Behold! The angels said: O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and in (the company of) those nearest to God.
“Before searching for this quote in the New Testament, you might first ask your Muslim co-worker, friend, or neighbor for a copy of the Qur’an … the quote is from verse 45 of chapter 3 of the Qur’an.” So writes Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). It’s the introduction to his holiday message and it’s offered as proof that “Muslims also love and revere Jesus.”
Every year around Christmastime, Hooper’s message is reprinted and with it his assurance to Christians that “We have more in common than you think.” But there’s a hitch to this message of hope. That’s because every year during Christmastime, other Muslims have a tradition of slaughtering Christians and burning down their churches—preferably on Christmas Day. If you’re a Christian living in Nigeria, Egypt, or Pakistan, Christmas Day brings both joy and trepidation. Other Christians in the Muslim world live in constant fear of abduction, rape, forced marriage to Muslims, confiscation of property, beatings, and blasphemy convictions. As Raymond Ibrahim has ably demonstrated in his monthly series on Muslim persecution of Christians, the Muslim world is permeated with a climate of hatred towards Christians.
Which raises a question: why haven’t they gotten the message—that is, the message that Muslims “love and revere Jesus”? Well, they have. Except that the Jesus they revere is not Jesus of Nazareth, but the Jesus of Muhammad’s imagining. According to Islamic teaching, Jesus, like his mother, is a Muslim—in fact, he is a Muslim prophet. In most respects, he is not at all like Jesus of Nazareth. He denies (somewhat strenuously) that he is divine or ever claimed to be (5:116-7). Furthermore, according to the Koran, Jesus was not crucified or resurrected, nor is he part of a Trinity. Indeed, almost every time Jesus is mentioned in the Koran, great pains are taken to deny that he is God. For example, shortly after the Annunciation passage, the reader is reminded that “Jesus is like Adam in the sight of God. He created him from dust and then said to him ‘Be’ and he was” (3:58-9). In short, Jesus was just a man. Lest there be any doubt, a few passages later the people of the Book (Christians) are asked to agree that “none of us shall set up mortals as deities beside God” (3:64).
The Annunciation scene is repeated in sura 19 of the Koran, along with a very brief account of the birth of Jesus (under a palm tree). This is immediately followed by an admonition: “Such was Jesus, son of Mary. That is the whole truth, which they [Christians] still doubt. God forbid that he Himself should beget a son!” (19:34-35). In another place, the language is even stronger. Verse 9:30 says that those who “call Christ the son of God” are under “Allah’s curse” (Yusuf Ali, trans.).
Hooper fails to mention any of this in his deceptive Christmas message, but Muslims who are familiar with the Koran know that those who assign partners to God are guilty of shirk—the greatest of all sins. But assigning partners (Jesus and the Holy Spirit) to God is precisely what Christians do. Therefore, they are under “Allah’s curse” and are deserving of punishment. Thus the widespread Muslim hatred of Christians, and thus the animus toward Christmas.
Muslims believe that the Gospels are a corruption of the message that Jesus was given. From the Islamic point of view, the Jesus portrayed in the Christian Gospels is a false Jesus. The true Jesus—the one who denies that he is the son of God—is to be found in the Koran. Keep that in mind the next time that a Muslim apologist (or a Catholic apologist for Islam) tells you that Muslims love and honor Jesus. It’s not the same Jesus.
Muhammad claims to have met Jesus during his dream journey to Paradise, but the Jesus he meets is just another prophet. In fact, he is encountered on level two of a seven-level heaven, suggesting that others rank well above him. Moreover, he doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression on Muhammad, other than that he had a “reddish” complexion and “many freckles.” Muhammad seemed intent on putting Jesus in his place, and his place is below that of Aaron, Moses, and the prophet Abraham who is attended by seventy thousand angels (and who, according to Muhammad, looks just “like myself”).
Let’s imagine, however, that instead of meeting the Jesus of his imagination, Muhammad was transported back in time to meet the real Jesus. How would he respond? Would he hail Jesus as a fellow prophet? Not likely. That’s because the Jesus of the New Testament is—from the Muslim point of view—a blasphemer. He claims to have existed before Abraham. He claims to be the son of God. He claims to be equal to God. He is, in other words, guilty of the worst of all possible sins. Given the Koran’s abhorrence of assigning partners to God, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Muhammad would have been among those calling for the death of Jesus.
The current persecution of Christians at the hands of Muslims is not a perversion of the Koran, but is very much in keeping with it. The Koran contains numerous warnings to Christians not to “distort the Book [the original Gospel, supposedly given by Allah to Jesus]” (3:78, Yusuf Ali). In other places, Christians are described as mostly “evildoers” (3:110) and “the vilest of all creatures” (98:6). Their sin, once again, is that they have “set up partners with Allah” (4:48, Yusuf Ali), and for this sin, Allah will “put terror into [their] hearts” (3:151). Not only that, but on the Last Day “he [Jesus] will bear witness against them” (4:159).
Muslims, like Christians, believe in a second coming of Jesus, but his coming will be an unpleasant surprise for Christians who have not converted to Islam. According to an oft-cited hadith:
The Prophet said: There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Jesus. He will descent [sic] (to the earth)… He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizyah. Allah will perish all religions except Islam (Sunan Abu Dawud 37, 4310).
Islamic scholars and jurists are in general agreement that these acts all amount to a repudiation of Christianity on the part of Jesus. According to the Shafi law manual Reliance of the Traveller, “After his final coming, nothing but Islam will be accepted from them … he [Jesus] will not rule according to the Evangel [Gospels], but as a follower of our Prophet” (o 9.8).
