Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus' Ministry and Miracles in the Qur'an: Part 2B

A comprehensive Analysis of the Medinan Chapters (B)

Masud Masihiyyen

In this article I am continuing my analysis of Jesus’ ministry and miracles in the Medinan period of the Islamic scripture.

Jesus’ Ministry in Surah 57:27

In the 57th chapter of his book Muhammad made a brief reference to Jesus’ ministry while reiterating the teaching that Jesus was the last link in the long chain of the Israeli prophets:

Then We caused Our messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. But monasticism they invented - We ordained it not for them - only seeking Allah's pleasure, and they observed it not with right observance. So We give those of them who believe their reward, but many of them are evil-livers. (Surah 57:27 Pickthall)

Obviously, Muhammad did not need to mention in this Surah any of Jesus’ miracles, deeming it sufficient to identify Jesus as a prophet that received a divine revelation. From this basic doctrine he jumped to the praise of Christians (those who follow Christ = Christians) because of their God-given compassion and mercy in a latent contrast to the Jews.1 From this brief moment of praise he jumped to the denunciation of Christians for inventing monasticism and for not going by its rules.2

Jesus’ Ministry and Signs in Surah 61

After devising Surah 57, it occurred to Muhammad that something was missing from his Qur’an: Jesus’ overt prediction of his advent along with the endorsement of his prophetic ministry. Although he had embedded an implicit reference concerning the supposed annunciation of his advent in the Jewish and Christian scriptures into Moses’ dialogue with Allah (Surah 7:157),3 he thought it would be crucial to make Jesus declare this teaching to the Children of Israel in the days of His ministry. This addition also targeted his Jewish and Christian contacts that rejected his claims about being the final messenger foretold by the Israeli prophets.

And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of God (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of an Apostle to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad." But when he came to them with Clear Signs, they said, "this is evident sorcery!" (Surah 61:6)

Needless to say, this particular verse came into existence through the combination of the three teachings:

  1. Allah sent Jesus as a messenger to the Children of Israel (Surah 3:49)
  2. Jesus had come to confirm the Law (Torah), which preceded Him (Surah 3:50)
  3. Jesus’ mission had included the prediction of Muhammad’s advent.

After quoting Jesus’ supposed good news about Muhammad, the author of Surah 61 talked about someone “coming with clear signs” and facing the accusations of sorcery because of those very signs. In the traditional Islamic commentary by Ibn Kathir this person is identified as Muhammad:4

(But when he came to them with clear proofs, they said: "This is plain magic.'') This refers to Ahmad, who was anticipated, in accordance with the early Scriptures and early generations, according to Ibn Jurayj and Ibn Jarir. When the Prophet appeared bringing clear signs, the disbelievers and rejecters said, (This is plain magic). (Source

However, we know that in the entire Qur’an the phrase “clear signs” are frequently associated with Jesus and His ministry (Surah 43:63, Surah 2:87, Surah 2:253). More, in Surah 5:110 Allah says that Jesus’ clear signs in Israel incurred the hostility of the Children of Israel and were interpreted by them as “plain magic”. In the light of these parallelisms, it will be more reasonable to conclude that, in Surah 61:6, the messenger who came with clear signs was Jesus rather than Muhammad. Ibn Kathir’s commentary, however, asserts that the prophet that came with clear signs was Ahmad/Muhammad rather than Jesus most likely due to the ambiguous and misleading structure in the verse. The statement “When he came with clear signs …” follows Jesus’ supposed prediction about Ahmad’s advent and looks like its fulfillment.

Second, Surah 61:6 reads: “…when he came TO THEM with clear signs…” This pronoun in object position refers to the Children of Israel, whom Jesus addresses when He declares His prophetic mission. According to the Qur’an, it was Jesus rather than Muhammad who was sent to the Children of Israel. More to the point, in the same verse the Children of Israel are reported to have said “This is plain magic” after seeing the unidentified prophet’s clear signs. Although in the Qur’an the supposed divine revelation given to Muhammad is identically mocked and considered “plain magic” (Surah 34:43, Surah 46:7) by disbelievers, a closer analysis reveals that this sentence is attributed to the pagans of Mecca when Muhammad is in question. Since we never read in the Islamic scripture that the Jews of Arabia referred to the verses recited by Muhammad as “plain magic”, it is not reasonable to suggest that the personal pronoun in Surah 61:6 corresponds to Muhammad/Ahmad instead of Jesus.

