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Answering Christian Doubts: Jesus Is Described as the “Spirit of Allāh” in the Qurʾān

Imām Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī

Refuting the Christian claim that ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) was the incarnation of God.

The Christians claim: The noble Qurʾān has related that ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) is the spirit of Allāh—the Most High—and His word.1 This is consistent with our (Christian) belief.

In refuting this statement:

  1. It is impossible for the meanings of Allah’s reference to His “word” and his reference to a “spirit” (al-Nisāʾ, 4:171) being God incarnate in the creation of ʿIsá (عليه السلام) as alleged by some Christians. For how can it be possible, for one with even an iota of intelligence, to describe ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) with godly attributes —calling him by it publicly and explicitly, to the extent that it has become commonplace—then simultaneously labelling those who believe and ascribe devine attributes to ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) as disbelievers. In fact, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) commanded his followers to battle them [at the appropriate time, after fulfilment of all prerequisites]. Rather, disbelief is a more befitting characteristic for such people. It is from the creed of this ummah that Christians have indeed disbelieved, just as others had similarly disbelieved, even battling them [when it was appropriate to do so]. Furthermore, all religions are in agreement—the believers and disbelievers among them—that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was among the most perfect and complete of mankind both in terms of physical and behavioural traits, his intelligence and opinions2.
  2. . These are manifest matters that are easily perceived. The argument here pertains to the divine message. How could it be appropriate for the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to agree with the Christians in their interpretation of the terms [soul and word in this ayah], then oppose them, labelling them as disbelievers. Then, his companions (رضي الله عنهم) emulated his actions after him, and the noble blessed among the Khulafāʾ who came after them. This, then, is a definitive proof that the meaning of these words is inconsistent with the understanding of the one who has made this statement, just as it is inconsistent with the Christian creed.
  3. The word ‘soul’ is a noun that refers to the soul that exists within the palpitant, beating heart [i.e, a living body]. It refers to Jibrīl (عليه السلام), the one named Rūḥ al-Qudus. The word ‘soul’ is also used to reference the spirit that resides within the physical body.‘Word’ is a noun used to describe an expression of speech as delineated by sound. A noun is used to relate the information one holds within himself. As the poet said: “Indeed, words reside in the heart, and the tongue has only been made as the heart’s orator”. ‘Word’ may also refer to a collection of letters that denote words that have been heard. For example, it may be said: “These words have been written elegantly” for that which is inscribed by pen. In consideration of this, if the words ‘soul’ and ‘word’ possess several meanings, which of them are meant here? As for the ruling of the Christians regarding the meaning of these words, it is based solely on their own false whims and desires.
  4. Answering this claim in consideration of creed, rather than linguistic imperatives, we say: the meaning of the ‘soul’ mentioned in the noble Qurʾān in reference to ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) is referring to the soul that resides within a human being’s body. The meaning, therefore, of Allāh breathing His soul into ʿĪsá is that He created a soul which He then breathed into him. For, indeed, it is applicable to describe the souls of all humankind as being souls of Allāh [i.e. created by Him]. In this way, the souls of every animal are souls of Allāh—the Most High. This is because, in Arabic speech, attachment between two things is achievable by any association between them. For example, if two people are carrying a piece of wood, one of them may say to the other: “My end is like yours” or “put down your end” in reference to his end of the piece of wood. Here, the end of it is referenced in association with the carrier. Or it is said: “The constellation of Zayd has appeared” for a constellation that appears when Zayd travels in the night. Here, the association of the constellation is in attachment to his movement. Therefore, how could all souls not be associated with Allāh while He is the One who has created them, and controls all of their affairs? Such is the explanation provided by some of the blessed scholars when asked concerning this verse. They said that Allāh breathed into ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) a soul from among His souls, just as the soul of every creature belongs to Him. Here, he has specified ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) to denote his honourable, elevated standing, such that his soul is mentioned is association with Allāh. As the Most High said:

    إِن كُنتُمْ آمَنتُم بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَىٰ عَبْدِنَا يَوْمَ الْفُرْقَانِ يَوْمَ الْتَقَى الْجَمْعَانِ

    “If you have believed in Allāh and in that which We sent down to Our slave (Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)) on the Day of Criterion (between right and wrong), the Day when the two forces met (the battle of Badr).”
    (Al-Anfāl, 8:41)

    إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيْسَ لَكَ عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانٌ

    “Certainly, you shall have no authority over My slaves.”
    (Al-Ḥijr, 15:42)

    Even though all of the creations are His slaves. Specific mention here denotes the high standing of the one being specified.

