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Answering Common Misconceptions

36. Islam on Jesus' Apostles, and on Paul

Question:

As-Salamu `alaykum

What is the Islamic viewpoint on the Apostles of Jesus? Similarly, what is the standpoint on St.Paul? Could you possibly give us a brief explanation on those points related to Christianity?

Thank you in advance.

Answer:

Let us examine what the Holy Qur'an, the Hadith (the Prophet's sayings) and the Muslim scholars say about the apostles of Jesus. In dealing with stories of the prophets and their followers, the Qur'an, in contrast to man-written scriptures, give emphasis to the wisdom and guidance derived, rather than to listing of names and detailed events. All prophets are honored and held in high esteem in the Qur'an. Muslims believe that all prophets brought to their followers the same supreme guidance, from the One Creator Allah. Their faithful disciples and close followers are similarly honored and praised in Islam. In the five daily prayers, Muslims give prayers to the followers of Abraham, the 'father of prophets'. (See: Your Way to Islam). The disciples of Jesus are mentioned in the Qur'an as honest followers of the prophet Jesus, peace be upon him:

* So, as soon as `Isa (Jesus) perceived disbelief among them, he said, “Who are my ready vindicators to Allah?” (i.e., in the cause of Allah) The Disciples said, ” We are the ready vindicators to Allah; we have believed in Allah, and bear (you) witness that we are Muslims. Our Lord, we have believed in what You have sent down, and we have closely followed the Messenger, so write us down with (the ones) who bear witness.” [English meaning of Qur'an 3:52-53]

* And as I revealed to the Disciples (The followers of `Isa “Jesus”, also called the Apostles) (saying), “Believe in Me and in My Messenger.” They said, “We believe, and bear you witness that surely we (ourselves) are Muslims.” (Literally: we have surrendered to Him). [English meaning of Qur'an 5:111]

* O you have believed, be vindicators of Allah, as Isa son of Maryam, said to the Disciples, “Who are my vindicators to Allah?” The Disciples said, “We are the vindicators of Allah.” [English meaning of Qur'an 61:14]

         Also we read in a prophetic Hadith: Never a Prophet had been sent before me by Allah towards his nation who had not among his people (his) disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command. Then there came after them their successors who said whatever they did not practice, and practiced whatever they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer: he who strove against them with his tongue was a believer, and he who strove against them with his heart was a believer and beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed. [Narrrated by Muslim]

     This contrasts several shameful stories of the Old Testament that defame many prophets, such as Noah (Genesis 9:23-24), Jacob (Genesis 29:28), David (II Samuel 11:4-5), and his sons (II Samuel 13:14, 16:33, Genesis 38:18), Solomon (I Kings 11:9-10), Aaron (Exodus 32:4), and Lot (Genesis 19:36).

     Coming to the viewpoints of Muslim scholars regarding the disciples of Jesus, they were based, beside the Qur'an and Hadith, on objective reading of texts of the New Testament. Muslims believe, as has been proved and accepted by fair Christian scholars, that the books of the New Testament are not the 'Injeel', the Divine Book revealed to Jesus. Rather, they are personal narrations of the life of Jesus and his disciples, written by different and mostly unknown writers, that underwent several changes and modifications reflecting the views of scribes, translators and ecumenical councils. The books of the New Testament refer to a separate 'Injeel', as in (Matthews 4:23; 26:13), (Mark 1: 14-15) (Romans 1:1-2,15-16; 11:28; 15:19) and (Corinthians 1: 5,23). Yet, according to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Muslims are told to neither accept nor totally reject the scriptures of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians; but rather to scrutinize them objectively, so as to accept only those narrations that are neither self-contradictory, nor stand against proven facts, sound logic or common sense.

     Following this approach, Muslim scholars agree that the 12 disciples of Jesus listed in (Matthews 10:1-4, Luke 6:12), as well as the 72 apostles sent by Jesus according to (Luke 10:1 ), were sincere followers of Jesus, who preached the Oneness of God, as in (Matthews 4:10; 19:17, Mark 10:18; 12: 29,32, Luke:18:19). They recognized Jesus as a human prophet in all aspects, as portrayed by the Gospels (see for example: The Humanity of Jesus, and: Is Jesus God?); and as he himself repeatedly emphasized (John 5:30; 8:40, Luke 24:19). They also understood that he was not the 'son of God'. The expression 'sons of God', according to Jesus, encompasses many others, including the disciples and apostles themselves, as well as all people (see for example: Allah has no son, and: Has God sons?). They also were given), by Jesus, the glad tiding of the coming 'Seal of Prophets', Muhammad (SAW) confirming earlier prophecies in the Old Testament (see for example: Muhammad the Prophecy of Moses and Jesus, and: Muhammad in the Bible).