Third, there is an undeniable connection between Surah 3 and Surah 61, which is later made explicit in Surah 5. This particular connection also enables us the evolution in Muhammad’s teachings about Jesus’ ministry:

  • In Surah 3 Muhammad introduced the idea that Jesus had been sent to Israel to confirm the Law before Him (v. 49)
  • In Surah 61 Muhammad repeated this teaching and added into Jesus’ speech the prediction of Ahmad’s advent. (v.6)
  • In Surah 5 Muhammad omitted Jesus’ statement about the confirmation of the Law and about Ahmad’s advent, repeating only the teachings about Jesus’ signs and the reaction of the Children of Israel. (v.110)  

Now it is necessary to read Surah 3:50-52 and compare them with Surah 61:6 to see how they are thematically linked:

And (I come) confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden unto you. I come unto you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah and obey me. Lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path. But when Jesus became conscious of their disbelief, he cried: Who will be my helpers in the cause of Allah? The disciples said: We will be Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah, and bear thou witness that we have surrendered (unto Him). (Pickthall)

And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One. Yet when he hath come unto them with clear proofs, they say: This is mere magic. (Pickthall)

In both cases after performing the miracles, Jesus says that He has come unto Israel with signs from God and incurs the hostility of the Children of Israel. This thematic link further proves that the person coming to the Children of Israel with clear signs in Surah 61:6 was Jesus rather than Ahmad. Finally, Surah 5:110 makes it clear like daylight that the pronoun in Surah 61:6 referred to Jesus when it teaches that the Children of Israel considered Jesus’ – not Ahmad’s – signs plain magic.

There are also classical Muslim commentaries which explicitly argue that the unidentified person in Surah 61:6 was Jesus, not Muhammad.  For instance, Shawkani states that it is more accurate to identify the person coming with signs as Jesus than as Muhammad:

“When he came with evidences” means When Isa came with miracles they said: “what he came with is clear magic”. It has been said “when he came” refers to Mohammed but the previous (Isa) is more correct. (Arabic source; translation by Bassam Khoury)

Shawkani is not alone in his interpretation as Al-Baidawi declares with certainty that the personal pronoun in Surah 61:6 referred to Jesus.5

The ambiguity of Surah 61:6 stems from the location of the sentence “When he came with clear signs ...” right after Jesus’ statement and its appearance as the fulfillment of the prediction concerning Jesus’ ministry in Israel, rather than that of Ahmad’s advent. Thus, the author of this chapter seems to have forgotten to add into verse 6 the prediction of Jesus’ ministry. Why did he do that? Why did he only write the fulfillment of the prediction? The answer is that he produced this particular verse as an extension of the narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Surah 3.

To remember, in Surah 3 Jesus’ ministry is related in the form of an angelic prediction (vv. 45-51) and then there is an abrupt transition to the fulfillment of these predictions in verse 52, where Jesus encounters the disbelief and enmity of the Children of Israel and asks for helpers in Allah’s way. The author of Surah 61:6 clipped this narrative as he partly copied Surah 3:50 and 52 and naturally left the angelic prediction of Jesus’ ministry and speech out, accidentally copying only the verse of the fulfillment.

This is not the only problem posed by Surah 61:6. As I discussed in my first article on the Gospel of Barnabas (*), the formulation in this particular Qur’an verse would make more sense and be stripped of its inconsistencies if Jesus was replaced with John the Baptist and Ahmad with Jesus. Since such a chain of replacements is missing and unthinkable, the verse in its current form gives the impression that Ahmad would come to Israel in the same way as the Law (Torah) and Jesus.

Ibn Kathir’s commentary on Surah 61:6 contains a rather funny and ridiculous story that exhibits the influence of the New Testament teaching concerning the relation between John the Baptist and Jesus and its adaptation to Muhammad:

Imam Ahmad recorded that `Abdullah bin Mas`ud said that the Messenger of Allah sent eighty men, including `Abdullah bin Mas`ud, Ja`far bin Abi Talib, `Abdullah bin `Urfutah, `Uthman bin Maz`un, Abu Musa, and others, to An-Najashi. The Quraysh sent `Amr bin Al-`As and `Umarah bin Al-Walid with a gift for An-Najashi. When they, `Amr and `Umarah, came to An-Najashi, they prostrated before him and stood to his right and left. `Amr and `Umarah said, "Some of our cousins migrated to your land; they have abandoned us and our religion.'' An-Najashi said, "Where are they'' They said, "They are in your land, so send for them,'' so An-Najashi summoned the Muslims. Ja`far said to the Muslims, "I will be your speaker today.'' So, the Muslims followed Ja`far and when he entered on the king he did not prostrate after greeting him. They said to Ja`far, "Why do you not prostrate before the king'' Ja`far said, "We only prostrate for Allah, the Exalted and Most Honored.'' They said, "Why'' He said, "Allah has sent a Messenger to us from Him, who ordered us not to prostrate to anyone except Allah, the Exalted and Most Honored. He also ordered to perform prayer and give charity.'' `Amr bin Al-`As said, "They contradict your creed about `Isa, son of Maryam.'' The king asked, "What do you say about `Isa and his mother Maryam'' Ja`far said, "We only say what Allah said about him, that he is Allah's Word, a soul created by Allah and sent down to the honorable virgin who was not touched by a man nor bearing children before.'' An-Najashi lifted a straw of wood and said, "O Ethiopians, monks and priests! By Allah, what they say about `Isa is no more than what we say about him, not even a difference that equals this straw. You are welcomed among us, and greetings to him who sent you. I bear witness that he is Allah's Messenger whom we read about in the Injil. He is the Prophet who `Isa, son of Maryam, foretold the good news about his advent. Live wherever you wish. By Allah, had I not been entrusted with the responsibilities of kingship, I would have gone to him, so that I could be honored by carrying his slippers and his water for ablution.'' (Source)  

