Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Cornerstone: Muhammad or Jesus?

Roland Clarke

How many people do you know who still live in the same place they were born? Things have changed! These days more and more families are deciding to leave their homeland in search of a better life elsewhere. Add to this all the refugees who have to flee famine and war. Your new neighbor could easily be from a different country, a different culture, a different race, a different religion.

Sadly, this reshuffling of humanity has not produced one big happy family living peacefully side-by-side in the global village. There is an urgent need for people of different backgrounds to tolerate and respect one another.

The founders of the United Nations envisioned a world where different culture groups would co-exist peacefully. We still have a long way to reach true peace. Events of the last few years indicate there is a deepening clash of cultures and religions, especially between Christians and Muslims.

Considering the polarizing trends, some people doubt whether it is possible for followers of the largest two faith communities to discuss spiritual things, without bitterly disputing our irreconcilable differences. I believe we can and we must learn to respect one anothers' religious sensitivities. People ought to be free to worship God according to how they believe. Everyone has the right to express his or her belief. Ideally, this means we are free to give and receive constructive criticism. At the end of the day, those who have a teachable attitude find that this kind of interaction sharpens their thinking and increases their understanding of God.

It is not uncommon to hear of 'Muslims' becoming 'Christians' and vice versa. Some would say this is a hopeful sign, because it shows that dialogue is happening. Nevertheless, Christianity and Islam have both staked their claim to be the true and uncorrupted revelation from God. This rivalry is nothing new. It has been this way for centuries and has often degenerated into violence.

As we try to deal with religious tensions in our day, we should look at the founders of these two religions. Each of them believed they filled a unique role in God's plan for mankind. Jesus and Muhammad both claimed to be the cornerstone, that is, the key to saving mankind. Muhammad claimed to be the seal of the prophets, through whom religion was perfected. On one occasion Muhammad underscored his crucial role by characterizing himself as a cornerstone,

Abu Hurairah narrated: Allah's messenger (pbuh) said, My similitude, in comparison with the other Prophets before me, is that of a man who has built a house nicely and beautifully, except for a place of one brick in a corner. The people go round about it and wonder at its beauty, but say: `Would that this brick be put in its place!' So I am that brick, and I am the last of the Prophets. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Hadith No. 735)

Muhammad's claim stands in stark contrast to Jesus the Messiah who was already acclaimed as the "cornerstone" and focal point of prophecy.

Jesus said, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." (Luke 20:17) The apostle Peter describes the Messiah as "the chief cornerstone" and also it is written, "See I lay in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (1 Peter 2:6-8; Ephesians 2:20)

Prophecies about the Messiah reveal God's intention to save the world through him. In fact, God's salvation is specifically mentioned in connection with the 'cornerstone'. In Psalm 118:21 the psalmist mentions God's “salvation” and then adds, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This connection is made even clearer where we read that Christ is “the stone you builders rejected which has become the cornerstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)

The cornerstone of a building serves a unique and special purpose. Jesus and Muhammad cannot both be 'the cornerstone'. The Scripture we just read states emphatically that there is “no one else” and “no other name by which we must be saved.” Between Jesus and Muhammad, one of them must have mistakenly been given this title or usurped it.

The rivalry over the title “cornerstone” is reinforced when we see that both these leaders claimed to be “the last”. We saw Muhammad's claim in this regard in the above quoted Hadith. As for Jesus, he declared,

I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17,18)

Rivalry and Debates

Muhammad came 600 years after Jesus. Naturally Christians say the burden of proof is on Muhammad's followers to prove that he is the rightful claimant to this title. If we want to resolve the tensions that divide Christians and Muslims we must take a closer look at this rivalry between Jesus and Muhammad.

Is it merely coincidence that a rivalry arose over the title 'cornerstone'? Devout Muslims and Christians believe that deception is one of the Devil's tactics. There is no point in overlooking the fact that there is a Devil. We all recognize he is a real enemy to mankind. However, we must not let our disagreements and debates become an excuse for demonizing one another.

The controversy over who is the true cornerstone is not going to be resolved by a shouting match, by demonizing each other, or by starting a new series of bloody crusades and Holy wars. It requires mutual respect and patient listening to one another. A good place to begin is looking at points of agreement – especially with regards to Jesus Christ.

Muslims acknowledge many things about Christ that are 'exceptional'. Muslim scholar, M. Ali Merad has written;

Prophet, Apostle of God, servant of God, these are titles which apply in the Qur'an to many other prophetic figures. But Christ is more than that. Everything in the Qur'an inclines us to represent him as being above the common condition of men ... an exceptional divine work, an exceptional messenger, favored in all things by God, Christ witnesses to an exceptional divine concern. Through all that the Qur'an has to say about Jesus, we cannot fail to realise an unquestionable convergence: everything it gives leads to the declaration of Christ's surpassing greatness.1 2

Jesus is Exceptional

Some readers may be surprised to see a Muslim scholar admitting the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ. Islamic sources recognize some remarkable features in Christ's life, which radiate an aura of supernatural power. These include the miraculous beginning of Christ's life, the angelic announcement, the virgin birth and the special name which was revealed through the angel. (Surah 3:45).

