The unique birth of Christ
The birth of Jesus Christ as described in the Quran is quite unfamiliar to the Christian. There are no shepherds, no magi, there is no Joseph, no manger, no inn but most importantly there is no Saviour. Much of the detail in connection with the birth of Christ in the Quran cannot be reconciled with the New Testament documents. Below we briefly mention significant differences between Islam and Christianity concerning this unique birth,
The Historical / Geographical Content
The scriptures are always anxious to place biblical events into their historical setting and this event is no exception. Matthew and Luke are careful to inform their readers of the geographical and historical background of this event before they eagerly press on to the main foreground event where they present the unique birth of Jesus Christ.
The scene they describe to their readers is an historical event which occurred in a particular setting, the town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was historically known as the place near which Jacob buried his wife Rachel (Genesis 35:19); the place where Ruth met Boaz (Ruth 1:22-2:4) but predominantly as the town where David was born and brought up. At the time of the birth of Christ it was called Bethlehem of Judea (Judea is Greek for the Hebrew Judah). The ruling power of Rome had named Herod the Great as King of Judea.
Luke describes in greater detail the location within Bethlehem itself, and the manner of the birth of Christ.
> “And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 1:7)
The Quran is silent as to both the geographical and historical significance of the event. Some Quran translators seem most anxious that the Quran should not seem to be ignorant of these things and add the comment to Surah 19:22 that the ‘Bethlehem valley about 4-6 miles from Jerusalem.’
The whole Quran’s version of the story of Mary’s child labour is related in (Surah 19:22-34)
> “So she conceived him, and she retired with him into a remote place. And the labour pains came upon her at the trunk of a palm tree, and she said, “O that I had died before this, and been forgotten out of mind!” and he called to her from beneath her, “Grieve not, for the Lord has placed a stream beneath thy feet; and shake towards thee the trunk of the palm tree, and it will drop upon thee fresh dates fit to gather; so eat and drink and cheer thine eye; and if thou shouldest see any mortal say,’ Verily, I have vowed to the Merciful One a fast, and I will not speak today with a human being.”
While the Biblical scene centres on Mary, Joseph also has an important part in the birth narratives; however, the Quran does not mention him at all. The Quran does spend some time considering Mary (Maryam). She is highly respected and is the only female name mentioned in the whole of the Quran. Other women are mentioned impersonally like the “wife of Imran” or the “wife of Pharaoh.” She is considered to be the model for all Muslim women.
In the Quran version of the annunciation the angels said to Mary: > “And when the angels said, “O Mary, Verily, God has chosen thee and has purified thee, and has chosen thee above the women of the world. O Mary! Be devout unto thy Lord, and adore and bow down with those who bow” (3:42), Again some translators boldly add after ‘purified you’ (from polytheism and disbelief). According to Islamic tradition only Jesus and Mary were the two babies who came into the world without crying. We provide the relevant hadith: Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: No child is born but he is pricked by the Satan and he begins to weep because of the pricking of the Satan except the son of Mary and his mother. (Muslim Book 30, Number 5837)
Jesus the Son of Maryam (Mary)
a) According to the Quran:
The name Mary appears 34 times whereas the name of Jesus (Isa) appears only 25 times and while the gospels are in agreement with the title “son of Maryam” as expressed in Mark 6:3 “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” these agreements soon come to an abrupt end. The Quran considers him being conceived through the act of God’s creative word:
> “She (Mary) said, “Lord! How can I have a son when man hath not yet touched me?” He said, “Thus God creates what He pleaseth. When He decrees a matter He only says ‘Be,’ and it is; and He will teach him the Book, and wisdom, and the law, and the gospel and he shall be a prophet to the children of Israel.” (Al-Imran 3:47)
“Said she, “How can I have a boy when no man has touched me, and when I am no harlot?” He said, “Thus says thy Lord, It is easy for Me! And we will make him a sign unto man, and a mercy from us; for it is a decided matter.”(Maryam 19:20, 21)
b) According to the Bible
The New Testament writers never wrote in such terms as these, they were united in clearly expressing the humanity of Christ but never lost sight of his divinity. The prologue of the Gospel of John clearly portrays the humanity of Christ >“And the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), but the emphasis on Christ’s divinity is maintained throughout for example:
>“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
> “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Following Jesus’ baptism chapter: > “And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God”. (John 1:34)
The Book of Hebrews follows the same pattern it portrays Christ’s humanity: > ”Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he himself likewise took part of the same” (Hebrews 2:14).
As important as this is, the writer begins with telling the reader of the divine glory of Christ:
> “In the last days (God) hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person ……….
The Gospel of Mark records many human events of the life of Christ while he was on earth but first of all he places his introductory statement:“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The New Testament documents present Jesus Christ – truly God and truly man.