This fictitious and unsubstantiated story should be discarded not only because it contains gross examples of anachronism that contradicts the traditional chronological order of the Qur’an6, but also introduces the King of Abyssinia ruling in Muhammad’s era as a great figure testifying to him, which reminds us of John the Baptist’s testimony for Jesus: “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am – I am not worthy to carry his sandals” (Matthew 3:11).Note that John the Baptist also baptized Jesus, and this ritual of baptism was transformed in the Islamic legend into the King’s helping Muhammad with ablution!

Muhammad Miraculously Falls Into Error Again!

While forming the chapters of the Qur’an with the aim of addressing the Christian doctrines, Muhammad fell into error twice because of what his Christian visitors told him about Jesus. The first tragedy befell him because of his ignorance and his relevant failure to distinguish some apocryphal stories from the canonical writings of the Church during the formation of Surah 3. As confessed by Tabari, Muhammad’s peculiar evaluation of the Christian doctrines in the Qur’an was shaped in response to the information he obtained from the Najran delegation about Jesus’ miracles. Instead of urging those Christians to bring their scripture and prove their allegations, Muhammad chose to add everything they said into his Qur’an with the addition of the phrase “by Allah’s leave”, which he thought would suffice to make Jesus inferior to Allah and thus rebut the teachings about His divinity.

Tabari’s report makes it clear that what Muhammad learned from his Christian visitors in Medina was not confined to Jesus’ miracles. Supposedly, those people did not only bring up Jesus’ outstanding miracles to support their teaching that Jesus was God, but also gave a summary of their peculiar Trinitarian doctrine:

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

First of all, if this report is free of Muhammad’s or Muslim scholars’ mistaken conclusions about the basic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, we must admit that Muhammad was a hapless man whose major source of information about Christianity was tainted with some heresies that would never be brought in line with the teachings of the Universal Church. Mainstream Christianity, whose official and dogmatic formulation was declared first in the ecumenical council of Nicea (325 A.D.), has never taught that Jesus is the third separate and independent god of a Trinity consisting of Allah, (Father), Mary (Mother), and Jesus (Son). Moreover, the allegation that Jesus was one of the three gods, the other two being Allah and Mary, cannot be found even in the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy despite its overt ascription to a Christian group that drew their religious knowledge from such non-canonical piece of literature.

Still, it is shocking to see Muhammad unfairly and unethically attribute the heretical teachings of a minority group living in his time in Arabia to all Christians, and this attitude makes him also blameworthy since it paints him as a man racing to denounce and accuse all Christians through a faulty generalization. Muhammad rightly deserves this critique when he seems to have dedicated Surah 5 to the presentation of some heretic teachings he heard from his Christian contacts as the essential doctrines of the universal Church. Accordingly, it is possible to say that in the writing process of Surah 5 Muhammad failed to distinguish Orthodox Christian tenets about Jesus from heretical ones and consequently fell into error by Allah’s leave, that is, despite the aid he allegedly got from Allah.

Jesus’ ministry and miracles in Surah 5

The comparison of the information given in Surah 3 about Jesus’ miracles with the verses rejecting Jesus’ divinity and the concept of a Triune God in Surah 5 provides ample evidence for the theory that Muhammad made use of his Christian visitors’ twofold claims – which is a fact also confirmed by Tabari’s report – while making references to Jesus’ ministry both in Surah 3 and Surah 5. A careful reader analyzing Tabari’s report may readily notice that Muhammad’s Christian visitors intended to prove Jesus’ divinity by first recounting His miracles and then affiliating these with their doctrines regarding Jesus’ divinity and His relation to the Trinity. Thus, they followed two steps while challenging Muhammad to endorse that Jesus was God.

Unsurprisingly, Muhammad responded to his visitors by following the same strategy: he first recounted Jesus’ miracles and implicitly denied His equality with God by the simple attachment of the phrase “by Allah’s leave” to the reckoned wondrous acts in Surah 3, and then proceeded to the overt denunciation and refusal of Jesus’ divinity and the concept of a Triune God in Surah 5.

