THE LIFE OF THE PROPHET 'ISA (AS)
The birth of the Prophet 'Isa (as)
In the Qur'an, God draws the attention to the fact that Jesus was unique in every respect. First of all, he was born without a father. Through His angels, God revealed to Mary before Jesus' birth that her son would be the Messiah and have many other God-given qualities as well. In fact, Jesus had the honor of being called "God's Word":
The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only the Messenger of God and His Word, which He cast into Mary, and a Spirit from Him. (Qur'an, 4:171)
When the angels said: "Mary, your Lord gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, of high esteem in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near." (Qur'an, 3:45)
In the Qur'an, the expression "God's Word" is only used for Jesus. God revealed his name before his birth and named him "Messiah Jesus," as a Word from Him. This is another sign that Jesus' creation differs from that of all other people.
God sustained Mary in the best way during her pregnancy and Jesus' birth, and also guided her. He made the environmental conditions favorable for her, for since she had removed herself from her family and community, she was all alone. With the help of God, Mary managed this difficult situation by herself and gave birth to her son without any complications. God reveals His grace for Mary in the following verses:
The pains of labor drove her to the trunk of a date-palm. She exclaimed: "Oh if only I had died before this time and was something discarded and forgotten!" A voice called out to her from under her: "Do not grieve. Your Lord has placed a small stream at your feet. Shake the trunk of the palm toward you, and fresh, ripe dates will drop down to you. Eat and drink and delight your eyes. If you should see anyone at all, just say: 'I have made a vow of abstinence to the All-Merciful, and today I will not speak to any human being.'" (Qur'an, 19:23-26)
As the verses tell, God helped Mary with revelation and told her not to lose heart. He revealed to her everything that she needed to know, and ensured that she would have an easy birth. God's grace and protection for her are shown in this event.
When Mary returned to her people together with Jesus, her people slandered her with ugly accusations based on speculation, even though they knew her and her dedication, as well as that of her family, to God, and her chastity. The circumstances of Jesus' birth are, in reality, a miracle that God granted to Mary's people and proof of His existence. However, her people failed to understand this, and so made unfounded allegations against her and tried to make their slander stick:
She brought him to her people, carrying him. They exclaimed: "Mary! You have done an unthinkable thing! Sister of Aaron, your father was not an evil man nor was your mother an unchaste woman!" (Qur'an, 19:27-28)
In reality, Mary was being tried with these ugly allegations. For such a devout and chaste person to be slandered in this way is a test from God. When confronted this situation, she turned to God and placed her trust in Him, knowing that He would help her against her people's accusations. She sought only His help and support and received His favor and mercy.
God helped His chosen servant in her time of trouble with another miracle: He revealed to her that she should not speak when her people wanted her to, but to point to Jesus when they accuse her. The Qur'an reveals this order in the following way:
"If you should see anyone at all, just say: 'I have made a vow of abstinence to the All-Merciful, and today I will not speak to any human being'." (Qur'an, 19:26)
When God gave her the good news of Jesus' birth, He also revealed that Jesus would speak as a baby in the cradle. This miracle became a big help for Mary from the Lord:
"He will speak to people in the cradle, and also when fully grown, and will be one of the righteous." (Qur'an, 3:46)
In a miraculous way, God made Jesus give the explanation that was expected of Mary. By this miracle, He restored her good reputation and informed the Children of Israel of Jesus' appointment as His Messenger to them:
She pointed toward him. They asked: "How can a baby in the cradle speak?" He [Jesus] said: "I am the servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a Prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I am, [has] directed me to perform prayer and give alms as long as I live, and to show devotion to my mother. He has not made me insolent or arrogant. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised up again alive." (Qur'an, 19:29-33)
Jesus declares that he is God's servant, that he has been given revelation, that he is a Prophet expected to call to faith when he reaches adulthood, that he must perform the prescribed prayers (salat) and give alms (zakat), that he must respect his mother's word, and that he will die and be resurrected on the Day of Judgment.
This situation proved to the Children of Israel that they had encountered an extraordinary event: the birth of the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. God reveals:
... and she [Mary], who protected her chastity. We breathed into her some of Our Spirit and made her and her son a Sign for all the worlds. (Qur'an, 21:91)
The verses also reveal that those people who continue to slander Mary will be punished (Qur'an, 4:156-57).
