Interfaith dialogue begins with respect. It recognizes that there are profound differences between different religions, but that people of faith can nonetheless live together as friends. We should never feel threatened by goodness, wherever it is to be found. Surely, as adults we can respect one another’s differences without resorting to offending one another.

Muslims believe that Jesus was taken up and saved from being crucified. Anyone who believes that Jesus was crucified (or killed another way) can no longer be called a Muslim.

As for Jesus’s being taken up, whether dead or alive, and the nature of the life he is now leading, scholars hold different views in this regard, as this is not decisively established in the Qur’an.

It is very difficult to discuss a question when the one asking it has already assumed certain things to be the case. Also, talk of one prophet being superior to another is not helpful for a real interfaith dialogue to take place. However, we will try to answer as best we can.

We have repeated time and time again that Muslims respect all former prophets. Adam (peace be upon him) was the first Muslim, according to Islam, and Noah (peace be upon him) is described in the Qur’an as the first prophet:

*{We revealed to Noah and the prophets after him}* (An-Nisaa’ 4:163)

Former prophets, like Jesus, Moses, and Abraham (peace be upon them all), were given a message by Almighty Allah, but His final message, according to Islam, was given to Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was the Seal of the Prophets.

Similarly, all previous messages were an important revelation by Allah at their time in history, but the Noble Qur’an is Allah’s final revelation to humankind for all time.

Muslims believe that *{Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets.}* (Al-Ahzab 33:40)

Muslims also believe that the revelation given to Muhammad includes all the merits contained in the previous messages of those former prophets. Allah says what means,

*{He ordained for you what He enjoined on Noah and what he revealed to you and what he enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus; namely, establish this faith and be united in it}* (Ash-Shura 42:13)

In other words, the message given to Jesus is not canceled by Muhammad, but it is included in the revelation given to him.

Similarly, Muslims also believe that prophets are human beings. They are not Allahs, but men like you and me, but they were entrusted with a special gift of revelation. Jesus and Muhammad, then, are created human beings who have none of the divine qualities of Allah. Claims that the writers of the Gospels make about Jesus are not held to be true by the Qur’an. Jesus is said to deny these claims.

When Prophet Muhammad died, his grief-stricken followers gathered together to bury him. They had been with him for so many years and were heartbroken that their leader had been taken from them. It took the wisdom of Abu Bakr to declare  “For those of you who follow Muhammad, Muhammad is dead, but for those of you who follow Allah, Allah is alive.

Just before this, `Umar had refused to believe that Allah could have allowed Muhammad to die. Surely, he thought, Allah would save him and raise him up. But Abu Bakr pointed out a very important truth: Muhammad was a man. He was perhaps the greatest man ever to have lived, but he was a man nonetheless. Not a Allah or a saint, but a man, like you and me.

In speaking about Jesus, it seems that Christians fell into exactly this same trap, which Islam managed to avoid. When it was made to appear to them that Jesus was killed, his followers were heartbroken. They, too, had been with him for so long and had pinned all their hopes on him. How could Allah take him from them, they thought? Out of an exaggerated love for him, they refused to believe that Allah could have allowed him to die.

Encouraged by the writings of Saint Paul, they began to believe that Jesus did not die, but that he was raised from the dead and is still alive today, no longer a man, but equal to Allah. Allah’s son. For Muslims, this is idolatry, since Allah has no partners and no one is equal to Him, but we can see how Christians came to believe this.

The Noble Qur’an is quite clear that Jesus did not die on the cross and it is equally clear that Jesus is not equal to Allah:

*{He is only a servant whom We blessed and We made him an example to the children of Israel.}* (Az-Zukhruf 43:59)

For Christians, then, to begin arguing that Jesus is alive and so is superior to Muhammad (peace be upon them both) is to use an argument that does not work for Muslims. Muslims respect and honor Jesus as a prophet of Allah, but they see Muhammad as the final prophet, chosen by Allah to sum up all that had gone before.

Someone told me recently that he had attended a workshop about Jesus which was attended by both Christians and Muslims. The workshop members got on together very well, even though they believed different things about Jesus. One group believed him to be divine. The other group did not. However, at the end of the day, someone suggested that instead of this being a cause for division, they should both admit to what they agreed upon: Jesus is a truly remarkable person. Instead of being a cause for division, then, the person of Jesus can be seen in such a context as a cause for bringing people together.

Numerous historians down through the ages have looked at the achievements of Muhammad and have put him at the top or near to the top of the greatest men who have ever lived. Muslims do not use this language of “superiority” but simply call Muhammad the final prophet of Allah.

Claiming that Jesus is alive, using the four gospel writers as proofs, is just not evidence. It is certainly not evidence enough to declare him superior to Muhammad. These four gospels were chosen, after all, from among many others, and they were written not to prove that Jesus is divine, but to support the belief of those who already felt this. In other words, Muslims believe that there is no existing scripture which makes such a claim.

Muslims believe that the message given to Jesus no longer exists. It is no longer to be found anywhere. What we have are the written works of men. The only things we know about Jesus with certainty are to be found in the Glorious Qur’an.

Muslims respect the beliefs of others, but it is sometimes necessary to refute falsehood where it touches upon Muslims’ belief which has been revealed in the Qur’an. Muslims have the greatest respect for what Christians hold dear, but they assert quite categorically that Jesus did not die on the Cross but was raised up to heaven and that he is not Allah’s son. One of Allah’s prophets, yes, but not a Allah.  

Muhammad is the final seal of all that Almighty Allah had ever said to humankind. Through him we see how it is possible to live as Muslims in this world, respecting all former prophets and bowing down in submission to Allah as they all once did. Muhammad is not a Allah or a saint, but the greatest of men.

*By  Idris Tawfiq