It is true that in a chapter preceding Surah 5 Muhammad had shortly reproved Christians for their belief in a Trinity and declared Jesus as merely a messenger:

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,7 which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not "Three" - Cease! (it is) better for you! - Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender. The Messiah will never scorn to be a slave unto Allah, nor will the favoured angels. Whoso scorneth His service and is proud, all such will He assemble unto Him. (Surah 4:171-172 Pickthall)

It is by no means a coincidence that in these verses Muhammad did not state what Christians specifically believed and taught about the Trinity and likewise denied only Jesus’ divinity rather than both Jesus and Mary’s, for it would occur to him later that it would be better to present his organized and comprehensive refusal of his Christian visitors’ claims in Surah 5, which would also include short references to Jesus’ ministry in Israel. While propagating his teaching about the former scriptures given to mankind in Surah 5, Muhammad repeated his previous statements about Jesus’ mission and the book supposedly given to Him:

And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah - a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil). (Surah 5:46 Pickthall)

This verse apparently owes its existence to the combination of the teachings given about Jesus in Surah 57:27, Surah 3:50 and Surah 61:6 with the addition of some properties qualifying His supposedly God-given scripture.

Besides, the following verse of Surah 5 makes a weird reference to Jesus while talking of a curse imposed on the disbelievers from among the Children of Israel:

Those of the Children of Israel who went astray were cursed by the tongue of David, and of Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and used to transgress. (Surah 5:78 Pickthall)

It is a matter of wonder why Muhammad introduced in this verse specifically David and Jesus as people cursing the transgressors of their folk. Even if it is easy to guess that Jesus’ name was purposefully inserted into this verse in association with the emphasis laid in the Medinan period of the Qur’an on the Jewish disbelief and evil plots targeting Jesus, nothing of the sort can be said about David. Being unable to know the exact motivation compelling Muhammad to write this verse, we can but make a few guesses:

  1. Muhammad was aware of David’s tribal affiliation with Jesus, and claimed that not only Jesus, but also His forefather David had cursed some of the Children of Israel in the same manner.
  2. Muhammad added the name David into this verse later as he thought that this addition would be more effective and get the attention of the Jews of his time, who ignored everything said by Jesus about the Children of Israel.
  3. Muhammad wanted to attribute the same act of malediction to two of the Israeli messengers, whom he had primarily declared exalted by Allah (Surah 17:55 and Surah 2:253).

Apart from verse 46 and 78, all other verses that mention Jesus in Surah 5 are born of Muhammad’s desire to respond to and reprove his Christian visitors’ claims about Jesus’ divinity and the Trinitarian doctrine. In order to be sure of this fact, it is crucial to remember what the delegation from Najran supposedly told Muhammad:

  • Jesus is God/Allah.
  • Jesus is the third of the three.
  • Jesus is the third god of the Trinity, the other two gods being Allah and Mary.

The verses that attack all these teachings in Surah 5 are given below:(All quotations are taken from Pickthall’s translation.)

They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. Say: Who then can do aught against Allah, if He had willed to destroy the Messiah son of Mary, and his mother and everyone on earth? Allah's is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. He createth what He will. And Allah is Able to do all things. (v. 17)

In this particular verse Muhammad’s need to talk of the hypothetical destruction of BOTH Jesus and Mary in a verse explicitly denying only Jesus’ divinity does not make sense unless we take into consideration the claim that Muhammad’s Christian contacts worshipped not only Jesus, but also Mary in a twisted and pagan form of the Trinity.

They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers. (v. 72)

Here once more Jesus’ divinity is explicitly denied. The interesting point is that in this verse Jesus is depicted as a prophet urging the Children of Israel to worship only Allah and avoid ascribing associates to him. However, this warning looks totally awkward and anachronistic if we do not admit that in Jesus’ time some of the Israelites considered Him equal to God and worshipped Him, which is an idea not supported by the Qur’an.

They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve. (v. 73)

Here Muhammad seems to be the actual speaker behind the curtain addressing his Christian visitors, who identified Jesus as “the third of the three” according to Tabari’s report.

The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food. See how We make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away! (v. 75)

This verse, which is thematically connected to vv. 72-73, once more illustrates how Muhammad felt obliged to reject also Mary’s divinity while mainly reducing Jesus’ identity to that of a former messenger. The reason underlying this obsession-like tendency was without doubt Muhammad’s Christian visitors’ claims regarding Mary’s inclusion into the Trinity as a different god beside Jesus.

From v. 109 through v. 118, Surah 5 follows a curious pattern based on the main theme of Allah’s speech to some specific people, and three of the four speeches are connected with Jesus and His ministry:

  1. Allah speaks to his messengers on the Day of Judgment (v. 109);
  2. Allah speaks to Jesus and counts all the favors that were bestowed on Him in association with His ministry in Israel (v. 110);
  3. Allah speaks to Jesus and His apostles in response to the apostles’ wish for the miraculous descent of a heavenly table (vv. 111-115);
  4. Allah speaks to Jesus and questions Him about the source of the supposed Christian doctrine that regards Jesus and Mary as two gods beside Allah (vv. 116-118).

If we categorize these verses into groups on the basis of the common elements recurring in them and some thematic parallelisms they bear, we get the following pair:

Group 1 – v. 109 and vv. 116-118

In the day when Allah gathereth together the messengers, and saith: What was your response (from mankind)? they say: We have no knowledge. Lo! Thou, only Thou art the Knower of Things Hidden.