Equally awesome are the miraculous healings Jesus performed. One of these miracles shows exceptional power – raising the dead. The way Christ concluded his life on earth is also exceptional – he was raised up to God. Furthermore, he will return to earth "with power and great glory". (Luke 21:27).

Mr. Merad was not the only one to make mention of Christ's "surpassing greatness". Jesus, himself repeatedly claimed to be greater than the prophets – specifically Solomon, Jonah, Abraham and Moses.

Jesus claimed he is greater than Solomon and Jonah

Jesus said, "The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here." (Luke 11:31,32)

Jesus claimed he is greater than Abraham

"I tell you the truth" Jesus said, "If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."

At this, the Jews exclaimed, "Now we know that you are demon possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?"

Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing ... Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."

"You are not yet 50 years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!"

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born I am!" (John 8:51-58).

Jesus claimed to be greater than Moses

John chapter 6 records a conversation between Jesus and the Jews about bread, because they had seen him miraculously multiply five loaves and two fish. The Jews commented to Jesus how Moses brought manna to the Israelites. Jesus replied by emphasizing that it is God "who gives the true bread from heaven". He went on to explain that he himself is "the bread of God that gives life to the world." Jesus made it clear he is greater than Moses, saying, "Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died but here is the bread that comes down from heaven which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever." (John 6:26-51)

Jesus claimed to be greater than John the Baptist (Yahya)

Jesus said, "John was a lamp that burned and gave light and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. ... I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (John 5:35-36, 8:12)

John the Baptist regarded Jesus as greater than himself, for he said that Jesus "is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." (John 1:27).

Great, Greater ... Greatest?

Muhammad never claimed greatness like Jesus did. Indeed to the contrary, he denied anyone could be greater than Jonah. In the Hadith we find two statements made by Muhammad: "Allah's apostle said, `Nobody has the right to be better than Jonah Bin Matta ...'"

Another Hadith says, "The prophet said, 'He who says that I am better than Jonah Bin Matta tells a lie.'" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Hadiths Number 328 and 329)

If greatness can be gauged by comparing oneself with other prophets, Jesus was the greatest. If one compares Jesus Christ to earthly kings, one must conclude he is “King of kings and Lord of lords”. (Revelation 17:14; 19:16) Muhammad's attitude to this supreme title does not surprise us. The Ahadith quotes Muhammad as saying, "The most awful name in Allah's sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be (that of) a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings)." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, Hadith Number 224)

Was Jesus the Messiah the greatest? I will let you, the reader, think this through for yourself.

But how did Jesus see greatness expressed in actions? According to Jesus, being a servant was the key to greatness. He stated,

whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

This definition of greatness gives us an important clue to understanding how Jesus was the cornerstone and center-piece of God's plan of salvation.

You may recall that earlier we read two verses that link the title "cornerstone" with “salvation”. The statement we read came from Acts chapter four but it is helpful to take a closer look at this. In the previous chapter, a story is told of a lame man who was dramatically healed by two of Jesus' disciples. The healing was performed through the powerful name of Jesus. However, the Jewish leaders, who hated this name, naturally objected to this. But eventually, the apostle Peter had a chance to explain to a large crowd who had gathered, what really happened.

He quoted a Messianic prophecy from the Old Testament about 'the cornerstone' which shows that God's plan was to bring healing and salvation through Jesus Christ. As it is written, "the stone you builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Peter immediately follows up this Messianic prophecy by saying,

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

What's In A Name?

Muslims and Christians know the value of choosing appropriate names. We have books listing names and their meanings, which help us in selecting names for our children. The Qur'an and the Bible describe how baby Jesus received a special name from God. (Surah 3:45; Luke 2) This remarkable event is worth pondering.

The Qur'an does not offer any explanation as to why Allah chose the name Jesus. According to Surah 3:45 the name Jesus (Isa) was given by God but the Qur'an does not clarify what the name means. The Bible, however, does make it clear, saying,

You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

The name Jesus becomes meaningful when we see how it fits so perfectly with what the prophets predicted. They prophesied that the Messiah would bring God's salvation. The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah will "bring my salvation to the ends of the earth". (Isaiah 49:6 see also Zechariah 9:9-10) It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the name Jesus means "God's salvation" (or 'the Lord saves').

It seems wise and fitting that God should imprint His purpose on the life of Messiah at the time of his birth by giving him a name which confirms exactly that purpose. Others foresaw that Messiah would bring salvation, but what about Jesus himself? Did he regard himself as Savior?

We read in Luke 19 how Jesus encountered a notorious swindler named Zacchaeus. Christ's influence on him was so strong that he renounced his sinful way of life. Jesus responded to this humble confession saying,

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (Luke 19:9,10)

On another occasion Jesus said that he "did not come to judge the world but to save it." (John 12:47) Most of the Samaritans in a town called Sychar confessed that Jesus Christ “really is the Saviour of the world”. (John 4:42) The name Jesus makes perfect sense and fits with the title “cornerstone”.