The Life of the Prophet 'Isa (as)
According to historical sources, the Prophet 'Isa (as) lived around 2000 years ago and is a messenger chosen by Allah in this world and the Hereafter. The Gospel of Saint Matthew reveals that the Prophet 'Isa (as) was born in the time of King Herod I during a regime change (4 BC) and the Gospel according to Saint Luke says he was born in the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus (6 AD) at the time of the census in Judea. It is impossible to confirm that information. However, experts examining various sources estimate that the Prophet 'Isa (as) was born in 7-6 BC.
The true faith bestows as a blessing by Allah, that this holy messenger who preached the truth of everlasting Paradise brought with him has been corrupted and distorted from its original form, although it is currently regarded as a revealed faith. In the same way, the Gospel revealed by Allah to the Prophet 'Isa (as) exists in name though its original form has been lost. Christian scriptures have been corrupted and distorted in various ways. It is therefore impossible for us today to obtain definite facts regarding the Prophet 'Isa (as) from these sources. The only source from which we can obtain sure and certain knowledge about the Prophet 'Isa (as) is the Qur'an, which Allah has promised to preserve until Doomsday. The Qur'an refers to the birth and life of the Prophet 'Isa (as), give examples of events befalling him during that time, and describes the circumstances of those around him and various other matters. It also gives several examples of how the Prophet 'Isa (as) preached to the Jews. In Surah Al 'Imran, our Lord says:
('Isa will say,) 'I come confirming the Torah I find already there, and to make lawful for you some of what was previously forbidden to you. I have brought you a Sign from your Lord. So have fear of Allah and obey me.' ('Isa will say,) 'Allah is my Lord and your Lord so worship Him. That is a straight path.' (Surah Al 'Imran, 50-51)
Most Jews failed to heed the Prophet 'Isa's (as) call, and only a few disciples attached themselves to him. The existence of these true believers is revealed in the Qur'an:
When 'Isa sensed disbelief on their part, he said, "Who will be my helpers to Allah?" The disciples said, "We are Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah. Bear witness that we are Muslims. Our Lord, we believe in what You have sent down and have followed the Messenger, so write us down among the witnesses." (Surah Al 'Imran, 52-53)
According to the New Testament, the Prophet 'Isa (as) travelled all over Palestine with these 12 disciples beside him. During these journeys he undertook in order to summon people to believe in Allah, he performed various miracles, by our Lord's leave. He healed the sick and lame, healed lepers, gave sight to people blind from birth and brought the dead back to life. These miracles are revealed as follows in the Qur'an:
As a Messenger to the tribe of Israel, saying: "I have brought you a sign from your Lord. I will create the shape of a bird out of clay for you and then breathe into it and it will be a bird by Allah's permission. I will heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead to life, by Allah's permission. I will tell you what you eat and what you store up in your homes. There is a sign for you in that if you are believers. (Surah Al 'Imran, 49)Remember when Allah said, "'Isa, son of Maryam, remember My blessing to you and to your mother when I reinforced you with the Purest Spirit so that you could speak to people in the cradle and when you were fully grown; and when I taught you the Book and Wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you created a bird-shape out of clay by My permission, and then breathed into it and it became a bird by My permission; and healed the blind and the leper by My permission; and when you brought forth the dead by My permission; and when I held back the tribe of Israel from you, when you brought them the clear signs and those of them who were unbelievers said, 'This is nothing but downright magic'" (Surat al-Ma'ida, 110)
The Prophet 'Isa (as) performed great miracles, and these had a great impact on people. But the Prophet 'Isa (as) always made it clear that he performed these miracles by Allah's leave, and passages in the Gospels indicate that he always told those he healed that "faith saved you." According to the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the people praised Allah for the miracles performed by the Prophet 'Isa (as):
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother[f] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (Matthew, 15: 29-31)
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. (Luke, 22:1-2)
The Qur'an states that the Prophet 'Isa (as) was taken into the presence of Allah and that someone resembling him was killed in his place believing that it was him. Like all the prophets, the Prophet 'Isa (as) summoned his people to believe in Allah, to surrender to Him and live for His approval, to avoid sin and evil and to perform good deeds. He reminded them of the transient nature of the life of this world and of the proximity of death, and told them that everyone would be called to account for all their deeds on the Day of Judgement. He called on people to worship Allah alone and to fear and be in awe of Him. One can see much advice on such matters in the Gospels in the instructive stories known as parables. The Prophet 'Isa (as) told parables against those with no faith, told people that "the Dominion of Allah" was close at hand and called on them to beseech His forgiveness. That dominion was one that the Jews expected would be established with the coming of the Messiah and would be a means whereby the Jews attained belief and salvation.
