Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
Extract from The Mysteries of Jesus (Sakina Books, 2000)
If the Arabian prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is to be considered part of the same stream of tradition as the other great prophets of that stretch of desert land, can we identify any mention of him in the Bible texts?
Muslims regard Muhammad as the final prophet, the seal over all who went before him. Can we find any forth-tellings of his coming in the present-day Christian scriptures; or would any such prophecy been a prime candidate for redaction and censorship, so that at best such anticipations today appear in heavily disguised form, legible only to the expert? This is an important matter. For if it is true that Muhammad must be recognised as a Messenger of God by people of Christian or Jewish inheritance, it would surely be strange if their texts included prophecies referring to the penultimate Messenger, but lacked indications of the later Seal who was to come.
In fact, the Old and New Testaments do contain evidence that there existed an expectation not only of a Messiah for the Jewish people, but also of another prophetic figure whose time would come later. One very important prophecy of this type is the one attributed to Moses, and recorded in Deuteronomy 18:
In these words the author, perhaps Moses himself, sets the criterion for knowing the truth of a prophecy. Needless to say, it would also apply to his own prophecy with which he commenced this passage. If Moses himself, as a man who was himself recognised as a prophet of God, was not ‘speaking presumptuously’, then one should expect the foretold event to come to pass. Did it? Who was the ‘prophet like unto him’? That description would surely signify a prophet who was called to be a lawgiver to the people, setting out God’s commandments clearly for the masses to listen and understand. Which prophet fits most closely to one who had the words of God put into his mouth, so that he repeated to the people all that he heard from God? A Christian might like to see a reference to the coming of Jesus in these words, but surely none fits the description more closely than the Blessed Muhammad.
The ministry of Jesus was specifically delivered to convince the people that the Kingdom of God would be set up on earth. Muslim scholars maintain that this would come about through a Messenger of the family of Ishmael, the eldest son of Abraham, and thus heir of the original Covenant with Abraham.
They claim it is contentious editing of history that has falsely presented Abraham’s second son Isaac as the heir. Anyone with a knowledge of nomadic sheikhdom would understand that the eldest son was commissioned as ‘lord’ of the tribe (and therefore he and his descendants ruled from the Arabian region around the ancient shrine of Mecca), whereas the youngest son, in this case Isaac, would have had the role of ‘guarding the hearth’ (and staying with his father’s private tents and herds). The latter’s mission is hence local.
Genesis 15 reports the distress of Abraham that he had no son to be his heir, although he had the promise that his ‘seed’ would inherit from him (Genesis 15:4). God ‘brought Abraham outside and said, “Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be”.’ Then Abraham asked for some proof, and was told to take three young animals and two birds. The animals were cut in two halves, and Abraham waited as the next day wore on, driving away all the birds of prey that came down on them. At sunset, he fell into a trance-like sleep, and God gave him prophecies about his descendants that would be slaves in Egypt (the descendants of the unborn Isaac). When the sun had gone and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between the cut pieces of the animal carcasses, and God made a covenant with Abraham: ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates.’ His was the task of subjugating ten different nations between those two rivers (Genesis 15:18-21). This promise of an heir was fulfilled when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16), and in due course, Ishmael’s descendants did subjugate all those peoples, an actual and literal fulfilment of one of the conditions of the Covenant which is usually overlooked.
When Ishmael was thirteen years old a further Covenant was made between God and Abraham: the Covenant of circumcision. Abraham circumcised himself, and his son Ishmael, and all his household that very day. All this took place long before Isaac was born. However, it was true that God had also promised that the barren Sarah would bear a son and that there would be an everlasting covenant with him too (Gen 17:15-19).
Sometimes it is argued that Isaac was Abraham’s true heir, as his mother was the beloved wife, and Ishmael’s mother only a servant, and hence, according to traditional assumptions, to be despised. But Deuteronomy 21:15-17 presents the true legal picture. If a man has two wives, one beloved and the other despised, and each has a son, and if the son of the despised wife is the first-born, that son, and not the son of the beloved wife, is still entitled to the birthright. The prophecy that ‘by Abraham all the generations of the earth shall be blessed’, would therefore more clearly refer to the heritage by birthright of Ishmael, and not Isaac.
