Muhammad: A Prophet Like unto Jesus?

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The Islamic religion claims that it shares the same foundation as its Judeo-Christian counterparts. Central to this claim is that the prophet Muhammad is the last in a long line of prophets that began with Adam.[1] Unlike other claims to general prophethood of all religious men,[2] Islam claims that the specific religion revealed to Moses and emphasized by Jesus is the same one taught by Muhammad. In a qualitative sense, Muhammad reaffirmed the monotheistic religion that the followers of Moses and Jesus had corrupted.  If this claim is accurate, then Protestant Christianity is fundamentally flawed and bares no true connection to its founding leader. This paper aims to delineate the Islamic claim and assess it through the lens of the Christian Scriptures.

Primary Considerations

To fairly assess the Islamic claim, the initial focus will be to examine the Qur’anic testimony to Muhammad’s succession of the biblical prophets. Next, some arguments from the Bible that Islamic scholars have offered in support of the Qur’anic claims will be evaluated. And third, a brief comparison of Muhammad and Jesus’ messages will be conducted.

Qur’anic Arguments for Muhammad Succeeding the Biblical Prophets

Islam has two authoritative sources, the Qur’an and the hadith.[3]  The Qur’an is the final revelation to mankind today and no other source shares its authority. While this is the case, the Islamic position is that Allah had revealed his word to other prophets who subsequently wrote down those books. This would include the Torah as given to Moses, the Psalms as given to David and the Gospel of Jesus.[4] It follows that every argument to Muhammad’s connection to the biblical prophets is substantiated by Islamic scholars using both the current authoritative sources (i.e., the Qur’an and the hadith) as well as material found in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Argumentation from the former and latter will now be considered.

Does the Qur’an claim that Muhammad follows Abraham and Moses and Jesus?  This question is crucial in the subject under consideration as the Qur’an is the single most important book in Islamic literature. Islam claims that the book is the very speech (kalaam) of Allah.[5] Sayyed Abul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi defines the Islamic position lucidly when he argues,

No other work can equal the glorious Qur’an in this uniqueness because its fountainhead is Divine (Knowledge). The source is free from any kind of defect or deficiency, doubt or suspicion, conflict or contradiction. What it contains is certain and decisive, identical and final. The knowledge of Allah is Ultimate and does not need to change.[6]

In addition to this exalted state, it must be noted that Islam claims that the Qur’an is not authored by Muhammad, but rather by Allah. Muhammad was completely passive in receiving the revelation.[7] A sample of the relevant Qur’anic texts will now be considered. The first text under consideration is Surah 40:78,

We did aforetime send apostles before thee: of them there are some whose story We have related to thee and some whose story We have not related to thee. It was not (possible) for any apostle to bring a Sign except by the leave of Allah: but when the Command of Allah issued the matter was decided in truth and justice and there perished there and then those who stood on Falsehoods.[8]

This text of the Qur’an teaches that there are other messengers of Allah that were sent before Muhammad, some mentioned in the Qur’an and others not. All these messengers having been given the same message of submission—i.e., Islam—to Allah.[9] The second Qur’anic text that is noteworthy for the question at hand is found in Surah 7:157,

Those who follow the apostle the unlettered prophet whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures); in the law and the Gospel; for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil: he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him honor him help him and follow the light which is sent down with him it is they who will prosper.

Moses—having witnessed the Israelites making a golden calf—pleads that Allah not destroy the Israelites. The section above is Allah’s response to Moses, where he explains that the Israelites and all after them will have an opportunity for salvation if they follow the “unlettered prophet” who is mentioned both in the law and the Gospels.

Islamic scholars are unanimous that the “unlettered prophet” here is a reference to Muhammad, particularly since the next passage (Surah 7:158) has Muhammad speaking to the Israelites and is referred to by the very same phrase.[10]

There are two issues to note here. First, this quotation claims that Moses was told of Muhammad at Mount Sinai. Not only does the Qur’an claim here that the same God of Moses is the same God who will send Muhammad, but it claims that Moses knew of his coming. Second, the Qur’an here claims that Muhammad is spoken of in the Torah and the Gospel. Meaning, that the message of Moses contained a future allusion to Muhammad as well did the message brought by Jesus. Apologetically, the Qur’an here claims that Muhammad’s prophethood should have been anticipated by those who read Moses and Jesus.[11]

The third Qur’anic text worth noting here is Surah 61:5-6,

And remember Moses said to his people: “O my people! why do ye vex and insult me though ye know that I am the apostle of Allah (sent) to you?” Then when they went wrong Allah let their hearts go wrong: for Allah guides not those who are rebellious transgressors. 6 And remember Jesus the son of Mary said: “O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of Allah (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!”

