Why New Book The Islamic Jesus May be Key to Peace with Muslims

Mustafa Akyol believes that Jesus' teachings can help Islam overcome its extreme elements.

By Bruce Chapman Published on March 25, 2017

Mustafa Akyol is a brave man, smart and sincere. His ideas deserve to be aired.

In The Islamic Jesus (St. Martin’s Press, N.Y., 2017), he encourages Christians and Jews to understand what he and many scholars believe to be the influence of “Jewish Christian” communities of late antiquity on the Qur’an. He contends that offshoots of the “Jewish Christian” faith, which he traces to the apostle James in the Jerusalem church, survived in small sects. 

Some of these sects were condemned by Christians as heretical — notably the Arians, Nestorians and Ebionites. These groups taught that Jesus was without sin. And they taught that he was the Christ, the Messiah. But they did not embrace the Trinity or, in most cases, worship Jesus as a member of the Godhead. In the 17th century some of their teachings reappeared in the West as Unitarianism.

Akyol’s message to Muslims could potentially change the dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

Christians will question Akyol’s estimation of James’ differences with Paul. But Akyol is not evangelizing. Nor does his irenic message to Christians (and Jews) radically break new grounds of scholarship. In that sense, Akyol, a Turkish writer on faith, politics and economics, can be said to popularize some less noticed works of scholars.

Christians who read his book may be surprised to learn of the high opinion that Muhammad and the Qur’an have of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Of course, Muslims do not accept the “good news” of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to save sinners. But Akyol separates from the traditional Muslim view that denies the historical reality of the Crucifixion. He suggests an alternative reading of the Qur’an — arguing that Jews did not crucify Jesus, but that Romans did.

What could do more to change a dialogue between Muslims and Christians is not Akyol’s message to Christians, however, but his message to Muslims.

Akyol’s Message to Muslims 

Akyol, who earlier wrote Islam Without Extremes, believes that the teachings and example of Jesus — to the extent that they are compatible with the Qur’an’s accounts — can help Islam to overcome extreme elements in its midst. It is these elements, he believes, that have blocked economic and political progress, not to mention peace.   

Akyol believes that Jesus’ teachings can help Islam overcome its extremes elements.

Akyol appreciates the teachings of Judaism. He also acknowledges the modern nation of Israel, though he objects to the West Bank settlements. Jewish history is more prominent in the Qur’an than Christian history, he points out.

He also notes the remarkable and creative way that Jews and Christians cooperate in politics and culture in our day. 

But it is Jesus who speaks most to the needs of contemporary Islam. In some ways, the Qur’an elevates Jesus above all prophets. “We agree that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was the Messiah, and that he is the Word of God.” Muslims also expect Jesus to come again in the last days. “Surely we do not worship Jesus, like Christians do,” says Akyol. “Yet still, we can follow him. In fact, given our grim malaise and his shining wisdom, we need to follow him,” Akyol declares.

Political Outreach Alone Won’t Work

These must have been tough sentences to write and to publish. There are Muslims who would shun or even kill Akyol for such expressions. He was an early supporter of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. He had believed Erdogan was an explicit and devout Muslim leader who could also be a strong supporter of human rights and economic freedom. In recent years, however, his hopes have been dashed. Just this year, he moved, at least temporarily, to Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Christians must consider Akyol’s dialogue when advancing the cause of world peace.

Most serious Christians know that a merely political outreach to Muslims is not enough for the cause of world peace, let alone for prosperity and scientific progress. What if Muslim reverence for Jesus could do what politics has failed to do? 

Akyol praises the “non-literalists” among Muslim intellectuals in their approach to law, pitting them against what he sees as the “Pharisees” in contemporary Islam. “But,” he goes on, “for more impact, perhaps we can recall that Jesus, a great prophet of Islam, called for the exact same kind of reform in Judaism at a time when Jews were exactly like us. Jesus can, in other words, become a source of inspiration in Islam.”


Bruce Chapman is a Fellow and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute.

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  • I hope it helps but I’m skeptical. Ultimately Mohammed takes priority over Jesus in Islam. And Christ without the crucifixion makes him just a wise man. It comes down to this: Christ died to start Christianity; Mohammed killed to start Islam. Christ without His death and resurrection makes him a regular man. There is nothing holy about Him. Meanwhile Mohammed is the conduit to Allah. Who is a Muslim going to listen to?

    • On reflection, it might be a means for conversion, a step toward Christianity. Perhaps if a Muslim can buy into the wisdom of Christ, then he may take the step toward the divinity of Christ. And then Islam falls apart.

    • mj

      i recommend what Jay Smith is teaching in his public discourses with Muslims at Speakers’ Corner in London. He has some really great videos on youtube. We were especially encouraged by what he shared in his appearance on the John Ankerberg program.

      • Who’s Jay Smith?

  • Kevin Carr

    I would say likely no change, if the Christ’s atoning work on the cross and He being the only way to God is not the gospel, Ditto to what Manny posted.

  • Patmos

    It ultimately comes down to what the Qur’an says, as there will always be at least a certain fraction that follows it to the letter, and as long as that is the case there will always be violence within Islam.