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden? I spake unto them only that which Thou commandedst me, (saying): Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness of them while I dwelt among them, and when Thou tookest me Thou wast the Watcher over them. Thou art Witness over all things. If Thou punish them, lo! they are Thy slaves, and if Thou forgive them (lo! they are Thy slaves). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Mighty, the Wise.

There are a few major factors that enable us to construct this particular pair:

  1. In both instances Allah appears to be asking his messengers a question about their ministry on earth.
  2. Both incidents are implied to be future events, most likely to occur on the Day of Judgment. (Allah’s question is obviously about the past ministry of the messengers, and Jesus uses a past time marker while referring to His physical departure from this world. More, the gathering of the messengers on a certain day and the transition from Jesus’ statement about the punishment or forgiveness of Allah’s servants to the description of Paradise in v. 119 similarly point at the Day of Judgment.)
  3. In both cases the messengers replying to Allah deny the knowledge of hidden things in order to emphasize that only Allah is omniscient and nothing can be hidden from him.

Group 2 – v. 110 and vv. 111-115

When Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour unto thee and unto thy mother; how I strengthened thee with the holy Spirit, so that thou spakest unto mankind in the cradle as in maturity; and how I taught thee the Scripture and Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and how thou didst shape of clay as it were the likeness of a bird by My permission, and didst blow upon it and it was a bird by My permission, and thou didst heal him who was born blind and the leper by My permission; and how thou didst raise the dead by My permission; and how I restrained the Children of Israel from (harming) thee when thou camest unto them with clear proofs, and those of them who disbelieved exclaimed: This is naught else than mere magic.

And when I inspired the disciples, (saying): Believe in Me and in My messenger, they said: We believe. Bear witness that we have surrendered (unto Thee) "we are muslims". When the disciples said: O Jesus, son of Mary! Is thy Lord able to send down for us a table spread with food from heaven? He said: Observe your duty to Allah, if ye are true believers. (They said:) We wish to eat thereof, that we may satisfy our hearts and know that thou hast spoken truth to us, and that thereof we may be witnesses. Jesus, son of Mary, said: O Allah, Lord of us! Send down for us a table spread with food from heaven, that it may be a feast for us, for the first of us and for the last of us, and a sign from Thee. Give us sustenance, for Thou art the Best of Sustainers. Allah said: Lo! I send it down for you. And whoso disbelieveth of you afterward, him surely will I punish with a punishment wherewith I have not punished any of (My) creatures.

These verses are overtly meant by the author of Surah 5 to be related because:

  1. Both incidents are thematically linked to Jesus’ ministry on earth.
  2. The second incident is regarded as the extension of the first, for Allah refers to Jesus’ apostles and the grant of their wish as indicators of his grace and favors.
  3. Both incidents are centralized around the miracles performed by Jesus and testifying to the validity of His ministry.

After this analysis and the categorization of the verses 109-118 into two pairs above, we are left with the question how vv. 110-115 are different from v. 109 and 116 despite the fact that they employ the same basic theme of prophetic ministries:

  • Former messengers are questioned about their past ministries. (v. 109)
  • Jesus’ ministry is singled out. (vv. 110-115)
  • Jesus is questioned about His past ministry. (v.116)

The answer to this vital question is that verses 109 and 116-118 follow the same pattern of a dialogue between God and His messengers: God asks His messengers a question about their past ministries, and they answer in similar terms. In verse 110, on the other hand, God does not ask Jesus a question although He talks to Him about His past ministry. This corresponds to an interpolation between verse 109 and verses 116-118 : the author of the Qur’an could have followed our categorization above while locating these verses into Surah 5, but he bafflingly interposed verses 110-115 between 109 and 116-118 as if struggling to disrupt the flow of the chapter. Why did he do this at the expense of the textual coherence of the statements in these verses?

This is not the only problem though. To complicate the issue, verses. 109-110 and 116-118 have a future projection in sharp contrast to the historical narrative that appears in the form of a flashback in verses 111-115. More, the flashback is awkwardly inserted into God’s future dialogue with Jesus in v. 110, giving a summary of what Jesus did during His mission. We naturally wonder why the author of Surah 5 jumped from a future event in v. 110 (God’s speech to Jesus on the Day of Judgment) into a historical narrative (Jesus’ past dialogue with His apostles) in vv.111-115, and then back to a future incident (God’s speech with Jesus in vv. 116-118) with awkward formulations?

In order to find the reason for these manifold crucial interpolations, we must first examine the historical narrative about Jesus’ ministry in verses 110-115.

Analysis of Surah 5:110

Apart from a few elements displaying how Muhammad developed and updated his information about Jesus, Surah 5:110 appears to be almost a verbatim copy of the angelic prediction in Surah 3:46 and 48-49. Whatever is said in Surah 3 by the angels about Jesus’ future ministry is attributed in Surah 5 to Allah in the form of a flashback aiming to remind Jesus of His past ministry.

When Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour unto thee and unto thy mother ...

Evidently, Muhammad invented this whole verse by combining what he claimed about Jesus in Surah 2:253 with what he taught about Him in Surah 3, Allah’s favor being the key element taken from the former.

… how I strengthened thee with the holy Spirit ...

As in Surah 2:253 the special favor bestowed on Jesus was directly linked to Allah’s strengthening Him with the Holy Spirit, in Surah 5:110 Allah reckoned His strengthening Jesus with the Holy Spirit as the first and major sign of his favor.

… so that thou spakest unto mankind in the cradle as in maturity ...

In this part of the verse the strength of the Holy Spirit was associated with Jesus’ ministry and His clear signs as in Surah 2:87 and Surah 2:253, but this time specifically with Jesus’ miraculous speech in the cradle, which was obviously taken from the angelic prediction in Surah 3:46.

… and how I taught thee the Scripture and Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel ...

This is but the repetition of what the angels said in Surah 3:48, providing further proof that Surah 5:110 came into existence because Allah followed the narrative in Surah 3 with regard to Jesus’ ministry.

… and how thou didst shape of clay as it were the likeness of a bird by My permission, and didst blow upon it and it was a bird by My permission, and thou didst heal him who was born blind and the leper by My permission; and how thou didst raise the dead by My permission ...

Here Allah starts reckoning Jesus’ miracles related in Surah 3:48-49 in exactly the same order.

… and how I restrained the Children of Israel from (harming) thee when thou camest unto them with clear proofs, and those of them who disbelieved exclaimed: This is naught else than mere magic.

Apparently, Allah concludes the historical narrative about Jesus’ ministry by relating how the Children of Israel responded to the clear signs exhibited by Him. The particular contention in this final part of the verse that Jesus was saved from the evil plans of the Children of Israel who blasphemously considered Him a magician is actually nothing more than a repetition of the teachings in Surah 3:52, Surah 3:54-55, and Surah 61:6 in a single verse. A second reading of Surah 5:110 attracts our attention to a baffling additional element in Allah’s speech to Jesus:

Remember My favour unto thee and unto thy mother ...

It is a matter of wonder why Allah would mention Jesus’ mother along with Him while talking to Jesus and giving a flashback of His ministry. In particular, what would be Allah’s purpose for adding Mary into a verse that counted the favors bestowed only on Jesus? Did the author of this Surah really think that not only Jesus, but also Mary was strengthened with the Holy Spirit and could perform the signs attributed to Jesus in Surah 3?8 Although we cannot know with certainty the reason for Mary’s incorporation into this verse, we can at least make a plausible guess by taking into consideration the thematic coherence of Surah 5: The root of the problem was most likely Muhammad’s overt zeal to negate both Jesus and Mary’s divinity. Making a reference to Mary even when only Jesus’ divinity was rejected (Surah 5:17, 75) turned into a habit of his. This is why he accidentally inserted Mary into a verse reckoning the favors bestowed on Jesus by Allah and implicitly repudiating Jesus’ divinity.

The comparison of Surah 3:46, 48-49 with Surah 5:110 strikingly reveals that the latter account has an uncanny omission despite its remarkable similarities with the former even to the point of identicalness in some respects:  in Surah 5:110 Allah surprisingly reminds Jesus four of the five miracles stated in Surah 3:48-49, skipping the sign of Jesus’ telling the Children of Israel what they eat and what they store. The cause of this weird omission takes the form of a mystery, leaving us, as usual, with a number of possibilities. First, the omission of this particular miracle from Surah 5:110 is either accidental or deliberate. If it was accidentally left out by the careless scribe, the case closes. However, if it was dropped intentionally, we can start thinking about the reasons underlying the author’s reluctance to copy this miracle from Surah 3. In the end, we have two reasonable possibilities:

  1. Because Jesus’ ability to prophesy what the Children of Israel ate and stored was associated with His knowledge of the unseen, its occurrence in Surah 5 was found to contradict the verses depicting only Allah as the knower of the hidden things (v. 109). Accordingly, while rejecting the claims of being divine, Jesus was made to emphatically repeat this teaching (vv. 116-117).
  2. This miracle was assimilated to the particular sign attributed to Jesus only in Surah 5:111-115.  

Analysis of Surah 5:111-115 

Surah 5:111-115 consists of a miracle account – Jesus’ apostles ask for the descent of a heavenly table, and Allah grants their wish after Jesus’ prayer. The apostles eat of the heavenly food given to them and reassure their faith in Jesus. Interestingly, Surah 5:111 is tied with Surah 5:110 through the repetition of the formulation “and when I …” in its introductory sentence. This, of course, functions to include the apostles’ faith in Jesus and the provision of a heavenly table into the list of the favors bestowed on Jesus by Allah.