So, from the Islamic point of view, the birth of Jesus is prelude to the abolition of Christianity. According to the Koran, Jesus did not come into the world to save men from their sins, but to announce the coming of Muhammad and to bear witness against Christians on the Day of Judgment. Ibrahim Hooper knows all this. Which is why his holiday message to Christians rings rather hollow. If, as Islam teaches, Jesus is not God, if he was not crucified and raised again, and if he is not the savior of mankind, then his birth might be notable, but not an occasion for tidings of comfort and joy.
For Muhammad, the importance of Jesus lay in the fact that he could be used as a prop to his own invented religion—one more prophet in a long line who could be posthumously enlisted to attest to the truth of Islam. In essence, Muhammad hijacked Jesus for his own purposes. In so doing, he robs the Gospel stories of all their significance. There is no follow-through to the “glad tidings” announced in the Koran. As with so much else in the Koran, the Annunciation scene is simply a borrowing. It is there to buttress Muhammad’s case that his eclectic religion is the culmination of a long tradition.
Muhammad did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, so much as negate its importance. He demotes Jesus from Messiah to messenger. Messenger to what? To a legalistic, life-denying religion ruled over by a distant tyrant-god. The creation of Islam was basically a step back in time. Muhammad surveyed the scene and decided that what the world needed was another pre-Christian religion. Jesus came to reveal that God was a loving Father. Muhammad came to reveal that God was a capricious and obsessive ruler. Jesus came to make all things new. Muhammad tried to make them old again. For example, his description of paradise as a place of sensual/sexual delights is a throwback to the conception of heaven imagined by various pagan religions.
Although Muhammad makes a nod to the Christians faith, Islam is essentially a pre-Christian religion. The Annunciation scene is there, but the story that goes with it has been taken out. In the Koran, the greatest story ever told is reduced to a few scattered fragments which not only fail to convey the original story, but are also forced to serve another narrative altogether. Muhammad’s Annunciation scene is obviously borrowed from the first chapter of Luke. But the second chapter of Luke, which gives an account of the angel’s message to the shepherds, is conveniently left out:
Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2: 10-11).
The good news of the Gospels is that Jesus is born and that with his birth the possibility is opened for all of us to be born to new life. But Muhammad closes out that possibility. No one who has read the Koran would ever accuse Muhammad of bringing great joy to the world. He is not the bearer of good news but of old news: that we are the slaves of an inscrutable and capricious God who seems obsessed with punishment (threats of hellfire appear on almost every page of the Koran). Furthermore, one of the chief ways of appeasing this God is by making war on his enemies. Meanwhile, Jesus—mankind’s hope for a new beginning—is relegated to a relatively minor role as part of the supporting cast in a story which is, in comparison to the Gospels, decidedly bleak.
In 2001, nineteen Muslims hijacked four planes and succeeded in killing three thousand people. But the idea would never have occurred to them except that fourteen hundred years earlier, Muhammad had hijacked and perverted Judeo-Christian beliefs in order to cobble together his own ersatz religion. Muhammad initially thought he could win over Jews and Christians to the new religion. The inclusion of Christian and Jewish elements was done in part to make Islam more palatable to them.
Which is exactly what Ibrahim Hooper is trying to accomplish with his holiday message. But before you buy into this “more-in-common-than-you-think” propaganda, consider a few recent headlines:
“Holiday party may have motivated San Bernardino terrorists.” (It turns out that Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were deeply offended by the Christmas decorations that festooned Farook’s office holiday party.)
“UK: Muslim singer’s family gets death threats from Muslims for photo of their Christmas tree.” (The family was accused of “insulting Islam” and of being “a disgrace to the faith.”)
“After wishing Christians a Happy Easter, a beloved Glasgow shopkeeper is allegedly slain by another Muslim.” (Asad Shah, the shopkeeper, was also in the habit of wishing Christians a “Merry Christmas” on his Facebook page and in his store. Note: the obligatory “allegedly” can now be safely removed from the above headline.)
And, for a bit more balance to Hooper’s Christmas outreach, here’s a ruling on Christmas trees from an online site called Islam Question and Answer:
Question: “I don’t celebrate Christmas in any way, but my 11-year-old daughter loves the beauty of a Christmas tree when decorated. Is it permissible for me to have one in my house throughout the year?”
Answer (in part): “You should explain to your daughter that it is haraam [forbidden] to imitate the disbelievers and that it is obligatory to differ from those who are doomed to Hell and to dislike what they venerate of clothing, symbols, or rituals, so as to develop respect for her own religion and adhere to it…”
Further on in his letter, Hooper suggests that the “forces of hate” trying to “pull Muslims and Christians apart” can be countered by “the message of love, peace, and forgiveness taught by Jesus and accepted by followers of both faiths.” That’s funny—I don’t recall any place in the Koran where the Muslim Jesus speaks of “love,” “peace,” or “forgiveness.” On the other hand, there are numerous passages in which Jesus or Allah denies his Sonship. But the fact that the Son of God became man is the main message of the Gospels. Take that away and you take away the reason for the Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and Christmas cards that brighten the midwinter days. More importantly, you take away the best hope that the weary world has ever seen.
What you are left with is the weary, dreary world of Muhammad where, to borrow a line from The Chronicles of Narnia, “it’s always winter, but never Christmas.”