In this section, Muhammad is being reminded of how prophets of old were also vexed and rejected by their people.

A few notes from this text. First, note the progression between Moses and Jesus. Moses comes first, and Jesus comes after him to “confirm the Law which came before me.”

Second, note that both Moses and Jesus are called “prophets of Allah.” This is the basis for Muhammad’s connection to Jesus and Moses—they are all prophets of the same deity.

And third, a part of Jesus’ message was to bring good news of the coming of a prophet named Ahmad. Quoting the hadith, Ismail Ibn Kathir explains the standard Islamic understanding of this text as Jesus proclaiming the coming of Muhammad who will be the last prophet of Allah.[12]

With the above examples, it is pertinent to acknowledge that the Qur’an teaches that (1) Muhammad was prophesied by both Moses and Jesus; (2) both these prophets knew of the coming of Muhammad; and (3) that the message of all the prophets was essentially the same. For these claims to be verified, evidence of prophecies for the advent of Muhammad must be found in the books preceding Muhammad. An evaluation of Islamic argumentation in this regard now follows.

Biblical Arguments for Muhammad Succeeding the Biblical Prophets

Islamic scholars, because of the above texts, have attempted to show that the Bible has prophecies regarding Muhammad.[13] Noting Deuteronomy 18:15,[14] Yusuf Ali argues that Moses predicts the coming of a prophet like him. This prediction can only be fulfilled by Muhammad because (1) he is from among their brothers the Arabs (through Ishmael); and (2) he brings Sharia – i.e., that is, law—like Moses did.[15] Other Islamic scholars add that whoever fulfills this prophecy must be a governmental leader, of which Muhammad was (and Jesus was not).[16]

There are a few problems with this interpretation. First, Tony Costa notes that the immediate context of the verse requires the “from your countrymen” to refer to Israelites exclusively. Says Costa,

Note Deuteronomy 18:1-2, “The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel … They shall have no inheritance among their brothers.” It is clear from these verses that the “they” refers to the Levites and that “their brothers” refers to the remaining eleven tribes of Israel. In the preceding chapter, Deuteronomy 17:15 which predicts the emergence of the monarchy within Israel and the identity of the rightful monarch who would rule over the people, this point is further made crystal clear: “you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.”[17]

Second, there is no reference to a Law-giving prophet in the text. Moses was speaking of the creation of an order of the prophets, rather than alluding to a specific kind of prophet.[18] When Moses says, “you shall listen to him,” the implication is that all of Yahweh’s prophets were to be listened to by the Israelites. Summarily, there is no positive data to support the claim that this text refers to Muhammad.

Next, Islamic scholars point to the promised one that Jesus predicted in John 14-16 as a reference to Muhammad. These interpretations center on the identity of the Paraclete (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Yusuf Ali offers two arguments for why these verses refer to Muhammad.[19] First, the name “Ahmad” or “Muhammad” in Arabic translates to “periklytos” in Greek, which was the original reading in these verses that in the Greek have “parakletos.” Ali argues that parakletos is a corrupt reading of periklytos. Second, he argues that even if the original reading was parakletos, then it would still work since Muhammad is “merciful” and “kind,” which is the essential meaning of parakletos—the one who gives aid. The net result is, whatever word Jesus spoke here, it undeniably refers to Muhammad.

There are serious problems with this argumentation. First, the initial argument is purely speculative and lacks empirical evidence as it is untenable that all appearances of parakletos have been changed without any manuscripts to show the difference. The presupposition in this argument is the Islamic position that the Bible has been corrupted. Proponents of this argument, of which most Muslims are today, have neither basis for its substance nor fair assessment of biblical textual transmission.[20]

