Briefly: The Role of Jesus in Islam

Posted on Feb 15, 2020

In her article about Netflix’s ‘Messiah’ testing the faith of its characters (and its audience), Isabelle Senechal turns to experts regarding the role of Jesus in Isalm, and she also looks at how Muslims are depicted in the entertainment media.

Below is an excerpt from “Netflix’s ‘Messiah’ tests the faith of its characters (and its audience)” by Isabelle Senechal, a Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., fellow at America.

…I am not as familiar with the role of Jesus (or ‘Isa) in Islam as I am with his place within the Judeo-Christian tradition. I did, however, reach out to several academics with specializations in Christianity and Islam who graciously shared their insights with me.

One such specialist was Wilhelmus Valkenberg, a professor of religion and culture at the Catholic University of America whose expertise lies in Christian-Muslim relations, comparative theology and interreligious dialogue. In an email, Mr. Valkenberg explained a few of the basics to Jesus’ unique presence in Islam. For instance, Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet—not the Son of God—who was born of a virgin and ascended to heaven after his people rejected his message. Jesus is still referred to as the Word in the Quran—although Muslims mean this in the sense that Jesus serves as a carrier for the word of God, not that he is divinely one with God, as Christians believe. Finally, although the Quran does not explicitly state what Jesus’ role is after his ascension, Mr. Valkenberg says, “there is a tradition that says that Jesus the Messiah will come back and usher in the end of times.” On these fronts, “Messiah” is fairly faithful to Islamic tradition.

I also spoke with Mansur Shaheen, a Kashmiri-American writer based in Washington, D.C., who has written about Muslim representation in entertainment media. Mr. Mansur expressed appreciation for the show’s nuanced depiction of Middle Eastern Muslims, praising “Messiah” for not only portraying morally complex, yet sympathetic Muslim characters but also for addressing our society’s tendency to blame religion when conflict arises.