Professor Zeki Saritoprak has recently published a book called Islam’s Jesus, a guide to Muslim beliefs about Jesus. Photo by Michael Swan.

Jesus is a point where Christians, Muslims can meet

  • October 4, 2014

With Christians on the run in the Middle East, and Muslim fighters declaring war on the West and modernity, one Muslim scholar wants to talk about Jesus. 

Zeki Saritoprak, professor of Islamic studies at John Carroll University near Cleveland, has just published Islam’s Jesus — a guide to Muslim beliefs about Jesus

Unless we can talk to each other about our most deeply held beliefs and what they mean to us, Muslims and Christians will continue to clash and continue to misunderstand each other, Saritoprak told The Catholic Register

“Today, I see that there is a need for dialogue. Our world needs peace,” Saritoprak said. “How can you have positive relationships between people if you have no dialogue.” 

Most Christians are unaware that Muslims hold Jesus in high esteem as the “Prophet of Miracles” and the greatest prophet after Muhammad. They believe Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and affirm His virgin birth. Jesus also has a special role in the last judgment at the end of time, when He will descend to Earth and separate the heaven-bound from the rest. 

“You will be amazed at how Muslims looked at Jesus, considered Him a great example to be followed for their traditions, for their piety as well as for His eschatological role,” Saritoprak said. “The establishment of peace is the essence of the message of Jesus and the essence of the message of Muhammad. The people who are now terrorizing and murdering in the name of religion would not be able to do that if we (Christians and Muslims) have dialogue. Many Muslims don’t understand this. Many Christians don’t understand this. That is why I wrote this book.” 

While there are points of convergence on Jesus, there are also some stark divergences, said Fr. Dave Warren, an expert in Islam with the Scarboro Missions. Muslims reject the divinity of Jesus, the idea that Jesus could be the Son of God and Jesus’ teaching that God is our Father. 

They also reject the idea that Jesus died on a cross and reject His resurrection. 

“In terms of dialogue, there’s more possibility concerning Mary than concerning her Son,” said Warren. “The points of divergence on Jesus are pretty stark and they bring us to the essentials.” 

But Saritoprak holds that Christians, Muslims and Jews have to be able to speak about their central and essential theological truths to have a meaningful dialogue. A real dialogue is about more than finding positive aspects in each others’ cultures. 

“From an Islamic point of view, you cannot reduce this to a cultural issue,” he said. “There is a cultural dimension, but theologically speaking it is based on revelation. And this revelation is not made by culture. It has actually affected culture and in some cases changed cultures.” 

Saritoprak is a Turkish scholar who comes out of a Sufi tradition. He is also allied with the early 20th-century imam and intellectual Said Nursi and the influential Turkish imam in exile, Fetulah Gulen. He concedes that the problems in Christian-Muslim relations today aren’t between Sufi intellectuals and the Catholic scholars at a Jesuit university such as John Carroll where he teaches. 

“There is a kind of dialogue, but it’s not at the right level,” he said. “There should be more and there should be more intra-religious dialogue… We may be able to talk to these (fundamentalist) salafis, if we can reach them. Some people will remain in their own way — the way of narrowmindedness and literalist understanding.” 

But the basis for interreligious dialogue for Muslims can be found right in the Koran and in the Hadiths or sayings of Muhammad. 

“If you read the Koran, you cannot be against dialogue,” he said. 

Literalist readings of both Christian and Muslim scriptures are a constant problem on both sides of the divide, according to Saritoprak. He cites a literalist understanding of the second coming or descent of Jesus by Muslims as an example. 

“You should not wait for a person coming from the sky, with CNN and ABC there to interview Him,” he said. “He will never come that way.” 

Rather, thoughtful Muslims believe Jesus will come again in the form of his message of peace being established among people around the world, said Saritoprak. 

“The spirituality of Jesus, the spirituality of Muhammad is what will return. This will come back much stronger,” he said. “Not only the personality but the spirituality represented by Jesus. People will come together in this spirit.” 

Despite its disastrous beginnings in the speech at University of Regensburg, Sept. 12, 2006, Warren believes Pope Benedict XVI set the right direction for Christian-Muslim dialogue when he identified the relationship between faith and reason as the central issue. 

“His basic point about the dialogue between faith and reason, I think that’s an area for dialogue among Christian and Muslim theologians,” Warren said. 

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