The text of Genesis 22 now goes on to talk of Isaac as Abraham’s ‘only son’, and records Abraham’s famous test of obedience when he was asked to sacrifice him. In the Bible narrative, Isaac is kept in ignorance of what is going to happen until the very last moment. He is saved from the sacrifice when an angel of God stays Abraham’s hand, and a ram caught in a thicket is substituted as the sacrifice.
Professor Dawud, the former bishop who has meditated extensively on these themes, comments that ‘to efface the name Ishmael from the second, sixth and seventh verses of Genesis 22 and to insert in its place “Isaac”, yet to leave the epithet “the only begotten son” is to deny the existence of the former and to violate the Covenant made between God and Ishmael.’
Sura 37:100-113 has rather different emphases: when Ishmael was about fourteen (‘the age of serious work’), Abraham had a vision (or dream) that he should sacrifice Ishmael. He asked the boy’s opinion, and Ishmael agreed that he would do whatever was God’s will, and urged his father to sacrifice him, if that was what God required. However, God does not require the flesh and blood of animals (Sura 22:37), much less of human beings: what He requires is the giving of our whole being to Him. The ‘momentous sacrifice’ with which the youth was ransomed is commemorated in the great annual festival of Hajj and Eid ul-Adha. It was as a reward for Abraham’s faith that God granted the son Isaac to Abraham’s barren wife Sarah.
Genesis, true to its generally negative portrayal of Sarah, offers the story of her jealousy of Hagar and Ishmael, and her request that he be cast out: a thing which greatly displeased Abraham, although he complied (Gen 21:10-11). He sent them away into the southerly ‘wilderness of Beersheba’, where Ishmael nearly died of thirst. However, God sent an angel to save him, and Ishmael survived. He lived ‘in the wilderness of Paran’, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt, from whence she herself had come (Gen 16:1).
The Qur’anic version does not record a comparable character lapse on the part of either Sarah or Abraham. Ishmael is left with Hagar in the valley-floor of Mecca, where Abraham trusts that God will take care of them. Hagar’s desperate search for water is commemorated in the ritual of the sa‘y during the Hajj; the spring of water revealed by the angel still flows today, and is called Zamzam. Sura 2:124-129 tells of Abraham and Ishmael sanctifying the Ka‘ba, and raising the foundations of the House.
Ishmael’s firstborn Kedar became the ancestor of the Arabs who from that time until now are the dwellers of the wilderness of Paran. As Dawud notes, this makes passages such as Deuteronomy 33:2 extremely interesting: ‘The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints. From his right hand went forth a fiery law for them.’ Dawud identifies that Mount Paran with Mount Arafat near Mecca, and claims this passage as a direct prophecy concerning the ‘one who was to come’, the Hmd (or ‘Ahmad’, or ‘Praised one’). Dawud also picks out many possible Old Testament references to this man known as the ‘Himada’ (from the root hmd), which all point to a Messenger from the line of Ishmael. For example, one prophecy in the ever-enigmatic Book of Habbakuk is that the glory of the Holy One from Paran will cover the heavens, and the earth will be full of his praise.
Other interesting passages occur in the book of the prophet Isaiah: ‘Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the inhabitants of the rock [Petra?] sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory and declare His praise in the islands. He shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up zeal like a man of war, he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his enemies.’ (Isaiah 42:11)
Other prophesies concerning Kedar occur in Isaiah 50:7 and 50:13-17. ‘All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto You, the rams of Nabaioth (the Nabataeans) will minister unto You; they shall come up with acceptance on My altar, and I will glorify the house of My glory.’ (Isaiah 50:7)
Ishmael inhabited the wilderness of Paran, where he sired the Arabian patriarch Kedar; and if the ‘sons of Kedar’ received revelation from God and accepted it, and came to a divine altar to glorify ‘the house of My glory’, then surely the ‘holy one from Paran’ of Habbakuk 3:3 is none other than the Blessed Muhammad. And Mecca is the house of God’s glory where the ‘flocks of Kedar’ came to bow the knee. The ‘flocks of Kedar’ have never come to the Trinitarian church, and have remained impenetrable to any influence of it.
