The Muslim Jesus Is Neither Meek Nor Mild

By John Zmirak Published on December 6, 2018

I’ve read quite a lot of books on Islam. No, not as a young religious “seeker.” I never was one. I developed an interest in the world’s second largest religion for the same reason as many other New Yorkers, right after 9/11. Because of its impact on the rest of us.

Islam seemed till relatively recently a stable, sleepy religion. What if you’d told people in 1964, when I was born, that today we’d see violent conflicts all around the world with resurgent Islam? They wouldn’t have believed you. Islam was a faith that captivated peasants in “Third World” countries which had only just escaped being literal Western colonies. The younger, more educated people in those nations had shunned it for nationalism, socialism, or heady cocktails of the two. Even the terrorists and regimes trying to wipe out the state of Israel claimed to do so in the name of “the Arab nation.”

But all that has changed, in only my lifetime. Suddenly, the crusty British Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc stands vindicated. He was one of the only major figures to predict Islam’s resurgence. And warn us against it. I don’t think even foresaw that millions of Muslims would move to Europe. Then bully their way to influence, and threaten to outbreed and subjugate the natives.

It’s comforting but false to focus on Muslims’ respect for Jesus and Mary.

Just typing those words brings home to me how enormously strange that fact really is. For instance, if you want to see the most exquisite stained glass in France, at Sainte Chappelle in Paris, you need to pass through a banlieu of hostile Arab-speakers. And you shouldn’t go there at night. Multiply that fact by a hundred cities, a thousand towns. Look up the most common male name in one European capital after another. You guessed right. It is “Muhammad.” Britain is now considering (and will surely, sullenly pass) a law criminalizing criticism of Islam as (insanely) a form of “racism.”

A Scholar Who Loves Muslims Tells the Truth About Their Faith

Which means that the book I recommend today might well end up outlawed in Britain. All the more reason to read it. It’s The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch: A Christian’s Companion for the Study of Islam, by David Pinault. What sets it apart from most of the books I’ve gratefully read on Islam is its author. He’s not a worried conservative, a disillusioned ex-Muslim, or a Christian refugee from some intolerant Muslim country. Instead, he’s a professor of Islamic studies at a nominally Catholic college. His students divide pretty evenly between believing American Muslims, and curious kids from nominally Christian families. So Prof. Pinault spends his life on the front line of the current civilizational struggle. That is, between Muslims who really do believe in their faith’s tenets, and Western Christians who don’t.

Pinault is no bomb-thrower, activist, or even alarmist. He’s a sober and even sympathetic student of Islam. (Why else would a scholar build a career studying something?) He has many Muslim friends. As part of his courses he ferries students to attend services at mosques. He has read in depth the authoritative religious and scholarly literature on Islam, in its original languages.

Crucifix Mecca

But his message is not very different, in the end, from more popular books by conservative journalists and activists. It’s simply not truthful to say that the acts of Islamist terrorists or brutal sharia enforcers are “perversions” of their religion. It’s comforting but false to focus on Muslims’ respect for Jesus and Mary. And it really isn’t that meaningful to say that Islam is (like Judaism and Christianity) a fellow “Abrahamic religion.”

Two Very Different Jesuses

Pinault unpacks these points in depth, in a sophisticated but finally devastating take-down of most interreligious dialogue. What finally sets Islam so firmly apart from Christianity, he explains, appears at just this point of alleged commonality: the figure of Jesus.

Yes, Muhammad taught his followers to call Christians “people of the Book.” And early in his career he called for tolerating Christians. He even chose Jesus as the last and greatest prophet of true religion before … himself.

Take comfort, Pinault explains, in none of that. Because later on, when Muhammad was not a wandering, unpopular reformer but a warlord, he revised his teaching. Or rather, he claimed that Allah had “annulled” large parts of it. Christians were now to be seen as almost as bad as pagans, since their Trinity amounted to a form of a polytheism. They might be tolerated, but only insofar as they were conquered, heavily taxed, and publicly humiliated, such that they felt their “submission” to Muslims. And Jesus (for Muslims, “Isa,”) is a very different figure. Apart from a few details Muhammad borrowed from Christian folklore or gnostic “gospels,” Isa would be almost unrecognizable to Christians.

For Muhammad, the key to recognizing an actual prophet of God is that the Lord assures his triumph. Whatever trials he suffers, he is vindicated and victorious in the here-and-now. In this life. He doesn’t suffer, endure humiliation, and end up on a cross.

If You Suffer, You’re Not God’s Servant

There’s one key reason why. As Pinault explains, Islam has no such category as “persecuted prophet” or “suffering servant.” For Muhammad, the key to recognizing an actual prophet of God is that the Lord assures his triumph. Whatever trials he suffers, he is vindicated and victorious in the here-and-now. In this life. He doesn’t suffer, endure humiliation, and end up on a cross. For Muhammad (and the Muslim apologists Pinault cites) such a prospect is repugnant. That is why, perhaps, Muhammad borrowed from gnostic accounts to paint a Jesus who never got crucified. Instead, God took him up to heaven, and left behind a look-alike who died instead on the cross. Some Muslim accounts even say it was Judas—who after his betrayal received this divine comeuppance.