The current form and place of this narrative shows the confusion of the writer of the Qur’an: although this account is peculiar to Surah 5, it is located right after the verses referring to the historical narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Surah 3 and thematically bound to it. Its order gives the reader the wrong impression that Jesus’ apostles asked for this favor and could witness the miracle after Jesus’ physical departure from this world, for the connection between Surah 3:46, 48-49 and 5:110 in terms of Jesus’ supposed protection from the Children of Israel makes the teaching in Surah 3:54-55 the root of the claim in Surah 5:110 that “Allah restrained the Children of Israel from harming Jesus”. In short, as Surah 3:55 concludes the narrative of Jesus’ ministry and refers to His departure from this world, so does Allah’s reference to Jesus’ protection in Surah 5:110.

If the writer of the Qur’an had cared about chronological order, he would have narrated the story of this particular miracle before the implicit reference to the termination of Jesus’ ministry in Surah 5:110 and its presentation as a favor of Allah. This would also be the case if he had followed the order of the narrative in Surah 3:

  • Jesus performed many signs in Israel. (vv. 46, 48-49)
  • He found disbelief in the Children of Israel. (v. 52)
  • He sought some believers that would help Him in Allah’s way. (v. 52)
  • The apostles believed in Him. (vv. 52-53)
  • The disbelievers from the Children of Israel plotted schemes to kill Jesus. (v. 54)
  • Jesus was saved from threats and taken away from this life. (v. 55)

The order of the events appearing in the form of Allah’s favors to Jesus in Surah 5 has discrepancies with the order of the narrative in Surah 3. The argument that what Allah actually pointed at in Surah 5:110 when he said “he had prevented the Children of Israel from harming Jesus” was the disbelief of the Jews and Jesus’ consequent search for helpers in Surah 3:52-53 can be tried as a remedy, but it is destined to fail since Surah 3 does not associate any of Jesus’ miracles with the apostles. Why did the author of Surah 5 disregard this fact?

The answer to this problem may be linked to the reason underlying the omission of Jesus’ fifth miracle in Surah 3 from Surah 5:110. While forming Surah 5, Muhammad decided to adopt the story of Jesus’ feeding large crowds from the canonical accounts. In John’s Gospel, this miracle is connected with Jesus’ teachings about Himself as the heavenly bread given by the Father. The people who had eaten of the miraculously multiplied bread and fish wanted Jesus to work a miracle similar to the one recorded in the Torah. God had given the Children of Israel bread from heaven, and Jesus was asked to do something similar if He wanted faith from His audience (John 6:26-31). Jesus’ discourse sounded scandalous to some people, and many of His disciples left Him. However, His apostles remained with Him and reassured their faith (John 6:66-70). All these elements were most likely mixed in Muhammad’s mind and gave birth to the claim that Jesus’ apostles asked Him to work a miracle to provide food from heaven.

As we stated while analyzing Jesus’ miracles recorded in Surah 3, Muhammad probably misunderstood Jesus’ sign of multiplying food to feed the crowds and previously interpreted it as evidence for Jesus’ ability to declare the unseen. However, in Surah 5 he dropped it out of the verse reckoning the miracles attributed to Jesus in Surah 3 as this time he affiliated it with Jesus’ apostles and their faith and transferred it to the verse coming right after v. 110, latently admitting that his previous interpretation of this miracle in Surah 3 was not accurate.

Solving the Mystery

At the end of our comprehensive analysis, we can finally solve the mystery by answering the vital question why verses 110 through 115 are interposed between verse 109 and verses 116-118. The answer can be traced to Muhammad’s wish to design the interposed verses as a duplicate of the narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Surah 3:46, 48 through 55 and locate them just before Jesus’ supposed denial of His divinity in verses 116-118. Instead of simply stating that “Allah asked all the messengers about their mission (v. 109) and then asked also Jesus, as He was supposedly nothing more than a messenger like the rest (v. 75), about the origin of the Christian doctrines regarding the Trinity” (vv. 116-118), he jumped from the dialogue between Allah and the messengers (v. 109) to the narrative of Jesus’ ministry and miracles (v. 110), and likewise, from the dialogue between Jesus and His apostles concerning the miracle of a heavenly table (vv. 111-115), he jumped to Allah’s dialogue with Jesus about the source of the Christian creed regarding the Trinity.

Similarly, Muhammad clumsily hooked Surah 5:116 to Surah 5:110-115 with the help of a time adverbial. To compare:

When Allah saith… (Surah 5:110)

And when I inspired the disciples… (Surah 5:111)

And when Allah saith… (Surah 5:116)

Why did he follow this pattern and try to connect these verses in form although Allah’s dialogue with Jesus and his question in verse 116 were NOT one of the favors bestowed on Him according to Surah 5:110, and the same dialogue in verse 116 did not occur at the same time as Allah’s dialogue with Jesus and His disciples on another occasion for the descent of a heavenly table in verses 111-115?

