The Muslim Jesus, ITV

Sunday 19 August 2007 11:15pm – 12:15am on ITV1.

Islam and Christianity have been portrayed as mortal enemies for 1400 years. Locked in combat until the end of time when finally on the day of judgement God will announce the winner.

This so called ‘clash of civilisations’ has defined Christian and Muslim relations from the wars of the crusades to the current ‘war on terror’.

But there is another story. It’s a story that revolves around one man. The man whom a
billion Muslims and 1.2 billion Christians call the Messiah but who is seen by both in very different ways – Jesus.

The Muslim Jesus uses the Quran and other Islamic texts to explore the differing ways in which Christian and Muslim faiths both acknowledge Jesus.

Scholars, teachers, parents, rappers, poets and historians come together for the one hour special narrated by Melvin Bragg.

The differences between the Quran and Bible’s portrayal of Jesus are explored in detail, from the role of Mary and his death and resurrection, to the coming of the Anti-Christ.

One of the most fundamental differences is that the Quran calls Jesus ‘Esa’ and refers to him as the son of Mary whereas the bible refers to him as the son of God.

The Muslim Jesus looks in detail at the role of Mary who has a whole chapter dedicated to her in the Quran. The story of Jesus’ birth is narrated in vivid detail in the Quran. According to the scriptures, she was alone in the desert when she gave birth to Jesus.

As in the Bible an angel tells Mary she is pregnant despite being a Virgin. But the story of what follows then differs completely. In the Quran’s version there’s no stable, no manger and no Joseph.

In the Bible Mary’s role is limited to the passive mother of Christ but the Quran gives accounts of her ancestry, her birth, her childhood in the Temple of Solomon and as mother of Jesus.

She is portrayed in Islam as the model of the perfect woman, a symbol of purity that Muslim women can admire whereas in the bible Mary’s role is limited to the passive mother of Christ.

The miracles performed during Jesus’ life also causes debate among Christians and Muslims but it’s the Bible and the Quran’s conflicting accounts of his death that go to the heart of the differences between the two faiths.

In the bible Jesus is betrayed by Judas and crucified by the Romans. The Quran says this only appeared to happen.

“In the Christian narrative the most central and fundamental point of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but Islam basically denies that. The Quran states that it was made to appear that Jesus was crucified as when the Roman’s captured Jesus God organised a rescue operation,” says Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf Hanson.

Andy Bannister from the London School of Theology says that Christians disagree with that view. “One or two secular Scholars have said that the crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most historically verifiable events of the first century. We have such good evidence for it. So there is absolutely no way the first Christians would have wanted to invent that story. The crucifixion was about the most embarrassingly and the most socially disreputable way you could die in the first century. So to claim that for your Lord and your Master is never going to happen.”

The issue of whether Jesus is seen as a divinity is also considered. Muslims dispute the Christian idea of Jesus’ divinity and the belief that he was the embodiment of God in the flesh.

“If Jesus was God then who was supporting the world while he was supposed to be dead? Or if he was God then who was he praying to?” asks Ahmad Thomson, co author of Jesus Prophet of Islam.

Both Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus will return to earth to restore justice to the world. They also believe that before he returns, an evil person or system called the Antichrist will have gained influence over the planet.

The differing accounts of the Antichrist represent another point of disagreement between the bible and the Quran. Both Muslims and Christians agree that Jesus will return to defeat the Antichrist, referred to by Muslims as Da Jar. But whereas the Bible uses metaphorical language to describe the event, Islamic tradition gives a blow by blow account of exactly what will happen when Jesus comes back.

According to the Quran the world will become filled with oppression and injustice and Christ will return in an Eastern part of Damascus, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels.

He will pray behind the Muslim Imam regarded as being the Kalif (Muslim leader on Earth) and together they will take part in the battle against the Antichrist. According to Muslims, the moment Da Jar sees Jesus he will begin to dissolve like salt dissolves in water.

Although the programme looks at the differences between the two faiths not all Muslims and Christians see themselves as locked in disagreement.

Adam Williamson and Jamie Clark are good friends. Adam is a Muslim and Jamie is a Christian and despite having different views on Jesus, they often find common ground.

“I do think there is a lot of truth you know about Jesus in the Quran. But I am not looking for where they contradict each other, I am looking for where they don’t contradict each other because that is where the truth is I feel.”

Adam agrees: “It takes a certain amount of arrogance for me to go to Jamie and, and start telling him he’s going on the wrong path and vice versa. It’s not, it’s not my place. “We’ve got to admit to a certain extent we are all fumbling around you know looking for some form of truth.”

Hamza Yusuf Hanson sums up: “The Prophet Mohammad’s most important concern in engaging people who were hostile to him was how I can turn this enemy into a friend. And that only comes love. That comes from a concern. And I think the centrality of love in a Christian tradition is a very beautiful quality and it is something that many Muslims have forgotten about their own faith. And I think there is an immense amount that Muslims can learn from Jesus. I also think there is an immense amount that Christians can learn from Mohammad.”

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