  • Autrey Windle

    If you are saying these Muslims put Mohammad above Christ I guess I have to say I really don’t believe or trust them to regard Jesus as the only Son of God and the only way to the Father. If they really give Jesus what is already His, they would be Christians. Beware the half-truths and those who ,especially knowingly, put other gods before Almighty God, The Son And the Holy Spirit.

  • Devieg72

    Mr. Akyol’s attempts are useless and futile because he is really writing to a Christian/Jewish audience. Christians ans Jews have no problem with Islam as long as Islam leaves them alone. But Islam doesn’t. What Mr. Akyol must do, if he wants to achieve peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims, is convince the Muslim on the street instead of the Christian or Jew in academia or the church or synagogue. Mr. Akyol really has to ask himself this question: Why, after more than one hundred years of Buddhism or Hinduism or Sikhism in the United States those groups have managed to live peaceable and with very little onus among the Christians and Jews living with them while Muslims have managed to to pretty much offend everyone? It’s not about the Muslim idea of Jesus.

  • llew jones

    The Christian church has had those who deny that Jesus is both truly God and truly man from the times of the apostles right up to the present. Jude, the half brother of Jesus, (and brother of James, mentioned in the article) in his epistle tells his contemporaries and warns every generation since, that believers are to contend for The Faith that was Once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. The reason he gives for this, he tells us, is because certain persons have slipped into your churches and are denying Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. The heresy at that time was principally Gnosticism that denied the full or true humanity of Christ but when you come to Hebrews you find Ch 1 affirms that

    Jesus is fully God then in Ch 2 that Jesus is fully man. And of course you will find both these emphases in the Gospels, particularly John, and in the N T epistles. Which indicates that while Arius was a 4th century denier of the deity of Jesus there is some reason to accept, given the NT emphasis, on the deity of Jesus that “Arianism” was at least incipiently creeping into some of the NT churches.

    Bottom Line. The truly God truly man natures belong to the one person Jesus Christ and to him alone and there is no Christianity where this is not foundational. Thus there can be no common ground between Islam and Christianity. Islam worships a false god and is thus an idolatrous religion.

    Importantly Christianity’s God given task is not about generating peace between nations but rather in proclaiming the gospel of Christ so that the hearers may trust in Jesus as the only way to the Father and thus find peace with God.

    The N T tells us that God’s ultimate purpose is to finally judge this present evil world and then usher in the New Heaven and New Earth which will be the eternal abode of his people purchased by the blood of Christ. And thus also bring about the universal reign of real and eternal peace.

  • Billy Chickens

    Muslims believe that Jesus is a great prophet as described in the teachings of Islam however it teaches that Jesus will return at the end of the world as a Muslim warrior to convert or kill infidels, that is, Christians and Jews. That is ridiculous since Jesus would do no such thing, but this is what Islam teaches and that is what Muslims believe – Jesus will return as a Muslim. Islam teaches he always was a Muslim, just as it teaches that Abraham was the first Muslim. All Biblical prophets and even The Blessed Mother were all Muslims according to the Quran.

    No matter how much Mustafa Akyol wants to whitewash Islam, it cannot be done. Islam teaches conquest through the sword. Christianity teaches conquest through conversion of heart. Islam teaches death and destruction. Christianity teaches life. Islam teaches hatred of infidels. Christianity teaches to love thy enemies. The list of pole opposites is endless.

    Islam will never be reformed because then it would lose its underlying purpose – eradicating Christianity off the face of the earth. Islam was founded by Muhammad, under the influence of the devil, for that very purpose and that alone. When Christianity and Judaism are gone, when all Christians and Jews are killed or converted, when the whole world is under Islamic control (the main goal of Islam) then “all the kingdoms of the world” would belong to Satan, because Islam is his religion.

    • Paul Burgett

      Preach the truth!

    • #EpluribusAwesome

      I wish it were not so but I agree with you. Just anecdotal but in my experience with coworkers and acquaintances who have been Muslim, when I express an interest in their religion or when they find out I espouse Christianity, they believe very firmly as you say, that they do believe Jesus was a prophet but they believe when he returns Jesus will act in accord with Muslim teaching, not Christian. They absolutely hate the idea that we worship Jesus as God. So our central religious tenet is opposed to theirs. God works in mysterious ways and I don’t want to rule anything out, but the idea that logical dialog will get us very far with religious Muslims is I think far-fetched.

  • Paul Burgett

    My hope remains in Jesus. Just a thought, for the writer of this article: Muslims are the number one victim of Islamic violence by the numbers. What makes you think that they will ever agree on anything? Sunni, Shia, And others have differences that run so deep that if one accepts it the others will surely deny it. No, our hope can only be in the Gospel – Christ crucified and on the third day raised from the dead. With love and compassion we must preach the real Yeshua; every human being will bear account for the response of our hearts to the Truth.

  • faithntrust

    Continue to pray that Jesus will continue to appear to the Muslims in whatever fashion deemed by God.

    • Billy Chickens

      Since Jesus IS God, I’m sure he will appear as himself since if he appeared as a Muslim that would be a lie and we all know that God cannot lie.

