Islamic Studies Jesus
Robert F. Shedinger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0110


Jesus plays a prominent role in the Islamic tradition and is often considered the most important prophet after Muhammad. He is referred to frequently in the Qurʾan (by the name ʿIsa), where many aspects of his biblical portrayal are confirmed, such as his birth to a virgin named Mary, his bearing the title Messiah, and his miracles and teachings, but not his divinity. Jesus figures prominently also in the Hadith tradition (though to a lesser extent than in the Qurʾan) and throughout the classical and modern Islamic literary corpus. He becomes the paragon of asceticism for Sufis, the eschatological partner of the Mahdi for Shiʿites (and some Sunnis), and the focus of both anti-Christian polemics and Muslim-Christian dialogue. With hundreds of sayings ascribed to Jesus in classical Islamic literature, some have argued for the existence of a Muslim Gospel (Khalidi 2001, cited under Classical Literature: General Overviews). The main controversy involving Jesus within the Islamic tradition surrounds the mode and timing of his death. Was he crucified, or was someone else crucified in his place? (The question stems from the apparent ambiguity of Sura 4:157 in the Qurʾan, which is commonly translated, “But they neither killed nor crucified him, though it so appeared to them.”) Was he taken up directly to heaven to live with God, or did he live a normal life and die of natural causes (as the Ahmadiyya movement believes)? Further controversy surrounds Christian claims for the divinity of Jesus, which not surprisingly has made Jesus the central focus of Muslim anti-Christian polemical literature. But ironically the centrality of Jesus to Muslim thinking also makes him a central figure for the development of Christian-Muslim dialogue. That such controversies have animated and continue to animate the work of Muslim scholars attests to the important place Jesus holds in the Muslim imagination.

General Overviews

The most comprehensive and accessible overview of Jesus in the Islamic tradition is Leirvik 2010, which summarizes the references to Jesus found in all strata of the tradition from the Qurʾan to contemporary literature. Leirvik 2010 also provides a substantial bibliography of the more recent scholarship on the subject. Barker and Gregg 2010 provides a representative sample of texts about Jesus from a variety of sources, while Glassé 2008 provides a briefer but somewhat tendentious summary. Cragg 1999 and Robinson 1991 provide useful summaries of Islamic material about Jesus in the context of their comparisons of Jesus in Islam and in Christianity. For a comprehensive annotated bibliography of older works, see Wismer 1977. This work unfortunately includes many references to early 20th century Christian anti-Muslim polemical literature written from an Orientalist perspective, and the bibliography itself is not arranged topically, making it difficult to use, but one can still find helpful annotations to solid older scholarship. Thomas and Roggema 2009 provides a comprehensive bibliography for Christian-Muslim relations in which Jesus figures prominently.

  • Barker, Gregory A., and Stephen E. Gregg. Jesus beyond Christianity: The Classic Texts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Chapter 2 (pp. 83–149) provides an extensive selection of texts about Jesus from all strata of Islamic literature, including the Qurʾan, the Hadith, the writings of Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Ghazali, Jalaal al-Din Rumi, Ibn-Arabi, Ismail ibn Kathir, and the contemporary document “A Common Word,” among others.

  • Cragg, Kenneth. Jesus and the Muslim: An Exploration. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

    Explores the role of Jesus in Islam and Christianity taking account of the images of Jesus found in the Qurʾan and in Muslim philosophy, poetry, and popular devotion.

  • Glassé, Cyril. “Jesus, Son of Mary.” In The New Encyclopedia of Islam. Edited by Cyril Glassé, 270–271. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008.

    A brief but useful overview of the major roles played by Jesus in Islam with special emphasis on the Qurʾan and the Hadith. Readers should be aware that the author tends to impose his opinions on the discussion, something not normally encountered in an encyclopedia article.

  • Leirvik, Oddbjørn. Images of Jesus Christ in Islam. 2d ed. London: Continuum, 2010.

    The most comprehensive single-volume overview, including a valuable bibliography of contemporary scholarship.

  • Robinson, Neal. Christ in Islam and Christianity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-11442-9

    Summarizes images of Jesus in various strata of the Islamic tradition along with a comparison between Qurʾanic material and early Christian literature, with special emphasis on Eastern Christian christological thought.

  • Thomas, David, and Barbara Roggema, eds. Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History. 3 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004169753.i-960

    This multivolume bibliographical work provides detailed discussions on all known texts documenting the historical relationship between Christians and Muslims. Jesus figures prominently in many of these. Volumes 1–3 cover the years 600–1200; Volumes 4 and 5 will cover 1200–1500.

  • Wismer, Don. The Islamic Jesus: An Annotated Bibliography of Sources in English and French. New York: Garland, 1977.

    A comprehensive annotated bibliography of sources prior to the mid-1970s. Many of the older sources derive from a Christian anti-Muslim polemical perspective, but useful annotations of some good scholarly sources on Jesus in Islam can still be found, especially obscure and hard-to-find sources. Bibliography not topically arranged.

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