The Prophet 'Isa (as) was loyal to the law of the Prophet Musa (as), the rules of the Torah, and warned the Jews against following these laws in an insincere manner of simply for show. According to the New Testament, he told the Jews:
If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John, 5:46)
The Prophet 'Isa (as) summoned people to return to the Torah. The Gospel according to Matthew says that he commanded people to obey the "Holy Law," in other words the Law of the Prophet Musa (as):
... I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.... (Matthew, 5: 17)
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew, 5: 19)
The Qur'an cites the Prophet 'Isa (as) as saying:
I come confirming the Torah I find already there, and to make lawful for you some of what was previously forbidden to you. I have brought you a sign from your Lord. So fear [and respect] Allah and obey me. (Surah Al 'Imran, 50)
As we saw earlier, during Jesus' lifetime there were a number of Jewish sects, each of which interpreted religion in its own way. The Jews had strayed from the true religion brought by Moses, and therefore false beliefs and superstitious traditions had taken root. Furthermore, the pagan Hellenistic culture was being promoted and encouraged, and some Jewish sects had forsaken their monotheistic faith for the symbols and statues of this false belief.
Jesus was sent to his people as aguide, and so had to fight many groups to realize the ultimate goal of bringing his people back to God. We can deduce from the Qur'an that he was providing guidance to people who were engaged in disputes over religion. From the New Testament, we gather that he primarily called upon false priests, those who denied God by ascribing partners to Him and who misled people by religious pretence, to abandon their wrongdoing and believe wholeheartedly in God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, who are often mentioned in the New Testament, are therefore of relevance in this respect. These two opposing sects agreed on one thing only: Their strong discontent with the revelation with which God had entrusted to Jesus for his people. According to Jesus' true religion, the Sadducees had gone astray because of their materialistic worldview, and the Pharisees were on the wrong path because they had lost their faith by getting bogged down in myths and pretence. These groups turned against Jesus as soon as they realized where they stood with him. God says in the Qur'an:
And when Jesus came with the Clear Signs, he said: "I have come to you with Wisdom and to clarify for you some of the things about which you have differed. Therefore, heed God and obey me."(Qur'an, 43:63)
As both the Pharisees and the Sadducees had a vested interest in the existing system, and so would not obey Jesus. They had great authority over the Jewish people and, as priests, enjoyed great respect among them. The false religion that they had created had become an institution that was making them rich. They had entered into a close working relationship with the Roman governor, and the Sadducees in particular sought to reduce the tensions between Rome and the people of Judea, and thus were granted many privileges in return. Bearing these circumstances in mind, it becomes quite understandable why Jesus' teachings caused these priests such discomfort: Jesus, like all other Prophets, targeted the wrongness of the established order, which considered all kinds of evil legitimate. He wanted people to abandon injustice, unfairness, immorality, and idolatrous religious beliefs and to replace them with a life dedicated to serving God. He advised people to fear and love God in equal measures, to submit to Him, to distance themselves from superstitious rules and dogmatic practices, to worship God alone, and to turn only to Him for success in their undertakings. The miracles he performed by God's will showed clearly that he was a valued Prophet chosen above all people by God, Who supported him with power and superior knowledge. His depth of faith, high morality, superior awareness, and explanations full of insight were greatly admired by the people.
According to the New Testament, Jesus was teaching and rekindling people's faith at the same time by saying that deliverance was nigh for the people and that God's rule was imminent. Meanwhile, the news of his descent from David spread among the people, and the belief that he was the Messiah began to spread like wildfire (Matthew 9:27-35). All of this was disturbing news for those who had adopted the pagan culture introduced by Rome and the priests, who had a vested interest in the established order.
