By Steven Cowan – It was the intern year of my seminary education when I met Barrack, a Muslim college student studying in the U.S. Some students in our college and career department at church had befriended him and brought him to a social function in a church member’s home. Barrack was very friendly and outgoing. His wealthy Iranian parents wanted him to get part of his education here. While here, he was introduced not only to American culture, but also to a different view of Christianity than what he had been accustomed to hearing about from his Islamic background. A student in our discipleship group had earned Barrack’s trust enough that he accepted his invitation to come to a Bible study. Barrack liked the discussion and came back the next week, which began a study on Jesus as the Son of God. It was during this time that Barrack came to realize that Jesus was who he claimed to be. However, this presented a problem for him. He knew that to accept Jesus for who he was meant he would be severely ostracized and even persecuted by his family upon returning to his home in Iran.
The result of a Muslim recognizing Jesus as the Son of God means that he has to reject what Islam teaches about Jesus and Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. Even though there are similarities in their teachings, the differences are far greater. Both Jesus and Muhammad are recognized as founders of two of the world’s largest religions. In the Bible, there is much said about Jesus, but nothing of Muhammad. The Qur’an speaks of both Muhammad and Jesus as prophets of Allah. For Muslims, the Qur’an speaks absolutely and authoritatively about Jesus and Muhammad, because it is seen as the perfect revelation of Allah through Muhammad. For Christians, God’s final revelation is seen in a person, Jesus who is God incarnate. Instead of recognizing a person as a perfect revelation, the Muslim recognizes a book, the Qur’an, as the perfect revelation, and it tells them that Muhammad is Allah’s final messenger of that revelation.
Accepting either Jesus or Muhammad as a prophet means that one would have to accept one and reject the other. Both cannot be equally God’s prophet.1 When one considers that they both speak differently about God and their relationships to God, and that they even define themselves differently to their followers, one has to come to the conclusion that one of them is not a true prophet of God.
The purpose of this article isn’t to give a lengthy treatise contrasting the totality of the lives and teachings of Jesus and Muhammad, but to evaluate each one’s claim to be God’s prophet. The question Jesus asked of his disciples is relevant not only to the Christian, but also to the Muslim. Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The Christian accepts the answer given by Simon Peter: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:13b-16). Muslims, however, reject this answer. Who is right?
Was Muhammad a Prophet?
When considering whether Muhammad was a prophet, the Christian needs to keep in mind the high regard Muslims have for him. As the seal of all prophets, he is reverenced, and in talking about him, it is almost easier to say a word against Allah than Muhammad. Of course, Muslims do not worship Muhammad, but consider him a high example and model for mankind. They recoil at being called “Muhammadans” because they worship, not Muhammad, but Allah. Nevertheless, respect for the Prophet is demanded. This is the attitude expressed in the first pillar of Islam, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.”
Muslims will often cite a passage from the Qur’an as evidence for the prophet hood of Muhammad:
They seek to extinguish the very light of God with their mouths, but God will not allow but that His light should be perfected, however hateful the unbelievers find it. It is He who has sent His Apostle with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however hateful the associators find it (Sura 9:32- 33).
Proofs for Muhammad’s prophet-hood basically come under two headings: Muhammad’s miracles and his message.2 Properly understood, his greatest miracle is the message he received from Allah, which is the Qur’an itself. This leads us to the first alleged proof for Muhammad’s prophet-hood.
To substantiate the literary perfection of the Qur’an and its content, Muslims will often point to Muhammad’s illiteracy as proof that the Qur’an has to be a miracle from Allah. Chawkat Moucarry points out that when Muhammad started proclaiming the Qur’an in Mecca, he was mocked (Sura 22:47; 38:16), accused of being demon-possessed (Sura 37:36; 51:52), a sorcerer, a liar, and a soothsayer (Sura 38:4; 51:39; 52:29; 69:42).3 In short, Muhammad was accused of having somehow written the Qur’an himself. “But how could he,” ask Muslims, “if he was illiterate!? Even the very literate couldn’t come up with something like the Qur’an!” No doubt, Muslims would use the Prophet’s own challenge in the Qur’an toward critics, demanding that they produce ten suras (11:13) or just one sura (2:23;10:38), on the same literary level as the Qur’an. They would also quote: “Were humans and jinna [demons] to join their forces to bring about the like of their Qur’an, they would never produce anything comparable” (17:88; cf. 52:34).
