Muhammad and Christ

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 4: The Call

The next argument of the superiority of Jesus is even more interesting than the first three. We are told:

“Christ’s speaking in cradle and being granted the book and the prophethood in infancy, is a very clear and conclusive argument of his excellence above all other prophets. As against this, Muhammad claimed to be the recipient of a book and prophethood at a time when passing youth he had attained to old age and there probably remained no deficiency in his worldly experience. Therefore, Christ is superior to him.”

Is there a child in the world that does not speak in the cradle? The answer is clear: none but a dumb child. And the Holy Quran mentions Jesus speaking while a child in the cradle along with his speaking when of old age:

یُکَلِّمُ النَّاسَ فِی الۡمَہۡدِ وَ کَہۡلًا

“And he shall speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age” (The Holy Quran, 3:46).

The same importance must be attached to both. If the words can be construed to mean that it shall be miraculous in him to speak in old age, then of course we are justified in taking the talk in the cradle also to be miraculous but not otherwise. It may, however, be asked that if it is such an ordinary circumstance, why it has been mentioned at all. There are two reasons for that. In the first place, to give comfort to Mary that he shall live to an old age, the cradle being mentioned simply as opposed to very old age. And there is a report from the Holy Prophet that Jesus Christ lived to the age of 120 years. And, secondly, and that is the more important purpose underlying the words, to show that he would pass through all the conditions of life through which every human child has to pass, from the unconscious infant in the cradle he will pass through all the natural stages to the condition of the hoary-headed man, to point out that he is nothing more than a mortal.

The second point is Christ’s being granted the book and prophethood in infancy. Great stress is laid upon this point as proving the undoubted superiority of Jesus Christ to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, who was granted prophethood when he had passed youth and had reached almost an old age. It is even hinted that the claim to prophethood in an advanced age is the result of worldly experience and not due to the inner call which proceeds from a Divine source. Now this is the most regrettable aspect of the Christian controversy. Objections are advanced against Islam so unscrupulously that not the least respect is shown to the doctrines even of the Christian religion. When was Abraham called to prophethood? When did Moses and Aaron receive the Divine message? Was there not the same worldly experience in their case? Nay, one may ask, when did Christ himself receive the Divine message according to the sacred Scriptures of the Christians? What was the age of Jesus when he was baptised by John the Baptist? How old was he when

“the heavens were opened unto him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him” [Matthew, 3:16]?

Did it happen in his infancy, or when he had attained the advanced age of thirty years? If the Gospels tell us that he was called at thirty years, is it befitting for a Christian to distort the words of the Quran to make Jesus receive the message when not yet quite a day old and then to call this as the proof of his superiority to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, because he received the message at forty? Such weapons should be left for those who aim at the meaner advantages of this life, but their true use in the hands of a religious man whose object is to preach virtue does not speak well of him.

Let us see now what the Holy Quran says. After speaking of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Holy Quran goes on to say:

قَالَ اِنِّیۡ عَبۡدُ اللّٰہِ ۟ؕ اٰتٰنِیَ الۡکِتٰبَ وَ جَعَلَنِیۡ نَبِیًّا ﴿ۙ۳۰﴾ وَّ جَعَلَنِیۡ مُبٰرَکًا اَیۡنَ مَا کُنۡتُ ۪ وَ اَوۡصٰنِیۡ بِالصَّلٰوۃِ وَ الزَّکٰوۃِ مَا دُمۡتُ حَیًّا ﴿۪ۖ۳۱﴾

“He (i.e., Jesus) said: surely I am a servant of Allah. He has given me the book and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and He has enjoined on me prayer and poor-rate so long as I live” (The Holy Quran, 19:30–31).

The words of these verses are so clearly the words of a man of advanced age that there does not exist the slightest justification for ascribing them to an infant:

“He has given me the book and made me a prophet.”

Supposing that prophethood could be given in some inexplicable manner to an infant not a day old yet, how could the book be given to him? The giving of the book means that there are certain teachings which he inculcates. How could an infant a day old say that he had been teaching his doctrines to the people. This would mean that he had been teaching even before he came into existence. We cannot put upon the words of the Holy Quran an interpretation which is rejected by the merest common sense. The words that follow, however, make still more ludicrous the supposition that a new-born infant was speaking:

“He has enjoined on me prayer and poor-rate so long as I live.”

This shows that the injunction to pray and pay the poor-rate had already been given. Did Jesus obey that injunction which he was to carry out so long as he lived? No human brain can entertain the conception that an infant born only twelve hours before could carry out the injunction to say prayers, and more than that, to pay the poor-rate. Poor-rate on what? On the “swaddling clothes” in which he was wrapped up at his birth? He had no other property on which he could pay the poor-rate, and it is doubtful even if the cloth in which he was wrapped up, so that he might not move his limbs freely, could be called his property on which he should pay the poor-rate.

The case is too clear to need further comment. The words could not be the words of a new-born infant. These are the words of a man who has received the book containing the doctrines which he has been teaching, who has been going about from one place to another — “wherever I go” — who says his prayers regularly, and who has got his own property on which he pays the poor-rate. The words were therefore spoken after Jesus began teaching his doctrines to the people. The one argument that is given in support of the other conclusion is that the previous verses speak of the birth of childhood of Jesus. If the words of the verses under discussion could possibly bear the interpretation that they were uttered by a new-born infant, the evidence of the context could be brought forth to support that interpretation. But what the words cannot bear, even the context cannot make them bear. And it should be borne in mind that in the case of the histories of the former prophets narrated in the Holy Quran, the context cannot help us much, for the Holy Quran does not relate the whole story from beginning to end, but often omits long portions, taking up only the particular incidents which serve the purpose for which the story is related.

