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Book's List > Muhammad and Christ > Introduction




One of the fundamental principles of Islam is a belief in all the prophets of the world, a belief in the fact that before the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, different prophets had been raised among different nations. Thus the great change that the advent of the mighty Prophet of Arabia brought about was that the day of the national prophet was over to give place to the Great World Prophet, to the new order which was to bring about the unity of the whole human race. A belief in all the prophets of the world being thus the basic principle of the faith of Islam, the Muslims have always been averse to institute comparisons between the various prophets of the world, because comparisons, as they say, are odious. In fact, they were forbidden by the Prophet himself to do so unnecessarily lest in the heat of controversy on such points, things might be said which may be derogatory to the dignity of a prophet. At the same time the Holy Qur'an declares in plain words that there are varying degrees of excellence even among the prophets:

We have made some of these apostles to excel others (2:253).

It must, however, be borne in mind that it is one thing to say that one prophet possesses an excellence which another does not, and quite another to speak of that other in derogatory words. The prophets were all perfect men raised for the regeneration of man, but they no doubt possessed varying degrees of excellence according to the nature of the work with which they were entrusted and the capabilities of the race for whose regeneration they were raised. It is in this light, therefore, that we take up the challenge so often given by the Christians as to the comparative greatness of Muhammad or Christ, a task which, though painful, is necessary because of the wrong inferences drawn from the sacred Book of Islam.

The error which Christian writers generally commit is that they place all reliance on words, not caring for the work actually done; they look to appearances, not reality. With them greatness consists in the terms of eulogy which may be heaped upon a person and the incredibly wonderful stories which may be narrated of him, not in the actual work done by him. Hence they are always contending that Jesus speaks of himself thus, not so Muhammad, peace be on him, or that the founder of Christianity performed so many miracles which the founder of Islam did not. The Holy Qur'an, on the other hand, adopts a different attitude towards this question, regarding work, not words or miracles, as the criterion of greatness. It speaks of the greatness of the Holy Prophet not in the words of eulogy in which Jesus Christ speaks of himself according to the Gospels, but by drawing attention to the great change, the mighty transformation, that he brought about in the world. It does not speak, except in rare instances, even of his great miracles which are, however, recorded in collections of reports; in fact, it looks upon all miracles as matters of secondary importance in comparison with the greatest of all miracles, the miracle of planting virtue and supplanting evil in the world, the miracle of taking up men from the depth of degradation and raising them to the highest dignity which they are capable of rising to. And why are miracles wrought, after all? They do not serve any purpose in themselves; they are not the end but the means to the great end of the spiritual regeneration of the world. It is for this reason that the Holy Qur'an does not speak of the Holy Prophet in high-sounding words, nor does it lay much stress on his miracles, but speaks again and again of the wonderful transformation which he wrought, a transformation so unique in the history of the world that the writer of the article on the Koran in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (eleventh edition) speaks of him as the "most successful of all prophets and religious personalities," an admission which far outweighs all the high-sounding words and wonderful stories of the miracles narrated in the Gospels.

The Christian controversialist of to-day, however, seems to think that he has another way out of the difficulty. He bases the superiority of Christ to other prophets, not on the Gospels, but on the Holy Qur'an. A strange allegation indeed! The Qur'an which, on the one hand, is denounced to be the fabrication of an impostor is brought forward, on the other, as the testimony supporting the extravagant claims advanced for Jesus Christ. The position of the Christian controversialist here is quite inexplicable, but we need not be surprised at it as matters far more important relating to the Christian religion are as inexplicable. It is said that the Holy Qur'an speaks of Jesus Christ in words of high praise. Quite so; but at the same time it mentions him as only one among the numerous Israelite prophets who followed Moses; it describes him to be an apostle bearing a message limited to a single nation:

And an apostle to the children of Israel (3:48).

This description is sufficient to show that the Holy Qur'an cannot consistently place him in a position of superiority to the other prophets, to say nothing of the great World Prophet whose message is expressly stated to be for the whole human race. But what a Christian is unable to see is, why should the Qur'an speak of a prophet of another nation in words of praise? In fact, he is unable to differentiate between the Gospels and the Holy Qur'an in this respect. The message of Jesus was for the Israelites and therefore he had nothing to do with other prophets; the message of Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, was for the whole world and therefore the Holy Qur'an speaks of the prophets of the whole world. And as in addition it required a belief in all the prophets, therefore it was necessary for it to preach respect for all of them. Now at the time of its advent Jesus Christ and his mother were two of the sacred personages whose names were held in the greatest abhorrence by the Israelites, to which nation they belonged. Mary was falsely accused of adultery, and her son was denounced as the offspring of illicit intercourse and as a liar. The Holy Qur'an had to sweep away these calumnies to establish the great principle of the righteousness of all prophets. Those who lay much stress on the words of praise for Jesus Christ and his mother in the Holy Qur'an must remember that the false allegations of the Jews against these two righteous persons required a mention of their virtues and their greatness, and the very fact that other prophets were not denounced in such evil terms made a mention of their virtues unnecessary.