The New Testament says that these circles never missed an opportunity to hinder Jesus' message, but that they were disappointed each time. The priests became increasingly irritated by his subtle answers, which invalidated their claims, and also by his insightful teachings. His statements about them were their biggest concern, and this became one of the decisive factors that led them to scheme against him. According the Gospel of Luke, Jesus exposed their frauds to the public:
"Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Luke 20:46-47)
Some Jewish priests in the past had altered Torah's commandments and added new ones to serve their own interest. Jesus invalidated these false commandments in his quest to eradicate the erroneous traditions, myths, and man-made rules and laws that had, in effect, caused Moses' commandments to be ignored. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus specifically mentioned this to the Pharisees:
He replied [to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law]: "...You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. ...Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." (Mark 7:6-13)
The Pharisees believed that they had to pledge one-tenth of their income to God and abided by this rule. But it had become a tradition, whereas before it had been an act of worship. The Gospel of Luke records Jesus' reprimand:
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it." (Luke 11:42-44)
"... And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them." (Luke 11:46)
"Woe to you experts in law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering." (Luke 11:52)
Such public warnings and the priests' public humiliation because of their immorality increased their hostility toward Jesus. According to Luke, the Pharisees and the religious scholars began to oppose him fiercely after Jesus said the words recorded above (Luke 11:53-54).
As the Qur'an also makes clear, Jesus called the Children of Israel to return to the Mosaic law and to believe in God wholeheartedly. The Gospel of Matthew and the Qur'an contain some strikingly similar words about the unbelievers, "They have hearts with which they do not understand. They have eyes with which they do not see. They have ears with which they do not hear" (Qur'an, 7:179). In the Gospel of Matthew, we read the following words that Jesus said about the Jews:
"You will be ever hearing but never understanding;you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused;they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." (Matthew 13:14-15)
Prophets fulfilled their God-given duty in the best possible way and used all of their resources and energy to invite their people to the path of guidance. Jesus displayed extraordinary patience in the face of all the conspiracies and attacks directed against him. He merely trusted in God and continued communicating His message and, even though he had only a few supporters, he defeated his opponents every time. He tried many things in order to return religion to its original purity, to rid it of all the myths and false practices that had entered it over time. Thanks to his God-given insight and superior understanding, he was a very effective public speaker and was able to give guiding examples.
Jesus called his people to worship God alone; brought the good news of the rule of religious morality; fought against false beliefs, myths, and idolatry; and explained that this worldly life is a test. He made every conceivable effort to correct his people's flawed sense of morality and was himself a role model of high character. However, these activities only made his enemies fiercer and led them to plot his death.
The Qur'an goes on to describe the life of the Prophet 'Isa (as), which was full of miracles he performed by our Lord's leave until his ascension into the presence of Allah:
Remember when Allah said, "'Isa, son of Maryam, remember My blessing to you and to your mother when I reinforced you with the Purest Spirit so that you could speak to people in the cradle and when you were fully grown; and when I taught you the Book and Wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you created a bird-shape out of clay by My permission, and then breathed into it and it became a bird by My permission; and healed the blind and the leper by My permission; and when you brought forth the dead by My permission; and when I held back the tribe of Israel from you, when you brought them the clear signs and those of them who were unbelievers said, 'This is nothing but downright magic'" (Surat al-Ma'ida, 110)
As a Messenger to the tribe of Israel, saying: 'I have brought you a sign from your Lord. I will create the shape of a bird out of clay for you and then breathe into it and it will be a bird by Allah's permission. I will heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead to life, by Allah's permission. I will tell you what you eat and what you store up in your homes. There is a Sign for you in that if you are believers. (Surah Al 'Imran, 49)
The miracles of the Prophet 'Isa (as) revealed in verses include his being born without a father, his speaking from the cradle, his knowledge of Allah's holy scriptures, the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur'an, his making a bird from mud and making it fly by breathing life into it, his healing lepers and people blind from birth, his resurrecting the dead, knowing what people had eaten and hidden away, and his referring to our Prophet Muhammad (saas), the holy individual who would come after him, by the name of "Ahmad."
Yet despite all this miracles performed by the Prophet 'Isa (as) and the message he preached with Allah's revelation, most people still persisted in their denial. Like other peoples described in the Qur'an, the deniers of that time said that what the Prophet 'Isa (as) had done was nothing but magic and accused him of sorcery.