Second, from John 14:16-17, Costa gives five reasons why it is impossible that the Paraclete refers to Muhammad. He argues that (1) it would be absurd for Jesus to say “he will give you another Muhammad,” since Muhammad is categorically unlike Jesus; (2) Jesus said this Paraclete will be with his disciples forever, yet Muhammad died in AD 632; (3) Jesus said the disciples know the Paraclete, but they never met Muhammad; (4) Jesus said the Paraclete dwells with the disciples; and (5) Jesus said the Paraclete will be in the disciples, which cannot be achieved by a man.[21] Furthermore, James White argues that “everything Jesus said to the disciples [regarding the Paraclete] would be completely irrelevant to them if He was simply speaking of the coming Muhammad in the seventh century.”[22]

As in the Deuteronomy text, basic principles of exegesis have shown that inserting Muhammad here is awkward and constitutes a violation of contextual integrity. Islamic scholars point to several other texts to argue for predictions of Muhammad’s advent, yet similar contextual evaluations show the weakness of these arguments.[23]

A Similar Message of Submission

The consensus of Islamic scholarship is that all the prophets spoke the same message of submission to Allah as the message brought by Muhammad.[24] A thorough evaluation of this claim cannot be exhaustively undertaken in a study of this size and so it is necessary that a sample be analyzed. Jesus’ understanding of himself, of the nature of God and of salvation will be compared with Muhammad’s teaching of same.

First, a survey of Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament shows that he understood himself to be more than a mere prophet. He called himself the “bread of life” (John 6:35), the “son of man” who would rule over the cosmos (Matt 19:28), and the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Further, he described himself as one who has “authority to forgive sins” (Luke 5:20-24), has life in himself just like the Father does (John 5:26), was there before the world existed (John 17:5) and, most sensationally, was one with the Father (John 10:30).[25] His claims to divinity are categorically seen in how the Jews reacted to his statements and how he received worship from his disciples.

The Qur’an, however, claims that Jesus is not to be exalted in any way as he is only a messenger.[26] This is a fundamental contradiction. Islamic scholars attempt to solve the conundrum by arguing that the Bible has been corrupted, and thus the sections where Jesus clearly claims deity are works of Christians who elevated Jesus to something he never demanded. As has been stated, there is no evidence to substantiate this claim and the Qur’an itself lends little credence to the idea that the Bible has been corrupted. What is left is the fact that the Jesus of history claimed to be something that Muhammad’s teaching denied. Here we are left with only two options; either the author of the Qur’an spoke untruthfully, or the Jesus he refers to is not the Jesus of Nazareth.

Second, the Qur’an teaches unitarian monotheism whereas the Bible affirms trinitarian monotheism. In addition to claiming himself to be divine, Jesus spoke of another one like him to come who will be with his disciples (John 14:16). He commanded his disciples to baptize converts “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). The rest of the acts and writings of the disciples decisively shows that Jesus taught them trinitarian monotheism.

The Qur’an, however, vociferously argues against trinitarianism. In a direct refutation of the Christian trinitarian understanding of God,[27] Allah calls on Christians to desist because “Allah is one Allah” (Surah 4:171). This statement stands in direct contrast to the Apostle Paul’s expanded Shema where he says “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Cor 8:6). As it is evident that Muhammad and Jesus do not agree on the nature of God, then it cannot be positively confirmed that they are sent by the same God.

The final consideration concerns salvation. How did Jesus teach that men and women can be saved from the just judgement of God because of their sins? First, note that Jesus saw himself as the focal point of God’s salvation plan. He came to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10), those who would be saved were to be his (John 6:44) and he had authority to give eternal life (John 17:2). Jesus claimed that only belief in him would provide life everlasting, and exclusively in him is the path to God for all mankind (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Second, and critically, Jesus saw his death and resurrection as the necessary events for the salvation of men. His life was to be the ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and in his death and resurrection the Scriptures would be fulfilled (Matt 16:21; Luke 24:26-27). The Qur’anic position could hardly be more different.

First, a critical difference is that the Qur’an does not share Jesus’ view of his centrality to salvation. In the Qur’an, there is nothing about Jesus’ death that atones for sinners. White gives a brief synthesis of salvation in the Qur’an,

Good works, faith in Allah and the Qur’an—this is the essence of submission and salvation. Seek to make the scales heavy with good deeds and avoid the bottomless pit filled with raging fire. We want to ask, ‘Does the Qur’an present a single, coherent view of salvation?’ But perhaps the more incisive question is whether the doctrine of salvation is distinguishable from proper worship, the embracing of tawhid, and the rejection of shirk—i.e., submission to Allah.[28]