    As for the ‘word’, it refers to the fact that if Allāh—the Most High—desires a thing He says to it “Be” and it is. There is nothing in existence except that it may be attributable to this word. So, when Allāh originated ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) in the womb of his mother, He said to him “Be” and he (عليه السلام) was. He is specifically mentioned because of his great honour as aforementioned. This is its meaning that is easily understood and conceptualised. The creed of the Christians has absolutely no application here which is that one of Allāh’s attributes became intertwined with the human nature of ʿIsá (عليه السلام). For how can one intellectualise the dissociation of an attribute from the one it is attributable to? Rather, if it was said to a person among us: “Your life and your knowledge has been moved to Zayd”, every single intellectual person would object to such a claim. The likeness of the attribute may manifest itself in another. As for the very attribute itself moving from one place to another, this is an impossibility. This is because movement is attributable only to physical forms. Attributes themselves are not physical bodies. So, if the Christians believe that attributes themselves are physical bodies, and that physical bodies are attributes, and that a single ruling should apply to two very different things despite their disparity, then any discussion with them must be falsified which is the outlook with regards to them anyways. Rather, it is a definitive fact that they are far away from intellectual realities or making sense of visible stimuli.

    Also, these are Arabic words in an Arabic book. Whoever truly knows the Arabic language in terms of its associations, definitions, and the general and contextual meanings of its words, the applicability and specific nature of its statements, and the various usages of its words, then let him speak concerning it and use it to evidence his speech. Whoever has not been granted such knowledge should imitate its scholars and its people. Let him leave that which does not concern him, which he is completely ignorant concerning.

[1] This was mentioned in the Qurʾān in the verse:

إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ

“The Messiah ‘Īsá (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (“Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Rūḥ) created by Him.”
(Al-Nisāʾ, 4:171)

This verse has been falsely interpreted by the Christians as Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah said: [The Christians say] This verse is consistent with our belief. It proves that ʿĪsá is both a human being like us with his human nature derived from Maryam, and he has also attained unity with Allāh in being referred to as His word and soul [as in the verse]”..“The Christians say the soul of Allāh and His word [as mentioned here] are both meant to indicate ʿĪsá being from Allāh’s essence in the same way as a cloth is a part of a complete garment.”…”They have innovated ‘son’ and Rūh al-Qudus’ as attributes of Allāh. In doing so, they have innovated terms that were never said to them by any of the prophets for which they attach meanings [like ‘trinity’, and separate spheres of existence], also innovating other meanings for terminology used by prophets [like soul and word here] then claiming these to be the true meaning of these passages.” See al-Jawāb al-Ṣaḥīḥ 2:18, 4:27 and 4:496.
[2] Translator note: Referring to the glad tidings of the Prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) present in their books which clearly refer to him (صلى الله عليه وسلم) with praise, regardless of their admittance. This is inherent in the story of Hercules of Rome, al-Najāshī, Jurjus of Mīnā, the Bishops of Alexandria, Addās in Ṭāʾif, Waraqah ibn Nawfal and many others. See article: ُThe Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه وسلم) Journey to al-Ṭāʾif and His Interaction with a Christian Slave, Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah and Recognition of the Prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) by the Christian King Jurjus ibn Mīnā and the Bishops of Alexandria, Shaykh al-Islām ibn Taymiyyah, Also, the many passages in their books praising the Prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as mentioned by Shaykh al-Islām in the Mazmūr of Dāwūd: “Muḥammad shall fill the earth with happiness”. See al-Jawāb al-Ṣaḥīḥ 5:239.
As for their lack of admittance, Shaykh al-Islām said after mentioning the verse:

وَلَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ كِتَابٌ مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ مُصَدِّقٌ لِّمَا مَعَهُمْ وَكَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ يَسْتَفْتِحُونَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُم مَّا عَرَفُوا كَفَرُوا بِهِ ۚ فَلَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ

And when there came to them (the Jews), a Book (this Quran) from Allāh confirming what is with them [the Tawrāt (Torah) and the Injīl (Gospel)], although aforetime they had invoked Allāh (for coming of Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in order to gain victory over those who disbelieved, then when there came to them that which they had recognised, they disbelieved in it.”
(Al-Baqarah, 2:89)

Abū al-ʿĀliyah said: the Jews used to seek victory over the Arabs using Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), saying: “O Allāh! Send this prophet who we find recorded in our scripture, such that we may punish the polytheists and kill them.” Then, when Allāh sent Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) from a people besides their own, they disbelieved in him out of jealousy.” See al-Jawāb al-Ṣaḥīh 5:164 and article: The Unacceptable Reasons for Christian Rejection of Islām, Imām Ibn al-Qayyim,

Source: Al-Ajwibah al-Fākhirah: 81-90
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: February 17, 2024
Edited: May 30, 2024

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