This blog typically contrasts theological aspects of Christianity and Islam. It delves into the tenets of the two religions in intricate detail. However, sometimes, there are more philosophical questions to be answered. Rather than asking what the tenets are, sometimes the question must be asked why they exist. Why does the Bible say such and such? Why does the Qur’an say, or not say, something? To be specific, let’s consider how Muhammad and Jesus interacted with those who had died.
In Islam, there is little doubt about how Muhammad interacted with those who had died. Muhammad said that he was “a plain warner,” and that he was to convey Allah’s message to those living around him. Therefore, once someone died, Muhammad had no ability to interact with them anymore. The Qur’an makes it clear that Muhammad is not able to communicate with those who are no longer living. There are two separate ayat which are on point.
[35.22] Neither are the living and the dead alike. Surely Allah makes whom He pleases hear, and you cannot make those hear who are in the graves.
Again the Qur’an says regarding Muhammad,
[27.80] Surely you do not make the dead to hear, and you do not make the deaf to hear the call when they go back retreating.
Islamic commentaries, or tafsir, backup the straightforward meaning of these verses of the Qur’an. This shouldn’t be surprising. Once a person dies, it is no longer possible, humanly speaking, to engage with the deceased in any way.
Yet within the pages that recount the life of Jesus, there is an interesting account of one of Jesus’ friends, Lazarus, who died (John 11:14). The sisters of Lazarus had sent for Jesus while he was still sick in the hope that Jesus would cure him (John 11:3). But rather than directly go to him, Jesus delayed for two days before departing (John 11:6). By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the funeral and its associated activities were well underway (John 11:31) and Lazarus had been dead for four days (John 11:39).
However, Jesus had something else in mind. Rather than coming and curing the sickness, Jesus was interested in bolstering the disciples’ belief (John 11:15). Coming to the tomb, Jesus engaged in public prayer, not for the sake of necessity, but for the purpose of allowing those nearby to hear and better understand what was happening (John 11:42). At this point, Jesus calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he does (John 11:43-44).
So we see one of the differences between Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus raised the dead, and Muhammad did not. In itself, this observation is monumental enough. It isn’t too hard to see this difference and contemplate its significance. And so perhaps this article would end right here. Yet there is something else happening here that needs to be pointed out. The Qur’an also agrees that Jesus raised the dead! In chapter 5, verse 110, the Qur’an quotes Allah as asking Jesus to remember “when you brought forth the dead by My permission”. While the Bible cites other instances where men of God were able to bring back those who had recently died (Acts 9:40; Acts 20:10), the Qur’an has no other such records. According to the Qur’an, only Jesus is mentioned as being able to raise the dead.
The Muslim response is that Jesus only performed miracles as a man, and thus only by the permission of Allah. One Muslim author explains this as follows: “The Quran (3:49) clearly states that his miracles were purely granted by Allah and in no way it could be inferred that he had Godly powers, as believed by Christians.”[i] The issue of whether raising the dead proves Jesus was God in the flesh has been debated on various internet sites. While it’s an important question, I am not interested in repeating those endeavors at this time.
But here is the question that remains for Christians and Muslims. Why? Even If one assumes the Islamic explanation that Jesus was only a prophet and thus only allowed this ability as a prophet, the question remains. Why was Jesus allowed this power to raise the dead while Muhammad was not? It’s an inquiry that requires a cogent and compelling response.
Of course, as Christians, this question stands as well. However, as Christians, we have a clear and straightforward answer (John 11:25). But from the Islamic perspective, why is there this difference between these two religious figures that Islam deems as prophets. Why was one prophet granted such amazing power to raise the dead, and one not? Why was Jesus permitted the right to do this miracle while Muhammad was not? Like a trail of breadcrumbs, the clues are there for those who want to follow them.