  • Ryan Alan Andrew Moore

    Muslim intellectuals? That’s an oxymoron. The only way to achieve peace in the current world is to wipe islam from the planet. Plain and simple, their culture can not exist alongside Western culture as they refuse to assimilate to the way things are.

    • Bruce Chapman

      This comment is not exactly in the spirit of Jesus, is it? Nor does it show any awareness of scholarship in the field. Owning a computer and a keyboard doesn’t make you smart.

      • Billy Chickens

        Perhaps Ryan Alan Andrew Moore meant ridding the world of Islam by converting Muslims to Christianity, which is exactly in the spirit of Jesus. If that is the case Mr Moore must know that that is the only answer to Islam because Islam obviously has no place in humanity. One need not be a scholar to see because wisdom is different from “smart.”

        • Michael Gore

          “Wiping Islam from the planet” doesn’t sound like a likely interpretation of conversion to anyone who would read that in the context of what else has been written in that post. Christians who would make statements like “Nuke the Kaaba” (ala Dr. Robert Morey) need to seriously examine their willingness to come under the authority of the morality of the Bible. Of course, it’s quite possible that Ryan is not a Christian, in which case, I could see how a secular worldview could believe that would be a possible solution. A horrible solution, but understandable to the secular mind.

          • Billy Chickens

            Agreed, but ridding the world of the religion of Islam is a good outcome, especially for Jews, Yazhidis and Christians. Remember not to confuse the people – Muslims, the majority of whom are like butterflies caught in a sticky web entangled forever – with the religion. Mr Moore made that distinction when he said “Islam” referring to the religion, and not Muslims, referring to the people. Convert the people and Islam goes away.

          • Michael Gore

            I don’t think I can just assume that he means converting out of Islam when he starts the comment by calling Muslim Intellectuals an oxymoron, then says Islam needs to be wiped off the planet. Barring a comment from the original commenter clarifying, I don’t think that it would be reasonable to read that much into the comment. And reading his other comments on the site, I don’t see any evidence that he is speaking out of a Christian worldview in the first place. So the most likely meaning is just exactly what he said.

  • Michael Gore

    You can’t harmonize the Muslim view of Jesus with the Biblical view of Jesus. Islam at it’s very core assumes Unitarianism of God. The view of Jesus and the Trinity that the Bible teaches is a violation of the Tawhid (The Oneness) of God, according to their theology. To violate Tawhid is to commit Shirk (assigning an equal or partner to Allah), and is one of the worst things a Muslim can do. To commit Shirk is to become a mushrikūn, and in a time of Jihad, means that life and property are forfeit. So it’s not just a disagreement, this divide cuts through the core of both belief systems.
    When the Muslim reads Jesus in the Bible, he does so through the lens of his ultimate authority, the Koran and the Prophet-hood of Muhammad. So the Bible is not in a position to correct the Koran for the Muslim. If the two are in conflict, the Bible will be declared corrupted. Just take the time to listen to some of the best Christian/Muslim debates on the Bible. I’m particularly partial to Dr. James White’s debates with Muslim Apologists such as Shabir Ally, and Yusuf Ismail, among others.

    • Billy Chickens

      It’s useless to debate. Conversion of heart to love and life and Christ Jesus is the only answer for those entangled in the net of Islam.

      • Michael Gore

        I do not agree. I am Reformed, so while I would never claim that people are turned to Jesus by their own will or by the force of our arguments in convincing them, if that was the case, we shouldn’t bother trying to convince Muslims or people of the cults, as deeply entrenched as they are. But the Bible shows that God uses means to accomplish his goals in salvation. There are elect among the Muslims of the world just as much as anywhere else. And Jesus did say to go into all the nations and make disciples. Paul in Acts frequently debated the Jewish leaders within their own synagogues. So we need to go and do likewise. And in the Muslim world, in some of the most closed off places, God is working to change hearts of stone to flesh and people are coming to Christ, even if it means having to flee their family and everything they know to follow Him. And if we do not engage the Muslim world on the field of debate and ideas, and instead close ourselves off from them, then all that’s left is to kill each other. People who do engage in meaningful debate with the best Islam has to offer are producing fruit in the Muslim community, and bringing people to Christ.

        • Billy Chickens

          Unfortunately the worst Islam has to offer normally kills the best Islam has to offer. One cannot deal (or debate) with the devil and get a fair deal (or debate); the history of Islam makes this crystal clear.

  • Shaune Scott

    Do Muslims want peace with Christians? Or do they want submission?

  • It’s true, following the example of Jesus is a good model for peace. However, the one line that should make us all cautious is this, “Surely We do not worship Jesus as Christians do.” Jesus is worthy of worship, period.

  • I posted a comment with a link to my article. Is there any special reason why it was not permitted, or are links not permitted at all?

    • Many places don’t allow links any more. Same thing has happened to me.

  • andy

    We are to glorify God. Any approach that diminishes the Deity of Christ cannot be acceptable regardless of potential political advantage. We need to care about the souls of the Muslim people more than solving a ‘problem’ and accepts a false Christ does not do that.

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