We have carefully pieced together a series of clues that point to Jesus as the centre-piece of God's plan to bring salvation. Since Jesus is the Savior of the world why would anyone turn to Muhammad for salvation? The Messiah is someone you can fully rely on. His life has no blemish or stain. You can be confident of his intercession and mediation for you. Jesus never sinned (not even once) so he doesn't need to request God for the forgiveness of his own sins. Muhammad, on the other hand, is not sinless. The Qur'an says he needs to be forgiven for his own sins (Surah 47:19). How can anyone rely on such a person when they know there's a sinless Savior?

As it is written,

See I lay in Zion a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. (Isaiah 28:16)

Compulsion and Persecution?

If one has grown up in Islam, it is not easy to change one's allegiance. There are many pressures that fellow Muslims can use to 'influence' others to stay in the Ummah. The world saw a painful reminder of Islam's intolerance toward apostates when an Afghan convert was almost executed in March 2006.

On one occasion I was in the home of a Muslim who showed strong interest in Christ. A senior member of the family vented their fury, threatening to kill him if he should convert to Christianity. This caused such an embarrassment in the neighbourhood that a Muslim neighbor came over to try and calm things down.

In Islamic nations it is not uncommon to hear of Christians being martyred because they actively introduce Muslims to the Messiah. There are, however, some Muslims who don't use force to prevent their brothers from converting to Christ. The Qur'an says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error." (Surah 2:256) This verse suggests that the best way to keep Muslims loyal to Islam is not by threatening them with death but by reasoning and showing them how "truth stands out clear from error". If one resorts to compulsion and force to keep Muslims in the Ummah, it only discredits Islam.

Are you afraid of being ostracized or suffering in other ways if you should turn to Christ? I could offer some encouragement by saying that your fellow Muslims ought to respect your right to think through the issues and come to your own conclusion. Unfortunately, what should happen and what usually happens are often quite different.

The strongest and most effective encouragement I can offer you comes from Christ himself. He experienced hatred and persecution from the Jews and he knew they would also mistreat his followers so he instructed his followers to brace themselves. He alerted them to what would happen, saying,

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you ... I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world. (John 15:18-19, 16:33)

It is also very encouraging to remind ourselves that Jesus is "a tested stone ... a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed". The Savior is calling you. Don't let fear enslave you. “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.” (John 8:32) If we can help you by praying for you, please feel free to write us.

As you ponder whether to accept Jesus as the cornerstone of salvation consider this warning from Jesus Christ himself. Jesus boldly claimed to be "the chief cornerstone" in verse 17 of Luke chapter 20. The next words read, "Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." God asks this question of us, as recorded in Hebrews 2:3 "how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?"

You might want to read other articles which explain more about salvation, for example, “Saviour: A Beautiful Name of God” or “Signposts to Paradise”.

Three excellent articles comparing Jesus and Muhammad are worth reading: One examines the title seal of the prophets, the second looks at how Jesus and Muhammad confronted Satan, and the third one makes 15 comparisons.

Selections from Psalm 71 to give you comfort, hope and peace

In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth ... I have become like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendour all day long. (Psalm 71:1-8)

If I can be of any assistance please contact me.

Note: All Biblical quotations (unless specified otherwise) are taken from the New International Version. All Qur’anic quotations are from Yusuf Ali’s translation.

Appendix: Answering Allegations of Corruption

We have seen how the scriptures – before and after Christ – gave the title "cornerstone" to the Messiah. However, people who have a skeptical or hostile attitude towards the Bible might imagine that this title was not in the 'original' text of the Bible. Such critics might allege that Christians inserted these Messianic prophecies in order to support their view of Jesus as Savior.

Let me ask the reader to pause and think for a moment. Is it really possible that Christians could have inserted these statements into the Old Testament? These scriptures were written long before Christians came on the scene. Isaiah 28:16 (which uses the Messianic title, 'cornerstone') has always been accepted by Jews as genuine. Furthermore, the entire book of Isaiah, as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been shown conclusively to predate Jesus Christ.

Another key verse in the book of Isaiah – 49:6 – shows Christ to be the “servant” through whom God would restore Israel and bring “salvation to the ends of the earth”. Thirteen years of initial research into the Dead Sea Scrolls led to the conclusion that the "scholarly world was agreed on the early dating" that is, 1st century BC (Jesus, Qumran and the Vatican, by Otto Betz & Rainer Riesner, SCM, 1993, p. 15). Nearly fifty years have passed since then (1960) and there has been no significant divergence of opinion among the leading researchers.

In relation to the particular manuscript – the Isaiah scroll – Frank Moore Cross Jr. says, "Certainly it was true that the text of Isaiah preserved in the Masora was based on an extremely early text type, already at home in Palestine in the late second century B.C." (The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies, 1958, p. 132) Frank Moore Cross is acknowledged to be one of the "chief" authorities in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran and The History of the Biblical Text, edited by F.M. Cross & Talmon Shemaryahu, p. 201)


1 M. Ali Merad, 'Christ According to the Qur'an', Encounter 69 (Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Nov. 1980), p. 7

2 Sam Shamoun presents compelling reasons from the Qur'an showing that Isa is the highest and most exalted human.

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