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No, Jesus didn’t suffer and die, to redeem our sins and meet us on the common ground of human weakness and sadness. He rode to heaven on a cloud, and will return at the end of time, Muhammad teaches, to “break all the crosses” and pour out judgement on … Christians. Punish them for at once degrading him as a victim, then idolatrously worshipping him as the Son of God.

What Makes Christians Different

In one of the most telling passages in the book, Pinault indicts renegade Catholic theologian Hans Küng. That Swiss priest wrote an Islamophile book that falsely asserts Muhammad got his picture of Jesus from Jewish Christians in Jerusalem — who held, allegedly, to the most ancient Christology, whereby Jesus was merely human. The belief that He is divine, Küng asserts, is a later invention of philosophy-sotted Hellenizers. To point up what scholarly nonsense this is, Pinault points to no less a figure than … Saint Paul. A learned Jew of the Pharisee party, he met and mixed and debated with all the Jewish apostles. But his epistles effervesce with explicit, assertive claims of Jesus’ divinity. Paul condemns all sorts of heretics and backsliders. If James and other apostles had denied Christ’s divinity, Paul would have denounced them for it. 

Pinault uses his analysis of Islam, in the end, to capture what’s so precious, poignant, and durable about the Christian spirit, which we learn first-hand in prayer to the actual Jesus. Ours is a suffering savior. And that is what gives meaning to our earthly sufferings. If we only could feel we reflected Him in our moments of triumph and conquest, then our characters and our culture would be truculent and aggressive. We’d see weakness and failure as signs of divine disapproval. And we would be the mirrors not of Jesus but of Isa.

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  • kenneth20754

    Oh, dear. Trilemma’s going to have a cow over that penultimate paragraph.

    Thank for the article and book recommendation, Mr. Zmirak. Looks very interesting.

    • Trilemma

      Why? That paragraph says Jesus is divine. The Bible does appear to say Jesus is divine such as John 1:1. Saying Jesus is divine is simply saying he is a god. It does not mean Jesus is The God or that God is triune.

      • kenneth20754

        Espousing polytheism now, T?

        You need to do a closer study of your chosen text in its context. And let’s have no translational nonsense such as the Witnesses perpetrate.

        • Trilemma

          Look at the Greek. The New World Translation translates John 1:1 better than the NIV.

          • kenneth20754

            I repeat, nonsense, and this statement betrays deep unfamiliarity with Greek grammar. No reputable Greek scholar endorses the NWT handling of the texts the Watchtower peculiarly translates in a desperate attempt to support its own preconceived notions. An insistence that the absence of the definite article MUST be translated with an indefinite article runs you afoul of a whole bunch of problems in other texts. The natural reading of John 1 is an identification of the Word with the being of God himself.

          • Trilemma

            An honest reputable trinitarian Greek scholar would at least concede that it’s possible to translate John 1:1c as, “…the word was a god.”

          • kenneth20754

            Any honest and reputable Greek scholar and translator, regardless of personal belief, would, of course, consider the possibilities. But a competent translator takes into account the probabilities, especially those provided by the immediate and larger context of a particular text. In the current example, given the totality of John’s gospel and his identity as a first-century Jew, one of the most fiercely monotheistic peoples ever, offering a translation that suggests a multiplicity or hierarchy of deities/divinities would be committing professional malpractice.

          • Trilemma

            The Jews did believe in a multiplicity of divinities such as angels and Paul referred to Satan as a god.

          • kenneth20754

            How are you defining “divinities” and how do you square that both with the Shema and statements such as those in Isaiah 45:21–“Declare what is to be, present it–let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”

          • Trilemma

            God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: – Psalms 82:1 ESV

            I assume the divine beings in this council are angels. The verse also mentions other gods that God in the midst of while passing judgment, presumably on Israel.

  • Bonshika Jackson

    “Islam has no such category as ‘persecuted prophet'”

    This is manifestly not true. Muslims venerate John the Baptist as both a prophet and a martyr.

    • Patmos

      His point is Islam would not stand for turning the other cheek, and it was and is a point that is pretty clear. Not sure how you missed it.

      • Bonshika Jackson

        The fact remains Islam has a long tradition of venerating persecuted prophets and martyrs. If we’re gonna criticize Islam we need to get our facts right, not misrepresent the other side just because they’re in the wrong. The same right-wingers who accuse all Muslims who eschew of violence of practicing holy lying — “taqiyya” — have no problem “lying for Jesus” if it serves their cause.

        • Patmos

          The fact remains you missed the point, and are just trolling in ignorance at this point. Islam has a long tradition of killing non Muslims, because they are commanded to do so by their so called holy book.

          Get a life, troll.

          • Bonshika Jackson

            In other words, Christianists are okay with telling lies about Muslims, because Islam is bad. Truth doesn’t matter. Ends justify any and every means.

          • kenneth20754

            Not this Christian. The truth is not served by lies.

            Are you aware (or care) how offensive the term “Christianist” is?

