Muslims have a high regard for Jesus. They believe He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, performed miracles, and spoke prophetic truth. He is in heaven today and is poised to return triumphantly to earth.
Yet it is Muhammad to whom Muslims pin their hopes. While they confess Jesus as a prophet, they say Muhammad is the greatest of Allah’s messengers and the one through whom Allah chose to reveal supreme truth in the Qur’an. Therefore, Muhammad, not Jesus, is the ultimate role model.
Okay. So let’s look at the record. We’ll focus on three areas.
1. Lifestyle. Jesus lived the most exemplary life in human history. He was tempted in every way we are tempted, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He successfully rebuffed intense temptation in the desert as Satan sought to entice the physically weakened Messiah to swap His earthly mission for personal comfort and human adoration.
Denying Himself, He never turned away the poor, sick, outcast, or spiritually barren, noting, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life – a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Muhammad, in sharp contrast, did not profess to be sinless. Even so, the Qur’an establishes him as the highest model of virtue for the faithful in all circumstances (Surah 33:21). Indeed, he often was kind, generous and brave, yet his life was deeply flawed.
Despite the Qur’an’s prohibition against marrying more than four wives, Muhammad had at least nine wives at one time – justified by a special revelation giving him, and him alone, the right to exceed the legal limit (Surah 33:50).
One of his wives was only nine years old when the marriage was consummated. Another was taken from an adopted son, who divorced his wife so Muhammad could have her. Further, the prophet allowed his followers to possess an unlimited number of concubines, and to practice a form of prostitution called “Muta.”
More could be written about the prophet’s brutal treatment of critics and apostates, but this should suffice to help you decide whether Jesus or Muhammad lived a more consummate lifestyle.
2. Source of authority. Jesus is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; thus He is the divine second person of the triune Godhead. The Father sent Jesus to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14) and entrusted all judgment to Him (John 5:22). Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told His disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him (Matt. 28:18).
Jesus demonstrated His authority through teaching, miracles, forgiveness of sins, and resurrection from the dead. He claimed equality with the Father and never refused to be worshiped.
According to the Qur’an, Muhammad’s only miracle was the Qur’an itself (Surah 29:48-51). Yet when he first began receiving revelations in a cave on Mount Hira, Muhammad thought he had been possessed by a poetry demon. He later became suicidal and tried to throw himself off a cliff.
His wife Khadijah and her cousin convinced him he was not possessed; rather, he was a prophet of God. At one point late in life, Muhammad claimed he was the victim of a magic spell, which witnesses said made him delusional.
When Muhammad recited the 53rd chapter of the Qur’an to his followers, it featured verses allowing Muslims to pray to three pagan goddesses. He later ordered the scribes to strike these so-called “Satanic Verses,” which he said came from Satan and not from God.
These examples should cast considerable doubt on Muhammad’s claim to speak authoritatively for God.
3. Historical record. Christian beliefs about Jesus are based entirely on sources written within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses. As David Wood, host of the talk show “Jesus or Muhammad,” notes, “Having multiple, independent, early sources allows us to form a reliable picture of the historical Jesus.”
Further, we have thousands of manuscript copies of the Gospels and other New Testament books – some of them dating back to the early second century. These documents, plus more than 1 million New Testament quotes from the early church fathers, confirm the veracity of the texts. In addition, several ancient non-Christian writings refer to Jesus.
In contrast, the Qur’an tells us very little about Muhammad. Our earliest detailed biographical source, Ibn Ishaq’s Life of Muhammad, was written more than a century after Muhammad’s death. Modern Muslims cast doubt on this book, however, and turn to works written more than two centuries after Muhammad’s life – plenty of time to embellish or fabricate stories.
But perhaps the most telling historical contrast comes in the record of each leader’s dying words. On the cross, bloodied and beaten beyond recognition, Jesus asks the Father to forgive His tormentors. Six centuries later, as Muhammad lay dying from the effects of poison given to him by a Jewish woman whose family his followers had slaughtered, the prophet of Islam gasps, “May Allah curse the Jews and Christians, for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets.”
Which one is the ultimate role model: Jesus or Muhammad? You make the call.
This column first appeared Jan. 15, 2013, in The Pathway, the official newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.