When people think about Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t the Quran, the central religious text of Islam.
Many people assume that the world’s major monotheistic religions differ greatly. But Islam and Christianity share some very basic ideas about who Jesus was and how he lived. The name Jesus is mentioned at least 25 times in the Quran, and many other references are made to the son of Mary or Christ the messenger of Allah.
n honor of the holiday, here are six things you may not know about the role of Jesus — and his mother, Mary — in Islam:
- Jesus, Mary, and the angel Gabriel are all in the Quran (as are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and a bunch of other Bible characters).
- Muslims believe that Jesus (called “Isa” in Arabic) was a prophet of God, was born to a virgin (Mary), and will return to Earth before the Day of Judgment to restore justice and to defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal (“the false messiah”), also known as the Antichrist. All of which may sound pretty familiar to many Christians.
- Mary (called “Maryam” in Arabic) has an entire chapter in the Quran named for her — the only chapter in the Quran named for a female figure. In fact, Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the entire Quran: As noted in the Study Quran, “other female figures are identified only by their relation to others, such as the wife of Adam and the mother of Moses, or by their title, such as the Queen of Sheba.” Mary is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament.
- Just as with all the other prophets, including Mohammed, Muslims recite, “Peace be upon him” every time they refer to Jesus.
- Muslims believe that Jesus performed miracles: The Quran discusses several of Jesus’s miracles, including giving sight to the blind, healing lepers, raising the dead, and breathing life into clay birds.
- The story of Jesus’s birth as told in the Quran is also the story of his first miracle, when he spoke as an infant in the cradle and declared himself to be a prophet of God. Here’s the story:
And remember Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her family to an eastern place. And she veiled herself from them. Then We [God] sent unto her Our Spirit [the angel Gabriel], and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said, “I seek refuge from thee in the Compassionate [i.e., God], if you are reverent!” He said, “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, to bestow upon thee a pure boy.”
She said, “How shall I have a boy when no man has touched me, nor have I been unchaste?” He said, “Thus shall it be. Thy Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me.’” And [it is thus] that We might make him a sign unto mankind, and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed.
So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a place far off. And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “Would that I had died before this and was a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!” So he called out to her from below her, “Grieve not! Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath thee. And shake toward thyself the trunk of the date palm; fresh, ripe dates shall fall upon thee. So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou seest any human being, say, ‘Verily I have vowed a fast unto the Compassionate, so I shall not speak this day to any man.’”
Then she came with him [the infant Jesus] unto her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary! Thou hast brought an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not an evil man, nor was thy mother unchaste.” Then she pointed to him [Jesus]. They said, “How shall we speak to one who is yet a child in the cradle?”
He [Jesus] said, “Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and [has made me] dutiful toward my mother. And He has not made me domineering, wretched. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive!”
That is Jesus son of Mary— a statement of the truth, which they doubt.
So although Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God — an important distinction between Muslim and Christian views of him — Muslims do revere Jesus as an important prophet.
Meanwhile, many details about the birth of Jesus match those found in the New Testament. Muslims, for example, believe in the Virgin Birth, and the Quran also calls Jesus the Messiah.
The earliest texts of the New Testament are believed to have been written between 50 and 62 A.D. by Saint Paul. Muslims believe the Quran was revealed by God to Muhammad verbally through the angel Gabriel beginning in 609 A.D.
Similar to the Gospel of Luke, the Quran describes the conversation between the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, in which Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a child.
“O Mary! Allah gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of those nearest to Allah,” reads the Quran 3:45.
“Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was an apostle of Allah,” adds the Quran 4:171.
Meanwhile, the actual birth of Jesus has a central place in Islam and is described in detail in the Quran. Chapter 19 of the Quran is called Maryam, after the Virgin Mary, and describes the Virgin Birth.
But the Quran differs from the New Testament because Jesus was not born in a manger in the Quran’s version. Instead, the Quran describes Mary giving birth under a palm tree.
There are, of course, fundamental differences between the way Christians and Muslims view Jesus and his role. Christians believe Jesus is the savior and the son of God, but Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, which is how he is described in the Quran. Muslims believe there were a large number of prophets throughout human history, over 120,000 of them, and that the Holy Prophet Muhammad was the last.
Since Muslims believe that Jesus was a human prophet of God, they do not believe in his divinity. Instead, Muslims believe that the name Son of God was used in a metaphorical sense to refer to one of God’s chosen prophets.
“I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet,” Jesus says in 19:30, Yusif Ali, one of the most popular translations of the Quran into English.
But Muslims do believe that Jesus worked miracles and that he was taken into heaven upon his death.
“O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me,” Allah said to Jesus in 3:55, Yusif Ali.