The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims by Mustafa Akyol is a Muslim’s look at Jesus in both a historical and religious sense. Akyol studied political science at Bogazici University in Istanbul. He is a journalist and author of several books on Islam and Turkish politics. He is currently a contributor to the New York Times and considers himself a classic liberal. This also contributes to his ability to discuss religion in an open and less critical sense than one would expect.
Akyol starts his book with what seems to be a chance encounter with Christian missionaries, handing out copies of the New Testament, in his native Turkey. Rather than tossing it into the recycling bin, he reads it in an analytical manner. Keeping his beliefs in mind he begins to underline sections that match his Islamic beliefs in blue and those that didn’t in red. Despite a lot of red, he noticed quite a bit of blue. The blue was most evident in the Epistle of James (brother of Jesus) and least evident in Paul’s writing.
Many outside of Islam would wonder why a Muslim would care about Jesus. There was, a few years ago, the interview of Reza Aslan on Fox News concerning his book Zealot — “Why would a Muslim be interested in the founder of Christianity?” was asked. Jesus is an important prophet in Islam second to only Mohammed. He was also the most powerful prophet in Islam having the power of life — raising Lazareth. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned more times in the Koran than in the Bible. Jesus is, indeed, an important part of Islam; He is just not God.
Akyol’s thesis on Jesus begins with his reading of the Epistle of James. In the early days of Christianity, there was not a single version of the religion. Two different factions existed. James at the Church of Jerusalem worked with the Jewish population and Paul with the gentiles. James’ Epistle does not mention the death, resurrection, or divinity of Jesus. Paul, who had not met Jesus during his life, takes up the issue of divinity and the pre-existence of Jesus. James fits well with Islamic prophet Jesus. Paul’s version does not fit well with the single God entity of Islam. Looking at the Gospels and when they were written Akyol notes the growing divinity of Jesus as time passes. Mark, the earliest Gospel presents a much less divine Jesus than the last gospel written, John.
Islamic Jesus presents Jesus as he is recorded in the Koran and the traditional beliefs of Jesus. The Koran, however, has many holes in the life of Jesus mainly because it is not written as a narrative like the New Testament. It is a document that records the recitation of God’s will and law. This is explained in detail in the section on Islam. Towards the middle of the book, Akyol uses noncanonical Gospels to explore more commonalities between the two versions of Jesus. This leads the reader to wonder if perhaps Islam was influenced by the noncanonical Gospels or that those Gospels were influenced by Islam. I found that to be the weakest part of his argument only because some of these texts have been rejected as authentic works.
All in all, a very well done exploration and comparison of Jesus as seen by two religions. The author does not try to convince the reader of the truth of his version Jesus but rather presents his information and discoveries. Needless to say, the book is very well documented with almost a quarter of the book being cited sources and references. As someone who does not embrace either religion, I found the book fascinating.
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