the Apocryphal Gospels of Infancy Jesus was depicted as working this particular miracle on different occasions. In the 36th and 46th chapters of the Arabic Gospel two different, yet relevant stories of Jesus’ creating animal figures from mud are narrated.

14 Isn’t it interesting that in the Qur’an Allah is said to bring people forth from their mothers’ wombs? (Surah 16:78, Surah 22:5)

15 The absurdity of the term “restored” used in this Islamic argument is evident. The staff and the clay were both dead matter, and they became both alive. Thus, both were acts of “giving life to dead matter”, turning wood or clay into living beings. The birds shaped by Jesus had not been alive before, so life could not be restored to them. Still, the resurrection of a bird needs divine power too. Only God can give life, whether to dead things or to corpses which had been alive before.

16 Further, permission does not imply ability. A father can permit his son to fly, but even with this permission, the son cannot do it because he does not have the ability or power. So, even if Allah permitted Jesus to create life, Jesus could only do it because He had the ability. And if Jesus had the power to create life, then He is God. In short, the permission itself does not deny that Jesus had the power, it only allows him to display it.

17 For further information on this inconsistency, see Sam Shamoun’s article (*).

Articles by Masud Masihiyyen
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