     Apart from that, no specific disciple was dealt with in detail in Muslim literature, except Judas the Iscariot.  As the Qur'an categorically refutes the Christian claim that Jesus was crucified, Muslim scholars suggested that Judas was the one crucified, instead of Jesus, after Allah has changed his visage to be like that of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthews 26:14-16, Luke 22:3-6, John 13: 21-27), and led the Roman soldiers to his hiding place (Luke 22:47-48, John 18: 3-6). That Judas could be the one crucified is supported by the following arguments:

1) The reported change of the visage of Jesus (John 20:14-15 ), so that even his closest disciples could not recognize him. So the Roman soldiers took Judas in his place (John 21:4, Mark 16:12); while Jesus escaped and was later raised to heaven (Luke 24:50, Mark 16: 19).

2) All the disciples escaped during the arrest (Matthews 26:56), the arrest took place during the night darkness (John 18:3), none of his disciples witnessed the trial, nor attended the alleged crucifixion (Matthews 27:55-56, Mark 15:40, Luke 23:49).

 3)The person crucified denied that he was Jesus (Luke 22: 67-69). We note in (Luke 22:69) that the speaker should be somebody other than Jesus; one who was confident that Jesus has escaped, as he had previously told them (John 7: 32-34; 16: 32-33).

4) The person crucified sent a cry of despair (Mark 15:4), that could not possibly be the word of a prophet who is confident of the support of his God.      

     Yet, the Gospels, insisting that Jesus was crucified, give conflicting versions  (as common in Biblical texts) on the fate of Judas (compare: Matthews 27:3-9 with Acts 1:18-19). (Read also: Jesus between Islam and Christianity, and: Did Jesus die to bring eternal life to Man?, and: The alleged torture and crucifixion of Jesus)

     However, some later Muslim scholars suggest that the crucified was neither Jesus nor Judas. Their evidence is that Judas could not have betrayed Jesus, being one of the twelve trustworthy disciples of Jesus, according to his (Jesus) own words (Matthews 19:28).

     One more compromise viewpoint suggested that Judas did report to the Romans and was later crucified in place of Jesus. Yet it was not his intention to betray Jesus, in the first place. He was only frustrated by the hiding away of Jesus, and wanted him to come out and face his enemies, who appeared to gain the upper hand! He was faithful that Allah would not let his messenger Jesus to be hurt, even if he was arrested.

      As to the Islamic viewpoint of Paul, it is a totally different story. Paul, who made himself a 'self-appointed' apostle of Jesus, was neither one of the twelve disciples nor of the seventy-two apostles. Yet, he was the one who changed and drastically diverted Christianity away from the pure message and sublime teachings of Jesus. He was the one who first falsely claimed Jesus to be the son of God (Acts 9:20); and that Jesus came to be crucified for the atonement of the first (Adam) sin (Romans 3:23-24;8:32, Colossians 1:13-14,20, I Corinthians1:13-14; 2:2). In this last claim, Paul contradicts the Gospels of the same New Testament, e.g. Jesus feared and resisted all attempts to kill him, as in (John 8:37-40; 7:19; 8:59; 11:53-54, Matthews 12:14; 26:37-40,50).  Also it was Paul who abolished the Jewish circumcision (Galatians 5:2), and permitted wine ( I Timothy 25:3).

     Reading through the sayings of Paul in the Bible, one cannot fail to recognize him more as a pragmatic character than a faithful leader or a reformer:

- Admitting himself a messenger of Satan (II Corinthians 12: 7-8), and a captive to the flesh lusts (Romans 7: 15-24), (Ephesians 2:3).

- Talking blasphemy (I Corinthians 1: 25, 2: 10, 6:3, 6:12, 10:23).

- Preaching that 'Ends justify means' (I Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:33, Romans 3:7 )

- Calls for slavery (Ephesians 6:5-6, I Timothy 6:1, Titus 2:9; 3:1, Romans 13:1-2)  

     Yet, it is now accepted that this same Paul, and not Jesus, is the real founder of Christianity (or rather: the Pauline religion) practiced today. (Read also: Answering Christian Questions, and: Is Islam continuation of Christianity?, and: What Islam says about the Bible?)

     I hope this could satisfy your curiosity.