Intriguing exploration of the Muslim understanding of Jesus.
Akyol (Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, 2011) provides an open-minded and historically driven look at the Quran’s treatment of Jesus, with an emphasis on how the person of Jesus may have come into the worldview of Muhammad and his followers. Displaying a keen comprehension for the background behind all three Abrahamic religions and a deep understanding of Middle Eastern history, Akyol reviews the place of Jesus in the scope of Islam in a way that few modern writers have, especially outside of purely academic works. After a short discussion on the concept of the “historical Jesus,” he explores the divide between the theology developed by Paul, which became Christianity, broadly understood, and that developed by James and the church in Jerusalem, which became “Jewish Christianity,” a sect that eventually died out. The author goes on to share the intriguing similarities between the theology of Jewish Christians and the Quran’s theological concept of Jesus. In a pivotal chapter, the author provides a variety of recognized theories (and some archaeological evidence) for a real, historical connection between the vanishing Jewish Christians and the first followers of Islam. Nowhere does Akyol suggest that any one theory is definitive, but he certainly leaves readers with food for thought. He continues by exploring the role Jesus plays in the Quran, especially in contrast to his role in Christianity. In reviewing Quranic verses on Jesus, the author reveals that in many cases, parallel or at least related statements are made in apocryphal Christian literature. Among many other examples, the Quran claims that Jesus breathed life into clay birds, a statement highly reminiscent of a similar tale in a work of Christian Apocrypha, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Ultimately, Akyol finds that Jesus provides Muslims with a worthy exemplar of piety and holiness and that the overtones of history and geopolitics need not dampen that fact.
A fascinating bridge text between Islam and Christianity.