Muslims base the illiteracy of Muhammad on sura 7:157-158 which refers to Muhammad as the “ummi [sometimes umni] Prophet.”4 The question for consideration is: In what sense was Muhammad illiterate? Was it in the sense that he couldn’t read or write or was he simply “unschooled” or ignorant of the Jewish and Christian scriptures? Or was he really illiterate in any sense? Moucarry helps us to understand that the word ummi in the above text can come from either ummiyya, “illiteracy,” or umma, “nation.”5 The meaning, of course, is determined by how it is used in context. Finding ummi appearing in its plural form, ummiyyun, in four other verses (2:78; 3:20; 3:75; 62:2), Moucarry concludes:
Having reviewed all the Qur’anic occurrences of ummi it appears that when applied to the Arab nation of which Muhammad was the most eminent representative, the word refers to their religious identity and not primarily to their illiteracy. Thus sura 7:157-158 is best understood by describing Muhammad as “the un-Scriptured Prophet” rather than as “the illiterate Prophet.” As an Arab Prophet, Muhammad was from the “Nations” (or “the Gentiles”) who had no Scripture. Unlike the “People of the Book,” the Arab people (and more generally, the “Nations”) had not been given a written revelation from God until the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad. Thus Muhammad is the ummi Prophet in the sense that he is “the Gentile Prophet.”6
There are other problems with the claim of illiteracy. McDowell and Zaka point out that because Muhammad was from a prestigious Meccan tribe, he would have to be literate in order to operate a caravan. Besides, when Muslims from Medina captured Meccans, they were required to pay money or teach their captors how to read and write in return for their freedom.7 These two authors also point out that one Hadith source has Muhammad asking for paper and ink to write his will. On his deathbed, Muhammad motioned for A’isha, one of his wives, to bring him something on which he could write the name of his successor, but he was too weak to do it.8 Again, the Qur’an is very revealing. In the first sura revealed by Gabriel, the angel tells Muhammad, “Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, who teacheth by the pen, Teacheth now that which he knew not” (Sura 96:3-5). Obviously, if he could read, then he could also write, because Muhammad is told to read and is shown here as teaching “by the pen.”9 So, there is no reason to believe that Muhammad was illiterate, and this undermines the argument that he was a prophet.
His Political Success
Another attempted proof of Muhammad’s prophet hood concerns his political success. Muslims argue that his political and military victories help prove Islam to be God’s perfect religion, the best religion with perfect law centered on Allah and his glory. According to Moucarry, the fourteenth century Muslim Cleric, Ibn Taymiyya taught that the Qur’an teaches a perfect balance between justice and grace, and Islam provides this. Unlike Judaism’s justice and Christianity’s grace, the law of the Qur’an is moderate, combining the best of both of these two qualities. This balance is seen in Muhammad more than any other. Muhammad is said to reflect God’s attributes. Moucarry points out that according to Ibn Taymiyya, Muhammad described himself as the prophet of mercy and pardon, but also as the prophet of slaughter who laughs at fighting. In this sense, the Jewish prophets would be seen as too ruthless with their enemies, Jesus too lenient with his, but Islam through Muhammad would provide a “middle of the road.” Again, Moucarry quotes Taymiyya: “God describes His community as acting with mercy and in humility towards believers, but with severity and sternness towards unbelievers.”10
It could be argued that Islamic law isn’t as balanced on justice and mercy as Muslims say it is. For instance, the Qur’an says a thief’s hand is to be cut off as punishment for his crime (Sura 5:38). While this may conform to “an eye for an eye” justice, and definitely serves as a deterrent, it obviously lacks mercy. The Christian’s law, the Bible, would require restitution, but also the possibility of rehabilitation whereby the offender is trained to do good without the loss of his hand.
Also, the Muslim sees the law of Islam as fulfilling the political expectations of its people better than Jesus did who did not fulfill people’s political expectations. This is important to the Muslim who theocratically interprets the political law of government as the law of Allah. This, combined with Muhammad’s military victories, confirms in the mind of the Muslim that he was definitely God’s final prophet.
It needs to be pointed out, though, that victories won by force don’t necessarily carry God’s approval. Jesus told his disciples that his “kingdom was not of this world. If it were, then his soldiers would fight.” Might doesn’t always make right. We can cite many examples where a leader achieves military and political success, but shows himself clearly not to be led by God (e.g., Hitler, Mao Tse Tung).
Muhammad in Biblical Prophecy
According to Muslims, another credential of Muhammad’s prophethood was that he was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, pointing to texts such as Deuteronomy 18:18; Isaiah 42:1-9 and John. 14:16. We will see, however, that there are serious problems in trying to make these texts predictive of Muhammad.
In Deuteronomy,18:18, Moses says that God will someday send “a prophet like me from among your own brothers.” Muslims say that Muhammad fulfilled this promise. But to attribute the fulfillment of this promise to Muhammad would contradict the Biblical evidence that the term “brothers” here is speaking of Israelites, not Arabs.. Elsewhere in Deuteronomy the term “brothers” is clearly used to refer to fellow Israelites, not foreign enemies (cf. 17:15).11 And Arabs were and continue to be enemies of Israel.
