Tarif Khalidi, in his ground-breaking The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature, introduces the “Muslim gospel” and then provides translation and brief commentary on 303 sayings/stories about Jesus in Muslim literature. It is just the sort of book more of us need to read. Why? It is important in our changing world to become more aware than ever of Islam’s perception of Jesus. What do we learn?
1.o Brief Context for the Muslim Jesus:
Between 700-800 AD (100-200 for Muslims), travelling “Successors” or “Successors of Successors” of Muhammad, centering in Kufa (in Iraq), began to create an Islamic view of Jesus in story and sayings. “These preachers and ascetics were a mobile group, traveling from place to place, admonishing rulers or else turning away from politics, shocked at the luxury and moral degeneracy of the ruling classes, and preaching a more personal type of piety” (31). We are to imagine these ascetic teachers as the Muslim counterpart to the contemporary Christian “desert fathers.” And, like the desert fathers, these Successors were opponents of the development of power, political ideology and compromise, and luxury among the ruling elites among the Muslims.
Another integral element to the whole of the Qur’an when it comes to Jesus is to oppose Christianity’s “Trinity” by charging Jesus’ followers with distorting the original, by creating a “tri-theism,” and the Qur’an tries to cleanse Jesus of the distortions by his followers. Essentially, he is de-deified, his crucifixion is largely left out of the picture, and the Ascension becomes central.
2.0 Major Contours of the Muslim Jesus
Part of their message revolved around re-actualizing Jesus by Islamicizing Jesus. The Jesus of the Muslim texts moves from Jesus as an ascetic saint, to the lord of nature, to the miracle worker, and to the social and ethical model. Eventually, Jesus is adopted to become a wise saint who teaches pithy sayings.
Khalidi creates, by sorting out these 303 sayings/stories the “Muslim gospel.” I’m not sure if he thinks this “gospel” existed (like the scholarly “Q”) or if this is just a modern compilation as an analogy to the Christian Gospels.
But, the Muslim Jesus is not simply a creation by Muslims; in light of the diversity of Judaism, the diversity of Eastern Christianity, and a variety of other influences (not the least of which was Hellenism), the Muslim Jesus is hybrid product that spoke to the various levels and influences on Muslims.
In our next posts we will begin to look at the 303 various sayings/stories in The Muslim Jesus.