By Sam Shamoun
In order to undermine the unambiguous Islamic witness to the incomparability of Christ, especially in respect to his absolute and essential purity and holiness, some Muslims like to bring up the fact that the Quran also describes John the Baptist as being pure or sinless:
“and grace from us, and purity (wazakatan); and he was pious.” S. 19:13 Palmer
Here is another rendering of this verse:
I gave him tenderness of heart and saved him from any sin and he responded to these blessings with righteousness. Bijan Moeinian
They assume that this somehow refutes the Christian attempt of using the Islamic sources to affirm the absolute transcendence and superiority of the Lord Jesus over all the prophets, especially Muhammad.
However, the appeal to John’s sinlessness doesn’t help the Muslims, but actually makes matters worse for them.
In the first place, just as we saw in the case of Christ and his blessed mother,
John’s sinless purity ends up contradicting the plain witness of the Quran and Sunna that there is no creature that is absolutely flawless:
And if Allah were to seize mankind for their wrong-doing, He would not leave on it (the earth) a single moving (living) creature, but He postpones them for an appointed term and when their term comes, neither can they delay nor can they advance it an hour (or a moment). S. 16:61 Hilali-Khan – cf. Q. 18:58; 35:45
Sunan Ibn Majah
The Chapters on Asceticism
It was narrated from Anas that the Messenger of Allah said:
“EVERY son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.’”
Grade: Hasan (Darussalam)
English reference: Vol. 5, Book 37, Hadith 4251
Arabic reference: Book 37, Hadith 4392 (Sunnah.com; capital, italic and underline emphasis ours)
This now creates a major problem for Muslims since the only that the Baptist could be sinless is if he is a divine being. Logically, there is really no way around this:
A. There is no creature that is absolutely sinless.
B. John the Baptist is absolutely sinless.
C. Therefore, John is not a mere creature but one who is fully divine as well.
When we add the fact that the Islamic sources also confirm the absolute moral perfection of both Christ and his beloved mother, which therefore makes them uncreated as well,
Then the assertion that Allah is the only god that exists falls flat on its face, since the reality is that Islam posits at least six separate divine and uncreated beings/entities:
2. The Holy Spirit.
5. The Quran
The second problem which these polemicists encounter is that both the Quran and Sunna depict Christ as far surpassing the Baptism in terms of status and honor. Here is a list of those traits.
1. John sent as Christ’s forerunner to confirm that Jesus is the Word and Spirit of/from Allah.
When he was standing during prayer in his place of worship, the angels called him saying, "God gives you the glad news of the birth of your son, John who will be a confirmation of (Jesus) the Word of God (bikalimatin mina Allahi). He will become a chaste, noble leader and one of the righteous Prophets. S. 3:39 Muhammad Sarwar
Note how the following versions translate this text:
“… who shall confirm Allah’s Word (i.e., ‘Isa [Jesus])…” Dr. Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri
“…confirming a word (B-kalimah) from Allah (Jesus, the word of Allah, the manifestation of specific forces)…” Ahmed Hulusi
That these translations are correct in seeing Jesus as the Word that John was sent to bear witness to, can be seen from what this same chapter goes on to say a few verses later:
When the angels said, 'Mary, God gives thee good tidings of a Word from Him whose name is Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary (bikalimatin minhu ismuhu al-Maseehu ‘Isa ibnu Maryama); high honoured shall he be in this world and the next, near stationed to God. S. 3:45 Arberry
“… God has given you the glad news of the coming birth of a son whom He calls His Word, whose name will be Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary…” Sarwar
Here we are expressly told that the name of the Word that the Baptist bore witness to is the Messiah Jesus, Son of Mary.