The prophet Haggai, seeing the older generation weeping because of their disappointment that after their exile in Babylon the rebuilt Jewish Temple did not match up to the original one, consoled them with the message: ‘And I will shake all nations, and the Himada [the treasure?] of all the nations will come; and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of Hosts […] The glory of My last house shall be greater than the first one, says the Lord of Hosts; and in this place, I will give shalom [cognate with islam].’ (Haggai 2:7-9)
The New Testament documents are the work of many hands, many of them quite unknown, and the search for predictions of the world-shaking event of Islam is necessarily fraught with difficulties. However Muslim writers suggest that one should look again at the interpretation of the references of Jesus to the ‘Son of Man’ who would come, and in John’s Gospel to the Counsellor who was to come after Jesus had left them. The Gospel calls this prophesied one a ‘Paraclete’, with the primary meaning of ‘counsel for the defence’. This was later supposed to be the ‘Holy Spirit’, the third entity in the Trinity. However these passages could be no less credibly read as prophecies of the ‘Himada’ or ‘Ahmad’. Given the defective orthography of the early Gospel texts, it is quite feasible that the Greek word was not parakletos but periklytos, thus corresponding exactly to ‘Ahmad’ or the Hmd, meaning ‘illustrious’, ‘glorious’ and ‘praised’.
Therefore Muslims believe that the paraclete spoken of in those ‘Farewell Discourses’ was not the third being in a Trinity, but the future prophet Muhammad. The words clearly show that the Comforter had to come after the departure of Jesus, and was not with him when he uttered these words. Are we to presume that Jesus was devoid of the Holy Spirit, if its coming was conditional on Jesus’ leaving? The way in which Jesus describes him makes him a human being, with a particular role to fulfil.
Even if we include the words that Muslims would regard as Trinitarian editing, the prophecy runs: ‘I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor, to be with you for ever, even the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him [i.e. does not accept him]. You know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you’ (Jn 14:16). ‘These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Counsellor whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (Jn 14:25-26). ‘When the Counsellor comes whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me’ (Jn 15:26). ‘When he comes, he will convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgement; of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father; of judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he shall not speak on his own authority, but whatever he shall hear, that he shall speak and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ (Jn 16:8-16)
Muslims will recall straight away that the Qur’an consists not of the Prophet’s own words, but that which he heard, which was revealed to him; and it was said of him in the Qur’an: ‘Nay, he has come with the truth, and shows forth the truth of the Messengers.’
The Prophet Muhammad may have been the one foretold by John the Baptist (Mt 3:11; Lk 3:16). This would certainly explain why John carried on baptising, receiving initiates and disciples and foretelling a coming prophet more powerful than himself, without joining up with Jesus in Galilee. It is accepted by all Christians that Jesus and John had a parallel ministry until John’s martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas (Mk 6); but how few have marvelled at the oddness of the fact that John, having spent all his ministry ‘crying in the wilderness’ to prepare the way for the one to come, did not become Jesus’ closest and most intimate disciple. Our explanation also accounts for the rather odd remark Jesus made about John when he said that the ‘least’ in the Kingdom of Heaven would be greater than him. This sounds at first sight like an inexplicable and unnecessarily unpleasant derogatory remark; but if the word ‘least’ really meant the ‘last’ in the long line, the ‘youngest’, then what Jesus meant was that John had been the greatest of the prophets up to that time, but that the last of the prophets, the one who was still to come, would be greater than him: a remark that was in no way intended to belittle the saintly John. The Pshitta Version (the Aramaic version, which is older than the Latin Vulgate) does indeed use the word zira or zeira for ‘least’, meaning small or young, as opposed to rabba, meaning great or old.