Undoubtedly, Muhammad constructed the dialogue between Allah and Jesus in verses 116-118 to refuse the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Trinity in response to the Christian delegation that visited him in Medina. According to the traditional story reported by Tabari, those Christians contended that Jesus was the third of the three gods, the other two being Allah and Mary. Since Muhammad mistakenly ascribed this totally twisted and pagan form of the Trinity to all Christians because of his heretical visitors, he raced to overtly deny it in Surah 5. Thus, who was speaking in Surah 5:116-118 was not Allah, but actually Muhammad himself, who responded to the assertions of his visitors through the fabricated dialogue presented in these verses. 

More, the time of Muhammad’s dialogue with the Christian delegation from Najran coincided with the supposed revelation of Surah 3. In particular, the verses recounting Jesus’ miracles and His ministry (46, 48-49) were based on the oral information taken from the Christian group in view. Those people first counted Jesus’ mighty signs and then made use of these to support their peculiar teachings about the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity. While creating Surah 3, Muhammad did not care much about the connection established by the Christian group between Jesus’ miracles and His divinity, but he still felt there were elements lacking in his response to the Christian arguments. Thus, he picked up on this issue again some time later and then devised Surah 5 as a stronger and improved rebuttal. While making Allah and Jesus conduct a massive attack on these teachings in Surah 5:116-118, he remembered how his Christian visitors had tied Jesus’ miracles to the tenet of His divinity, and desired to destroy this connection by having Allah speak to Jesus on another occasion for the sake of reminding Him of all His miracles and emphasize that they were wrought as a result of Allah’s favor. In short, as the actual speaker in Surah 5:116-118 was Muhammad responding to his Christian contacts’ claims about the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity, in Surah 5:110 it was again actually Muhammad who was speaking with the aim of refusal and reminding his Christian contacts of the connection they had set up between Jesus’ miracles and His divinity at the time of their visit to Medina just before the formation of Surah 3.


Our comparative and comprehensive examination of the Qur’an verses recounting Jesus’ ministry and miracles testifies to the invalidity of Muhammad’s claim that he was a true messenger of God and received a divine revelation. Even the occasion suggested in the traditional Islamic sources for the supposed revelation of the verses and narratives about Jesus’ miracles in the Medinan period of the Qur’an mark Muhammad as an inconsistent preacher whose ideas and teachings about Jesus evolved in time, a desperate borrower who owed most of his knowledge to plagiarism, a hapless figure who was misinformed by his Christian contacts, an ignorant teacher who failed to distinguish apocryphal literature from canonical accounts as well as heresies from Orthodox doctrines, and a zealous debater whose style gave himself away and burned his hands while trying to convince his audience.

Note: I want to thank the brothers Jochen Katz, Bassam Khoury, and Mutee'a Al-Fadi for their contribution to this article.



1 This is one of the verses that illustrate Muhammad’s anti-Jewish sentiments stemming from his connection with Gnostic heresies. For further information, see my article Immature Resurrection of Gnosticism in Islam.

2 Apparently, this is a strange critique. If monasticism is an invention that does not have God’s approval, blaming Christians for not observing it well does not make much sense. The current form of the verse gives the reader the impression that what matters is not the human origin of monasticism, but the question if it is practiced properly. 

3 However, it is possible to interpret this verse in a completely different way which makes sense in the context of both the Bible and the Qur’an; see this article.

4 Tafsir al-Jalalayn offers the same interpretation (*).

5 A detailed article on the classical tafsir on Surah 61:6 will be forthcoming.

6 The Muslim speaker in the story is reported to designate Jesus as “Allah’s word and a soul created by him”, which is the description found in Surah 4:171 with slight variations. This verse belongs to the late Medinan period of the Qur’an, therefore, cannot have been quoted by a Muslim in the period preceding the migration to Medina. At the time of some Muslims’ migration to Abyssinia the Quranic teachings regarding Christianity most likely contained only the narrative in Surah 19, which does not state about Jesus anything close to the terminology used by the owner of the utterance.

7 This designation, as usual, was incorporated into the Qur’an due to Muhammad’s plagiarism from the Gospel of James. In this non-canonical writing the angel visiting Mary and giving her the news of Jesus’ birth says that Mary will miraculously conceive of God’s word.

8 In his commentary on Surah 5 Ibn Kathir suggests that by Allah’s favor to Mary in this verse was meant infant Jesus’ miraculous speech from the cradle in defense of His mother’s chastity (*). However, this is not an accurate interpretation since Jesus’ peculiar miracle of speaking in the cradle in Surah 3 is by no means associated with Mary or her chastity. Since Surah 5:110 appears like a duplicate of the teachings in Surah 3 with the addition of a few elements incorporated into Jesus’ story in the post-migration period rather than of the account in Surah 19, it is not reasonable to conclude that the favors bestowed on Jesus in Surah 3 had anything to do with Mary’s chastity.

Articles by Masud Masihiyyen
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