If, however, it is inconsistent in a Christian to base the alleged superiority of Jesus Christ to the Holy Prophet on a book which he condemns as the work of an impostor, it is stranger still that wild statements are often made in making out a case for Jesus which are not only opposed to the Holy Qur'an, but which even the Gospels, the sacred scriptures of the Christian religion, condemn to be false and conclusions are drawn from the words of the Holy Qur'an which are not only quite foreign to its intent but which are also belied by the Gospels. In dealing with this question therefore I shall have to refer both to the Holy Qur'an and the Bible, especially the Gospels. But as regards the reliability which can be placed upon the material drawn from these two sources, there is a world of difference and the circumstances under which the Gospels were written and transmitted make it necessary to accept their statements very guardedly.

As regards the authenticity of the Holy Qur'an, I need not detain the reader very long. From one end of the world to the other, from China in the Far East to Morocco and Algeria in the Far West, from the scattered islands of the Pacific Ocean to the great desert of Africa, the Qur'an is one, and no copy differing in even a diacritical point is met with in the possession of one among the four hundred millions of Muslims. There are, and always have been, contending sects, but the same Qur'an is in the possession of one and all. Political dissensions and doctrinal differences grew up within a quarter of a century after the death of the Holy Prophet, but no one ever raised a voice against the purity of the text of the Holy Qur'an. A manuscript with the slightest variation in the text is unknown. Even Dr. Mingana has been unable to show any but mistakes due to carelessness in copying or transcription by inexperienced hands in his "Leaves from three ancient Qur'ans". And the original manuscript copies made and circulated under the orders of the third successor of the Holy Prophet have been safely preserved to this day. Here is the opinion of a hostile critic:

The recension of Othman has been handed down to us unaltered ... contending and embittered factions taking their rise in the murder of Othman himself within a quarter of a century from the death of Mohamet, have ever since rent the Mohametan world. Yet but One Coran has been current amongst them; and the consentaneous use by all of the same scripture in every age to the present day is an irrefragable proof that we have now before us the very text prepared by command of the unfortunate Caliph. There is probably in the world no other work which has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text.

(Muir's Life of Mohamet; italics are mine).


The same author goes on to show that the copy made by `Uthman was a faithful reproduction of the copy made by Zaid only six months after the death of the Holy Prophet and that Zaid's edition was a faithful copy of the revelations of the Holy Prophet, giving a number of reasons for believing so, and the conclusion to which he comes is that he agrees with the verdict of Von Hammer: "That we hold the Coran to be as surely Mohamet's word as the Mohametans hold it to be the word of God."

The story of the authorship and transmission of the Gospels is, however, quite different. The earliest existing manuscript that was found in 1859 is a Greek manuscript which, we are told, was made about the middle of the fourth century after Jesus Christ. Being found on Mount Sinai in the Convent of St. Catherine it is known as the Siniaticus. Another known as the Alexandrinus which is now in the British Museum belongs to the fifth century. Another called the Vatican belongs to the fourth century but is incomplete. And these are said to be the three chief manuscripts. As to their condition and reliability I will quote, not a critic, but a commentator of the Bible, the Rev. J.R. Dummelow:

To begin with, the writers of the Gospels report in Greek (although they may have had some Aramaic sources) the sayings of Jesus Christ who for the most part probably spoke Aramaic. Nor is it likely that these writers or their copyists had any idea that their record would go beyond the early Churches with which they themselves were familiar.

The same applies to St. Paul. His letters, now so valued, were messages only intended for the Churches to which they were addressed. Those who first copied them would not regard them at all "sacred" in our sense of the word.

Nor even in the later centuries do we find that scrupulous regard for the sacred text which marked the transmission of the Old Testament. A copyist would sometimes put in not what was in the text, but what he thought ought to be in it. He would trust a fickle memory, or he would even make the text accord with the views of the school to which he belonged. Besides this, an enormous number of copies are preserved. In addition to the versions and quotations from the early Christian Fathers, nearly four thousand Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are known to exist. As a result, the variety of readings is considerable.

What reliance can be placed on documents which were transmitted so carelessly and with such additions and alterations by the scribes? Even their authorship and the date of writing is absolutely uncertain. The first of the canonical Gospels is advertised as the Gospel according to St. Matthew, who was an Apostle. But it is certain that that Gospel was never written by him. It was written by some unknown hand. The story of its authorship as given by the commentator, whom I have quoted above, is that probably St. Matthew had written in Hebrew a book of "logia" or "oracles," which is not to be met with anywhere, except that Papias writing in A.D. 130 credits St. Matthew with the composition of such a book.

Of a Greek translation of these "Logia" our author seems to have made such liberal use, that he acknowledged his obligations to the Apostle by calling his work "according to Matthew."