Isaiah 42:1-2 talks about the servant of the Lord chosen by God who “will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street.” This could hardly be speaking of Muhammad as Muslims think. In context, the “servant of the Lord” and his mission is characterized with humility and peace. Muhammad’s mission was obviously marked by wars upon wars. And Moucarry reminds us that Matthew clearly attributes the fulfillment of this prophecy to balanced on justice and
Jesus (see Matt. 12:15-21).12
Thirdly, Muslims claim that Muhammad is the Comforter Jesus promised his disciples in John 14:16-17. But, here again they simply are forcing their presuppositions on the text. Sam Shamoun, in his treatise “Jesus or Muhammed: Who is God’s True Seal of Prophethood?”, says,
According to John 14:17 the Comforter would be able to indwell all the disciples at the same time. This means that the Comforter could only be an immaterial entity, a spirit, since a physical entity cannot indwell anyone, let alone a group of men at the same time. This also implies that the comforter is omnipresent. Since God alone is omnipresent, this means that the Comforter is God. Unless a Muslim wants to claim that Muhammad is God, then there is no basis to view these references as predicting the prophet of Islam.13
The Influence of Jinn
Muhammad’s influence by jinn also raises some red flags about his claim to be a prophet as well as the Qur’an’s reliability. Islamic tradition has it that while Muhammad was in meditation in a cave, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, giving instructions to “recite” in the name of Allah. When Muhammad failed to respond, Gabriel choked him until Muhammad agreed. Bewildered by the experience, Muhammad thought that he could have been possessed by an evil jinn or spirit. His wife, Khadija, convinced him otherwise, that what he had experienced was from God and the angel should be obeyed.14 It appears there was no other confirmation that his experience was indeed from God other than “doubting Muhammad” and his mystical, Ebionite wife.
His Immoral Character
We may also mention that Muslims believe (rightly) that a prophet will lead an exemplary moral life as an example to others. Some claim that prophets are sinless, but most will say that they will simply be free from all major sins. But, how does Muhammad measure up? Was he free from all major sin?
The evidence suggests that Muhammad did not lead an exemplary life. For instance, the Qur’an has Muhammad asking for forgiveness for his sins. Yet, it says Jesus was sinless (Suras 40:55; 48:2). The Qur’an commands that men should have no more than four wives (Sura 4:3). Yet, after the death of his wife, Khadija, Muhammad married eleven women, one of whom (A’isha) was only nine years old.15
Also, Muhammad was less than equitable with his men in their following his orders to rob caravans. He allowed them the remaining booty after keeping one-fifth for himself. While advancing Islam with the sword, Muhammad executed people who stood against him. Jesus, on the other hand, had mercy on his enemies (Matt. 5:44) and told Peter to put up his sword (Matt. 26:52) because the kingdom of God was not to be advanced by force. Even the Qur’an says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256). But Muhammad did not heed this instruction.
Seeing that the Qur’an itself reflects badly on Muhammad’s moral character, it would appear that the prophet has engaged his followers in circular reasoning: “Do as I say, not as I do.” One would hope that Muslims would see the inconsistency of this.
However, there is an answer that Muslims give to this problem. Braswell quotes Ram Swarup on the importance of Muhammad’s life for Muslims who rely upon the Hadith:
The Prophet is caught as it were in the ordinary acts of his life – sleeping, eating, mating, praying, hating, dispersing justice, planning expeditions and revenge against his enemies. The picture that emerges is hardly flattering and one is left wondering why in the first instance it was reported at all and whether it was done by his admirers or enemies. One is also left to wonder how the believers, generation after generation, could have found this story so inspiring.
The answer is that the believers are conditioned to look at the whole thing through the eyes of faith. An infidel in his fundamental misguidance may find the Prophet rather sensual and cruel—and certainly many of the things he did, do not conform to ordinary ideas of morality—but the believers look at the whole thing differently. To them, morality derives from the Prophet’s actions, the moral is whatever he did. Morality does not determine the Prophet’s actions, but his actions determine and define morality. Muhammad’s acts were not ordinary acts; they were Allah’s own acts.
