As a child, my parents often told me that I should focus more on a person’s inner beauty than their outer beauty. This is an attitude most people would herald as an admirable approach to dealing with others. Does something as mundane as outward physical appearances reveal something about Christianity and Islam, Jesus and Muhammad, or God and Allah?
How does God look upon our personal appearance? Of course God is the creator of us all, and He tells us that He created us in His own image (Gen 1:26). Of course, that is more likely with reference to our spiritual nature rather than our physical qualities. Nevertheless, God as the ultimate creator has made things of intense beauty. My hikes in the mountain west can testify to that fact. Yet as far as how any individual might look, God makes it clear that He judges very differently than we humans do. He doesn’t look on our outward appearances, but sees something much deeper (1 Samuel 16:7). God looks rather on the condition of our hearts. In both Christianity and Islam, looking on who we are on the inside matters greatly. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising, but what do we know about the physical appearance of Jesus and that of Muhammad?
Of course there are not pictures of Muhammad from within Islamic tradition, as portraying him via any artistic rendering is considered to be forbidden. I have discussed the irony of this practice in a previous article. Yet what Muhammad looked like is known from Islamic literature. The Hadith go into specifics about his height, hairstyle, and other personal attributes. What is interesting to note, though, is that he was considered the most handsome man in existence. This particular Hadith is representative of many such descriptions.
Narrated Al-Bara: Allah’s Apostle was the handsomest of all the people, and had the best appearance. He was neither very tall nor short. [i]
There are a variety of similar descriptions of the prophet of Islam. Perhaps this excerpt best exemplifies the manner in which his physical appearance is described as something quite out of the ordinary.
His senses were exceedingly powerful. He could hear from a long way off and see further than anyone. In essence, he had a body formed in perfection and uniqueness, and blessed … Anyone suddenly seeing him would be consumed with love, and anyone speaking with him would feel great love in his heart and soul. [ii]
Not only this, but other Hadith extol Muhammad’s bodily characteristics. For example, one Hadith talks about how Muhammad smelled better than even the best smelling perfume. [iii] It is safe to say Muhammad was considered to be the epitome of human beauty, both to the eye and nose of the beholder.
What about Jesus? What do we know about His personal appearance? We do know that Jesus had some kind of commanding presence, since the early disciples dropped everything to follow Him (Matthew 4:19-20). However, this was not so with regarding His physical stature. What Jesus looked like is unclear, as there have been various renderings of Him throughout the ages. These representations tend to reflect more about the times of their creation rather than any reliance on any historical evidence. As one example, early pictures feature a beardless Jesus, while today Jesus often has a beard. We really don’t know much about what He looked like. However, the Bible does give us a clue. In Isaiah chapter 53, verse 2, the coming Messiah is describe as follows,
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
When God came to earth as a human, He could have done so in any form and shape. He could have made Himself the most remarkable looking human ever to be in existence. Certainly that would have furthered perceptions in those closest to Him as to His true identity. Yet Jesus was ordinary in His appearance, having no beauty or majesty. This fits perfectly with God’s personality of living out the human life without divine privilege. He never used supernatural means to save Himself (Matthew 26:53), and left His majesty in the heavens while on earth (Philippians 2:6).
When comparing Muhammad and Jesus, we get two diametrically opposing set of facts with regards to their physical properties. Muhammad was reported to be the most handsome and best-smelling human ever. Jesus was ordinary in his stature and appearance. As always, there are completely antithetical perspectives when considering Jesus and Muhammad.