And when 'Isa son of Maryam said, 'Tribe of Israel, I am the Messenger of Allah to you, confirming the Torah which came before me and giving you the good news of a Messenger after me whose name is Ahmad.' When he brought them the Clear Signs, they said, "This is downright magic." (Surat as-Saff, 6)
Again as revealed in the Qur'an, the Prophet 'Isa (as) was sent, not to eliminate Judaism, but to emphasize the truth of this law, to cleanse it of the superstitions that had found their way into the faith and return it to its original essence. Allah also charged him with clarifying certain matters of dispute among different Jewish sects. This is revealed in the Qur'an as follows:
I come confirming the Torah I find already there, and to make lawful for you some of what was previously forbidden to you. I have brought you a sign from your Lord. So fear [and respect] Allah and obey me. (Surah Al 'Imran, 50)
And when 'Isa came with the Clear Signs, he said, 'I have come to you with Wisdom and to clarify for you some of the things about which you have differed. Therefore have fear of Allah and obey me. (Surat at-Zukhruf, 63)
the Prophet 'Isa (as) confirmed the Torah and issued his commands according to the Gospel, sent by Allah as a guide and advice:
And We sent 'Isa son of Maryam following in their footsteps, confirming the Torah that came before him. We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, confirming the Torah that came before it, and as guidance and admonition for those who guard against evil. The people of the Gospel should judge by what Allah sent down in it. Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down are deviators. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 46-47)
At first, only a few people responded to his call, for it demanded the end of privilege for the priestly class, who made a living out of nonsense and tradition, and for the ruling class, who denied Allah's sovereignty. With the spread of Prophet 'Isa' (pbuh) message and his growing number of followers, the cunning snares and plans laid by his opponents also increased. All of the prophets have encountered such plots, for as the Qur'an relates, the people to whom they are sent have the following attitude:
Why then, whenever a Messenger came to you with something your lower selves did not desire, did you grow arrogant, deny some of them, and murder others? (Surat al-Baqara: 87)
Gradually, a division began to emerge in society between the followers and the opponents of the Prophet 'Isa (as). On the one hand was Allah's messenger, who described the true religion and called on people to believe in the one Allah; on the other was a group who was determined not to believe, no matter what miracles or evidence they were shown. The enemies of the Prophet 'Isa (as) made themselves apparent. It is likely that some unbelievers also had initially listened to and supported him. Indeed, Allah reveals that: "The various factions among them differed..." (Surat az-Zukhruf: 65). For that reason, the Prophet 'Isa (as) described those who had faith and who he could trust:
When 'Isa sensed unbelief on their part, he asked: "Who will be my helpers to Allah?" The disciples said: "We are Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah. Bear witness that we are Muslims." (Surah Al 'Imran: 52)
The Qur'an reveals that the unbelievers plotted to kill the Prophet 'Isa (as). According to the New Testament, several bigoted religious leaders convinced one of Prophet 'Isa' (pbuh) disciples to betray him, after which they would have him arrested and delivered up to the Romans. According to that same source, these leaders could not carry out a death sentence and so prepared a trap to incite the Roman authorities, known for their cruelty and sensitivity in this matter to do it for them: They depicted the Prophet 'Isa (as) as being an opponent of Rome:
They (unbelievers) planned and Allah planned. But Allah is the best planner. (Surah Al 'Imran: 54)
As revealed in the verses of the Qur'an, a plan was made to kill the Prophet 'Isa (as). They failed to kill him, however, killing instead someone who closely resembled him, believing that person to be the Prophet 'Isa (as). Allah neutralized the trap by raising the Prophet 'Isa (as) into His presence:
. and their saying: "We killed the Messiah, 'Isa son of Maryam, Messenger of Allah." They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, but it was made to seem so to them. Those who argue about him are in doubt about it. They have no real knowledge of it, just conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. Allah raised him up to Himself. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat an-Nisa': 157-158)
The idea that the Romans crucified the Prophet 'Isa (as) is widely held across the world. According to that claim, the Romans and Jewish priests who arrested the Prophet 'Isa (as) killed him by nailing him to a cross. By far the greater part of the Christian world subscribes to that belief, but believes that after his death he was restoored to life and ascended into the sky. Yet an examination of the relevant verses of the Qur'an reveals that this is not actiually the case:
and their saying, "We killed the Messiah, 'Isa son of Maryam, Messenger of Allah." They did not kill him and they did not crucify him but it was made to seem so to them. Those who argue about him are in doubt about it. They have no real knowledge of it, just conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. (Surat an-Nisa', 157)
The same verse goes on to say this about the supposed death of the Prophet 'Isa (as):
The truth revealed in the Qur'an is clear. Incited by the Jews, the Romans sought to kill the Prophet 'Isa (as) but failed to do so. The expression "but it was made to seem so to them" makes their failure to do so crystal clear.
Allah showed people someone who resembled the Prophet 'Isa (as) and then raised him to His presence. Furthermore, our Lord also states that those who claim that he actually died have no knowledge of the truth of the matter.