It was in this way and by this logic that Muhammad’s opinions became the dogmas of Islam and his personal habits and idiosyncrasies became moral imperatives: Allah’s commands for all believers in all ages and climes to follow.16
This by itself is sufficient to prove that Muhammad is not God’s prophet. First, because it goes against our deepest moral intuitions. We may ask the Muslim whether something is right because Muhammad did it, or did Muhammad do it because it is right? Obviously, given the foregoing, they would have to say that something is right because Muhammad did it. But, this means that if Muhammad had stolen or committed adultery or blasphemed Allah, then those actions would have been right! But, of course, the Muslim would not want to accept these implications of his view, though they are surely the logical consequence of his view. The Muslims believes that these actions are wrong, and if Muhammad had done them he would have been wrong. But, this means that morality cannot be defined simply in accordance with the actions of Muhammad. As Christians believe, God has designed us in such a way that we are able to see innately that there are things that are right and things that are wrong (see Rom. 2:14-15). This being so, we are able to judge the rightness or wrongness of Muhammad’s actions independently of Muhammad. And there is good evidence that his character was less than ideal.
Secondly, we should reject this Muslim response because it is totally against the character and teaching of Christ. Ironically, Muhammad’s lifestyle makes Jesus’ character and claims shine brighter. Jesus lived up to and exceeded the Muslim’s belief that a true prophet will lead an exemplary life. With this in mind, we turn now to consider Jesus’ credentials for being true prophet, and the Son of God.
Jesus is the True Prophet of God
Instead of Muhammad being the prophet Moses talked about in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, it was Jesus he had in mind. In reference to this text, Geisler and Rhodes say:
Jesus perfectly fulfilled this verse, since (1) He was from among His Jewish brethren (cf. Gal 4:4). (2) He fulfilled Deut. 18:18 perfectly: “He shall speak to them all that I [God] command Him.” Jesus said, “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (Jn. 8:28). And “I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (Luke 13:33), and the people considered Him a prophet (Matt. 21:11; Lk. 7:16; 24:19; Jn. 4:19; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17). As the Son of God, Jesus was prophet (speaking to men for God), priest (Heb. 7-10, speaking God for men) and king (reigning over men for God, Rev. 19-20). 17
Peter also confirmed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15-18 in Acts 3:19-23. Additionally, we note that the Quran says in Sura 29:27 that the prophetic line came through Isaac, not Ishmael.
There are no miracles to attest Muhammad’s prophethood, but Jesus’ miracles prove His true identity. He performed his miracles to confirm His claim to be the Messiah. These were His credentials and these signs were performed in the presence of His disciples so that there was adequate witness to the events that took place (John 20:30). Ron Rhodes points out that the word “witness,” which is pivotal in the gospel of John, is used fourteen times as a noun and “testify” as a verb, thirty-three times. There is more than adequate attestation to Jesus’ miracles. Rhodes also includes thirty-five separate miracles performed by Christ recorded in the Gospels.18
John tells us the reason these signs are presented. It is that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31), because the Father has placed His seal of approval on Jesus (6:27). He is the focal point of prophecy and history. His miracles prove this, and the greatest of all miracles is His resurrection after His crucifixion.
To a Muslim, it is inconceivable that Allah would allow one of his greatest prophets to die such a despicable death on a cross. This is one reason why they believe that Jesus was replace on the cross with someone else, perhaps Judas or Barabbas. However, there is another more important reason. Obviously, if he did not die on the cross, then there is no need or claim of his physical resurrection. But, if he did rise from the dead, it proves that Jesus is who He claimed to be. Scripture backs this up—that He not only rose from the dead, but He appeared to many witnesses. First, He appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:1), then to the rest of His disciples (Jn 20:19). Acts 1:3 says, “He showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” The apostle Paul also records that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at a single time (1 Cor. 15:6). If the evidence for Christ’s resurrection were admitted into a court of law, as some have shown, there would be more evidence to prove his claim than almost any phenomenon in human history. That said, the verdict is in. Jesus is the true prophet, not Muhammad!
1 Unless, of course, one argues that the Bible does not accurately describe Jesus and his teaching. Muslims get around the contradictions between the Qur’an and the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament by claiming that the New Testament as we have it today does not accurately reflect Jesus’ teachings. For a response to this claim, see Steve Cowan’s article in this issue of Areopagus Journal.
2 See Chawkat Moucarry, The Prophet and the Messiah: An Arab Christian’s Perspective on Islam and Christianity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 220.
3 Ibid., 221.
4 Ibid., 223.
6 Ibid., 226.
7 Bruce A. McDowell and Anees Zaka, Muslims and Christians at the Table(Phillipsburg: P&R, 1999), 36.
8 Ibid., 36.
10 Chawkat Moucarry, The Prophet and the Messiah, 232.
11 Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2002), 58.
12 Chawkat Moucarry, The Prophet and the Messiah, 242-243.
13 Sam Shamoun, “Jesus or Muhammad: Who Is God’s True Seal of Prophethood?” (Internet article found at www.answering-islam.de/ Shamoun/true_seal.htm), 9.
14 Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims, 38-39.
15 George W. Braswell, What You Need to Know about Islam and Muslims (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 17-18.
17 Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 45.
18 Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims, 162.