Professor Dawud offers another interesting suggestion: could it be that the persecution of the true faith after the Council of Nicaea might have been prophesied in the enigmatic Book of Daniel? The ‘four beasts’ and the conquering ‘Son of Man’ of the vision in Daniel 7 have always invited speculative identifications; perhaps they represented the Chaldaeans (the eagle-winged lion), the Medo-Persian Empire (the bear), the Empire of Alexander the Great (the tiger with four wings and four heads), and the formidable Roman Empire (the fourth beast, the demon monster). The ten horns might have been the ten Emperors who persecuted the early Christians, down to the time of the so-called conversion of Constantine. So far, the beasts all represented the ‘Power of Darkness’, or the kingdom of Satan: idolatry itself.
But the nature and character of the Little Horn before which the three other horns fell, and which was finally defeated by a Bar Nasha (Son of Man) is quite different. It springs up after the Ten Persecutions under the Roman Emperors. The Roman Empire was then writhing under four rivals, Constantine being one of them. They were all struggling for the purple, and when the other three died or fell in battle, Constantine was left alone as the supreme sovereign of the vast Empire.
The earlier beasts were brutish, but the Little Horn possessed mouth and eyes: a hideous monster endowed with reason and speech. Maybe this was none other than Constantine, and the traditional presentation of him as ‘the first Christian Emperor’ is really Trinitarian propaganda. He was in fact one of the most dangerous and effective enemies of tawhid. The Little Horn was so diabolical and malignant, and his enmity to the faith the more harmful, because it sought to pervert the truth from within. This interpretation is on strikingly similar lines to that advanced by modern biblical experts who see Paul as the traitor and ‘Liar’ of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
This enemy spoke ‘great things’ against the Most High; the unity of God was openly and officially profaned by Constantine and his unbelieving ecclesiastical cronies as the Trinitarian dogmas of the Council of Nicaea were proclaimed and violently enforced by Constantine’s edict, amidst the horror and protests of three-quarters of the Church’s members! This Little Horn waged war against the saints of the Most High; so Constantine persecuted those Christians who, like the Jews, believed in the Absolute Unity of God.
The elders and ministers who opposed Trinitarianism were deposed or banished, their religious books suppressed, and their churches seized and handed over to Trinitarian bishops and priests. Merciless legions in every province were placed at the disposal of the ecclesiastical authorities, and a reign of terror against the unitarians lasted in the East for three and a half centuries: until a ‘Son of Man’ did restore the religion of One God, and Muslims liberated the lands trampled and devastated by the four beasts, from the Pyrenees to the walls of China.
The soul and kernel of what Jesus taught is contained in that famous clause in his prayer: ‘Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!’ Most Christians assume all sorts of illusory or meaningless things about the nature of this Kingdom. It is not a triumphant Catholic Church, nor a regenerated and sinless Puritan State. It is not a kingdom composed of celestial beings, including departed spirits of the believers under the reign of the Divine Lamb. The Kingdom of God on earth is a society of believers in One God equipped with faith to maintain its existence against the Kingdom of Darkness.
Jesus referred frequently to this kingdom which would come, and to the Bar Nasha or Son of Man who would inaugurate it; but Christians have assumed that Jesus meant his ‘church’, and that he himself was the Son of Man. Could he really have been referring to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad?
These theories also throw light on another religious group commended by the Qur’an along with certain Christians: the Sabians. Dawud interprets these as the followers of John the Baptist (Yahya ibn Zakariyya), adherents of a parallel movement to early Christianity, who were absorbed into Islam when it came. The Subba, or Sabaeans of the marshes are otherwise known as the Mandaeans in Southern Iraq. Significantly, ‘Mandaean’ was the name for the rank and file of these groups, whereas the Nazareans were the priestly elite.