Take as an example the story of John the Baptist which is related immediately before the story of Jesus. There Zacharias prays for a son, and he receives the good news that a son will be born to him.

اَنّٰی یَکُوۡنُ لِیۡ غُلٰمٌ وَّ کَانَتِ امۡرَاَتِیۡ عَاقِرًا

“How shall I have a son and my wife is barren?” [The Holy Quran, 19:8]

The answer is:

کَذٰلِکَ ۚ قَالَ رَبُّکَ ہُوَ عَلَیَّ ہَیِّنٌ وَّ قَدۡ خَلَقۡتُکَ مِنۡ قَبۡلُ وَ لَمۡ تَکُ شَیۡئًا ﴿۹﴾

“So shall it be … I created you before when you were nothing.” [The Holy Quran, 19:9]

He asks for a sign and is told not to speak to people for three days. The order is obeyed:

فَخَرَجَ عَلٰی قَوۡمِہٖ مِنَ الۡمِحۡرَابِ فَاَوۡحٰۤی اِلَیۡہِمۡ اَنۡ سَبِّحُوۡا بُکۡرَۃً وَّ عَشِیًّا ﴿۱۱﴾ یٰیَحۡیٰی خُذِ الۡکِتٰبَ بِقُوَّۃٍ ؕ وَ اٰتَیۡنٰہُ الۡحُکۡمَ صَبِیًّا ﴿ۙ۱۲﴾

“So he went forth to his people from his place of worship, then he made known to them that they should glorify Allah morning and evening. O John! take hold of the book with strength, and We granted him wisdom while yet a child” (The Holy Quran, 19:11–12).

If the reasoning followed in the story of Jesus were to be followed here, the conclusion would be inevitable that even the three days of Zacharias’ silence had not yet passed when John the Baptist was there with a book. But we cannot be justified in drawing this conclusion for we know that all that should happen in the natural course before he should receive a book must have happened, and the Holy Quran has only left out the mention of that. Similarly, it is in the case of Jesus, with this difference that his being conceived by Mary and his birth are also mentioned, and this account is followed by a brief reference to his ministry, the intermediate incidents being left out as in the case of John. There is not the slightest evidence in the Holy Quran that the ordinary laws of nature were relaxed in the case of Jesus.

According to the Holy Quran, forty years is the age of the moral completion of man:

حَتّٰۤی اِذَا بَلَغَ اَشُدَّہٗ وَ بَلَغَ اَرۡبَعِیۡنَ سَنَۃً ۙ

“Until when he attains his maturity and reaches forty years” (The Holy Quran, 46:15).

All prophets are raised at the age of forty, and a mistake seems to have been made by the Christians in the case of Jesus who is said to have been thirty years old when he received the call. Thus, there is no difference on the score of age between the prophets of God and even supposing that one prophet was called at the age of thirty and another at the age of forty, this difference does not show the superiority of one or the inferiority of the other.

What shows the greatness of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, however, is that the first forty years of his life were so well spent that they stand as an everlasting testimony to his truth, a circumstance lacking in the case of all other prophets including Jesus Christ. So deeply rooted was the welfare of humanity in the Prophet’s heart that even before he received the great Divine call, he spent the best hours of his life in giving relief to the poor. It was for this reason that his most intimate companion, his wife Khadijah, made the following remarks on receiving the news of the Divine call:

“By no means! Allah will not bring you to disgrace, for you do keep the ties of kinship, and you do bear the burden of the weak, and you do earn for those who are penniless, and you do honour the guest, and you do help those actually in distress” (Bukhari).

Could anybody conceive a nobler object of life than that? And yet this was before he was raised to the dignity of prophethood. The forty years of his life were thus spent, not in worldly experience, but in giving help to the poor, the weak and the distressed. Nobody could make the same claim for Jesus or any other prophet. The Holy Prophet’s life was one devoted to the service of humanity from his very childhood to the last moment, and if he was called at forty, he had been doing the greatest work of a prophet long before that. Thus, among all the reformers of the world, Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, occupies the highest position because not a minute of his life was spent for any object other than the service of humanity, and he was a prophet in fact from his childhood though he did not receive the call until the age of forty.

Another circumstance which singles him out among the prophets of the world is the fact that his righteousness was so great and perfect, before he was called to the office of prophet, that not only he did not stand in need of being baptised by somebody as Jesus did, but what is much more, the whole nation was so fully convinced of his great and wonderful virtues, so deeply conscious of his truthfulness and righteousness, that it had given him the title of al-Amin, or the righteous one. This recognition by a stubborn people like the Arabs bespeaks a degree of righteousness in a man which surpasses every conception of righteousness and this honour is not shared by any other prophet with him. Thus, the first forty years of his life were not only spent in the service of humanity, but at the same time they afford an evidence of the perfection of his righteousness. It is to this that the Holy Quran calls attention in the words:

فَقَدۡ لَبِثۡتُ فِیۡکُمۡ عُمُرًا مِّنۡ قَبۡلِہٖ ؕ اَفَلَا تَعۡقِلُوۡنَ ﴿۱۶﴾

“Indeed I have lived a lifetime among you before it: do you not then understand” (The Holy Quran, 10:16).