This explains why the Muslim commentators were virtually unanimous in identifying the Word whom John was sent to confirm as Jesus Christ:
(believing in the Word from Allah) Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas said, and also Al-Hasan, Qatadah, `Ikrimah, Mujahid, Abu Ash-Sha`tha, As-Suddi, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, Ad-Dahhak, and several others said that the Ayah…
(believing in the Word from Allah) means, "Believing in `Isa, son of Maryam.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; bold and underline emphasis ours)
And the angels, namely, Gabriel, called to him, standing in the sanctuary, in the temple, at worship that (anna, means bi-anna; a variant reading has inna, implying a direct speech statement) ‘God gives you good tidings (read yubashshiruka, or yubshiruka) of John, who shall confirm a Word, being, from God, namely, Jesus, that he is God’s Spirit; he is referred to as [God’s] ‘Word’, because he was created through the word kun, ‘Be’; a lord, with a following, and one chaste, forbidden from women, and a prophet of the righteous’: it is said that he never sinned and never so intended. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; bold and italic emphasis ours)
(And the angels) i.e. the Angel Gabriel (called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary) in the mosque: (Allah giveth thee glad tidings of John) a son whose name is John, ((who cometh) to confirm a Word from Allah) Jesus son of Mary that he will be a word from Allah, created without a father, (lordly) who is clement when wronged, (chaste) has no desire for women, (a Prophet of the righteous) among the messengers. (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs; bold and italic emphasis ours)
Astonishingly, some of these interpreters went as far as to say that John even bowed down in homage to Jesus while both of them were still in the wombs of their blessed mothers!
Note, for example, what the following renowned Muslim authority wrote concerning this point:
Allah says: "Confirming a word from Allah." (3:39)
Yahya confirmed ‘Isa when he was three years old. He testified that he was THE WORD OF ALLAH and HIS SPIRIT. It is said that he confirmed him when he was in his mother’s womb. Yahya’s mother said to Maryam, "I feel what is in my womb BOWING TO what is in your womb to greet him." (Qadi 'Iyad Ibn Musa al-Yahsubi, Kitab Ash-shifa bi ta'rif huquq al-Mustafa (Healing by the recognition of the Rights of the Chosen One), translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K.; third reprint 1991, paperback], p. 51; capital and underline emphasis ours)
The qadi wasn’t alone here, since this is what the Muslim exegete Al-Qurtubi wrote in regards to Elizabeth's visiting Mary (said to be her sister) shortly after both women had conceived their sons:
"The sister visited Mary and said, ‘O Mary, do you perceive that I am with child?’ Mary answered, ‘Do you see that I am also with child?’ Her sister went on, ‘I feel the child in my womb bowing down to the child in your womb.’"
Al-Qurtubi further stated that:
"It is reported that she felt the fetus in her womb bow down with its head turned toward Mary's womb." (Mahmoud M. Ayoub, The Qur'an and Its Interpreters, Volume II, The House of 'Imran [State University of New York Press, Albany 1992], p. 108; bold and italic emphasis ours)
One main problem with this story is that it was Mary who visited Elizabeth, not the other way around.
Al-Tabari, another renowned Muslim scholar and expositor, wrote:
"She [Mary] came to her sister who was then pregnant and to whom the birth of the Baptist had been announced. When the two met, the Baptist's mother felt that her child was bowing within her in recognition of Jesus…" (History of Al-Tabari: The Ancient Kingdoms, translated by Moshe Perlmann [State University of New York Press, Albany, 1987], Volume IV, p. 114; bold emphasis ours)
"… Her sister, the wife of Zechariah, came to visit her at night. When Mary opened the door for her, the sister clung to her. The wife of Zechariah said, ‘Oh Mary, do you know I am with child?’ Mary replied, ‘Do you know, that I too am with child?’ Zechariah's wife then said, ‘I felt that the child in me was bowing to the child in you,’ as it is written, ‘confirming the Word of God.’" (Ibid., p. 119; bold emphasis ours)
These scholars were simply regurgitating (albeit not in the most accurate manner) what is found in the Gospel of Luke:
"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother OF MY LORD should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’" Luke 1:41-44
God’s Holy Spirit, who was already filling him in the womb,
“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:15
Caused the Baptist to leap in his mother's womb in honor of Christ being his Sovereign Lord.
Now notice how Elizabeth’s proclamation to Mary, who had just conceived her glorious child, that her unborn Son was already her Lord from the womb, echoes what the angels would later announce at Christ's birth:
"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11
There are a lot of other ways in which Islam presents Christ as outshining the Baptist, which we will highlight in the second part of our discussion.