The original Aramaic or Hebrew word for the Greek ‘baptism’ is not certain. The Pshitta (Aramaic) version of the Gospels uses the word ma‘muditha, from the verb aa‘mid which means ‘to stand up like a pillar’. Its causative form means ‘to erect, set up, establish, confirm’ and has no signification of bathing or washing. Arabic versions of the New Testament call the Baptist ‘al-Ma‘midan’.
In fact, the Greek baptismos derives from the Aramaic Sab’utha or Sbhu’tha, (Arabic cognate, sabagha), which has the sense of ‘to dye, tincture or immerse’. These ‘Masbutheans’ (also called ‘Besmotheans’ and ‘Subba’) existed before the coming of Jesus – as did the Essenes of Qumran – and were either the same as, or strongly similar to, the Daily Bathers/Hermerobaptists and Sabaeans (or Sabuneans) mentioned by Hippolytus, whom we have encountered before. Probably all these names are simply overlapping designations and intertransference of various regions. These ‘Baptists’, like the Qumraners and Ebionites, led an austere life of self-discipline and prayer. Perhaps they caused their proselytes to stand straight like a pillar in a pool of water or river, in order to be baptised, whence the Pshitta name of Ma’muditha.
Baptism is not a purification (thara) or washing (rahsa) or immersion (tabhala), but a dyeing, a colouring (sab’aitha). Just as a Saba’a or dyer gives a new colour to a garment by dipping it into tincture, so a baptist gives a convert a new spiritual hue. It was a mark of admission into the society of purified penitents who promised loyalty to God and His apostles. It goes without saying that the baptism of John in the river of Jordan was considered sufficient to ‘dye’ the hundreds of Jewish penitents (‘all the country of Judaea and the entire region about the Jordan’ – Mt 3:5) who were baptised by him while confessing their sins. The idea of the shedding of the blood of a God-Man is superfluous.
There is little doubt that until the arrival of Paul on the scene, the followers of Jesus practised the same baptismal ritual as John. It may be significant that the converts of Samaria who had been baptised in the name of Jesus did not receive the Holy Spirit, but had to have an extra ritual: the laying on of hands (Acts 8:16-17). The same was said for John’s baptism in Acts 19:2-7. This appears to indicate that Jesus’ baptism was in actual fact precisely the same as that of John, and to provide evidence that the Trinitarian churches wantonly transformed the original rite into a sacrament or mystery. The statement that some twelve persons in Samaria ‘had not yet received the Holy Spirit, because they were only baptised in the name of our Lord Jesus’ (Acts 8:16-17) is surely decisive as evidence.
How was it that the Sabians did not embrace Trinitarian Christianity if their master John had truly and openly declared and presented Jesus as the ‘more powerful’ Prophet than himself who was to come, and whose shoes he was not worthy to unloose? The followers of John might have been excused if Jesus had come a century later; but they were contemporaries, born in the same year. They both baptised with water unto repentance, and prepared their penitent converts for the Kingdom of God that was approaching, but which was not to be established in their time.
The Sabians believed that although Jesus was one of the great Messengers, he was not the one referred to in the prophecy of John as the ‘one who was to come’; most of them happily recognised and embraced Islam when it came.
It is all too obvious that those who believe in the doctrine that baptism means an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, who believe that the ‘inspiration’ of the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of those who, in their emotional excitement and ecstasy, believe themselves to be ‘new-born’, are suffering from wishful thinking. These ‘new-born’ frequently slide back and become what they were before. The ‘miracle’ of the ‘Holy Spirit’ is a myth. True baptism is that which comes only from submission to the Divine Will, and requires genuine commitment and a great deal of hard work.
The Baptism of God (sibghatu’Llah) does not move Muslims to believe themselves ‘made holy’. Every Muslim has to run the race of our short earthly life to the best of his or her ability and effort, in order to win the crown of glory in the next world. Every Muslim needs education and training in accordance with the Word of God: but stands in no need of the intercession of a priest or sacrament. God Himself is quite enough.