Last summer, for example, I was teaching a class about Islam. We were discussing a simple story in the Qur’an, a dialogue between Mary and the Archangel Gabriel. It goes something like this:
Get the think newsletter.
Gabriel, an otherworldly visitor, arrives in the form of a human being to tell Mary that she is pregnant with child. But not just any child; this is the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary and messenger to the children of Israel.
Mary reacts in confusion, of course — how can she have a child when no man has touched her? But most of all she reacts with horror and despair. If she really is pregnant, that means she’s an unwed woman in a patriarchal society. Making matters worse, this child has a very special spiritual mission. Try explaining that to your traditional friends and family.
When I shared this story, a few students’ eyebrows went up, and stayed up for the rest of the class. Jesus, they asked, is in the Qur’an? He’s the Messiah and his mother is the Virgin Mary? I might as well have told them pigs could fly.
But that’s just it. For Americans, raised as we are in a Judeo-Christian milieu — whether we accept, reject, or amend it — Islam shouldn’t feel out of place in the least.
Muslims and Christians do disagree about who Jesus is: Christians believe him to be the divine Son of God while Muslims consider him a very special human and a prophet to whom God granted miracles. Just like Christians, however, Muslims believe Jesus had no father (for us, since Jesus isn’t divine, we believe he was created by God in his mother’s womb.) We also believe Jesus was the word and spirit of God, and will someday return to fill a volatile world with goodness.
In other words, Christians and Muslims both love him. And his mother too. Jesus is particularly important in Sufism, the Muslim spiritual science, where he’s viewed as a paragon of abstemiousness and mystical wisdom and taught in sermons and prayer circles all around the world.