White above suggests that the Qur’an enjoins men to worship Allah in the prescribed Islamic manner: do good works and thus “avoid the pit.” He further notes that the Qur’an only has a category for “guidance,” and not for forgiveness or redemption as explained by Jesus and his followers.[29]

Second, the Qur’an denies Jesus’ death.[30] Not only is Jesus’ death one of the most reliably reported events of ancient history,[31] the Qur’an’s denial of it contradicts a prominent feature of Jesus’ ministry. The synoptic Gospels record Jesus predicting his own death at least three times (Mark 8:31-33; 9:31-32; 10:32-34), evidently asserting that his death is essential to the work he has come to achieve. At this crucial point we find another direct contradiction between Muhammad and Jesus. The message that Muhammad came to deliver differs to Jesus’ message regarding Jesus’ identity, the nature of God, and the way of salvation. The Islamic contention that their messages of submission are identical fails at these three critical points.

Conclusion

Though the Qur’an claims that Muhammad was expected by Moses and Jesus, this analysis has demonstrated that there is no credible biblical evidence for this claim. Islamic scholars have attempted to find Muhammad in the Bible using a variety of critical methods, but many of these are guilty of violating contextual integrity or are speculative in nature.  Muhammad has been shown to fundamentally contradict Jesus in three significant areas. It is therefore concluded that the Islamic claim to Muhammad’s succession of Jesus is untenable on literary and theological grounds.


[1] See Derek Cooper, Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths (Philipsburg, NJ: R&R Publishing, 2013), 120.

[2] For example, as seen in Hinduism. Ibid., 16.

[3] The hadith (also referred to as Sunnah) are the “actions, statements, and teachings of Muhammad and his companions that forms the core of Islamic tradition.” James White, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2013), 292. As to its function in Muslim thought, Jamal Badawi explains that, “To Muslims, Sunnah is a form of revelation given to Prophet Muhammad, but not verbatim, as is the case with the Qur’an. As such, authentic Sunnah is the second primary source of Islamic teachings, after the Qur’an. It plays the important roles of defining, explaining and elaborating the Qur’anic text.” Jamal A. Badawi, Gender Equity in Islam (Durban, South Africa: IDM Publications, 2016), 2.

[4] Most Islamic scholars today hold that these original books are no longer extant as the followers of these prophets distorted them. Cooper, World Religions, 120.

[5] Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan (Birmingham, UK: Al-Hidaayah Publishing, 1999), 30.

[6] Sayyed Abul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi, Studying the Glorious Qur’an: Principles and Methodology (Leicester, England: UK Islamic Academy, 2003), 2.

[7] For a fuller discussion of the Islamic doctrine of the revelation of the Qur’an, see Maulana Muhammad Ali, The Religion of Islam (Lahore, Pakistan: Ahmadiyyah, 1935), 15-21.

[8] All Qur’an citations in this work are taken from English Translation of the Holy Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Durban: Islamic Propagation Centre International, 2004) unless otherwise noted.

[9] Yusuf Ali explains that, “Allah sent Messengers of His Truth to every people. There are some whose names are known to us through the holy Qur-an, but there are a large number whose names are not made known to us through that medium. We must recognise the Truth wherever we find it.” Ali, Yusuf. English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary. Largo: The Alim Foundation, n.d. Accessed May 21, 2019. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/ayah/compare/40/78#ayanote-4454.

[10] Mohammad Asad comments that, “The stories of some of the earlier prophets given in this surah… constitute a kind of introduction to this command to follow the “unlettered Prophet”, Muhammad.” Asad, Mohammad. The Message of the Qur’an. Largo: The Alim Foundation, n.d. Accessed May 21, 2019. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/ayah/compare/7/157#ayanote-124.

[11] White, About the Qur’an, 197.

[12] Says Kathir, “Isa (peace be upon him) is the last and final Messenger from among the Children of Israel. He remained among the Children of Israel for a while, conveying the good news of the coming of Muhammad, whose name is also Ahmad, the Last and Final Prophet and Messenger. After Muhammad, there will be no prophethood or Messengers. How admirable the Hadith is that Al-Bukhari collected in his Sahih from Jubayr bin Mut`im, who said, ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah say, I have names. I am Muhammad and Ahmad. I am Al-Mahi through whom Allah will eliminate disbelief. I am Al-Hashir who will be the first to be resurrected, with the people being resurrected Hereafter. I am also Al-`Aqib (i.e., there will be no Prophet after me).’” Ibn Kathir, Ismail. Tasfir Ibn Kathir. Compiled and Translated by Sheikh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri. Largo: The Alim Foundation, n.d. Accessed May 22, 2019. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/61/5.

