It is no secret that Jesus is an important figure in Islam, although his role has been relegated to one of many Abrahamic prophets, with Mohammed being the last to herald the final dispensation of God. Yet it is almost unknown in the West that beyond the Koran, there is not only a lush, esoteric tradition concerning Jesus but also vivid Gnostic ideology. What’s more, there is an argument to be made that Gnosticism influenced Islamic theology, even from its conception.
The first part of the article focuses on the apocryphal sayings of Jesus preserved for centuries by Muslim scholars, while the second will focus on the Gnostic influence in many forms of Islam and even the crafting of the Koran itself. Although still a matter of debate, the influence of this mystical Jesus probably entered the Islamic empires in the Middle Ages through commerce with Byzantine Christians, as well as interaction with Nestorian and Manichean missionaries.
The Jesus of Islam differs from the one in the Koran and Orthodox Christianity. His role is more of a wisdom sage of transcendental truths and timeless virtues, instead of an apocalyptical miracle worker concerned with religious dogmatism. Like the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas and other Thomasine literature popular with Syrian and Gnostic Christians centuries before Mohammed, this Jesus focuses on detachment from the material world, as well as the discovery of spiritual freedom through introspection and charitable living. But unlike the Christ found in most unorthodox and even orthodox denominations, he is fully human with all its potentials and limitations.
Here are some of the most prominent teachings of Jesus in Islam:
Jesus was asked, “Who taught you?”
He answered, “No one taught me. I saw that the ignorance of the fool was shameful, so I avoided it.”
Jesus said, “Whoever seeks the world is like one who drinks seawater. The more he drinks, the more his thirst increases, until it kills him.”
One day Jesus was walking with his apostles, and they passed by the carcass of a dog.
The apostles said, “How this dog stinks!”
But Jesus said, “How white are its teeth!”
From Abd’ al-Khâliq Ghijduwâni’s Travelling the Path of Love
Some said to Jesus, “Give us some teaching for which God will love us.”
Jesus said, “Hate the world, and God will love you.”
Jesus said, “The world is a bridge. Pass over it. Do not linger on it.”
Jesus said, “Store up for yourselves something which the fire will not devour.”
They said, “What is that?”
He answered, “Mercy.”
They saw him coming out of a prostitute’s house, then someone said to him, “Oh spirit of God, what you doing with this woman?”
He replied, “The doctor comes only to the sick.”
John the Baptist asked Jesus what was the most difficult thing to bear.
The latter replied, “The wrath of God.”
“Then,” asked John, “what serves most to bring down God’s wrath?”
“Your anger,” answered Jesus.
“And what brings on one’s own anger?” asked John
Jesus said, “Pride, conceit, vanity, and arrogance.”
Jesus said, “Who commits Wisdom to them that are not ready for it, is a fool; and who withholds it from them that are ready for it, is an evil-doer. Wisdom has rights, and rightful owners; and gives each his due.”
The Apostle asked Jesus, “Is there anyone on earth today like you?”
He answered, “Yes, whoever has prayer for his speech, and meditation for his silence, and tears for his vision, that one is like me.”
God revealed to Jesus, “Though you should worship with the devotion of the inhabitants of heaven and the earth, but have not love in God and hate in God, it will avail you nothing!”
From Al-Ghazali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences
Jesus said, “Be in the midst, yet walk on one side.”
From Baidawi’s Commentary on the Koran
Jesus said, “The world is a place of transition, full of examples, yet be pilgrims in it, and take warning from the traces of those that have gone before you.”
From Jacut’s Geographical Lexicon
There are legions of these proverbs attributed to Jesus in Muslim literature. A healthy selection can be found in such books as Andrew Phillip Smith’s The Lost Sayings of Jesus, Sean Martin’s The Gnostics, Robert Price’s Deconstructing Jesus, and James Robson’s Christ in Islam.
Although not possessed with supernatural gifts, the Jesus of Islam is similar to the Gnostic Jesus, including the godman of the Gospel of John, in that he is presented as a foreigner to this universe, an alien being belonging to higher realms of reality. This is much different than Mohammed and other prophets who often reveled and thrived in the material dimensions. Yet the Jesus of Islam is ultimately mortal, perhaps symbolizing the reality that all humans are fundamentally strangers to the cosmos, yet who paradoxically have to negotiate and escape the world of forms.
This prayer by Jesus, from the Revival of the Religious Sciences, perhaps sums of the plight of both Jesus in Islam and humanity in general:
O God, I am this morning unable to ward off what I would not, or to obtain what I would. That power is in another’s hands. I am bound by my works, and there is none so poor that is poorer than I. O God, do not let my enemy to rejoice over me, nor my friend to grieve over me; do not let me have trouble with faith; make the world not be my chief care, and do not give the power over me to him who will not pity me.
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