Robert F. Shedinger

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:

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Jesus plays a prominent role in the Islamic tradition and is often considered the most important prophet after Muhammad. He is referred to frequently in the Qurʾan (by the name ʿIsa), where many aspects of his biblical portrayal are confirmed, such as his birth to a virgin named Mary, his bearing the title Messiah, and his miracles and teachings, but not his divinity. Jesus figures prominently also in the Hadith tradition (though to a lesser extent than in the Qurʾan) and throughout the classical and modern Islamic literary corpus. He becomes the paragon of asceticism for Sufis, the eschatological partner of the Mahdi for Shiʿites (and some Sunnis), and the focus of both anti-Christian polemics and Muslim-Christian dialogue. With hundreds of sayings ascribed to Jesus in classical Islamic literature, some have argued for the existence of a Muslim Gospel (Khalidi 2001, cited under Classical Literature: General Overviews). The main controversy involving Jesus within the Islamic tradition surrounds the mode and timing of his death. Was he crucified, or was someone else crucified in his place? (The question stems from the apparent ambiguity of Sura 4:157 in the Qurʾan, which is commonly translated, “But they neither killed nor crucified him, though it so appeared to them.”) Was he taken up directly to heaven to live with God, or did he live a normal life and die of natural causes (as the Ahmadiyya movement believes)? Further controversy surrounds Christian claims for the divinity of Jesus, which not surprisingly has made Jesus the central focus of Muslim anti-Christian polemical literature. But ironically the centrality of Jesus to Muslim thinking also makes him a central figure for the development of Christian-Muslim dialogue. That such controversies have animated and continue to animate the work of Muslim scholars attests to the important place Jesus holds in the Muslim imagination.

Article.  6005 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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