This explanation speaks for itself. St. Matthew may have written a certain book which is not met with anywhere except in the reference in Papias. The rest is all a conjecture. There is not the least evidence that the unknown author of the first Gospel had a copy of this book or of its translation in Greek, nor that he made any liberal use of it. The conjecture is based simply on the fact that he called it the Gospel according to St. Matthew, but he might have done it as well if he had only the oral traditions of St. Matthew.

The next Gospel is that of St. Mark, who was a companion of St. Peter, and the following testimony as recorded by Papias about A.D. 130 is relied upon in ascribing the authorship of the Gospel to him:

Mark having become (or having been) Peter's interpreter wrote all that he remembered (or, all that Peter related) though he did not (record) in order that which was said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed Him; but subsequently, as I said, (attached himself) to Peter who used to frame his teaching to meet the (immediate) wants (of his hearers); and not as making a connected narrative of the Lord's discourses.

Even if we accept this evidence, the Gospel of St. Mark may be said to have been based on the oral tradition of Peter, but even this evidence does not make it certain that the Gospel in our hands was actually written by St. Mark and higher criticism favours the view that he was only the author of the nucleus of the present Gospel ascribed to him.

St. Luke too was not a disciple of Jesus but a disciple of the Apostles and he is said to have followed St. Paul. And as regards the fourth Gospel, there is no doubt that it is a much later composition. As regards the dates of the various Gospels, the most favourable view as regards the first three Gospels is that they were written about the year A.D. 70, but higher criticism favours a much later date, and internal evidence is regarded to point to this conclusion. In a discussion as to the date of canonical Matthew we are told that "many are disposed to bring down the date of the entire Gospel as late as to A.D. 130." An earlier date can only be admitted if a great many passages are treated as later interpolations. As regards the date of St. Luke the conclusion arrived at is that "the year A.D. 100 will be the superior, and somewhere about A.D. 110 the inferior, limit of the date of its composition" (Encyclopaedia Biblica).

The considerations as to the authorship, the date and transmission of the Gospels, the very large variety of manuscripts and readings and the undeniable existence of interpolations in them reduce their credibility to the minimum; and hence a criticism of them in the Encyclopaedia Biblica leads the Rev. E.A. Abbot to raise a very important question:

The forgoing sections may have sometimes seemed to raise a doubt whether any credible elements were to be found in the Gospels at all.

The answer to this question is that in all the Gospels, the following five passages may be treated as surely credible:

(1) The passage that shows that Jesus refused to be called sinless: "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God" (Mark 10:18).

(2) The passage that shows that he held that blasphemy against himself could be forgiven: "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men" (Mark 12:31).

(3) The passage that shows that his own mother and brethren had no faith in him and they sincerely thought that he was mad: And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him; for they said, He is beside himself' (Mark 3:21). From v. 31 it appears that these friends were his own mother and his brothers.

(4) The passage that shows that Jesus Christ had no knowledge of the unseen: "Of that day and of that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the son but the Father."

(5) The passage that speaks of the cry of despair that he uttered on the cross: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me" (Matt. 27:44).

To these five are added four others dealing with his miracles which will be referred to in the discussion on his miracles later on, and these nine passages are said to be "the foundation-pillar for a truly scientific life of Jesus."

It would thus be seen that the basis of the Christian religion is laid on the most unreliable record, and the stories of the miracles wrought and the wonderful deeds done, on which is based the doctrine of the Divinity of Jesus Christ and of his superiority to all mortals, can therefore be only received with the greatest caution. It must, however, be borne in mind that mere superiority of Jesus Christ as a mortal to another mortal, says the Holy Founder of Islam, does not bring us a whit nearer the truth of the Christian religion unless it is shown that he possessed a Divine nature or that he did deeds which no mortal has ever done. If the Christian religion had followed the principles laid down by the earlier prophets, the assertion that Jesus Christ was a greater man than any other human being that ever lived, would have done some good to the cause of Christianity, but so long as the atonement of the sins of men by a Divine person remains the central doctrine of that religion, nothing less than a clear proof that his superiority to other mortals lay in being Divine and above a mortal can be of any use to its cause. It is in this light that a discussion of the relative merits of Christianity and Islam, or of the relative greatness of their founders, can really help a seeker after truth. But as Christian controversy finds itself unable to cope with this question, I will take the various points as they are raised by Christian controversialists. I take the Christian case as presented in the latest of their pamphlets, a small tract issued by the Christian Missionary Society at Ludhiana, under the title of Haqa'iq-i Qur'an, or the "Quranic Truths" which claims to have been based only on "the Quranic statements," and which has been circulated and broadcast in India and, through the pages of Muslim World, in all Christian and Muslim countries.




Chapter 1: Miracles; Section 1: General Remarks

Book's List > Muhammad and Christ > Introduction


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