Islam and the Cross of Christ
Islam does affirm certain aspects of Christianity that are quite interesting placed within their theological scheme. For instance, they affirm the Virgin Birth of Christ, even though they do not believe that this is an indication of Jesus’ divinity. (The denial of the divinity of Jesus is in line with the assertion of Allah as the one true God. Christianity is seen as tritheistic.) They acknowledge that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel, yet believe that the prophet Muhammad was superior in his revelation. They believe as well, in the sinlessness of Christ. They even believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, though in a very distorted manner. All of these aspects of Islamic theology are an adoption and adaptation of Christianity by Muhammad. But the real issue of Christianity, while not ignoring the significance of all the complimentary components, is the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ (I Cor. 15:3-8). In this regard the teachings of the Qur’an are in their greatest conflict with the Gospels.
The New Testament is emphatic on this point: Jesus died on a cross. The Qur’an is equally emphatic that He did not. There are actually two major views in Islamic theology relating to this matter. The orthodox view is that Jesus was not crucified, but " although it seemed so to them" (the Arabic phrase being, shubbiha la-hum), instead He was translated to heaven, with another taking His place on the cross (Sura 4:157). The phrase "it seemed so to them" is understood to convey the idea that the Jews thought that Jesus died on the cross. It could also be interpreted that the Jews thought that the person who died on the cross was Jesus.
The second view of Christ’s crucifixion is found among an Islamic sect known as the Ahmadis* (this group is regarded as heretical by the Sunnis), they argue that Christ did not die on the cross, but was only badly wounded and recovered in the tomb. They then state that He eventually made His way to Kashmir, where He subsequently died, and was buried at Srinagar, India. The legendary Tomb of Issa (Jesus) is a popular pilgrimage site. The second coming is not of a resurrected Jesus, but the one who bore the power and spirit of Jesus (Ahmad). This view was taught by the Ahmadi teacher, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan (1893-1985), who understood the importance of the Cross and the Resurrection to Christian theology (a point missed by many so-called "liberal" Christians). He made this statement: "Once it is established that Jesus did not die on the cross, there was no accursed death, no bearing of sins for mankind, no resurrection, no ascension, and no atonement. The entire structure of church theology is thereby demolished." Undoubtedly, this Islamic writer understood that without Christ’s death on the Cross, there is no Christian gospel.
Christianity is not built upon on an ethical philosophy, though it does teach ethical behavior. It is built upon nothing less than the historical fact of the Resurrection, which was the Father’s validation of the atoning work of the crucifixion. Without the historical fact of Christ coming out of the tomb alive, Christianity is invalidated (I Cor. 15:13-19). Without the Resurrection, Christianity is left "without a leg to stand on." Islam recognizes this and thus rejects not Jesus per se, but His atonement.
* This sect originated in India in 1899 as a Muslim reform movement. It differs from orthodox Islam in that it believes that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) was the promised Messiah, the coming one of all the major religions in the world. It has in the years since its founding, developed the most aggressive missionary program in Islam. In coming to the U.S., it has had its greatest success in the black community. They have produced a vast amount of literature concerning Jesus. He is viewed as a great prophet.