Gabriel Reynolds, professor of Islamic studies and theology at the University of Notre Dame explains the difference between Jesus, the Jesus of the Qur’an and the Jesus of Islam.
Many Christians and other non-Muslims who want to understand the Christ of Islam turn to the Qur’an, yet the Qur’an won’t tell them much about Jesus. It mentions his miraculous birth. It refers to miracles such as raising the dead and bringing a clay bird to life. It speaks of his disciples, although it does not give them names.
Otherwise the Qur’an has precious little to say about Jesus’ life. There is nothing in the Qur’an, for example, of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, his confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees, his entry into Jerusalem, or the Last Supper.
As for his death, the Qur’an relates laconically that the Jews “did not crucify or kill Jesus” and in a following verse that “God raised him up to Himself.” Whether Jesus was killed by someone else and then rose again, or whether he escaped death entirely, is left for the reader to ponder. The Jesus of the Qur’an, in other words, is a figure shrouded in mystery.
Muslim scholars, however, have not left him that way. Instead they record a great variety of stories about Jesus, some of which describe episodes the Qur’an never mentions and others of which offer definitive explanations for things the Qur’an leaves ambiguous.
This history of storytelling, more than the Qur’an itself, shapes the common Islamic understanding of Jesus today, by which Jesus is a prophet who emphasized the spiritual life above all, who valued austerity, and who taught his disciples always to think about the fate of their souls on the Day of Judgment. Any serious appreciation of the Christ of Islam—and in particular of how Muslims think about Jesus today—must involve this history of storytelling. The Christ of Islam, in other words, is not simply the Christ of the Qur’an.