        • Sumerian King

          Bonshika, the New Testament makes clear liars will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but will have their share in the Lake of Fire. Care to provide any evidence to your claim of “lying for Jesus”?

          But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. Rev 22:15

        • Zmirak

          Shi’a Islam does, but Pinault cites Muhammad’s own words for rejecting the Crucifixion, specifically because Allah would not allow it to happen to one of his prophets. Muslims do appropriate John the Baptist, but don’t make much of him. Muslims honor those who die fighting in jihad as martyrs, but that’s very different from the model of Jesus.

          • TruthWFree

            Islam lies against the divinity and crucifixion of Jesus in the Quran, supposedly the allah god’s word, Muslims believe. We have the four eye witnessed Gospels to support Jesus statements that He is one with the Father. Islam has Muhammad claiming a being gave him revelations from his allah god and NO witnesses. No question for me. The Gospels and St Paul’s story in ACTS would trump Muhammad’s unwitnessed claim in a court of law any day. I believe Muhammad’s being in the cave was Satan. I also believe he did have revelations from Satan for Islam to last 1400 years. He could have made it up but if so, he must have been very convincing. That would make him the greatest liar in history. Of course death for apostasy does a lot to keep Muslims in Islam.

    • bfast

      Islam has only one prophet with a voice. All other prophets are silent. The only voice a Muslim will trust is the voice of Mohammed. If another prophet is understood to have said something, it is because Mohammed said so.

  • Patmos

    “And it really isn’t that meaningful to say that Islam is (like Judaism and Christianity) a fellow “Abrahamic religion.””

    It’s meaningful, just not in the way you mean it. Of Abraham’s two sons, one was born of the flesh, and one of promise. As Paul points out, “he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” (Galatians 4:29) Truly remarkable that those words are still relevant today!

    So it was true with Isaac and Ishmael, and it was true in Paul’s day, and it is still true today! And yet still, we have people wandering in unbelief, even with stuff like this. Makes you wonder that if when these people are sitting in hell will they still say, “Nah I don’t believe it.”

    • Anthony Cieszkiewicz

      A book I read years ago by a Islamic apologist contended that Islam was God’s third attempt to get it right given the failures of the OT with the Jews and the NT with the Christians. The logic was irrational.

      • Sumerian King

        If God can turn His back on Jews and Christians and start fresh with a new religion, deeming the Bible “corrupt,” there’s no reason to believe He couldn’t do it to Muslims, too. As Ravi Zacharias taught, that’s the problem when an “absolute” tries to overrule or cancel-out an absolute. Another absolute can always come along and do the same. In their logic, Christianity was corrupted after barely existing six-hundred years, yet they’ve somehow managed to go fourteen-hundred years without the same error befalling them. Seems fishy.

        • Anthony Cieszkiewicz

          Neither does the fishiness improve with time while the level of irrationality increases with time.

    • bfast

      Your Galatians 4 reference is most intriguing. I will study it more.

  • Stephen D

    Islam is a peculiar amalgam of material taken from Christianity and Judaism. It is a human invention. Its errors were in fact all anticipated in the Bible – thus the error that a person who suffers is not loved by God (Islam) is thoroughly refuted in the Bible, even though the Bible preceded Islam. The inventors of Islam used biblical material to construct their religion, much as the Freemasons and other groups in the West have done. Incidentally, readers of Stream will be delighted to learn that near where I live in Australia is an institution called – in the touching belief that it will seem more acceptable to the local non-Muslim community – the Virgin Mary Mosque!

  • Lisa

    Very informative article. I wonder if Mark Steyn was prophetic with his book America Alone…

  • TruthWFree

    Muhammad thought he was possessed by a demon on his encounter with the being in the cave in 610 AD. The Quran, supposedly the allah god’s word to Muhammad through the being in the cave, denies Jesus Christ’s divinity and death on the cross, LIES against the Gospels written by eye witnesses 600 years before the Quran. Jesus says in John 8:44 that Satan is the father of all lies. I conclude after all my study and reading including the Quran and over 30 books on Islam, that the allah god of Islam is Satan. Islam is a recipe for eternal fighting among mankind. What would make Satan more pleased with his religion?

  • TruthWFree

    My God and the allah god of Islam cannot be the same God, the God of Abraham and the Father of Jesus…so who is he? 1 John 2:22 says he who denies the Christ (Messiah) is the Antichrist. Islam’s allah god is the Antichrist, AKA Satan.

  • Perhaps we in conservative circles have been exposed to more of the real Islam or perhaps we see it with clearer eyes, but I don’t think the general public realizes just how Islam is the very opposite of Christianity. There are core elements of Islam that are Satanic: pride, power, hatred. That message needs to get out. Thanks for this.

    • Happy Warrior 2020

      Well said and I’ll repeat it – so many core elements of Islam are Satanic: pride, power hatred. I’ll add one more – depraved lust used to torture and subdue women.

      • Yes that too. The difference comes down to the founders. Christ died to start Christianity; Mohammed killed to start Islam. And remember who we are supposed to emulate and who they are supposed to emulate.

  • Allen

    It’s this Image of a destructive Jesus that Islam has conjured up in their minds.

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