[13] For a sample of these texts and Islamic scholarly argumentation, see Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad in the Bible (Silver Spring, MD: Majlis Ansarullah, 2003), 7-55.

[14]  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” (Deut 18:15). All Scripture citations in this work are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001) unless otherwise noted.

[15] Ali, Yusuf. English Translations of the Meanings and Commentary. Largo: The Alim Foundation, n.d. Accessed May 21, 2019. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/ayah/compare/7/157#ayanote-1127.

[16] White, About the Qur’an, 203.

[17] Tony Costa, “Does the Bible Predict the Coming of Muhammad?,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 20, no.2 (Summer 2016):63. Costa goes on to argue that this is the standard Jewish and Christian interpretation.

[18] Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and The Word (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing), 264.

[19] Ali, Yusuf. English Translations of the Meanings and Commentary. Largo: The Alim Foundation, n.d. Accessed May 21, 2019. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/ayah/compare/61/6#ayanote-5438.

[20] White, About the Qur’an, 171-180. White concludes that the Qur’an itself does not teach the corruption of the Bible. Instead, this teaching is a later polemical development.

[21] Costa, The Coming of Muhammad, 70-71.

[22] White, About the Qur’an, 208.

[23] After analysing a few texts cited by Muslims, Costa concludes, “When the Bible is read in a coherent and consistent manner it will become quickly evident that it does not predict the coming of Muhammad at all in the passages cited above.” Costa, The Coming of Muhammad, 72.

[24] Bilal Phillips summarizes the Islamic understanding when he argues that, “Jesus came as a prophet calling people to worship God alone, as the prophets before him did: ‘For We assuredly sent amongst every People a messenger, (with the Command), Serve Allah, and eschew Evil.’ (Quran 16:36).” Bilal Phillips,The True Message of Jesus Christ,” Tell Me About Islam, accessed May 20, 2019, http://tellmeaboutislam.com/the-true-message-of-jesus-christ.html.

[25] Commenting on this claim, G. Campbell Morgan accurately summarizes, “It was a claim to absolute Deity; and there can be no escape from it; there is only one way to be rid of it, and that is to blot it out, and to deny He said it.” G. Campbell Morgan, The Teaching of Christ (London, England: Pickering & Inglis, 1946), 37.

[26] For example, Allah says, “They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; Yet they were commanded to worship but one Allah: there is no god but He…”(Surah 9:31). Also, elsewhere he says it succinctly, “Christ the son of Mary was no more than an Apostle; many were the Apostles that passed away before him…” (Surah 5:75). Costa explains that the Christian elevation of Christ is seen as polytheistic and constitutes the unforgivable sin in Islam. Tony Costa, “Jesus in Islam,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 20, no.2 (Summer 2016):43.

[27] It must be noted that James White has argued that the author of the Qur’an did not understand Christian trinitarian monotheism accurately. Says White, “His strong warnings to the Christians focus upon a perceived violation of monotheism and the dreaded association of a created being with God. The threeness of the Christian proclamation is interpreted not as Father, Son, and Spirit, but instead it is seen as Allah being “one of three,” and the only three that is enumerated is Allah, Mary, and Jesus. This ties firmly into the consistent Qur’anic statement that God is ‘exalted above having a son,’ and the nearly creedal affirmation of Surat al-Ikhlas, (112) 3, ‘He does not beget, nor is He begotten.’” James R. White, “’Take Me and My Mother as Gods Apart from God’: Surat Al Maida and the Qur’an’s Understanding of the Trinity,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 20, no.2 (Summer 2016):39.

[28] White, About the Qur’an, 147.

[29] Ibid., 150.

[30] Although there are variant translations of other passages in the Qur’an—such as Surah 3:55 and 19:33—that can be said to affirm the death of Jesus, yet the dominant conservative Islamic view is that Jesus did not die because of Surah 4:157. For a synthesis of Islamic discussion about Jesus’ death, see Gabriel Said Reynolds, “The Muslim Jesus: Dead or alive?,” Bulletin of SOAS 72, no.2 (June 2009):237-258.

[31] See White, About the Qur’an, 132-137.

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