Subscribe to Christianity Today
Gabriel Said Reynolds
Jesus Through Muslim Eyes
In the crash course in Islam offered by the media over the last six months, many Christians will have heard it said that Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet—not divine, and superseded by Muhammad, but nonetheless a figure of respect. For the reader who wants to go beyond such bland generalities, there is a surprisingly large literature on Jesus in Islam, including a number of well-written, informative works on many aspects of the topic.1
Tarif Khalidi's The Muslim Jesus is the latest addition to this genre. Khalidi, a Lebanese Sunni Muslim professor at Cambridge University, has a limited agenda in this work, one which his predecessors did not take on: to introduce the non-Qur'anic Jesus, the one who appears in later Muslim piety. Unlike the more general books, The Muslim Jesus—although its title seems to indicate more—is basically a collection of, and commentary on, the sayings and stories about Jesus in medieval Islamic works in Arabic.
As such, the book might appear as a bit of a disappointment. For one thing, Khalidi neglects other Islamic languages (most importantly Persian). Moreover, he never brings up the big questions that are essential for the Christian reader, i.e., the origins of and reasons behind the Islamic rejection of Jesus as crucified, savior, and divine. The author's assimilation of this fascinating material does not go too much beyond appealing yet meatless statements such as "it is salutary to remind ourselves of an age and a tradition when Christianity and Islam were more open to each other" or that here we have "a unique record of how one world religion chose to adopt the central figure of another."
Despite this, The Muslim Jesus is a very good book. Khalidi writes in eloquent yet never pompous English (which he modestly attributes to his son's help with the translation), always striving to be comprehensible to the nonspecialist. Moreover, he has done valuable work simply in collecting, annotating, and translating this material. Thereafter, he ...